Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If Guacamole and Salsa aren't on the Menu, then this ain't Texas

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if Hayes Carll is 50 miles from San Antonio, Texas that Craig and I and our friends, Jerry and Tracy will be at the show.

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In fact, Tracy and I drove all the way to Houston once to see a show with my travel fiend friend Carrie. He's a great voice, but he also puts on a great show. It's doubly fun when the John Evans Band open for him. His eclectic sound ranges from swing to Texas Country in the space of seconds and he puts on a show that people talk of for days.

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Last night they set the bass on fire. While the bassist was playing it and never missing a beat. It was fantastic!

I'd never been to this place before even though I a) love live music b) love food and c) was raised in San Antonio and have been living here for a decade. It's not on the best side of town and very near another great restaurant, Josephine Street. Well I think it's great. Craig keeps telling me this, but he never actually has taken me yet.

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I ordered a Guacamole Jack chicken sandwich which arrived minus the Guacamole. Huh. The waitress told me that they were out of Guac. I stared at her. Huh. She asked if I wanted avocado slices on it. Um Yeah. and mash it up with a little salt and pepper and garlic please? Actually I didn't say that because they were slammed and I like my food minus server spit. I did take the avocado though. Cuz really, why eat anything in Texas without guacamole or salsa. I didn't get this trim figure eating celery and tofu ya know.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for me (and T---tma)

I am actually proud of myself for sticking with this blog for the last few months. I haven't told anyone about it...well that's not true. I tell people about it, I just don't tell them WHERE it is :) So in itself this blog has been an accomplishment for me. It's a way to show myself that I can in fact stick with something if I set my mind to it.

So with that in mind I decided I want to make a few New Year's Resolutions that pertain to both my personal life and this blog.

1. I want to be in more travel pictures. This past year I have very VERY few pictures of me because I run from cameras like they spew flames with every snap because I don't like the way I look. And whose fault is that really? In August to prepare myself for our yearly Labor Day couples vacation, I lost 12 pounds with the Biggest Lost 30 day Jumpstart. I LOVED the food, but it's a lot of work. And really what in life isn't? So to achieve this goal, I resolve to use the new Biggest Loser cookbooks to cook healthy meals and lose 50 pounds by the August Berlin/Prague trip. To keep myself on track, I will post here the best food I loved and/or the most troubling dishes. I will NOT be posting a monthly weight update. However EVERY trip I take will have pictures of me and hopefully the differences each month will be noticeable.

In 1997 when I went to Europe the first time with my friend Carrie, she told me that EVERY picture had to have one of us in it. I juxtapose this with the last pictures I take and would love a happy medium. I have some great pictures of scenery marred only by a travel bedraggled woman with bed head (from sleeping on trains) that I really wish we would have taken without us in them. There has to be a happy medium.

2. I want to track what I read. In 2008 I resolved to track EVERY book I read. It was over 200 books. I read. A lot. And that was fun but not what I want to do again. I read about a bookstore in New York that groups books according to location. Supposedly you can email them a location and they will send you a list of books that you can buy from them that uses that location as a setting. Well I emailed and as of now I haven't heard back, but I can only imagine their puffed out inbox after being featured in a premier travel magazine. This led me to thinking that I want to do that here. I want to track everything I read based on location. I will list the labels on the blog so that anyone can link to a series of books based on the label for any location that I have read.
CAVEAT: I will not be listing all of the historical romances that I read like crazy because seven hundred London books set in the 1820s really isn't THAT informative for anyone who wants to read.

3. I want to spend less on crap. This pertains to T---tma because I have a tendency to buy any seemingly homemade crapola from any old native when I travel. Yesterday at breakfast I pulled out a bread basket made from Provencal material.

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and told my husband that I wasn't going to buy any more souvenirs that I knew I wouldn't use. I wanted more like the breadbasket (or hell even a a coffee mug) and less of the jade (very very costly) elephant I got in Paris. WTH was I thinking? I mean who else doesn't immediately think of Paris when they see a Jade elephant???

Strangely enough that very day on the way to my inlaws I was reading a magazine article about the UNsouvenir. The author's main purpose was to buy items that the LOCALS use. I'm not going this far really. I just want to buy items that *I* will use. Like the candy dish from Mount Vernon I use to hold my jewelry

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4. Learn something new I commit to this every year. But as I'm travelling to Czech Republic and Germany I'd like to learn enough conversational German to get by and quite a bit more Czech. We even get a Czech paper through our life insurance so I will have practice!

