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How to Plan a Ride on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

***Warning – this is not my usual article about technology tips. It’s a review with travel tips for cycling the GAP trail. If that interests you – read on.

My husband and I love to ride rail-trails – especially longer ones so that we can spend the night in small towns along the trail. We just completed our third multi-day cycling trip in the States (we’ve also done this in Austria and Italy), and I thought it might be helpful to others to share how we planned and cycled the Great Allegheny Passage (commonly called the GAP) recently.

First of all, make lodging reservations as early as possible. These are SMALL towns with a limited number of bed and breakfasts or guest houses, and they fill up quickly on a trail as popular as the GAP. Secondly, the direction you choose to bike and the days you bike will make a difference. I prefer the peace and quiet of weekdays over weekends crowded with weekend warriors, so we chose to ride Sunday through Wednesday.

The majority of cyclers ride from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, either because of the common perception that the elevation change is easier or because they are riding beyond Cumberland on the C&O Towpath to Washington, DC. We decided to ride the less popular direction from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. It meant that most of our first day was a steady, but gradual uphill and then the next three days would be flat or an imperceptible downhill. It was the right decision for us.

We are not hard-core cyclers and like to ride about 40 miles a day, give or take a few. Last year while cycling on the C&O towpath, I made the brilliant decision to ride 60 miles the first day and then over 50 the second day. What a mistake!

Using the map on the GAP’s website, it was easy to choose the towns for overnighting based on  a day’s cycling of 35 – 45 miles. Our towns were Cumberland, MD (the night before we started), Meyersdale, PA, Ohiopyle, PA and West Newton, PA. My search for accommodations began with the links provided on the GAP website and TripAdvisor. As I mentioned, there are not many options in these little towns, but the reviews on TripAdvisor were very helpful. When I am looking for rail-trail lodging, my priorities are private bath, air conditioning and Wi-Fi – in that order!

Cumberland, MD has a newish, trailside Fairfield Inn & Suites, where we stayed last year. Unfortunately, it was already full when I tried to make reservations, so the next best hotel choice was an older Ramada Inn, a few blocks from the trail. I have since heard that there are some nice B&B’s in Cumberland, but the Ramada was fine. Plus, they allowed us to keep our car in their lot while we were cycling for four days.

Most of the towns along the GAP and C&O trails are shadows of their former selves. We noticed this last year while biking the C&O, and the GAP was no different. Cumberland, by far the largest of the small towns, has a lovely pedestrian-only Main Street with more than half of its storefronts standing empty. Walking along it on Saturday night, we heard live music playing from a pavilion in the “town square.” An excellent contemporary singer and cellist was performing to less than 100 people – part of the town’s free summer concert series. It made me sad. Obviously, Cumberland was once a thriving small city with lots of shops and restaurants. But the industries that provided work for its inhabitants must be gone and now, tourism is just about all they have.

This semi-ghost town effect was felt in each town we visited, with the exception of tiny Ohiopyle. In spite of the obvious economic struggles, I could really feel the pride in every well-kept street and flowering window box. In the friendly smiles and abundant helpfulness as we stopped in town after town. It really felt good to be spending my vacation dollars in areas that so obviously want and need tourism in order to survive.

Day 1

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Our first day from Cumberland, MD to Meyersdale, PA was only 32 miles, but there was an elevation gain of 1700 ft over the first 25 miles, so we were slower than usual. We stopped for lunch in Frostburg, MD at a small farm-to-table restaurant called Shift. It was delicious and extremely accommodating for cyclers, though we had parked our bikes and walked up the hill to the town.

Our lodging in Meyersdale was at the Yoder’s Guest House, and it was just right for us. There is a more upscale option in Meyersdale called the Levi Deal Bed and Breakfast (which was full when I made my reservations), but I would stay in Yoder’s Guest House again. Our room, the Maple Queen room, had a private entrance, private bath, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Perfect! A self-serve, continental breakfast was also included.

