Category Archives: Trip Review

10 Things to do in Barcelona

Barcelona is the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the world’s leading tourist, economic, and cultural centers. With a population of ~1.6 million people, it is an urban kaleidoscope of culture, entertainment, media, food, fashion and architecture. It also happens to be one of my favorite European cities. In the last 10 years I have visited it more than 6 times and each time have discovered something new to enjoy. As a cruise port, it is often visited by tourists. But whether you’re in town for a few hours or a few days, there is always plenty to see and do. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Spend some time on Las Ramblas               Las Ramblas is a tree-lined pedestrian mall that is popular with both tourists and locals. It stretches for ~1 mile and both sides of the street are lined with shops, restaurants, tapas bars, and hotels. It is a perfect place to stroll, see and be seen – or just sip a little sangria.

2. Shop Around La Boqueria

La Boqueria is one of Europe’s oldest markets. Since 1217 it has been used to sell meat, fish and many other goods. Although it is a major tourist attraction, it is also frequented by local residents. It’s easy to find since it’s located right on Las Ramblas.

There are so many choices – fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, juices, baked goods, meat (including some of the best ham in the world)that it’s difficult to know where to begin. You can even purchase tapas to eat onsite at one of the many food counters. Everything is artfully displayed, so it is as visually stimulating as it is delicious. Prices are quite reasonable, so it’s a perfect place to eat on the cheap.

  1. Take the hop-on-hop-off bus

One of my favorite ways to explore a city is by hop-on-hop-off bus and Barcelona offers two companies to choose from; Bus Turistic and City Sightseeing. Both have 3 different lines, so they are the perfect (and affordable) way to tour the entire city. They run frequently, so you can get off and spend as much time as you like in any location. It’s easy to purchase tickets online ahead of time, or just get them on the bus.

  1. Get lost in the Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is the center of the city of old Barcelona. Located near Las Ramblas, it is one of the most fascinating areas of the city. It was built primarily in the late 19th and early 20th century, but some buildings date back to medieval times. The area is filled with charming narrow streets and alleyways that open onto plazas. It’s a perfect place to wander around and enjoy the many shops, eateries and even churches. On a recent visit our hotel room looked out onto the Church of Santa Anna, a medieval church dating back to 1300.

 

 

  1. Eat a sandwich at Conesa

Barcelona is known for it’s delicious tapas and they can be found everywhere. But there are also other dining choices. I’ve had some scrumptious kebobs at several eateries all over the city. On my most recent visit I discovered Conesa, a sandwich shop in the Gothic Quarter. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a hot, tasty pannini.

 

  1. Take a day trip to Montserrat

Montserrat is a multi-peaked rocky range located not far from the city, in Catalonia, Spain, so it is a good option for day trip. It is well known as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Located high on a hill, it is impressive, and views of the valley are spectacular.

  1. Tour wineries in the Penedes Wine Region

Located less than an hour from Barcelona, this is another great option for a day trip – especially for wine lovers. It is one of Spain’s best wine-producing regions, particularly known for it’s Cava production. We spent a day touring the Jean Leon and Torres wineries and the Freixenet Cava caves.

At each winery we were greeted by a knowledgeable guide and each tour ended with plentiful wine tasting and tapas.

  1. Eat tapas – lots of tapas

Tapas are snacks or appetizers that are enjoyed in the early evening. Since dinner is usually served between 9 and 11pm, Spaniards often go “bar hopping” in the hours between finishing work and having dinner. They can be served hot or cold and can include bread, meat, cheese, shellfish, olives, and other delicious fried delicacies. I must confess, that after visiting several tapas bars and enjoying a few sangrias, I’m usually too full to eat a large dinner.

 

  1. Check out the street performers on Las Ramblas

The street performers on Las Ramblas are some of the most imaginative that I have ever seen. Their costumes can range from cute, to kitschy to downright scary.

If you want to take a picture of or with them you’re expected to leave a tip. Each one is unique and puts on a good show.

10. Visit La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is famous for it’s architecture, the city is full of beautiful and imaginative buildings. One of its most famous architects is Antoni Gaudi. One of his most famous buildings is La Sagrada Familia, a large Roman Catholic church. Construction began in 1882 and is still ongoing; with a projected completion date of 2026. It has been called the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages. It is both ancient and futuristic. In a word, it is AMAZING.