I think that's enough for this year. I've decided to go for the full marathon this year if I get chosen for Nike Women's Marathon again so I will have to start walking like mad very very very soon (like today). I turn 36 this year and with respect to my family's life expectancy half of my life is over. I want to really enjoy the second half!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

$200 for 25 pounds...a DKNY Cozy for me...

I only hope I can do this before it is too hot to wear the sucker. I'd love to have A DKNY COZY for our cruise because it is so perfectly versatile for evenings and semi-cold weather. I wouldn't try to brave winter in Helsinki with it, but it's the PERFECT weight for South Texas.



The caveat: They only come in size XS/S and M/L. M/L being size 8-14.

CrazyAuntPurl raves about hers.

Apparently at one time they had a L/XL version. So here is my deal. I want to lose 25 pounds and this will be my reward. This is EXACTLY the type of outergarment I like to travel with. It can be layered perfectly, worn on the plane so it doesn't need to be packed, and can match anything. I will be keeping an eye on the DKNY site and checking local stores to see who carries them.

They even have a DKNY COZY APP for those crazy maniacal emergencies where you need to know how to wrap your cozy and you need it NOW. This would be funnier if I didn't fully intend to download this sucker in case of travel related cozy emergencies myself.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas....a gift for you (packing 101)

On the way to packing for NFR in Vegas my husband complained about how his boots took up so much room. This led me to one of my packing lectures in which I invoked Rule #2 of the Cardinal Law of Packing.

Thou Shalt Wear Your Largest Pair of Shoes on the Plane.

Double points to your if these shoes:

a) *slip on and off without laces, hooks, or straps.
b) *require socks.
c) are comfortable.

So Cowboy boots are the pinnacle of shoes to wear of an airplane as they cover all of these. ESPECIALLY if for Christmas you get a pair of Lucchese boots that you never want to take off.

I have me some BIG FEET anyway (read Size 11 Peggy Hill feet)

BIG FEET

so buying shoes is as fun for me as getting my various body parts waxed. I was surprising Craig with a pair of Lucchese boots for Christmas. These boots are the most comfortable cowboy boots known to man. And when I saw the various styles I knew I needed some. Unfortunately only a couple of stores carry my size so I had to travel extra distance to get my pair. As soon as I saw these beauties I knew they were mine.

LUCCHESE BOOTS

I had been envying The Pioneer Woman hers for months now. But I was torn, brown or black? I settled for the brown pair because these suckers are expensive and no way could I get both.

BUT Craig calls me from work and says, guess your getting your black pair after all. His boss (the one who had bought me my treasured suitcase) had given him a $200 gift card to the Lucchese store here in town. This could be put TOWARD a pair of boots (which should give you an idea of how expensive these beauties can be!) So I bought these as well. Snoopy dancing did in fact occur.

*The reason for these two is of course the dreader airport security line where you don't want to be trapped having to tie/untie shoes and you DEFINITELY don't want to be walking around there in bare feet. I get the shivers even thinking about it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How old is too old? Aka but this used to be a sushi bar...

Next year I'm putting myself on a money diet (actually a food diet too but that's another story) and I'm looking at one of my major expenses.....books. Now I'm not foolish enough to think I could go cold turkey on book buying ( I would rather give up air) so I'm already planning my economization. Used book stores. For the most part this is a good idea, but do I really want to buy old travel information?

What if the great hotel listed is now a flea ridden hovel. Or worse a bed and breakfast. My husband would rather eat glass than share a restroom or breakfast conversation. And seriously I plan so far in advance I'm using old books anyway! So where is my cut off??

For now (and I'm completely reserving the right to change my mind as I am in fact a woman) I am limiting used travel books to two years old. For general location info I may choose older books ( because really how much has the Eiffel Tower) changed in 100 years I will go as old as five years. And I will certainly complain if this blows up in my face. As I said I am a woman.

Which means it's Craig's fault anyway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I gotta secret.....

And I'm bursting to post it because I'm sure no one actually reads my blog. I haven't even told my friends about it yet. I'm waiting until the new year and then I'll let everyone know.

But I promised I wouldn't say anything yet so I won't. I have told my husband and my travel buddy so she can start planning. I'm ready to BURST. I can't wait to share.

Nobody likes a showoff---and yet I just can't help myself.

