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.
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.
'Dining Out in Paris' - a Book Review
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.
- 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).
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
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.
If it Sounds Too Good.....
No 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.
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 scheduledair 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 $499is 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
Las 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:
If 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.
Located 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.
The 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).
Many 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.
At 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.
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.
The 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’s one hair-raising ride!
If you’re really feeling daring, 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 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.
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.
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.
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/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.
USA - 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 and Shanghai and my, what an experience. The majority of toilets are squatters, so flexibility and good balance are necessary skills to have.
For Chinese locals who are 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.
The 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 in the 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.
UNITED 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.
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 be an opportunity to socialize.
While public restrooms are not normally the subject of travel reviews, I hope that I’ve shed some light on this delicate subject. After all, “No matter where you go, there you are.” – Buckaroo Banzi
How Did You Learn to Travel?
How did you learn to swim? Did you go to the deep end of the swimming pool and jump in? Probably not. You probably started with inflatable water wings, then moved on to swimming lessons and soon enough you were dog-paddling your way across the pool.
How did you learn to ride a bicycle? Did you hop onto your bike and take off down the street? Probably not. It is more likely that you started by pedaling around on a tricycle, and then it was on to your first little bike with training wheels. Finally Mom took off the training wheels, let go of the back of your bike, and you wobbled your way to two-wheeled freedom.
How did you learn to cook? Was the menu for your first dinner party standing rib roast and grand marnier soufflé? No, it was probably more like grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup.
So how did you learn to travel? What are the ABCs of globetrotting? Is it necessary to take lessons? Of course not – travel is a very individual experience and each of us has very specific preferences. It’s not as simple as learning a set of “dos” and don’ts”. There is no school, travel is more of a learn-by-doing experience. However, if there was a Travel University, and they asked me to teach Travel 101, here are some of the topics I would include in the course curriculum.
How to Pack – If you are planning to be away from home for more than a day, you’ll need to take at least a few things with you. Your destination, and the length of your trip determine what you take. You might be able to manage an overnighter by throwing a few things into a backpack. Some people even manage to take long trips with only a backpack. But if you are going on an extended journey or are planning to visit a different climate, you’ll need something larger. It also depends on your personal style. If you are one of those creative types who can make 27 outfits from 2 pieces of clothing and a few accessories, you won’t need much luggage. But if you’re one of those people who want to make a different fashion statement every day, you’ll need to pack accordingly. Small cosmetics and fragrance samples are a great way to conserve space and weight.
Think about where you’re going and pack accordingly. For example, If you’re going to a tropical climate it’s doubtful that you’ll need that down jacket. Since most airlines charge baggage fees, taking too many pieces of luggage can be quite costly.
How to dress – Be sure to dress for the climate that you’ll be visiting. Last October I spent a week in Dubai where the temperature was triple digits every day. Then in November I traveled to China where it was quite cold and snowing. I took the same amount of luggage for both trips, but used very different packing strategies.
It is also important to dress for the culture that you’ll be visiting. Scanty or revealing clothing is frowned upon in some cultures and at many holy sites. I’ve seen young ladies in hot pants turned away from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. In Dubai I was very careful about what I wore. I saw many women in traditional dress and just as many in western-style clothing. I wanted to make sure that I was cool and comfortable, but did not offend in any way.
One of the accessories that I always carry is a light pashmina. It doesn’t take up much space and can be used to cover my head and/or shoulders when necessary.
How to pick the destination – It is important to choose a destination that you really want to go to. You will be investing your time and money, so you want to get a good return on those investments. I’m a travel professional, so often clients look to me to help them decide where to go. In order to do so I have to ask them several questions like:
What is your budget? I’ve found that many people haven’t even considered total cost. In reality, that’s what’s going to drive your travel decisions. In addition to airfare, there is the cost of lodging, meals, tours, tips and entertainment. So all-inclusive resorts are good options since they include all meals, drinks (soft drinks and alcoholic beverages) gratuities and non-motorized water sports. Cruises offer excellent value since they include all meals, nightly shows, night clubs, childcare, and of course transportation from port to port.
