Category Archives: hotel

Our Trip to Turkey

We just returned from a trip to Turkey and we can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed it. We’d visited Istanbul briefly during a pre-cruise stop in 2011 when we’d only had 3 hours to pay short visits to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. That whirlwind tour whetted our appetites and we knew we wanted to return to experience more of that vibrant city. Recently we had the chance to do just that.

I could use so many superlatives to describe the trip – awesome, incredible, wonderful, marvelous, memorable – but the word that came to mind most often was WOW and that was from the first day to the last. This “cultural baklava” offers layers of culture, history, delicious food, warm/friendly people. Here are a few the things that we recommend:

BLUE MOSQUE

The 400 year-old Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), with its six minarets, is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable structures. Although we had been there before, we were again captivated by the beauty of the blue tiles and the lush red carpet. Even though it is a popular tourist site, it continues to function as a mosque today.

 HAGIA SOPHIA

Located very near the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia is another awe-inspiring must-see mosque. It was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 so it is also rich in history. As one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, the interior is decorated with beautiful mosaics, marble pillars and elegant chandeliers. It is currently under renovation, so large areas were obstructed by scaffolding, which took away from the majesty of the interior.

CRUISE THE BOSPHORUS

One of the highlights of our trip was taking a cruise on the Bosphorus, the beautiful waterway that divides Istanbul since it sits on two continents, Europe and Asia. It is one of the world’s most strategic waterways, connecting the Black sea to the Mediterranean. One of it’s most iconic sites is the Bosphorus Bridge, a beautiful suspension bridge that reminded us of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a busy waterway that offers several sightseeing options including ferries and dinner cruises. We chose to take a small yacht and spent several hours admiring the spectacular buildings, palaces and scenery.

WATCH THE SUN RISE OVER THE BOSPHORUS

In Istanbul we stayed at two different hotels and both had rooms facing the Bosphorus. Sitting on a balcony, sipping tea and listening for the call to prayer was a great way to begin a day.

VISIT A BAZAAR

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without spending time in the Grand Bazaar. Built nearly five centuries ago, with more than 4000 shops, it is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Originally built to sell textiles the offerings have expanded to include a myriad of other goods including jewelry, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices, antiques shops and many other Turkish delights. Visited by between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily, it is the ultimate shopping experience. Before entering I wondered how pushy the vendors would be. They were definitely insistent, but not overly aggressive.

We also spent time at the Spice Bazaar the second largest covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. It has a total of 85 shops selling spices, tea, Turkish Delight and other sweets, but also jewelry, souvenirs, dried fruits and nuts. The sights, sounds and aromas are truly intoxicating. The spices we brought home have definitely enhanced the meals we cook.

EAT, EAT, EAT

Delicious, delectable, delightful, divine…these words only begin to describe how good the food is – all over Turkey. As a foodie, I made a point of sampling culinary delights all over the country; From Istanbul to Kusadasi to Canakkale, to Pumakkale. From fine dining, to street food everything we ate was fresh, well-prepared and delicious; much of it organic and locally sourced. Everywhere we went there were street food options – roasted chestnuts, roasted corn on the cob and my favorite was in Canakkale. We’d just finished seeing the Trojan Horse when we came across a cart that sold cups of roasted, buttery corn kernels. Hot, tasty and delicious.

On our last night in Istanbul we had the fine dining experience of a lifetime at the imperial palace section of the Çırağan Palace Kempinski., a 5 star hotel that is absolutely regal. It was built in 1863 by Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz and it still reflects the ultimate luxury of a genuine Ottoman Palace. We dined at the elegant and award-winning Tuğra Restaurant, located on the first floor of the historic Palace, and had the ultimate Ottoman dining. Each delicious course, work of art, was presented with a descriptive introduction and all the pomp and circumstance befitting sultans and their guests. We dined like royalty.

Although one of my travel goals is to eat my way around the world, I may not be able to circle the globe without returning to Turkey.