Since it is such a popular tourist destination, it is often crowded and lines can be very long. I definitely recommend purchasing a guided tour with skip-the-line access.

These are just a few of the attractions available in this vibrant city, with the cool urban vibe. Whether you choose to take tours around the city, or just sit in a plaza and relax, it is

In Wine Country

Jeff Gordon said, “As I get older, my appreciation for wine has just increased. I fell in love with wine through my travels, but knowing what the wine country is all about definitely makes it my own.”. Enjoying wine has always been part of my travels also and during my 30 years of globetrotting I have had the opportunity to visit some of the world’s finest wine regions.

NAPA GRAPEVINES IN JANUARY

Napa Valley, one of the world’s most famous wine regions, is only a short drive from my home, so I visit regularly.

LIVERMORE VALLEY VINEYARDS

Only a short drive from the San Francisco Bay Area is the Livermore Valley.  Although it i one of California’s lesser-known wine regions, it  offers a fine selection of world-class wineries.

SANTA CATARINA WINERY, PALMA DE MALLORCA

I absolutely adore Spanish wines, so during a trip to Palma de Mallorca we  we visited the north coast of the island and sipped vintages at a 500 year old winery.

YOUNG MALLORCA GRAPEVINES

TUSCANY

I’d always heard about the beautiful Tuscany region, so while visiting Florence we took a day trip from the city to check it out. The wines were delicious and I was amazed at how much the region reminded me of California valleys. I felt right at home.

TUSCAN VINEYARDS

FREIXENET CAVA CAVES

While spending time in Barcelona I ventured out to Penedes, Catalonia’s premiere wine region, where I visited several wineries, beginning with Freixenet. In addition to touring the underground caves, I sampled some excellent sparkling wines. If you’re a fan of bubbly, I definitely recommend touring their facility and tasting the cava.

JEAN LEON WINE BARRELS

During the day trip I also toured the Jean Leon winery where  I ventured underground to see where the wine was stored.

TORRES WINERY GRAPEVINES

At the Torres Winery I even had the chance to wander out into the vineyards.

TAPAS

Each winery offered a fine array of delicious tapas along with generous portions of their vintages. So by the end of the day we were full….and happy.

MAUI’S WINERY

I’ve always thought of Hawaii as a tropical paradise, but had no idea about wineries on the islands. While visiting the island of Maui we took the Road to Hana tour. One of the highlights of the tour was tasting at Maui’s Winery.

One of my travel goals is to eat my way around the world, and that also includes tasting the world’s finest wines. It’s a tough job, but well worth the effort.

Cheers!

 

 

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.

 

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.

Now Watch me Zip

ac zipline6To zip or not to zip? That was the question that we had to answer on a sweltering day in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had gone there with a group of other travel professionals to familiarize ourselves with what that island paradise has to offer. We drove around the island touring many of the beautiful resorts, dining on sumptuous Jamaican cuisine, and enjoying many of the activities like Green Grotto Caves and Dunn’s River Falls. One morning we split into smaller groups and our group leader suggested going up to zipline after lunch. I had never done it before, so I had some serious reservations. But I figured what the heck, how rough could it be? I soon found out. Our merry band of 10 loaded into a van and began the trek up the hill, into the rain forest to begin our zipline canopy tour. Even the ride up the hill was a bit of an off-road adventure and we kept climbing, and climbing and climbing. Once we arrived at the destination we were ushered to a covered platform where we met our tour guides/canopy specialists.

zipline prepThey gave us a thorough safety briefing and instruction on how to stop and where hands should (and should not) go. There was a lot of information to absorb, but I did my best. Then they outfitted each of us with a helmet, leather work gloves and the safety harness that attached to the overhead lines.

I was getting more apprehensive (actually I was downright scared), but there was no turning back at that point. I wondered how fast I’d go, zipping along at the speed of my own body weight. I soon found out. Our guides led us out of the open shack and I figured that it was time to zip….not quite. First we had a LONG trek through the rainforest. There were more than 300 uneven wooden steps to traverse, some uphill, some downhill, and all slippery from the humidity. That was quite a workout, to say the least.