Dining in Meyersdale was limited to a hotdog stand, Subway, and a full-scale restaurant called the Morguen Toole Company. At 6 pm on a Sunday night, we were the only customers for dinner at the Morguen Toole Company until one other couple showed up around 6:30. It was a good option with a variety of salads, sandwiches and full-sized entrees. They had an amazing number of beers on tap, too.

As we explored tiny Meyersdale, we found a laundromat a few blocks from our guest house and took advantage of the opportunity to wash and dry our biking attire!

Day 2

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Our second day on the trail, we stopped in Confluence for lunch at one of my favorite GAP trail restaurants – the Lucky Dog Cafe. Great salad, sandwich, burger and beer options. I liked the food and the atmosphere.

After biking forty miles that day, we spent the night in Ohiopyle, PA. Ohiopyle isn’t like the other towns we visited on the GAP. It’s next to an extremely popular state park and a white water rafting river. The town is basically a couple of guest houses, a few restaurants and a handful of paddling and cycling outfitters.

We stayed in the Ferncliff Guest House, which was clean and air-conditioned with no Wi-Fi. I chose this guest house because there was one room that had a private bath – and that’s my number one priority! Thankfully, we were the only guests in the house that night. Of our three nights on the trail, this was the most basic and least comfortable. Our en suite room had two old double beds and only SoftSoap for bathing. Coffee, tea and banana muffins were provided for breakfast. There just aren’t many options for lodging in Ohiopyle, and staying in decent yet unusual places is part of the adventure we enjoy. If we ride the GAP again, I may try another option in Ohiopyle called the Yough Plaza Motel.

Dinner that night at the Ohiopyle House Cafe was a pleasant surprise. Everything is made from scratch, and the gnocchi bolognese was delicious.

Day 3

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Our third day on the trail took us through pleasant Connellsville with good lunch options, but it was way too early to eat lunch. So, we looked at the map and thought there would be other towns with restaurants before we reached our destination for that night. We were wrong. At least our 42-mile ride for that day was easy. We reached West Newton, PA by 2 pm and were eating lunch at the The Trailside restaurant by 2:30. My grilled roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese really hit the spot. No Paleo diet for me that day!

We stayed in the Bright Morning Bed and Breakfast which is right beside the GAP trail. It was by far our nicest lodging on the ride with a comfortable queen sized bed, private bath, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Plus, the owners served a delicious full breakfast the following morning. Quite a treat compared to our other mornings on the trail!

After reading reviews on TripAdvisor, dinner in West Newton had to be at the tiny West Newton Pizza House where two older women lovingly make each pizza to order in rectangular cookie sheet pans. I think the locals call and pick up their pizzas, but there were four or five tables and a cooler with bottled soft drinks for those wanting to eat in. The pizza was slightly thicker than thin crust pizza, with a crispy bottom and chewy top. Delicious!

Once again, seeing a laundromat near our B&B, we were able to do some much-needed washing so that we could don clean cycling attire the next morning!

Day 4

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Our final day of 36 miles transitioned us from peaceful woods and rivers to urban Pittsburgh, where the GAP trail ended at Point State Park – the convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers. Our scheduled shuttle back to our car in Cumberland, MD was with Golden Triangle Bike Rental, right beside the trail in Pittsburgh. We were a bit earlier than expected in Pittsburgh, and Golden Triangle was so accommodating in getting us back to Cumberland earlier than we had planned.

As opposed to the C&O Towpath, which I’m glad I did but have no desire to ride again, I would redo this cycling trip on the Great Allegheny Passage trail in a heartbeat. The scenery was beautiful and varied, the trail in good condition and the options for lodging and dining easy.

If you like cycling, I highly recommend that you ride the GAP!

I May Be an Addict, But I Have a Gift for You

My mother thinks I’m addicted to my iPhone (and iPad and computer). What can I say? I guess “if the shoe fits…”

It’s not what you think. I rarely use social media. I apologize now to all my Facebook friends for not posting “Happy Birthday!” on your timeline when you were so kind to post on mine.