VISIT A RUG FACTORY

Carpet weaving represents a traditional art, dating back to pre-Islamic times and some of the finest examples can be found in Turkey. So visiting the Sultanköy carpet gallery was a real treat. In addition to admiring the beautiful carpets we had the opportunity to learn about their production, including dyeing and weaving techniques. We’d visited a similar factory in Selçuk during our 2011 visit, so we knew what to expect. We also knew that we did not want to go home empty handed, so after an intense round of bargaining, a purchase was made.

DIG INTO THE HISTORICAL SITES

We expected to visit sites like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Grand Bazaar – and all were amazing. But they were only the beginning. Each of the historical sites/ruins revealed layer upon layer of civilizations past, complete with massive theaters, towering columns and even latrines. It really felt like we were walking back in history. Since none of them were very crowded we were treated to what felt like private tours. That was definitely the case at Alexandria Troas, where the site was opened up just for us; talk about VIP treatment! My husband and I had visited Ephesus in 2011 (with throngs of other tourists), so we knew what to expect. But on this visit we could see how much more of the ancient city had been excavated.

Visiting the sites requires lots of walking – up to a mile or more – and a pretty high level of fitness since much of the terrain is uneven. The fact that many of the sites had added wooden walkways made it easier to get around.

MAKE A FURRY FRIEND

Everywhere we went there were LOTS of dogs and cats. In the city, in the countryside and even at the historical sites animals were everywhere! They were domesticated, healthy, well fed and quite friendly. Turkey is definitely a nice place for animal lovers.

FEAR FACTOR Like many countries around the globe, Turkey has been affected recently by several violent events. So some tourists have taken it off of their travel destination lists. Some of our friends and associates questioned our decision to visit. However, we found no reasons to be fearful and felt completely safe at all times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a reckless traveler and would not venture into a dangerous situation. But we didn’t feel any more at risk than we’ve felt at home in the U.S. It is still high on our list of favorite destinations and we plan to return in the very near future.

 

Caesars Palace – a Hotel Review

As frequent visitors to Las Vegas for the past 25 years, we have stayed at more than 15 properties – on and off of the Strip – ranging from the Flamingo to the Mandarin Oriental. So in January we stayed at Caesars for the first time. We had frequented the property for many years when it hosted major boxing matches. Our first was “The War” in 1989, between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. We have also been regular visitors to their Qua Roman Baths and Spa and regular shoppers at the Forum Shops.

We’ve watched Caesars grow through the years, becoming one of the largest resorts on the Strip. So we wanted to find out what the experience would be like as hotel guests. We took a shuttle from the airport and upon arrival found that the hotel drop-off area was uncovered and a distance from the front entrance. There was no one in that area to assist with luggage. That is definitely an inconvenience in inclement weather. So if it had been raining or triple-digit temperatures (as is often the case during summer months) we would have been very uncomfortable after being dropped off, and waiting to be picked up. There is no covered shelter to protect from the elements. That area is also the designated drop off/pickup point for Uber and Lyft drivers. There is no clear walkway from that area to the entrance so we had to maneuver our way through traffic, over uneven surfaces to enter the resort.

When we made it to the check-in desk, and presented our reservation confirmation we were greeted warmly and processed fairly quickly. It was 1:30pm and check-in time is 3:00pm. This is normal procedure at hotels, but often there are rooms available and guests are allowed to check in early. We were told that there were no rooms available yet, and advised to leave our luggage at the bell desk. Then we were presented with and option – if we paid $30.00 a room would be available. We chose to utilize that option. However, we viewed that as an upsell. We have stayed at fine hotels all over the world, and have never had to pay for early check in. If a room is available, we’re normally allowed to check in. It was apparent that rooms were available, but not until we paid the $30.00. This is an unnecessary upsell and a deterrent.