Once I've managed to accomplish something I find it hard not to work it in to every conversation. I'm quite the manipulative conversationalist masterfully bringing up an innocuous topic I have preplanned to end as I want.

Craig, having been married to me for almost 17 years now recognizes when I do this and will often ask how long I've been waiting to bring THAT word or topic into a conversation. A few days ago, we passed a Tapas bar and I mentioned that I wondered if a gift card of mine was valid at that tapas bar.

Craig actually snorted. "I highly doubt it."

"Why?" I asked, clueless.

"They wouldn't give you a gift card to a topless bar."

"No," I stress. "A TAPAS bar."

"What's tapas?" He asks.

"I'm not sure, like Spanish appetizers?"

Silence for a few seconds.

"You've been waiting to use that one haven't you?" Um NO! I think. Not that time at least.

Really the only reason I knew what tapas was and how it SOUNDS like topless was because I had just send the movie I Hate Valentine's Day.


However, yesterday I DID bring up the fact that Eurostar (as of this day) has shut down indefinitely. Now this is exactly what I am horrible at. Bringing up random travel info ONLY so that I can trap someone into saying, "You've been there right?" And may answer is smarmy and sweet, much like mine to Craig yesterday when he asked if I have been on the Eurostar.

"Of course," I smarmed. "Several times."

He has to love me. Or he wouldn't put up with me!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monticello pictures (that were promised)

Monticello without a tourist in sight:

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A Little wet:

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Monticello Views:
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A Peaceful Walk:

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

In which I get philosophical (Without pictures)

But I promise pictures soon. They are on my phone and I keep forgetting to upload them to this computer.

Last Saturday my older son and I went to help build a house in total mud and muck. My shoes are in the garage still with at least 3 inches of mud caked on the bottom. Likely more. When we woke up I was sorely tempted to NOT go but I realized life doesn't wait for good weather and this led to a philosophical mind wandering I really shouldn't ahve gone on considering my son was driving. In the rain.

Last year I went to visit my friend Kathryn in DC and we decided to take a day to visit Monticello. I was really looking forward to it and was a little worried that the day we had planned was wet and nasty and we passed an over turned car and two wrecks on the way. Small signs that sailing was less than smooth.

But we marched on and when we arrived wet and weary to a near empty site I realized it was ALL WORTH IT. I was able to take pictures of the grounds that no one else could. No tourists marred my still shots and taking the country lane to the cemetery was peaceful and quiet and to this day I remember the feeling in my chest as I walked the path of one of our countries forefathers,

It made me realize that waiting for that perfect day, or the perfect weather or the perfect situation will mean that you will spend more time waiting doing nothing when in fact the trip that you will never forget is there for the taking.

CAVEAT: don't try to weather out hurricane though, k???

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Free advice....comes with a price

Since I travel so much I invariable get questions about best deals and suggestions for travel. My personal favorite comes from people who want me to just plan their trip for them. Oh yeah, because I don't have enough to do raising three kids and a husband, owning my own company, and going to graduate school. I'd LOVE to plan your week long excursion to the far west spending no more than $50/night on hotels.

I like to talk to people about travel but I have to be careful because sometimes people cling to you like a bronc rider needing the NFR standings (how is that for my rodeo allusion for the week?) when they find out you travel and treat you like the Great Oracle of Delphi. I cannot plan your vacation people. Because I AM NOT YOU. I could send you on my dream vacation and it would drive you insane. Or bore you to tears. Or scare you out of your wits. I have no idea what you want to do on vacation because most of the time *I* don't know what I want to do on vacation.

Take a single place, Las Vegas. Sometimes we go to Vegas and all I want to do it chill at the spa. Other times I want to stay up all not gaming. Then other times I want to take in as many shows as possible. Vegas is a great spot to cover all of these. A cruise also offers a lot of options. A city like San Antonio does not. And frankly I don't want to hear your life story about how you need a vacation. I can help you with a specific, like a hotel recommendation that *I* like (translation: It may be your worst nightmare). Or why I travel on a certain airline (translation: Frequent Flyer Miles baby!) But I am not going to tell you what works for YOU. Only you can do that with years of experience and knowing yourself.

I've found that I'm not a big first time person. It is almost guaranteed that I will NOT enjoy a placew the first tiem I visit (exception Italy). I hated Vegas the first time I went. Thought I'd NEVER go back (and here I am almost a dozen trips later in 3 years). Cruising was the same way. Sometime I will share that exruciating trip but i will wait until my next one (in March) to compare. Becuase maybe it was because it was new and different that I had trouble and not the fact that I just don't like cruising. Who knows?