I NEVER play games. I used to play Words with Friends with my husband, but he quit playing after I slaughtered him three times in a row. Bad sport!

When I text, it’s because I have something important to quickly tell someone. Except when I’m sending a picture that I just know a family member would love to see!

I do not Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, Pin, Whisper, Tinder or Vine with anyone.

But back to my mother.

I took a trip with her to Portugal this summer. Her treat. Before we left, I was obsessed with finding out whether our hotels and river boat cruise would have W-Fi. I refuse to pay for an international cell phone plan when I know I can do everything I want if I just have free Wi-Fi.

They did and I was as happy as a clam because I could stay connected with my life back home. In the mornings and evenings when we weren’t out sightseeing I’d email, text, listen to voicemails, make calls and look up stuff online – all for free. Except for paying 2.3 cents per minute when I had to call another phone back in the States. That’s basically free to me.

That’s why she thinks I’m addicted. But she certainly reaped the benefits when she was able to talk to her grandchildren!

Using an iPhone for all of this in Europe isn’t hard. It’s just those pesky settings and knowing which apps are best for the way you want to connect.

Here’s what I did.

First, I just wrote down everything I needed to do to prepare for using my iPhone in Europe:

  • Which settings did I need to change on my iPhone before I arrived in Europe to avoid cell phone charges.
  • How to set up my iPhone for free access to my Voicemail.
  • How to set up my iPhone for free texting.
  • How to call any phone, worldwide, for free or nearly free.
  • How to save and use maps for sightseeing.
  • How to return my iPhone to its pre-trip settings.

That led to writing an ebook about my little system which led to developing an online course to teach other travel-lovers how to use their iPhones in Europe for free (or nearly free).

Which leads to why I’m even writing all of this. My new online course “How to Use Your iPhone for Free (or nearly Free) is now live and I’d like to offer it to you, my readers, for free through this Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s on the e-learning site called Udemy and all you have to do is click on this link to register and get my course for free:

https://www.udemy.com/how-to-use-your-iphone-for-free-or-nearly-free-in-europe/?couponCode=FREEINVITE

If you have to re-enter the code it’s FREEINVITE.

Even if you don’t have an upcoming trip but think you might one day soon, go ahead and claim the free course. It comes with lifetime access.

Need more info? Here’s the promo video I created for the course:

And finally, I want you to know how grateful I am for you. For reading my articles or visiting my website.

Happy Thanksgiving!

My Latest STSM&D (Save Time, Save Money & Delight) Tips!

This summer is flying by and, not to be corny, if you’re making reservations involving flying, be sure to see my tip below. There’s also an awesome trivia game that you play with Google Maps, a citizen science site where you help with real research projects and beautiful backgrounds to customize your Gmail page.

Read more

New STSM&D (Save Time, Save Money & Delight) Travel Tips

In keeping with the beginning of summer and my mind on an upcoming vacation, I’ve found some good information to help you save time and money when you travel.

Happy trails to you! Read more

iPhone Travel Tips for Europe

I love to travel. Especially to Europe.

Italy. Yum!!!

Preparing for an international trip is much easier these days with the plethora of sites and apps to help you decide where to go, where to stay, how to save money, etc.

Last week, I shared some apps and tips for those travel logistics.

This week I’m focusing on two tips for traveling to Europe:

1) Learning (or re-learning) a language for free

There are many expensive programs you can purchase like Rosetta Stone and Influenz, but they just aren’t fun to use.

I recently started using a free site and app called Duolingo (duolingo.com) and highly recommend it! The lessons are relatively short and include speaking into your device’s microphone.

I especially enjoy using it on my iPhone because I can get a quick lesson done whenever and wherever I have 5 to 10 minutes of downtime.

And to help you translate in a foreign country, I recommend that you download both the Google Translate and Jibbigo apps. You will need Wi-Fi or a data plan to use Google Translate, so be sure use Jibbigo to download offline access for the languages you will need.

2) Using your iPhone in Europe

You can unknowingly spend a lot of money using your cell phone in Europe the way you do in the States unless you plan and prepare before you leave.