By the time we finally reached the first of 10 platforms/launchpads, I’d kind of lost my notion to zip. Then, the adventure began. They attached the first person’s harness to the line and off he went. I was number 6 in line, right behind my husband.

bob flies closeupI figured I could watch him and see how he fared. Or maybe he could catch me if I got into trouble. He took off like a champ and before I knew it, it was my turn.

ac unhooks3The guide secured my harness, told me to jump and off I went. What a rush! I felt like Tarzan (OK Jane) flying through the treetops. Before long I saw the next platform looming up ahead and I tried desperately to remember what they’d told us to do when it was time to stop – I’d forgotten completely, so I plowed into the guide at that platform with full force. Apparently I wasn’t the first to do that, and he caught me easily, unhooked my harness and connected it to the next line. Away I went. After the third run, I got so good that I started doing tricks – zipping backwards.

ac flies3Actually, my harness got reversed  and I couldn’t figure out how to turn back around. Let me tell you, zipping backwards is a serious rush.

Just about the time I was really getting the hang of it they “upped the ante” with a vertical drop. Yep, straight down for ~40 feet. That was a real surprise.

There was always a slight feeling of danger since I was so close to the trees on both sides; at most 2-3 feet on either side.

It kept getting better. The grand finale was a 1,265 foot long traverse where it’s possible to travel at over 35 mph – and I did. What a kick!

When the last of our group finished our guides led us on a nice stroll back to the van. It was along a smooth path lined with lush flora and fauna.

jamaica greeneryOur guides were full of botanical information about the plants and trees that we passed. Like this lobster claw plant.

lobster clawIt really was a wonderful, exhilarating experience that I recommend highly. Here’s a tip though. If you plan to go, take some latex gloves of your own to go inside of the leather gloves. Here’s why. Those leather gloves are used again and again by dozens of perspiring people everyday. The perspiration and the humid climate combine to make them quite mildewed and sour smelling. Even after washing our hands repeatedly with soap and hot water we couldn’t get rid of that pungent aroma for several hours. But it was well worth it and we’re really glad we did it.

lees after ziipline

 

When You’ve Gotta Go

Like many other travelers, I turn to travel reviews when researching a destination. I search several websites to get as much information as possible about the location. The “official” websites always give glowing reviews – even if they are “embellished” or slightly exaggerated. Reviews by other travelers can be a better source of information and it’s nice to hear about their personal experiences – both good and bad. At the end of the day you need to have your own experience to draw your own conclusions. Reviews are written about hotels, since we all need to sleep; restaurants, since we all need to eat and activities, since we all seek adventure and entertainment. However, there is another human need that is seldom, if ever, addressed. Where are the restroom reviews? Public restrooms vary greatly from country to country and region to region. Here are a few that I have encountered during my world travels.

peppermill ladies room2USA – Generally speaking, in the United States we do a pretty good job of providing public restroom facilities. They can usually be found in hotels, restaurants, libraries, stores, malls, amusement parks, fast food joints and even roadside rest areas. They can be scarce in big cities, but are quite plentiful in suburban areas.

CHINA – During a recent trip to China I visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai and my, what an experience. The majority of toilets are squatters, so flexibility and good balance are necessary skills to have.

toilet squatterFor Chinese locals who have been trained to use them from an early age, it’s no big deal. But for westerners, it can be a really big deal; particularly since there are no handles or rails to hold onto.

toilet sitterThe good news is that if there is a stall for the disabled, it will have a western-style commode. So if there’s no one disabled who restroom, it can be an alternative to the squatter. But wait, there’s more. Very few – like almost none – of them have paper towels or toilet paper. It’s called BYOP (bring your own paper). So each day before we left the hotel I stuffed my pockets and purse. Yep, I felt like a Charmin pack mule but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

EUROPE – In European cities like Rome, Venice, and Barcelona, finding public facilities can be a real challenge. These cities are centuries old, so public facilities were not part of the original city plan. However, restaurants and cafes will allow you to use their facilities if you make a purchase. On a hot, sultry day it’s nice to duck into a cool café for a beverage, and a restroom break. However, once you guzzle that beverage, you need to visit the restroom again. You leave just like you came so it’s a vicious circle.