What I do know is that I love when people ask my opinion. The last trip to our favorite hotel in Vegas was "meh" and it made me realize that we can try other hotels there so we don't get bogged down. I immediately came home, joined the "clubs" of other hotels to get notification of sales and waited for the deals to come in. When my skin care person told me she wanted to get away in January I was quick to share not only the email I got from the Venetian about a great special but also the all inclusives email I received from Cheap Carribean since I know she loves Mexico.

Either way I am just giving suggestions and I HOPE she knows I'm not endorsing anything. Which I will, if they paid me enough and then I would have a big sticker over every post about how I'm a paid endorser for a hotel or a cruise. I'm willing to do that? Anyone willing to pay me????

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Netbook purchase...and earphone suggestion

I ordered the Toshiba choice in Pink because it came with a mouse and softcover case as well. Craig and I used it on the trip to Vegas. We had no trouble playing a 2.5 hour movie. This is supercool for me because most of my computers have died at this time. Here it is with a small tumbler next to it to give you some idea of size.

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Notice the keyboard takes up the whole base. But they are full sized which I like. I also loved that it fit nicely inside of my travel purse (aka the Let's Make a Deal purse because everything and the living room lamp fits inside).

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I love that purse. I bought it because it was similar to a Birkin for $25 bucks and OMG the compliments I get on that purse when I travel.

A major setback for netbooks is that they have no CDRom so any software you want on the computer must be added via the internet or a flash drive. This was cool for me as I just wanted to VIEW office products and not work on them. I only take a few working vacations and when I do I'd take my fullsized computer anyway. This is PERFECT for when you want to travel and FUN is the main event.

I would however like to suggest an earphone splitter. I had never heard of these until someone on a BB i frequent mentioned them. For anyone travelling in pairs and wanting to watch the same movies these are great. I am not particularly fond of the ones I have and will probably get a better set soon (esp. for the trip to Europe with my son) but here is a place to check out options.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Curious George and the Catholic School Girl

Last Sunday I dressed up as a Catholic School Girl to appear in the audience of a show I am contractually obligated not to speak of in any manner. So I won't go into any details about that experience per se but I do want to talk about a person we met while waiting for the interview. Standing behind my mother in law was a man wearing an NFR jacket. Apparently he owned the bull Curious George who was performing the next night at the rodeo. This was serendipitous as WE were attending the rodeo the next night. So i was sure to video Curious George's performance :)



Curious George won....barely. Actually the stock for Bull Riding won all the events that night. Not a single cowboy made the 8 seconds! And if one of them had they would have won over $58000 for 8 seconds of a ride. I was tempted to shove Craig down there on the bull for that amount of money!

This made bronc riding look like a tea party. Or the bare back (saddle? I don't need no stinkin' saddle)



Now what impressed me the most were the calf ropers. Single man ropes the calf jumps off moving horse, flips the 300 pound calf then ties 3 limbs together and gets back on the horse. in 7 seconds. Watch the horse. They pay good money for horses trained to do that. Not an inch slack in that rope!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Las Vegas---the City of Love (in an elevator)

Read the article published by Los Angeles Times.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-na-harlequin-books29-2009nov29,0,5491411.story

"And the heroines it depicted lived out female professional -- not necessarily sexual -- fantasies long before they became reality."

This was posted on a message board I frequent so Tracy and I went to see the display at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. What was really cool is that last year I volunteered to be my daughter's cheer coach (I know don't fall out of your chairs) and the head coach is a romance author who writes under the name of Kimberly Raye.

The display was very interesting really. About the history of Harlequin (it was originally a male/female publisher of mystery type books until the owners wife said hey I think Romance is the way to go!!!)

Here is the hotel:

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The display (which was a bit hidden and hard to find :)

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Kim's book on display:
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How glad I am the covers have gome from this:

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to this!!!

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Next up tomorrow....RODEO! Long Live Cowboys!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is it really so much to ask...

that when the luggage comes around the carousel people don't RUSH to stand right in the way of the luggage going by? Can't everyone step back a bit and then move forward when the SEE their bag actually coming. Nothing annoys me more about flying that having to pick up checked luggage. I usually avoid this as much as possible but had to do it coming back from Vegas (3 full sized bottles of free liquor didn't fit in my quart sized bag).