This information and my research focuses on ways to avoid paying international fees to your wireless provider.

The first step in cell phone planning is to decide how you want to be able to use your iPhone in Europe.

  • Do you need to be available for incoming calls/texts/email all the time?
  • Or, can you plan your calls/texts/emails for times when you have free Wi-Fi in a hotel or restaurant?
  • If you are sightseeing without a guide, do you want to use GPS for navigation by foot, bike or car?
  • Or, could you download and save maps with free Wi-Fi before you sightsee and use the maps with no navigation assistance?
  • Do you want to be able to access the Internet at any time, or just when you have free Wi-Fi?

This table simplifies the questions to help you see your options.

Calls/Texts Email Downloaded Maps GPS Navigation Internet

Full Access 24/7

 $$  $$    $$  $$

For Emergencies Only

 $  

Only with Free Wi-Fi

         

Full Access 24/7

Of course, the most expensive use of your cell phone in Europe would be to have full access through your cell provider, just like you have in the States.

Other options for 24/7 coverage include:

  • renting or purchasing a European cell phone (won’t be as useful without all your apps)
  • renting a European mobile hotspot (won’t last a whole day between charges)
  • using an unlocked iPhone with a European SIM card (if you have a Verizon iPhone, you can do this!)

For Emergencies Only

You can sign up for a global calling and/or data plan with your cell phone provider, but you will have to be diligent that your settings are correct on your iPhone and that you do not go over the plan you purchased. This is usually where people end up with a big surprising bill when they return.

Only with Free Wi-Fi

By planning ahead and correctly setting up some services, you can do the following for free in Europe wherever you have free Wi-Fi:

  • Access your voicemail messages by setting up a Google Voice number and forwarding calls to that number.
  • Access and send text messages if your cell phone provider offers “cloud texting,” which I know Verizon and AT&T do.
  • Video or voice call your contacts via Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime.
  • Call landlines or cell phones in Europe or the US for pennies a minute.
  • Email, search the internet and download maps.

In the past, I’ve written about how to use your iPhone in Europe for free here, here ,here, here and here! It’s a great place for you to start for the preparations and settings you’ll need for spending little or no money on your iPhone and staying connected.

I’ve also put together all the tools and settings you’ll need in one easy-to-follow ebook. If you really want to learn how to use your iPhone for free in Europe, click here.

 

How this small town girl helped a hip New Yorker

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days in New York City. I was tagging along for fun while my husband attended a conference. As soon as we settled into our hotel, I went on my iPhone to search for the subway map. I like walking and using the subway in NYC on my own during the daytime, and I wanted to map out my routes for my activities.

Somehow, I figured out that Google Maps for the iPhone would show me all the subway lines and provide walking and subway directions for any place I was going. I was thrilled. Having a newish iPhone 5, I had not downloaded Google Maps yet. (Remember, Apple recently opted to ship new iPhones with its own maps app instead of Googles’.) I quickly downloaded the free Google Maps from the App store and began exploring the routes I would take to museums, restaurants and shopping.

Like any maps or navigation program, you enter a destination name or address and request a route from either your current location or a different address that you enter. With Google Maps and public transportation in a city like New York, you simply select from a variety of options and, voilà, detailed walking and subway instructions are at your fingertips.

If you’ve ever ridden a subway, you know that choosing the direction of the train you are boarding can be confusing among the rush of the crowd. The final station for each train is the only posted directional, and subway map posters are not easy to read. The Google Maps subway route instructions clearly spell out the final train stations, the number of stops before you get off, and show the walking parts of your route on a map.

While waiting on a subway platform one evening in Greenwich Village, an attractive young lady who was obviously going out on the town was struggling with her iPhone and asked us for help. Because her destination was near ours and I had total confidence in my Google Maps directions, I was able to help her make it to her party. Plus, she was happy to learn that all she needed to do for her future subway excursions was to download Google Maps for the iPhone.