What sort of travel experience are you looking for? If they are retired and looking for a quiet relaxing getaway, I won’t suggest that they take a Disney cruise. If they are young wild and free, I know several resorts that will give them exactly what they’re looking for.
What are your interests? Interests vary widely, so it is important to identify destinations that will satisfy those interests. An adventure traveler with an interest in wildlife might enjoy a trip to the Galapagos Islands. A history buff might enjoy a tour of the Tower of London. That fashionista would definitely enjoy a trip to Paris to shop on the Champs Elysees.
Even cruises differ widely. An Amazon River cruise through the Brazilian Rain Forest on a small vessel allows passengers to experience wildlife, piranha fishing and all that the jungle has to offer. An ocean cruise on a big ship can be like a floating city. On a recent transatlantic cruise my husband and I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas with 5000 other passengers. We enjoyed gourmet dining, Broadway shows, an onboard surf simulator, ice-skating, a world-class spa, designer shopping and more. It was a 12-day nonstop party from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona.
Take it Slowly – In today’s fast-paced world people often think that they have to rush into traveling at top speed. You don’t have to jump in at the deep end; it’s OK to ease into experiences. You may want to take your first trip with a buddy who has been to the destination before and can show you the ropes.
The good news is that there are some really good flight deals on the market. But before you book one, make sure it’s a destination that you really want to visit. If that’s not the case, it’s not a deal for you. And make sure that you can get lodging that fits within your budget. Hotel prices are often driven by demand. Recently we found a great airline price to Las Vegas. But when we checked hotel prices for those dates, we found that they were astronomical. Needless to say, we didn’t book those flights.
Start by taking local trips- there are many attractions near our homes that can be great ways to explore local history and culture. This is especially valuable for families who want to introduce their children to travel. A trip to a local museum can give them an appreciation for art exhibits so that eventually they are ready for the Louvre. A trip to a nice restaurant will allow them to get comfortable with ordering from a menu, being served and tipping a waiter. We began cruising with our son when he was quite small, so he learned the art of fine dining at an early age.
There is no single way to learn to travel, it is an individual endeavor. Learning as you go is part of the fun and It is well worth the investment. As a wise man once said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”.
A few years ago one of the leading beer companies used the slogan “drink responsibly” to promote responsible drinking. It was designed to save lives and remind people not to drink and drive. Hearing the slogan recently reminded me that it’s a good idea to encourage travelers to travel responsibly. Here are some of the ways that we can do that:
LEARN SOME OF THE LANGUAGE– Knowing as much of the language of the country you’ll be visiting can make the trip a lot easier. Communicating with the locals is one of the joys of traveling. You can get great info from chatting with shopkeepers and vendors in markets. Cab drivers always have a wealth of information to share – but only if you can understand them. Even if you only know a few words, people are always happy that you tried. Since I can speak some Spanish, I struck up a conversation with a shopkeeper in Vigo, Spain. OK, I’ll be honest - I can only speak a “teaspoonful” of Spanish. So when she began to answer me, I realized just how little I really knew. I was translating madly and conjugating verbs in my head, as I realized that I only understood every other word….sbut she was so friendly that I enjoyed our conversation.
FAMILIARZE YOURSELF WITH THE CUSTOMS– It is very important to know the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the country you’ll be visiting. Whether it is tipping, or hand gestures or dress code, it is important to know and abide by what is acceptable. When I was in the United Arab Emirates last October the temperature reached at least 99 degrees farenheit every day. Definitely shorts & t-shirt weather, if I were at home in California. But showing skin would definitely not have been acceptable. Make sure you know what is considered acceptable behavior. Loud shouting may be acceptable at a soccer match, but in a cathedral, not so much. So do your homework and keep an open mind. After all, travelling is all about new experiences. If you have problems with being flexible, perhaps international travel is not for you. As James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”.
PHOTO ETIQUETTE– Whether you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal or any iconic sight, there will probably be hundreds – if not thousands – of other people who also want to take a photo or selfie in front of the monument. So please make it quick. Have your camera ready, take the shot and move out of the way so that other people can do the same thing.
