Here2there Travel Blogs

Journal of our Journeys

  • 10 Things to do in Barcelona

    6/19/2017 12:07:02 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    barcelona, gothic quarter, la boqueria, la sagrada familia, las ramblas, montserrat, spain, tapas, Travel Tips

    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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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 paninni.

    6. 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. 

    7. 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 tasting and tapas.

    8. 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.


    9. 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 a wonderful city.

  • In Wine Country

    4/9/2017 9:14:04 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    grapevines, oenophile, tapas, wine, wine lover, wineries

    dddddddAs 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.
    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jeffgordon429860.html?src=t_wineJeff 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.". I can identify with his comment and during my 30 years of travel I have made a point of visiting wine regions around the globe. Here are a few of my favorites:

    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 VALLEY 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, the Livermore Valley offers a fine selection of wineries.

    SANTA CATARINA WINERY, PALMA DE MALLORCA

    During a trip to Spain we visited the north coast of the island and sipped vintages at a 500 year old winery.

    MALLORCA GRAPE VINES

    TUSCANY

    During a Mediterranean cruise I made a point of visiting Tuscany. 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.

    JEAN LEON WINE BARRELS

    During the day trip I also toured the Jean Leon winery.

    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.


    MAUI'S WINERY

    While visiting the island of Maui I 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!

     

    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. Jeff Gordon
    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jeffgordon429860.html?src=t_wine
    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. Jeff Gordon
    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jeffgordon429860.html?src=t_wine
    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.
    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jeffgordon429860.html?src=t_wine
  • Our Trip to Turkey

    4/2/2017 11:18:01 PM Link 8 comments | Add comment

    blue mosque, canakkale, ciragan palace, ephesus, food, hagia sophia, history, istanbul, kusadasi, pumakkale, trip review, turkey

    My husband and I 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, warmfriendly 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.

    TAKE A CRUISE ON 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 isone 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 includingjewelry, 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 Çiragan Palace Kempinski., a 5 star hotel that is absolutely regal. It was built in 1863 by Ottoman Sultan Abdülazizand it still reflects the ultimate luxury of a genuine Ottoman Palace. We dined at the elegant and award-winning Tugra 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. But be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes.

    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

    1/29/2017 6:34:06 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    casino, dining, entertainment, hotel, Las Vegas

    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 most of the eating establishments (with the exeption 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, 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. There are some elements of luxury but I would consider it a 3 star property with a few 4 star amenties.

  • 'Dining Out in Paris' - a Book Review

    1/3/2017 7:40:08 PM Link 1 comment | Add comment

    book review, dining, paris, restaurant, travel tips

    Paris has many nicknames, but its most famous is "La Ville-Lumière" (usually translated as "The City of Lights" or as "The City of Light"), a name it owes 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 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 shold 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 and even neighborhood shops; and what to expect in each one.

     

    The book is very easy to read and small enough to carry in a purse or backpack. It gives very practical tips and vaulable 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 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.

    TIPPING: 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 picknicking to fine dining.

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

     

  • Family Matters

    10/9/2016 3:50:46 PM Link 6 comments | Add comment

    adventure travel, cruising, family travel, sanfrancisco, travel tips, vacation

     - 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

    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. 

    With my brother and sister in Washington, D.C.

    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.

    Golden Gate Bridge

    We 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).

    Laffing Sal

    And 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 the 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.

    It 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. 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.

    Lee Family onboard Majesty of the Seas 1995

    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.

    He was in high school when we took our first Mediterranean cruise. Visiting the Acropolis in Athens brought his world history lessons to life.

    Lees Family on the Amalfi Coast 2005

    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.

    I 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.

     

  • 10 Ways to Play Around the Bay

    9/18/2016 4:41:12 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    dining, entertainment, family travel, sanfrancisco, Travel Tips, vacation

    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 out side of the city will find that there’s even more to see and enjoy in the surrounding areas. Here are just a few options:


    1. VISIT WINE COUNTRY - The word “Napa” evokes visions of vineyards and scenic wineries. However, there are many 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.

    2. 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 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.

    3. 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) San Jose Earthquakes (soccer). Just pick a season, grab a ticket, and go.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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).

    7. MONTEREY/CARMEL - No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without spending time in Monterey. Only 2 hours (possibly 3 depending on the traffic), the beautiful coastal 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.

    8. 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.

    9. GO BACK TO SCHOOL - Pay a visit to one of the beautiful college campuses like Stanford, Santa Clara or Berkeley. Stanfordis 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.

     10. 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. Places 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 and enjoy what the rest of the Bay Area has to offer.

     

  
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