You may not have a need for public transportation routes on a regular basis, but Google Maps is now one of my favorite sightseeing tools for exploring new places, whether by foot, car or public transportation.

How to Use Google Maps for the iPhone/iPad

  • Once you have downloaded Google Maps to your iPhone/iPad, touch the Google-Maps-Icon-36x36 icon to open it.
  • Enter your destination address or place.
  • Google Maps will show your destination on the map and the address at the bottom.

Getting Directions By Car

  • To the right of your address, you will see one of the following: Google-Maps-Car  Google-Maps-Public-Transit  Google-Maps-Walker (for car, mass transit or walking directions)
  • Touch the one that you see.
  • If it’s not the Google-Maps-Car, touch the Google-Maps-Car when the next screen appears.
  • Choose a starting point for your directions by touch My location.
  • Either enter an address in the top field and select from the locations listed, or touch My location to use your current location. For audio driving directions, it works best if you use My location as your starting point.
  • If you want to avoid highways or toll road, touch Route options. Otherwise, you don’t need to go into Route options.
  • Google Maps will list one or more routes.
  • Select one and the map will appear with your selected route in blue.
  • Press Start to begin audio navigation.
  • To return to your list of routes, touch the From/To box at the top of the map.

Getting Directions By Walking

  • To the right of your address, you will see one of the following: Google-Maps-Car  Google-Maps-Public-Transit  Google-Maps-Walker (for car, mass transit or walking directions)
  • Touch the one that you see.
  • If it’s not the Google-Maps-Walker, touch the Google-Maps-Walker when the next screen appears.
  • Choose a starting point for your directions by touch My location.
  • Either enter an address in the top field and select from the locations listed, or touch My location to use your current location.
  • Google Maps will list one or more routes.
  • Select one and the map will appear with your selected route in blue.
  • Currently, walking directions are not in audio. You have two options:
    • To visually see your route touch Preview and then the top right ‘>’ repeatedly.
    • For written walking directions, touch the left side of the route bar at the bottom.
  • Once you are walking, you can follow your moving blue dot along the route.

Getting Directions By Public Transportation (Local Train and Bus)

  • To the right of your address, you will see one of the following: Google-Maps-Car  Google-Maps-Public-Transit  Google-Maps-Walker (for car, mass transit or walking directions)
  • Touch the one that you see.
  • If it’s not the Google-Maps-Public-Transit, touch the Google-Maps-Public-Transit when the next screen appears.
  • Choose a starting point for your directions by touch My location.
  • Either enter an address in the top field and select from the locations listed, or touch My location to use your current location.
  • Google Maps will list one or more routes.
  • Select one and the map will appear with your selected route in blue.
  • On the right lower edge of the map, you will see three vertical dots. Touch the dots.
  • Touch Public transit to see all public transportation routes overlaid on the map.
  • Touch the route bar on the bottom. Written directions for boarding the correct transit, number of stops and walking portions will be listed.
  • You can also follow your progress on the map via your moving blue dot.

Extra Options

  • To place your current position on the map, touch the arrow on the bottom left.
  • To see current traffic conditions, touch the three vertical dots, and then Traffic.
  • To see Satellite view with roads, touch the three vertical dots, and then Satellite.
  • To see Google Earth view, touch the three vertical dots and then Google Earth. If you haven’t installed the Google Earth app, you will be prompted to do so. Google Earth is fun, but not a good choice for directions.

 

Using Your iPhone in a Foreign Country

This is the fifth article in my series on How to Avoid Charges on Your iPhone When Traveling Overseas. If you haven’t read the previous ones, this post will be much more helpful if you read Articles 1, 2, 3 and 4 first. When you follow those instructions in this series you will be able to make phone calls, access email or go online when you have Wi-Fi internet access. Plus, it saves so much money compared to international calling plans with your cell phone service.

Once you are in your international destination with your iPhone properly set up, you will first need to:

Connect with a New Network

  • Touch Settings.
  • Touch Wi-Fi. Available networks will show under Choose a Network…
  • Select your location’s network.
  • If necessary, obtain the password from your hotel or location and enter it.