AMSTERDAM – Amsterdam offers a unique solution with their outdoor standing toilets. Obviously they are more suited to males than females, but they definitely serve the purpose.

amsterdam outdoor toiletUNITED ARAB EMIRATES – It was easy to find pubic restrooms in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They were plentiful and quite clean. I found this interesting (and educational) sign outside a restroom at the Mall of the Emirates

moe bathrooms facts

EPHESUS – Obviously the need to provide facilities is as old as humankind. When I toured the ancient city of Ephesus I discovered that they had public latrines. Apparently a trip to the restroom could also be an opportunity to socialize.

ephesus latrine2 ephesus latrineWhile public restrooms are not normally the subject of travel reviews, I hope that I’ve shed some light on this delicate subject. After all, when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. As Buckaroo Banzi said,  “No matter where you go, there you are.”

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.

ac & cat

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.

 

 

 

 

Vegas…Revisited

palazzo lobby_thumbOur first trip of 2016 was a getaway to one of the most exciting cities in the world, Las Vegas. It is one of our favorite cities and we manage to go there several times every year. It is constantly evolving  so no matter how often we go, there is always something new to see. It has been referred to (and rightfully so) as an adult’s Disneyland.

We fell in love with Las Vegas  in the late 1980’s when Caesar’s Palace was the biggest resort/casino on the Strip. We went to see Sugar Ray Leonard fight Thomas Hearns for the welterweight title and the fight was billed as “The War”. At that time, Caesar’s had the main arena for world class boxing events. That was our introduction to a star-studded event with world famous entertainers and athletes in attendance. Since then we have attended other major boxing matches including Holyfield/Tyson, George Foreman/Michael Moore, James Toney/Roy Jones Jr and Holyfield/Bowe, Oscar de la Hoya/Chavez, Mayweather/Guerrero and many more.

Through the years we’ve seen the Strip completely change with the addition of resorts like New York/New York, MGM, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, The Cromwell, Wynn/Encore and our personal favorite the Venetian/Palazzo. But even with the new additions, some of the older resorts like Circus Circus and the Riviera are still going strong.

Although Las Vegas has been known primarily for gambling, it has so much more to offer. In recent years it has developed into a foodie’s paradise. There is a long list of celebrity chefs who have restaurants on the Strip; Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Hubert Keller and Giada de Larentiis, just to name a few. Of course there are numerous buffets and fast foods to choose from. So whether you decide to enjoy Joel Robuchon’s 16-course degustation menu, or a White Castle burger, you can find what you want on the Strip.

Our first meal was at Yardbird Southern Table and Bar where the fried chicken and biscuits were off the hook! They also offered flights of really good craft beers.

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Las Vegas offers such a variety of entertainment choices, it is difficult to decide what to do, but this trip was all about sports. The primary reason for this trip was the NCAA Championship football game between Alabama and Clemson. We decided to watch the game at Lagasse’s Stadium in the Palazzo. Not only is the atmosphere wonderful for watching a sporting event, the service is excellent and the food is delicious. And it gets better…there is even a sports book inside. So Robert and Marcus were able to place their bets and collect their winnings while we were there.

lagasse stadium

On day 2 we ventured downtown to Fremont Street to get a taste of old Vegas. It had been a few years since we’d been there and we found that it has changed also with the addition of a zip line and several new street vendors. There were also some interesting street characters roaming about…like the man who strutted around wearing only a cowboy hat and a G-string…or the man singing old Motown hits with his karaoke machine and one background dancer; kind of like watching Gladys Knight and “a Pip”. Binion’s Horseshoe is still a great place for beginning gamblers who want to get away from the high-pressure stakes that can be found at casinos on the Strip.

On day 3 we hung out at the LINQ, one of the newest hotels on the Strip, next to the Flamingo Hotel. Next to the hotel there is a promenade that has lots of great eateries and shops. The promenade is anchored by the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel – even taller than the London Eye.

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After that it was time for lunch so we headed over to Caesar’s Palace to the Bacchanal Buffet. We’ve sampled several other buffets in town, but this is by far the best. There were so many delicious choices that it took me 10 minutes to see all that was being served – then another 10 minutes to plan my eating strategy. I managed to eat everything that I wanted and still had room for crème brulee AND a Nutella crepe…. The 3 of us made quite a dent in the food and still managed to walk out without waddling…too much.

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Las Vegas is always a fun getaway and every time we go we discover something new. We’re looking forward to our next trip to the Strip because what happens in Vegas for us is always a real good time.