Locating the room was an adventure in itself. Caesars is a 50 year-old property that started as a single hotel, but has grown into a maze of separate towers, connected in very disjointed ways. Signage is confusing, at best. Getting around the property is similar to maneuvering a maze. We stayed in the Palace Tower in a standard king room on the 26th floor, overlooking the pool. The room was spacious, clean, well-furnished and even offered a Jacuzzi tub. However, there was a letter in the room, informing us of construction due to remodeling. We should have been informed of that at the front desk. We did find the noise disruptive and registered a complaint. They did offer a change of room.

The Palace Tower is one of the oldest, and getting to the elevators requires walking through an area lined with shops and salons on both sides. Guests passing through this area are constantly solicited by aggressive shopkeepers. We were accosted each time we entered and exited the tower – VERY annoying. That sort of behavior is expected out on the Strip, but certainly not inside of your hotel tower.

DINING: The dining options are plentiful – from fine dining, to the food court – and service is excellent. The Bacchanal Buffet is one of the best in Las Vegas. We also enjoyed Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill that served great pub food and the service is exceptional. Prices at all of the eating establishments (with the exception of the food court) would be considered $$$, so it is not the place to “eat on the cheap”.

Since it was January, we did not utilize the swimming pool. But walked around the area and examined the cabanas. The area is well maintained with marble statues and pretty landscaping. No doubt it is a happening place during the warmer months.

GAMING: Table games and slots are plentiful, covering much of the casino floor. There is a large Sports Book, with very large high-quality screens. However, it is poorly lit and with the layout, it is difficult to see the betting boards. Also, free seating is limited, there are only a few free seats in the very front row; which only allows a distorted view of the screens and the betting boards. The remaining seats must be reserved – at a price. In many of the other resort casinos on the Strip (Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, Encore, Aria) free seats are plentiful.

SHOPPING: The Forum Shops still offers a great shopping experience, with shops and boutiques by many of the world’s top designers. It is well laid out and beautifully designed. It features the Roman theme and even has a small replica of the Trevi Fountain. The “Fall of Atlantis” show is not to be missed. With the dramatic music and moving statues, it is one of the best free shows on the Strip.

ENTERTAINMENT: There are a good number of nightlife options, including the Omnia Nightclub and the Colosseum where many of the world’s top entertainers like Celine Dion and Elton John perform.

Caesars is priced like many of the other luxury resorts on the Strip, but the overall experience does not compare. I would consider it a 3 star property with a few 4 star elements.

If it Sounds Too Good….

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”

vacation for 4No doubt, you’ve heard this old adage many times in your life. And it’s true; especially in the travel arena. If you’ve tried to book travel online recently (and who hasn’t?) you know that there are literally hundreds of websites advertising thousands of “cheap travel deals”. Are they legitimate or are they scams? How can you tell?

As a travel professional who only works with reputable vendors – and vets them thoroughly – I was curious so I decided to check out one of these fantastic deals.

Eiffel Tower With Blue Sky

It was a 4-night getaway to Paris (round-trip airfare, 4 nights in a centrally located hotel) all for the low, low price of $699 (per person, based on double occupancy). Sounds good, huh? Maybe too good….This particular deal could only be booked by telephone, so I contacted the call center to make sure that $699 was the actual cost. As it turned out, there were a few more charges that had not been included in the original advertisement. They included a Paris city tax ($3 per night), seat selection fee ($98), checked bag fee ($149), 2% credit card processing fee.

TOTAL PRICE: $977 (a far cry from the low, low price of $699)

Hold on, it gets worse. This particular vendor had some very interesting clauses in their terms and conditions.
One stated: Airfare costs and availability are subject to change at any time prior to payment. Even after you have paid, trips with scheduled air transportation within or from the United States are subject to supplemental price increases that may be imposed by the supplier and/or government. By agreeing to these terms and conditions you consent to any such price increase.