The Rum and Vodka (times two) better be worth it!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

am I blue?

And what is with all my song titles lately? I am packing for my trip to VEGAS, BABY and threw all my clothes on the floor in a great big pile (which I will sort out and neatly pack later, but first I wanted to make sure everything I wanted was clean) I looked back and noticed a little trend with the clothes I picked. Notice anything????

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Heh so maybe I wear A LOT of blue!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

S(sss)A(aaa)F(fff)E(eee)T(ttt)Y(yyy) Safety Safety Dance (dancedancedance)

Magellan sent me another email chockful of Safety Tips for travel (some of which are obvious and others are flagrant ploys to sell their products) but I did note a few which I wanted to remember and share:

Safe Travel Tips

Be aware of those around you. Crowded international airports are terrific for pickpockets, as jet-lagged, disoriented travelers are easy marks. Keep a close eye on your belongings, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted if someone “accidentally” bumps into you or drops something in front of you. I have what my husband affectionately calls my Pantheon Hold. I make sure the purse zipper is facing the front and I hold the purse at the zipper closure so that even if a pickpocket tries to cut my strap i've got a hold on the purse.

Prevent theft of carry-on items. When going through airport security, make sure that the metal detector is clear and ready for you to enter before you send your carry-on items through X-ray.

Avoid the first floor as ground floor windows and sliding glass doors are much more accessible than those above.
This is not usually a problem in Europe where rooms are rarely on the ground floor. Note that the first floor in Europe is the second floor in America and if you ask for a second floor in a hotel in Prague, you will end up on what we consider the third floor!

When checking in, be discreet when disclosing personal information. If the hotel clerk gives you your room number verbally, ask for a different room. If you are a solo woman traveler, check in as Mr. and Mrs.

Don’t leave valuables in your room. If you must travel with valuables, secure them in the hotel safe. Love the rooms in Vegas which have an inroom safe...be smart don't use 1234!!!

Keep the door locked when in your room, and never open the door to unexpected visitors. Use a door stop alarm to alert you to unwanted intruders, and check with the front desk to verify the identity of maintenance personnel before you let them in.
OR you could be double preventive and set your luggage in front of the door to avoid bed bugs and warn you of intruders.

When you are out for the day, keep the room key with you rather than turning it in at the front desk. I did this ONCE in Europe and never again. I stressed over it all day. Never again.

Park in well–lit areas, and never leave any visible belongings in your car.


Don’t draw attention to yourself with expensive clothing or jewelry, as this makes you an attractive target. Similarly know what clothes are appropriate in a country. When my friend and I met her mother in italy, her mother searched half a day for shorts to wear. Finally I mentioned to a shopkeeper the problem we were having and she told us the reason we couldn't find any shorts is because in Europe shorts are worn ONLY at the beach. She said Europeans always know who Americans are because of the shorts. I took this to heart. When I took a group of high school kids to London and Paris, I made them promise not to pack any shorts. There is no reason to wear what amounts to a flashing "I AM AMERICAN" sign all around a foreign city!

Don’t leave your camera hanging around your neck. When not in use tuck it in a pocket or purse.
Or hanging from your wrist. I had a camera cut off my wrist in New Orleans once. The camera I didn't care about. All the pictures I lost makes my heart hurt.

Don't show your money. Pickpockets observe travelers when shopping, and then later know exactly which pocket to pick. Use a money belt or security wallet to keep your valuables out of sight and close to your body, and tuck a little “mad money” in a front pocket for the day’s expenses.

Divide up your funds so that if your wallet is taken, you have a back up supply (in your socks or elsewhere) to get you back on track. Be careful with this. I once lost 10 pounds in England because it fell out of my pants. I get back to the hotel room told Carrie I had lost 10 pounds and she said "Because of all the walking" and I said no because my jeans were too tight and I didn't get the bill in far enough. We both cracked up laughing thinking that losing 10 pounds can be an awesome thing too! Unfortunately it wasn't for me that day. Make sure your back ups are reliable!

Don't accept food or drinks from strangers. They may contain drugs that will knock you out, creating opportunity for a thorough robbery or worse. Like DUH!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dr. Oz- Don't let the Bed Bugs Bite

We all want to bring home cool souvenirs from travel but one thing we DON'T want to bring back is bugs!

I just saw on Dr. Oz how to avoid and prevent bringing home these nasty stowaways and wanted to share here.