As long as you have Wi-Fi access, you can:

Skype with Family and Friends

  • Touch Skype-App-icon.
  • Touch Contacts>>Skype Contacts.
  • Select your contact.
  • Touch Video Call. Once you are connected to your contact, if you find the quality of the video call to be poor, hang up and call back as a Voice Call.
  • You can also just text through Skype by selecting IM.

Call a US Phone Number using your iPhone’s Contacts

  • Touch Skype-App-icon.
  • Touch Skype-Call-Phones-icon .
  • If +1 is not showing above the keypad, touch and hold the 0 until a “+” appears, then type 1.
  • At the right side of the number-to-dial field, touch Skype-link-to-iphone-contacts. This will open Contacts in your iPhone.
  • Find the contact you’re calling and touch their phone number to select it. The format for the number you are dialing should be +1 (area code) phone number.
  • Touch iPhone-phone-icon on the keypad to place the call.***This will use a little of your Skype credit.

Dial a US Phone Number Directly

  • Touch Skype-App-icon.
  • Touch Skype-Call-Phones-icon .
  • If +1 is not showing above the keypad, touch and hold the 0 until a “+” appears, then type 1.
  • Type the area code and number.  Skype will automatically insert parentheses and a hyphen.
  • The format for the number you are dialing should be +1 (area code) phone number.
  • Touch iPhone-phone-icon on the keypad to place the call.***This will use a little of your Skype credit.

Dial a non-US Phone Number

  • Touch Skype-App-icon.
  • Touch Skype-Call-Phones-icon.
  • Dial in the international format (use the “+” sign, then country code, then city/area code, then number) – even if you are in the same country as the number you are trying to reach.
  • Touch iPhone-phone-icon on the keypad to place the call.***Again, this will use a little of your Skype credit.

Check Your Voicemail Messages Forwarded to Google Voice

If you set up a Google Voice greeting and forwarded your cell phone calls to Google Voice before you left the United States, this is how to check your voicemail messages.

  • Touch the previously installed Google Voice app Google-Voice-Icon.
  • Sign in with your Gmail address and password, if required.
  • If you see the Menu screen, touch Voicemail to select and listen to your messages.
  • If you see the Inbox screen, you will also see messages to select.  Some may be text messages.

The last article in this series will help you get your iPhone back to “normal” once you return home.

 

 

iPhone Settings To Change Right Before You Leave the USA

Your big trip has finally arrived! You have reservations in hotels with Wi-Fi. You have a Google Voice account for your cell phone’s voicemail while you’re away and you’ve recorded your voicemail greeting. You’ve joined Skype, downloaded the Skype app to your iPhone, set up your Skype contacts, purchased Skype credit and practiced. Now, what are all those pesky settings that need to be changed on your iPhone right before you leave so that you don’t have an unpleasant surprise on your phone bill next month? Change these iPhone settings while waiting at the gate or right after you board the plane.

  1. (This one’s optional!) If you are a Facetime user and plan to use it abroad, touch Settings>>FacetimeFacetime should be ON and Use Cellular Data OFF.
  2. Touch the Home button.
  3. Touch iPhone-phone-icon.
  4. Touch Favorites.
  5. Touch Call Forwarding On (which you previously created).  Listen for the three beeps that indicate calls to your cell phone will be forwarded to your Google Voice voicemail.
  6. Touch the Home button.
  7. Touch Settings.
  8. Turn Airplane Mode ON. (In airplane mode, no phone, wi-fi or bluetooth signals are emitted. If your airplane offers wi-fi service that you’d like to use, go to Settings>>Wi-Fi ON.)
  9. When you arrive at your foreign destination, leave Airplane Mode ON. Turn on Wi-Fi access by touching Settings>>Wi-Fi ON.
  10. If you need to activate Bluetooth, touch Settings>>Bluetooth ON.
  11. You MUST leave Airplane Mode ON the whole time you are abroad to prevent any cellular usage of your phone.
  12. Now, have a great trip!