Show Me What You’re Workin’ With!

According to Wikipedia, “The representation of African Americans in media has been a major concern in mainstream American culture.” It has also been a major concern of mine – especially when it comes to travel images. There are very few of us on the Travel Channel, in travel magazines or brochures. Although there are millions of us who do travel, somehow mainstream media manages not to show us. Why do you suppose that is? (Rhetorical question). I could list a number of reasons and I’m sure you could too. Suffice it to say that the media does not try very hard to present us in a positive light. The negative images like street fights, robberies and mug shots manage to appear on the front pages of newspapers and lead stories on the nightly news. But the positive images are few and far between. They struggled for 8 years when they were required to show the First Family – who always presented a positive image.

 

Ownership in the media drives what is being broadcast and we are significantly under-represented when it comes to ownership of media. Advertising also plays a big part and African Americans are also under-represented when it comes to being sponsors. Although there are predominately black areas all over the United States, we are less than 13% of the overall population. So our domination of the mainstream media is not likely to happen soon.

However, when it comes to travel, we do have the power to broadcast our own positive images. Social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and blogs are perfect (and free) ways to do that. Most of us live with a cell phone clutched in our hand, or pocket, so it’s easy just to point and shoot.

BEYOND THE SELFIE – We’ve all mastered the art of taking a selfie, so many of the images that we post are just photos of us. That’s fine, we all do it. But how about also taking photos of the destination? We know what you look like, but we’d also like to see the scenery, historical sites, architecture, etc.

BEYOND THE STILL PHOTOGRAPH – Videos are powerful ways to allow viewers to actually experience the sights and sounds of a destination. Harness the power of YouTube to share your VLOGs with the world.

CAPTURE THOSE MEMORIES – My father was an amateur photographer, so he took his cameras everywhere we went. As children, we didn’t always appreciate his artistry and didn’t want to stand still long enough to pose. But now that Dad has passed on, we have a treasure trove of beautiful scenery (much of it in black and white) as well as a catalog of family memories. Your photos and videos also help to relive the joys of any trip. If you visit more than one destination in a trip, it’s sometimes difficult to keep them separate in your memory. Earlier this year we spent 9 days traveling around western Turkey….what a fabulous trip! Each day was more amazing than the last. Canakkale, Laodicea, Ephesus, Kusadasi……it’s hard to keep them straight in my memory. But the photos and videos that we took transport me right back to each amazing site.

AT THE LIBRARY IN EPHESUS

TRAVEL LEGACY – By recording your travel experiences with photos and videos, you’ll leave a legacy for your children and even grandchildren. My son loves looking at my old travel photos (even if he does laugh at me in Yosemite, with my afro and bell bottoms).

MY SIBLINGS AND I IN 1968

Too much of our history has been forgotten. We have had an impact on the history of the world, but since we didn’t write the history books, much of it was “omitted”.…..imagine that. I’ve traveled over much of southern Spain and learned about the many accomplishments of the Moors from North Africa. In Iberia (Spain and Portugal) they created a highly advanced civilization and culture, famous for its art, architecture and centers of learning.

Somehow those facts never appeared in the textbooks when I studied world history.

With our photos and videos, we have the power to shape the narrative and present facts about our travels. I watched a program on the Travel Channel just this morning about New Orleans. They visited several restaurants in the French Quarter and went up and down Bourbon Street – but somehow managed to show only 2 black people. What? Somehow they managed to shoot around them….and I’ve seen this happen on many of their programs in other locations. Coincidence? I think not. Mainstream media outlets have no intention of showing us traveling around the world. But they can’t stop us from sharing our own experiences. It’s exciting to see so many black travel social media groups sharing information and showcasing our travel exploits. They also spark very lively discussions. But at the end of the day, talk is cheap…..post those images.

SHOW ME WHAT YOU’RE WORKIN’ WITH!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

“Dining Out in Paris” – a Book Review

Paris has many nicknames, but its most famous is “La Ville-Lumiere” (usually translated as “The City of Lights” or as “The City of Light”), a name it owes to both to its fame as a center of education and ideas and its early adoption of street lighting.

Paris is also known for its culinary choices and is a magnet for foodies from all over the globe. With such a plethora of choices, where does a first-time visitor begin? I recently discovered a great little book to help answer that question. It is called “Dining Out in Paris” by Tom Reeves.

If you are a Francophile you’ve probably already compiled a list of your favorite Paris restaurants. But if you are an infrequent visitor – or have never been to Paris – this is an excellent beginner’s guide. It tells what you should know before you go to the City of Light. The book is comprised of easy-to-read descriptions and beautiful color photographs.

I especially enjoyed the author’s detailed descriptions of types of dining establishments; restaurants, cafes, bistros, brasseries, salons de the, bars a vin,  even neighborhood food shops; and what to expect in each one.

cafe-chicken-fries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book is very easy to read and small enough to carry in a purse or backpack. It gives very practical tips and valuable advice such as:

FOREIGN RESTAURANTS: Paris has many foreign (non-French) restaurants, so one can enjoy cuisine from all over the globe.