Another stated: Fares and prices advertised on this site are accurate to the best of our knowledge. However, on occasion, inadvertent errors in relation to prices and flight details can occur. We will inform you as soon as reasonably possible of any such errors and we reserve the right to charge you the correct fare or, as appropriate, correct any inaccurate information in the contract between you and the carrier or ourselves.

So apparently if I booked the trip through them I was also agreeing to pay “unforeseen” price increases due to “inadvertent errors”. Are you kidding me?

Since they would only complete the booking via telephone, once they had my credit card number, who knows what the total charge would have been?

When booking travel arrangements for our clients, our agency always requires them to complete a written credit card authorization form. It shows the exact amount that will be charged to their credit card. It provides protection for them from unauthorized charges, and protects us against fraudulent accusations.

To add insult to injury, I found that I could book the trip online myself for almost the same price – without all of the “interesting” terms and conditions.

I’m not saying that discount travel deals don’t exist, but it is important to check them out thoroughly and read ALL of the fine print.

Here are some tips for vetting those great deals:

  1. WALK THE DEAL ALL THE WAY THROUGH. The advertised price is a lead-in price that does not include all of the taxes and fees. So don’t expect that $299 cruise to be only $299. Even when cruise lines or hotels advertise, “kids go free” it only refers to the base fare, but you’ll still have to pay taxes and fees for that free person.
  2. CHECK THE DATE: The advertised price may only apply to a particular date. I recently saw an example of this with a cruise fare where the fine print stated, *Fares from $499 is based on 12/11/16 for 6-day Caribbean sailing only Fares apply to minimum lead-in categories on a space available basis at time of booking. So if you and your BFF are thinking about taking a cruise on any other date, the $499 price will not apply.
  3. CHECK THE VENDOR’S TERMS AND CONDITIONS THOROUGLY. Once you complete the transaction, you have agreed to those terms, whether you read them or not. If there is a dispute, you will have no recourse, after all….you agreed.
  4. THERE AIN’T NO FREE LUNCH. Airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tour companies and all travel vendors are in business to make money. They may offer discounted rates, or extra amenities, but FREE? Forget about it. Even if someone offers your free show tickets or buffet vouchers, you’ll only get them after setting through a high-pressure presentation.
  5. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. If you’ve ever shopped at a swap meet or street market you’ve probably seen some great deals on Rolex watches….or cheap designer purses. Guess what? They’re not authentic. Neither are many of those unbelievable travel deals. There are times when hotels or cruise lines will offer discounts on unsold inventory and those are good deals. But if you see a deal like “stay at the Ritz Carlton for $49/night” or “take a 7 day cruise for only $199”, be skeptical, very skeptical.
  6. BOOK THROUGH A REPUTABLE TRAVEL AGENT. An experienced travel agent can recommend reputable travel vendors because they have vetted them and have relationships with them. If there is a problem you have an advocate to help you sort it out.

Those unbelievably low travel deals are going to continue to flood your inbox and pop up on your computer screen. Just be sure that you check them out thoroughly before booking any travel. And if it sounds too good to be true…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegas Your Way

vegas skylineLas Vegas….Sin City….Entertainment Capital of the World…..whenever it’s mentioned it evokes strong emotions. People either really love it or really hate it. I’ve heard people make statements like, “I don’t like Las Vegas because it’s so smoky”, or “I don’t like Las Vegas because I don’t gamble”. Apparently they believe that smoking and gambling are all that Vegas has to offer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I happen to be one of those who really love that city – especially the Strip. I’ve been going there for the last 26 years and often go several times each year. I’ve watched the Strip reinvent and redefine itself continuously. Believe me, there’s much more to do than smoke and gamble.