1. I have a bad habit of breaking rule NUMBER ONE. Keep luggage near the door NOT on the bed. Make sure that your luggage is as far away from the bed and bedding as possible.

2. Have a general inspection for obvious signs (which doesn't mean they aren't there). Look for dark spots on the base of bedding and around the bed (headboard, under drawers in nightstands, behind pictures near the bed). I'm curious how I would handle finding the evidence. Would you really want a new room at this hotel? what if you are in a foreign city and don't know if you can FIND another room!!! Note to self...plan back up hotels!

3. When you get home take everything and HOT WASH IT or directly dry it. This will kill bugs as well as eggs. Place not launderable in closed bags for a few days to kill the bugs as well.

Ech I think I need to go shower. And burn my bed. And my clothes. A new reason to get a new wardrobe, eh?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Seven degrees of separation via WHERE ANDREA HAS TRAVELED IN THE LAST TWO YEARS

So it works like this: In the last year I have travelled to
Washington DC
Las Vegas
New York
Las Vegas (you may notice a trend)
Nassau, Bahamas (and Orlando as it was a cruise)
Las Vegas
San Francisco
and then next month Las Vegas

I'm not sure how that happened. I certainly didn't intend for every other trip to be Vegas, but as that is where Craig ALWAYS defaults in wanting to vacation we end up there. A few short distance trips within Texas aren't included but the purpose of this list is because I watched two movies. And if you can possible follow the crazy workings of my mind I would like to share the freakiness of these movies:


State of Play with Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck


Duplicity with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts


Let me back up a bit and talk about my trip to DC (Where State of Play was filmed) I had asked my friend to take me to Ben's Chili Bowl because I had seen it on Samantha Brown (see I do love her!) and when we were there Ben himself was sitting upstairs and he signed a book for me about the restaurant. It was pretty serendiptous. I had travelled to DC for a conference with my friend's work and I had spent a little time at her office. So imagine my laugh as we watch the movie and I turn to my husband and say...oh I love Ben's Chili Bowl I made K take me there.

At which point I know he thinks I am showing off (which I tend to do in movies that show European locations). So I KNOW he thought I was full of crap when they show the outside of russell crowe's work and I'm saying OH MY GOSH. That is K's office! I was there too. I actually called up her address on goggle maps and used street view to show him it was the same place. FREAKING CRAZY HUH!

So then I'm watching Duplicity and i'm shocked that the movie plays like a WHERE ANDREA HAS TRAVELLED IN THE LAST TWO YEARS travellogue. (Minus dubai because frankly I have zero interest in being there anyway) I totally caught the Pantheon in Rome. It completely took me back to our trip there. Then New York and then ATLANTIS in Nassau where my friend K (the work place in DC person) and I snuck in with the help of our Cabbie Nigel who was an ex-cop and knew the guards at the hotel.

So it works like this
State of Play>
DC>
K's Work>
K>
Nassau>
Atlantis>
Duplicity

So I watched two movies from completely different locations that linked together for me through my travels. Wonder what other movies I can do that to!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking for me, I'm Underground

Yet another magazine I read is Budget Travel. I wish they were a bit bigger but their premise is that EVERYONE should travel and because of their open audience you find fewer ads for Hermes and Cartier. Both brands I will likely never own in my life. I can barely afford knockoffs.

Their December/January issue had a notice about a list on their website budgettravel.com that finds the best Underground Tours in the World.

A Nazi hideout
An ordinary door in Berlin's Gesundbrunnen train station leads to an abandoned air raid shelter that reveals Berlin's dark underbelly: an array of secret bunkers, escape tunnels—even an aircraft factory—built by the Nazi regime during WWII and expanded during the Cold War. Berlin Underworlds' Association, 011-49/30-4991-0517, berliner-unterwelten.de, 90-minute tour $13.

My son would LOVE this so it's definitely making the list of things to do. They offer several options and I'll let him decide which one we will do.

Craig and I went on an Underground tour of Rome with Context Travel (have I praised them enough because I LURV them)

I was sure to vote for them when they were a finalist for NATGEO's awards.



Context was also kind enough to recommend a person to contact in Germany who might be able to create a private tour for my son and me. I'll post if anything turns up with that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Andrea Uncertainty Principle

The amount of importance a purchase has on my life is inversely proportional to the stress I make over the decision.

Buying a house = no stress
Buying a car = little stress
Buying a lawnmower = moderate stress
Buying a mini notebook for travel = high, anxiety inducing stress.