SERVICE: The concept of service is very different from what many Americans have come to expect.  The pace is leisurely, not rushed. The server allows the customer to set the pace. The goal is not to have multiple customers per table each night, but perhaps only 1-2 seatings per table.

crepe-chocolatTIPPING: A service charge of 15% is always included in the bill, so leaving a tip is unnecessary. However, if one wishes to recognize exceptional service, it is customary to leave an additional tip; normally 5%. However, this must be in cash because it cannot be added to a credit card charge.

The book also includes detailed reviews of several top restaurants and fine-food stores in or near the Latin Quarter. So it is a wonderful beginner’s guide to dining in Paris that covers everything from picnicking to fine dining.

I recommend it  highly and I wish I’d had the opportunity to read the book before my first trip to Paris. But I’ll definitely have it with me the next time I go.

ac-at-cafe-on-champs

Family Matters

sierra-lake-view_crop – Waking up at a campsite to the delicious aroma of bacon frying and seeing the morning rays of sunshine filter through the redwood trees

– Being fascinated by the exhibits and immersive experiences at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

– Taking in the wonders of the Grand Tetons, Mount Rushmore and Old Faithful during a summer road trip

clark-kids-in-washingtonWith my siblings in Washington, D.C.

All these are fond memories from traveling with my family as a child – and all occurred before I even turned 16. My parents didn’t have much money for travel, but they planned strategically and exposed my siblings and I to some memorable experiences. Dad was an amateur photographer, and this was long before digital photography, so his camera bag, stuffed with film, lenses and several cameras, always laded him down. He took beautiful pictures and we made beautiful memories.

gg-bridgeWe lived in the San Francisco Bay area, so many of our journeys were road trips around northern California. We’d ride up into the redwoods, or drive to the coast and dip our toes into the chilly Pacific Ocean. Anyone who visited San Francisco in the 60’s may remember Playland and Ocean Beach. It was an amusement park located along the Great Highway in what’s now known as the Richmond District. It closed Labor Day weekend in 1972. I can still remember the Funhouse with its mirror maze and it’s Barrel of Laughs (a rotating walk-through wooden barrel).

170px-laffing_salAnd I can still hear Laffing Sal, the automated character whose cackle echoed throughout the park. In those days the attractions were much simpler than those in today’s high-tech amusement parks. I’ll admit that my 7- year -old mind was convinced that Laffing Sal just might be real (scary thought). But we had great family fun there.

Travel provides a perfect way for families to explore, enjoy and make memories that will last a lifetime. However, one primary consideration is always cost. Years ago a trip to an amusement park like Disneyland was fairly affordable, even for a family with several children. Now that same trip to the Magic Kingdom could easily cost a king’s ransom just for entrance to the park – and that doesn’t include any meals or souvenirs.

However, cost doesn’t have to prevent families from traveling together. They just have to be creative about how and when they do it. A family vacation doesn’t have to be a round-the-world trip in a private jet. It can be as simple as a short road trip to a neighboring city. The goal isn’t so much about racking up miles as it is about spending quality family time. That camping trip might be just an overnight campout in the backyard. As long as everyone is there and there are some good eats (and hopefully no cell phones), it can be a memorable experience. Children don’t ask for much – just their parents’ attention.

Not all of my childhood family vacations were cross-country journeys. Some of those “trips” were really only daylong road trips with a picnic lunch. But I have such fond memories of the times that we spent together.

family_minas-kidsIt is important for families to travel together. Not only is it a great way to bond, it’s an opportunity to expose our children to other cultures and ways of life. It also teaches them basic social skills like how to go through security at an airport or how to order in a restaurant. Our son was 11 months old when we took our first family vacation. We stayed at a vacation rental in Nassau, Bahamas. We enjoyed the convenience of having a little kitchen and other home comforts with our toddler. When he was a little older we began to cruise and took several Caribbean, Hawaiian and Mediterranean cruises. lee-family-cruise-pose

It was great since there were always activities onboard for his age group and lots of other children his age; and my husband and I were always able to enjoy some “grown folks” time.

Since dinner in the main dining room is always a fine dining experience, he learned to order from the menu and use the correct silverware for each course of the meal. But there were always foods that he could enjoy during his “I only want burgers & hot dogs” phase. One of the ports of call on our Hawaiian Island cruise was one of the islands of Kiribati. It was a beautiful island that evoked memories of the Swiss Family Robinson. There he observed the simple way that the island children lived with no video games or fancy toys.

lees-on-amalfi-coastHe was in high school when we took our first Mediterranean cruise. Visiting the Acropolis in Athens brought his world history lessons to life.