RESPECT THE ANIMALS – Animals around the world are hurt, and even killed when careless tourists insist on taking pictures with them and end up putting them at risk. A few weeks ago in Argentina a couple pulled a small dolphin up onto the beach to take a photo with it. Soon after others crowded around to do the same thing. The dolphin eventually died of dehydration. At the Unnan Animal Park in China 2 peacocks died after tourists picked them up to take photos. So no matter how cute or cuddly an animal is, take pictures….from a safe distance.
RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT– As citizens of this planet, it’s up to everyone to work together to safeguard its plants, animals and natural systems. So we need to keep that in mind when we travel. We need to dispose of waste responsibly. For example, when cruising on the high seas it can be tempting to throw a little trash overboard - don’t do it. When traipsing through the rain forest you may be tempted to pick a leaf or blossom – don’t do it. When visiting the Parthenon you may be tempted to pick up a small rock or stone – don’t do it.
A trip can be a life-changing experience, but it is important to prepare, and expect the unexpected. Every trip can be a great adventure if you’re prepared to take it in….responsibly.
It's All in the Game
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area this week you can feel the excitement in the air. And it builds each day, as we get closer to Super Bowl Sunday when the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will meet to play in Super Bowl 50 at Levi Stadium.
Football fans have descended on the Bay Area from all over the country and we have seen thousands of them this week when visiting Super Bowl City, (a free-to-the-public fan village designed to celebrate the big game) and going out to Levi Stadium where the game will be played.
Playing in the Super Bowl is the icing on the cake for many football players and getting there is not easy. Only a few are fortunate enough to reach this pinnacle. Both teams have been working tirelessly for months to get there and both have aspirations of winning the game and taking home that Lombardi trophy.
Both teams know that the object of the game is to win. As travelers we should also know what the “object of the game” is for each trip that we take. And if we want to get the most out of the trip, we need to plan just as carefully as NFL teams do. Here are some of the things that they do to prepare:
THEY WATCH FILM– Football players spend hours studying films – breaking down the strengths and weakness of their opponents. Each player is looking for an edge because the object of the game is to beat the opponent each time the ball is snapped.
As travelers we can also benefit from watching videos of our destinations. YouTube is a wonderful resource for checking out a city, cruise ship, hotel, restaurant, etc. Many of the videos are made by regular travelers just like us, who give very candid information and share their own personal views and experiences.
THEY WORK WITH EXPERTS- They utilize a team of specialists and coaches including position coaches, strength coaches, stretching coaches and even massage therapists. Of course there are books and online resources that professional athletes can use, but teams look to their specialists to prepare their athletes for maximum performance.
There are many professional resources that travelers can benefit from. Travel agents/advisors book travel on a daily basis, so they have a vast knowledge of destinations, trends, advisories, etc. Just be sure to work with someone who has first-hand knowledge about where you’re going. Of course there are books, apps and online resources that travelers can use also if they like. But there is no substitute for hands-on, expert advice.
DESIGNING PLAYS – Every week each team puts in a game specifically designed for the team that they will face on Sunday. That game plan consists of breaking down the opponents and coming up with a plan of attack to defeat them. Before taking a trip, you need to design a game plan also. That is how you will get the most out of your trip. Tour companies can be a valuable resource when planning a trip. There are literally hundreds of good tour companies who sell packaged tours that include flights, accommodations and excursions. They range in price from ultra luxury (one company offers round-the-world tours by private jet) to more budget-friendly. They can offer better prices since they buy air reservations and hotel rooms in bulk from the travel vendors and can package them at discounted rates. It’s best to work with a tour company that has been recommended by a friend or travel advisor who can give you detailed information about the level of service that a company offers – and remember, you get what you pay for.
TEAM CHEMISTRY –This is a very important part of a winning team. It is often said that a bad attitude in a locker room can poison the entire team. Many players have found themselves out of the NFL for that very reason.
It is just as important to choose your travel partners carefully. I’m sure many of us could tell horror stories about traveling with the wrong person. The people you travel with can make or break your trip.
UNIFORMS – The NFL has very specific guidelines for what their players wear. It is important that they adhere to those guidelines for safety reasons. Travelers should be just as careful when selecting their travel gear. That can apply to wearing the right shoes for the terrain, or even size and shape of luggage. If a piece of luggage is too heavy for you to handle, you’ll have great difficulty lifting it onto buses, or into overhead bins – and you can even risk injury.