There’s a world of activities, attractions and entertainment to enjoy. Here are just a few:

DINING

wicked spoon charcuterieIf there ever was a foodie’s paradise, Vegas is it. Gone are the days of the cheap buffets and $2.99 breakfasts. Many of the world’s top celebrity chefs have opened restaurants in the major hotels and they offer world-class dining experiences. That list includes Joel Roubuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Giada De Laurentis, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. Many of them have more than one, and they offer a variety of dining experiences. For an unforgettable French dining experience I recommend Joel Robuchon, a 3 Michelin star restaurant located inside of the MGM Grand hotel/casino. On the other hand, if all you really want is a hamburger, you can’t go wrong with Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace.

bobbys turkey burgerLocated right on the Strip in front of the City Center, I discovered this gem during a recent stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The burgers were so good that I had to eat there twice. Even the service was exceptional; I’ve never been served so well in a casual dining establishment.

If you have a sweet tooth I highly recommend Buddy V’s at the Palazzo and Jean Philippe at Aria.

jean philippe desserts2The Las Vegas buffet scene is still alive and well and I’ve had some unbelievably delicious buffet experiences at Bacchanal (Caesar’s Palace), The Wynn Buffet and The Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan).

SHOPPING

ac shops for jewelryMany of the world’s top designers have opened shops in the major resorts and shopping centers like Crystals in the City Center and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and Prada are just a few of the shops that I visit when I need to get some “retail therapy”. The Fashion Show Mall has more than 250 stores and offers a nice shopping experience. For discounts and deals I always visit the Las Vegas Premium Outlets or take a drive out to the Primm Outlets.

ENTERTAINMENT

blues brothersAt just slightly over 4 miles long, the Strip has more entertainment venues than anywhere else that I can think of. It has always been home to world-famous entertainers, showrooms and lounges. But today’s choices are absolutely mind boggling. In addition to the world-famous headliners, there are several Cirque du Soleil shows, magic shows, comedians, burlesque shows and so much more. During my recent trip I went to see Legends in Concert, one of the longest running hit shows where the super-talented cast members play well-known entertainers like Prince, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston. It was great! The nightclub scene is phenomenal and some of the resorts even have day clubs. Marquee Day Club at the Cosmopolitan had a very long line….at noon. It spans 22,000 square-feet and boasts two pools, several bars and a gaming area. Programming throughout the season is highlighted by Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub resident DJs encompassing the world’s premier electronic music talent.

You can always find discount (often half price) show tickets at one of the many Tix4Tonight locations.

ADVENTURE/ATTRACTIONS

For those seeking action or adventure, there are lots of choices. Las Vegas Valley has golf courses and packages for every skill level. You can take a flying leap at Vegas Indoor Skydiving. You can satisfy your need for speed by taking a spin around a racetrack in an exotic car like a Ferrari 488 GTTS or a McLaren 570S. You can soar above the Strip in a helicopter, or fly to the Grand Canyon.

Amusement park lovers have a variety of attractions to choose from. The High Roller at the Linq, a 550-foot tall observation wheel (similar to the London Eye) allows riders to enjoy the view of Las Vegas in comfortable glass-enclosed cabins. You can even have open bar.

high rollerThe Roller Coaster on top of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino features towering drops, multiple loops and stunning views of the Strip. When it was first built I agreed to ride it with my son. From the ground it didn’t look too rough…boy was I wrong. That was one hair-raising ride!

If you really need a dose of adrenaline, go to the Stratosphere to try the world’s highest thrill rides. All rides are at the top of the Stratosphere Tower, over 900 feet high. The four extreme thrill rides are The Sky Jump, the Big Shot, the X Scream, and Insanity.

SPAS

quaSpas in Las Vegas offer a variety of specialty treatments and wellness services that aren’t offered in your neighborhood back home. Some of my favorite places to be pampered are Spa Mandalay (Mandalay Bay Hotel), the Mandarin Oriental Spa, and Qua Roman Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace.

FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE

Downtown Las Vegas is home to the Fremont Street experience a pedestrian mall covered by a barrel vault canopy where light and sound shows are presented nightly beginning at dusk on the Viva Vision video screen. For a real rush, try the Slotzilla Zip line experience.