I had less stress paying for an purchasing the $2000 laptop I use for work!

As soon as I got the great idea that I would purchase a laptop and add skype so that I didn't have to worry about phone cards etc during my trip to Europe I set out to buy a net book, ARGH the choices and ARGH the possibilities.

I was really stressing over this until the past two months a couple travel magazines ran choices on netbooks. See there is a reason I have subscriptions to THREE travel magazines (and it's more than the fluffy, screeching toys my kids won because I signed up for eleventy billion magazines) (all of which are now in the trash).

BOTH magazines recommend the HP MINI 110 and the TOSHIBA NB 205-325. So right now my debate is if 5 hours of my life is worth $70. Because while the HP 110 is $330, it only lasts 4 hours. Which is barely a plane ride to Atlanta. I'm debating the Toshiba simply because 9 hours is a freaking long time and I really think it would be worth it!

Will post later my choice.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hamburgler has been alerted...

Ever wonder about the marketing genius who came up with the felon character for children? The Hamburgler? Really? Whatever their purpose I have to say if they wanted me to think of him and his black and white stripes every time I see a burger it worked!

After perusing the Travel and Leisure Best Hamburgers in America slideshow my first thought was "Hamburgler has a lot of travelling to do!"

Not sure WHY I spent 5 minutes looking at 10 pictures of a food I'm not terribly fond of, but I figured i'd share...and if I make it up to Austin I shall sample and lend my 2 cents :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

More

When I was nine years old we travelled to West Germany and I enjoyed the time. My grandmother was German and she and her mother had travelled to visit my aunt (whose husband was stationed in northern Italy) and I can remember Granny telling me that great-grandma was said that they couldn't see her family (who was all in East Germany).

Additionally my father was Czech and I never as a child thought I would be able to travel to the land of my ancestors. East Germany and Czechoslovakia were firmly rooted behind the iron curtain.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down my heart beats heavier. I can remember walking down the hallway my freshman year in high school and Lydia Radnik coming up to me telling me that the Berlin Wall had come down. I didn't even know what to say it was so unreal to me.

And now I am planning a trip to take my son to Berlin and Prague and the meaning is so much more than new places and new experiences. It is my homeland. The place where my ancestors decided that they wanted something else for their families. Something better than what they could see was happening to their countries over a 100 years ago. I wonder if I would have the strength and the conviction to make such life-altering decisions. I wonder what I will feel when I stand on the soil of my ancestors and thank them and their memory for all they gave up so that I may have more. More freedom. More wealth. More ideas. More happiness.

They did with less so that I would have more.

Děkuji.

Danke.

Thank you.

Denver 2010 here I come...

A paper I submitted to a research organization was accepted for presentation so I will be adding that to my 2010 trip roster. I'm not terribly thrilled about this because frankly Denver hasn't really been on my list of places I'm dying to see.

Good Hostess Janet has come up with a brilliant idea to meet me in Denver for a couple days (before or after my presentation) to see some of Denver and meet up for a girls' weekend. On our list is theTattered Cover because we are book freaks. We actually went to book stores in Las Vegas. Blackjack, booze and books my favorite type of weekend.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

posting this made me hungry....

What with me travelling to SF for the purpsoe of a race, I decided I had to eat as much italian Food as possible to carbo load. This is of course hilarious as my training was spotty and really acting like I'm a training athlete is just funny to me. Because I'm so not.

L'Osteria Del Forno

Their website can explain it the best:

Tucked away in San Francisco's North Beach, L'Osteria del Forno emits an old world charm that is as authentic as our traditional menu. We pride ourselves on serving Northern Italian cuisine with only an oven to cook our dishes with. Our goal is to bring the flavors of Italy with original imported products (like Reggiano Parmesan or pure extra virgin olive oil) mixed with the quality and freshness from local providers.

The secret to our success is fresh daily ingredients. We deliver hearty, authentic and skillfully prepared dishes from Northern Italy. L'Osteria del Forno is inspired by the everyday food culture of our childhood. Dinnertime was a family shared moment and is one of our most precious memories of our life.

With a limited number of tables, the restaurant appeals to intimate gatherings of faithful locals and visitors. Many guides, papers and reviewers have considered our place as a true local gem. We prefer the small coziness of our space and have avoided the pressure to expand even though the demand for tables is constant. The inconvenience of a short wait is always outweighed by the tasty food and special attention that we give to each patron.