As the famous Raider owner, Al Davis was famously known for saying, “Just win, Baby”. Even though travel is not a game, it is just as important to prepare and stay focused on your travel goals.
Are You Fit to Travel?
Jerry Rice is one of the all-time greatest NFL wide receivers. In addition to his on-field excellence, he was known for his incredible off-season training regimen. One aspect that was always mentioned was how he ran hills near his northern California home. Many other NFL players even came to train with him in the off- season, hoping to tap into some of the greatness that he exhibited on the field. That greatness eventually led him to the Hall of Fame.
We don’t often associate physical conditioning with travel, but there is a definite need to be physically fit to handle the rigors of travel. This applies to much more than adventure travel, even luxury travel requires conditioning. For instance, some airports are so large that you can walk as much as half a mile from one terminal to another, or from your arrival gate to the baggage claim area. This can entail navigating inclines, ramps, steps, escalators or trams – all while pulling your luggage. And since everyone is in a hurry, it also requires being able to move fairly quickly. We have had that experience in airports all over the country and around the world. We’ve done some serious trekking around Lisbon, Barcelona, Dubai and Beijing – without ever leaving the airport. So working out and staying in shape is a necessary part of our lifestyle.
Travel requires good upper body strength. After all, you have to be able to pull and lift your luggage. Now that airlines charge baggage fees, people are packing as much as possible into their carry-on bags. That means that you have to be able to lift those bags over your head to cram them into the overhead bins. You gotta be strong.
You need to be strong enough to hoist your luggage onto tour buses and up onto airport and rental car shuttle buses. Sometimes the driver will help, but if he doesn’t, you’re on your own. You gotta be strong.
You need to be able to walk and sometimes even run to catch a bus or keep up with a guide. When we went to Athens we took a guided tour to the Acropolis. The guidebook said, “The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens.” The operative word in the description is “high”. We had to climb a steep hill to get to the top. Since it is such a popular tourist destination there were literally thousands of other tourists there at the same time. So our guide rushed our group so that we could get ahead of the other groups and it was hot. That man almost walked us to death!
We had a similar experience in Santorini, Greece. We’d booked a walking tour of the town of Fira, so we expected a leisurely stroll around that picturesque little town – not. Our guide walked us at a surprisingly fast pace for a lady in her condition (she was pregnant). Fira is perched on the hillside above the caldera so there are lots of steps to negotiate and I think we hit all of them that day.
Often these “travel workouts” can be unexpected. On a trip to Montego Bay we decided to zipline for the first time. I knew I’d have to exert some effort and was ready to do that. However, I didn’t know how much walking we’d have to do before reaching the first platform…..down several hundred uneven steps…through the rainforest. My quads were shot…talk about feeling the burn.
Proper training requires proper equipment. Another aspect of travel fitness is having the right travel attire – especially footwear. You can always tell a seasoned traveler by looking at their feet. They wear shoes that can withstand the rigors of ancient cobblestones and uneven surfaces. Any city that has withstood hundreds of years has done so because it has very sturdy buildings and very hard walking surfaces. Those flip-flops and cute little kitten heels are no match for 500 year-old cobblestones. So do yourself a favor and wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.
Our most recent challenge was last month when we climbed the Great Wall of China. I have several friends who’d been there and told me about climbing some steps then taking a ride on a gondola, so that’s what I expected to do. However, our guide took us to a section of the wall where there was no gondola, only steps. There were hundreds of uneven steps that went straight up. What a workout! If I hadn’t been in shape I’d have tapped out early in the climb. But it was an exhilarating experience and the view from the top was spectacular….well worth the effort.
Our travels have taught us to expect the unexpected. So we train 2-3 times each week so that we can continue to pursue our passion…travel.
- adventure travel
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- book review
- ciragan palace
- family travel
- gothic quarter
- group travel
- hagia sophia
- la boqueria
- la sagrada familia
- las ramblas
- Las Vegas
- montego bay
- super bowl
- Travel Tips
- trip review
- United Arab Emirates
- wine lover
- zipline canopy tour