FREE ATTRACTIONS

If you happen to blow your budget before you leave, not to worry. There are plenty of free attractions to enjoy. The Bellagio Conservatory is a beautiful place to enjoy elegant arrangements of plants and flowers. Circus, Circus has free shows featuring jugglers, unicyclists, trapeze artists and acrobats perform death-defying stunts and exciting acts every half-hour at the World’s Largest Permanent Circus. One of my favorites is the free Fall of Atlantis fountain show that entertains audiences with special effects and animatronic figures who recount the myth of Atlantis. I especially enjoy watching the Fountains at Bellagio, a combination of music, water and light; it is a spectacular audiovisual performance with its majestic fountains.

mo lobbyMANDARIN ORIENTAL LOBBY

Hotel/resort choices are many and there are options for every budget. During my 26 year love affair with Las Vegas I have stayed at most of the major resorts on the Strip and each one delivers a unique, experience. I have several preferred properties, and my newest is the Mandarin Oriental. It offers a 5-star luxury experience in a non-smoking, non-gaming environment. It is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the non-stop energy of the Strip.

Whatever your preference, Las Vegas is what you make it – and you can do it your way.

How Did You Learn to Travel?

plane at gateHow did you learn to swim? Did you go to the deep end of the swimming pool and jump in? Probably not. You probably started with inflatable water wings, then moved on to swimming lessons and soon enough you were dog-paddling your way across the pool.

How did you learn to ride a bicycle? Did you hop onto your bike and take off down the street? Probably not. It is more likely that you started by pedaling around on a tricycle, and then it was on to your first little bike with training wheels. Finally Mom took off the training wheels, let go of the back of your bike, and you wobbled your way to two-wheeled freedom.

How did you learn to cook? Was the menu for your first dinner party standing rib roast and grand marnier soufflé? No, it was probably more like grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup.

So how did you learn to travel? What are the ABCs of globetrotting? Is it necessary to take lessons? Of course not – travel is a very individual experience and each of us has very specific preferences. It’s not as simple as learning a set of “dos” and don’ts”. There is no school, travel is more of a learn-by-doing experience. However, if there was a Travel University, and they asked me to teach Travel 101, here are some of the topics I would include in the course curriculum.

passportsHow to Pack – If you are planning to be away from home for more than a day, you’ll need to take at least a few things with you. Your destination, and the length of your trip determine what you take. You might be able to manage an overnighter by throwing a few things into a backpack. Some people even manage to take long trips with only a backpack. But if you are going on an extended journey or are planning to visit a different climate, you’ll need something larger. It also depends on your personal style. If you are one of those creative types who can make 27 outfits from 2 pieces of clothing and a few accessories, you won’t need much luggage. But if you’re one of those people who want to make a different fashion statement every day, you’ll need to pack accordingly. Small cosmetics and fragrance samples are a great way to conserve space and weight.

Think about where you’re going and pack accordingly. For example, If you’re going to a tropical climate it’s doubtful that you’ll need that down jacket. Since most airlines charge baggage fees, taking too many pieces of luggage can be quite costly.

How to dress – Be sure to dress for the climate that you’ll be visiting. Last October I spent a week in Dubai where the temperature was triple digits every day. Then in November I traveled to China where it was quite cold and snowing. I took the same amount of luggage for both trips, but used very different packing strategies.

It is also important to dress for the culture that you’ll be visiting. Scanty or revealing clothing is frowned upon in some cultures and at many holy sites. I’ve seen young ladies in hot pants turned away from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. In Dubai I was very careful about what I wore. I saw many women in traditional dress and just as many in western-style clothing. I wanted to make sure that I was cool and comfortable, but did not offend in any way.

adrienne in jerusalemOne of the accessories that I always carry is a light pashmina. It doesn’t take up much space and can be used to cover my head and/or shoulders when necessary.