 

Now he’s all grown up, on his own and a serious globetrotter. But he still loves to travel with us when his schedule allows. Our latest family trip was to China where we climbed the Great Wall of China together. That’s an experience that we’ll never forget.

lee-family-on-great-wallI advise everyone to get out and discover what the world has to offer…as a family. Whether you go near or far, you’ll make lasting memories.

the-greatest-legacy-we-can-leave

 

10 Ways to Play Around the Bay

There is no city quite like San Francisco. As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, it welcomes an average of 24.6 million visitors each year from all around the globe. With all of the activities, beauty, culture, shopping and dining that the city has to offer, it’s easy to see why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. However, those who venture outside of the city will find that there’s even more to see and enjoy in the surrounding areas. Here are just a few options:

purple-grapes21. VISIT WINE COUNTRY – The word “Napa” evokes visions of pretty vineyards and scenic wineries. However, there are several more wine regions to enjoy without venturing very far from San Francisco. One of my favorites is the Livermore Valley Wine Region. Located just a 49 minute drive away, this picturesque valley is the perfect place for wine enthusiasts to taste, tour and spend the day.

yard-house-stirfry2. EAT DRINK AND BE MERRY – To say that the Bay Area is a foodie’s paradise would be an understatement. There are literally thousands of restaurants, serving every type of cuisine imaginable. The freshness of the California produce and the cultural diversity of the population combine to make eating around the Bay Area a true culinary adventure. Whether you favor fine dining, or just want to grab a bite from a food truck, you won’t be disappointed.

action3. GO TO A GAME – No matter what the season, sports fans can always find a game to go to since the Bay Area is home to teams like San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s (baseball), Golden State Warriors (basketball), Raiders and 49ers (football), Sharks (hockey) and San Jose Earthquakes (soccer). Just pick a season, grab a ticket, and go.

coastal-bluffs4. CATCH A WAVE – The northern California coastline is called the “Frontier of Surfing” and surf spots are scattered northward along the coast. Some of the most popular are Ocean Beach (San Francisco/Marin), Salmon Creek (Sonoma) and Point Arena (Mendocino). It’s not recommended for beginners since Northern California’s water is cold, rugged, and sharky, so be prepared to battle against big waves and strong winds. It is also the home of Mavericks, a winter destination for some of the world’s best big wave surfers. An invitation-only contest is held there most winters, when the waves come.

ac-shops5. SHOP TILL YOU DROP – Shopaholics can definitely satisfy their shopping cravings at designer boutiques, humungous shopping malls and outlet malls. For high end shopping try Stanford Shopping Center (Palo Alto), Santana Row and Valley Fair (San Jose). Premium outlets can be found in Livermore, Vacaville and Gilroy. If you’re in the mood for haggling, try the Berryessa Flea Market (San Jose) with more than 2000 vendors selling arts & crafts, clothing, produce, furniture, tires, bicycles and much more. It is a bargain hunter’s paradise.

mountain-winery6. CATCH A CONCERT – The Bay Area is an entertainment mecca where every musical genre and the world’s top performers can be enjoyed indoors and outdoors. Larger venues include the Oracle Arena, Levi Stadium and the Shoreline Amphitheater. There’s nothing quite like taking in a concert under the stars at the Mountain Winery or the Montalvo Arts Center. For more intimate performances try a venue like Yoshi’s (Oakland).

cypress-tree7. MONTEREY/CARMEL – No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without spending time in Monterey. Only 2 hours down the coast (possibly 3 depending on the traffic), the beautiful scenery of this region is not to be missed. There are jaw-dropping coastal vistas on the way and especially along the 17 Mile Drive, location of Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is a resort destination and home to the famous golf courses of Cypress Point Club, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and of course the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Spend a few hours strolling around Carmel a charming city – more like a picturesque village – and enjoy world-class restaurants, quaint boutiques and art galleries.

mountainview8. GO SEE THE REDWOODS –Some of the tallest trees in the world are located in northern California. With a million visitors per year, Muir Woods is the world’s most-visited redwood park. Since it’s just a 30-minute drive from San Francisco, visitors to the city can drive here, experience a little of California’s unique natural beauty, and be back in time for lunch. Then there’s the Avenue of the Giants, a scenic 31-mile drive with 51,222 acres of redwood groves. Imagine the picture-taking opportunities.

gnr-at-stanford9. GO BACK TO SCHOOL – Pay a visit to one of the beautiful college campuses like Stanford, Santa Clara or Berkeley. Stanford is a thriving residential campus and community sitting on 8,000 acres of gorgeous foothills and flatlands. You can even take a free student-led walking tour of the central campus. Berkeley and Santa Clara also offer campus tours.

donner-lake10.  GO FOR THE GOLD – California is called the golden state for a reason. Even though the original California Gold Rush is over, you can still try your luck at gold panning and prospecting. Towns like Murphy’s, Angel’s Camp, Sonora, Calaveras, and Sutter’s Mill all have places where you can pan for gold. Many of the small towns’ hardware stores sell basic gold panning supplies if you want to hike into the hills and give it a try in a stream. Who knows, there still might be some gold in “them thar hills”.

So the next time you visit San Francisco, take time to get out of the city and enjoy what the rest of the Bay Area has to offer.

 

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.