How to pick the destination – It is important to choose a destination that you really want to go to. You will be investing your time and money, so you want to get a good return on those investments. I’m a travel professional, so often clients look to me to help them decide where to go. In order to do so I have to ask them several questions like:

What is your budget? I’ve found that many people haven’t even considered total cost. In reality, that’s what’s going to drive your travel decisions. In addition to airfare, there is the cost of lodging, meals, tours, tips and entertainment. So all-inclusive resorts are good options since they include all meals, drinks (soft drinks and alcoholic beverages) gratuities and non-motorized water sports. Cruises offer excellent value since they include all meals, nightly shows, night clubs, childcare, and of course transportation from port to port.

What sort of travel experience are you looking for? If they are retired and looking for a quiet relaxing getaway, I won’t suggest that they take a Disney cruise. If they are young wild and free, I know several resorts that will give them exactly what they’re looking for.

What are your interests? Interests vary widely, so it is important to identify destinations that will satisfy those interests. An adventure traveler with an interest in wildlife might enjoy a trip to the Galapagos Islands. A history buff might enjoy a tour of the Tower of London. That fashionista would definitely enjoy a trip to Paris to shop on the Champs Elysees.

Aerial Oasis of the Seas - At Sea off Miami shoreline Oasis of the Seas - Royal Caribbean International
Aerial Oasis of the Seas – At Sea off Miami shoreline
Oasis of the Seas – Royal Caribbean International

Even cruises differ widely. An Amazon River cruise through the Brazilian Rain Forest on a small vessel allows passengers to experience wildlife, piranha fishing and all that the jungle has to offer. An ocean cruise on a big ship can be like a floating city. On a recent transatlantic cruise my husband and I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas with 5000 other passengers. We enjoyed gourmet dining, Broadway shows, an onboard surf simulator, ice-skating, a world-class spa, designer shopping and more. It was a 12-day nonstop party from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona.

Take it Slowly – In today’s fast-paced world people often think that they have to rush into traveling at top speed. You don’t have to jump in at the deep end; it’s OK to ease into experiences. You may want to take your first trip with a buddy who has been to the destination before and can show you the ropes.

The good news is that there are some really good flight deals on the market. But before you book one, make sure it’s a destination that you really want to visit. If that’s not the case, it’s not a deal for you. And make sure that you can get lodging that fits within your budget. Hotel prices are often driven by demand. Recently we found a great airline price to Las Vegas. But when we checked hotel prices for those dates, we found that they were astronomical. Needless to say, we didn’t book those flights.

Start by taking local trips- there are many attractions near our homes that can be great ways to explore local history and culture. This is especially valuable for families who want to introduce their children to travel. A trip to a local museum can give them an appreciation for art exhibits so that eventually they are ready for the Louvre. A trip to a nice restaurant will allow them to get comfortable with ordering from a menu, being served and tipping a waiter. We began cruising with our son when he was quite small, so he learned the art of fine dining at an early age.

There is no single way to learn to travel, it is an individual endeavor. Learning as you go is part of the fun and It is well worth the investment. As a wise man once said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day in the City by the Bay

Travel has always been my passion. So I live in a constant state of packing and unpacking, relishing my last trip while planning the next trip. When I mention that I have been to more than 22 countries and many of the world’s most-visited cities, people always ask what my favorite city is. I have never been able to answer that question, because there is so much to love in each city that I’ve visited. Munching warm croissants in Paris, people watching in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, watching the sun melt into the caldera in Santorini, watching the Changing of the Guard in London, sailing into Oslo at sunrise….the list is endless. However, one city that is always on my short list of favorites is San Francisco. Since I grew up in the Bay Area and have lived here most of my life, I have the opportunity to visit the City by the Bay very often. Although I’ve been there hundreds of times, I am still discovering new experiences and hidden jewels. At only 46.9 square miles, it is not one of the world’s largest cities. But it is certainly one of the most exciting and diverse. There is always something new and exciting to see and do. 8 hours isn’t nearly enough time to experience this vibrant city, but here are a few of the activities it has to offer:

gg bridgeGolden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most iconic structures. Well-known by its orange color and majestic structure, it spans the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco to the Marin Headlands. It is beautiful to drive across and is accessible to pedestrians and bicycles during daylight hours. There are viewing areas on both sides of the bridge that serve as great places to take photos or just enjoy that gorgeous bay.

crabs 2

Fisherman’s Wharf is always a fun place to spend an afternoon. It lines the bay and offers world-class hotels, restaurants and family-friendly attractions. It is best known for its seafood. The air is permeated with the aroma of just-caught crab boiling in the pots along the sidewalk. Whether you enjoy fine dining or just a snack from a sidewalk stand, it is the place to enjoy some of the best seafood in the world. The fish & chips is the best I’ve ever tasted. There are always lots of street performers who provide great free entertainment.

Union Square is a good place to begin a day in the City. Since it is centrally located, it provides easy access to public transportation by bus; streetcar and no visit would be complete without hopping onto a Cable Car. Union Square is a plaza where it’s easy to sit and do some people watching. Since tourists visit the city from all over the world, I’ve often heard 5 or 6 different languages in just a few minutes. It is also the city’s top spot for shopping since the square is surrounded by large department stores like Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. There is also an extensive selection of top designer shops like Tiffany & Co, Carolina Herrera, Chanel and Christian Louboutin.

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Hangin’ in the Haight is always a good way to spend a few hours. Known for it’s history as the home of the 60s hippie movement, it is still one of the coolest areas of the city. I love wandering in and out of the trendy boutiques and vintage clothing stores. It also has some really great restaurants like Indian Oven and Memphis Minnie’s. I always make a stop at Three Twins shop for some of their delicious organic ice cream.

Dining is one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco. With its hundreds of restaurants and every cuisine imaginable, it is truly a foodie’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for a celebrity-chef owned restaurant or just a food truck, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Here are a few of my favorites. I recommend Alioto’s for exceptional seafood and a fine dining experience. I like chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar when I’m in the mood for a good burger and great beer. For some down-home cooking I like Brenda’s French Soul Food. Her crispy fried chicken and fluffy biscuits are simply the best. My husband and I discovered Café Mason by chance and were very pleased with its homey atmosphere, large portions and delicious food – especially the chicken picatta. When we’re in the mood for Italian food we head to North Beach, where there are dozens of choices. We’ve tried several and have never been disappointed. The area is a little “touristy”, so when we want something a little quieter we head to the Nob Hill Café for its intimate atmosphere and delicious Italian food.

indian oven feastGolden Gate Park is a large urban park that offers beautiful green space and a variety of activities. It is often the site of music concerts during the spring and summer months. It is also home to the De Young Museum that features American Art, Modern Art, and special alternating exhibitions. Beauty abounds in the park and you can visit the Japanese Tea Garden, The Conservatory of Flowers, and a botanical garden. There are also several beautiful lakes throughout the park. It is like getting out of the city without actually leaving the city limits.

cable carSan Francisco is a surprisingly “walkable” city. Since it is so compact it is easy to stroll from one area to another. But remember, it’s also a very hilly city, so sometimes a stroll can turn into a steep climb. But it is a great city to explore on foot. One evening my husband and I decided to stroll to a new restaurant in the North Beach area. We started at the top of Nob Hill with its luxury and opulence went through the vibrant Union Square, then through the Chinatown Gate where we were met with the kaleidoscope of activity and exotic atmosphere of Chinatown. From there it wasn’t long before we were in North Beach strolling down Columbus Avenue past all of those wonderful Italian restaurants. It felt as if we’d been on a short international trip.

San Francisco is an international city with a patchwork of cultures and a vibrant energy all its own.