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Small and Cozy is NO JOKE. They have 15 tables (only 3 of which sit more than 2-3) and the waiting area is the street outside the restaurant. If you are a couple then you may not wait as long. Janet and I were able to get right in the last table left, but there were 3 groups of 4 waiting for a table (and the wait was up to an hour...but people weren't budging). This was an obvious sign that the food would be fantastic. I had a daily special of filet mignon (which as Janet so aptly put it, you could cut with a TOOTHPICK!) and polenta and OMG it was FANTASTIC. Janet had a pumpkin ravioli that was just as good.

The kitchen is open so you can see them preparing your dishes and for an hour or so I felt like I was back in Rome. Overall I would say expect to pay about $25 per person for a meal and wines are not overly expensive. It it ridiculously cheap for any SF restaurant!

The waiters are kind and helpful and the busboy looks like he stepped off the runway in Milan.

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I can't recommend this place more!

Monday, November 2, 2009

count to 10 before you rant...

so the latest Pioneer Woman post about hotels made me eat my words. Dammit.

But I'm willing to give her credit!

I wanted to believe she wouldn't do what I accused her of in my other email so I gave her one more chance and read her post about The Hotel Skirvin in Oklahoma City. I wanted to see if these also pushed the $200/night mark but I was pleasantly surprised that with advanced planning you could get a King standard room for less than $150/night!

The hotel is supposedly haunted and this nifty youtube has some "before" pics from when the hotel was abandoned (1988-2005) The skeevy scary music was amusing.



So my formal apologies to PW :) I should have known she wouldn't fail me LOL!

Friday, October 30, 2009

so about that good hostess thing???

They sometimes steal your scones. And then feel guilty so they send you a giftcard to cover EXACTLY ONE SCONE.

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I love that woman!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Recommendation Rant **language warning**

----A break from the regularly scheduled San Fran posting for this breaking rant----

I enjoy watching Samantha Brown's Travel Channel shows. It's how I hear about many of the activities and shows I look forward to. However, 99.19% of the hotels she stays in and gushes about and recommends cost WAY MORE than I am willing to pay for a freaking BED. A BED people. And a toilet. I sometimes look up (for shits and giggles) the cost of these little rooms she suggests. After I pull myself off the ground I check to see what makes this hotel worth the cost. Let me tell you what I expect from a hotel that charges for these world class service. I would expect various amenities illegal in most civilized societies (except maybe in Nevada and Amsterdam) and I would expect it in triplicate! I had better be freaking high with free drugs because I would have to be to fork over my credit card to pay those prices.

FOR A BED. A BED people.

I also love reading The Pioneer Woman for all her self-deprecation about "roughing it" with her incredibly wealthy husband. My in-laws own a ranch in South Texas. I recognize ranching money when I see it.

So for her to recommend boutique hotels is like her recommending Lucchese boots. Do I sound bitter? Probably. Am I jealous? SHIT YES. However what really ticks me off is that for the most part I would lay down great odds that her readers CANNOT afford to stay in the luxury accommodations she is writing about. I'm not sure what her purpose it, but to me it's coming off as a "look what I have and you don't (nor will you ever have)."

The reason I find this annoying is that this is counter to her usual recommendations (like Neutrogena Shampoo and Dr. Pepper lip balm). Maybe she thinks we want to live vicariously through her. Which would make sense if she listed and suggested other out of price range options, but she did not. Instead this comes from left field and my hopes of getting great ideas via her site for travel have been squashed like a spider at my friend Tracy's house. So bottom line for me is "Don't even bother reading her posts about hotels."

Well, that has saved me some time in the day at least to post more here!

As a way of showing what I DO expect in recommendations and what a reader can expect from here I am going to describe my search for a Hotel in Berlin.

So I'm reading the Reader's Choice issue of Conde Nast Traveler and they listed their favorite hotels. This magazine caters to the ridiculously wealthy I think and most of the things they recommend fall into a "should also include 2 hookers and a gourmet meal that has no calories" category. Also lots of drugs. But because I am nosy and think that sometimes a even blind squirrel can find a nut I looked at the listing of hotels in Berlin for pricing. And apparently when you plan out seventy months in advance like I do you can get deals.

I mean like ONE THIRD the cost of a room at a Luxury hotel!!!! HOLY FREAKING CRAP BATMAN. I got a river view room at Grand Hotel Esplanade in Berlin for UNDER 100 EUROs EACH NIGHT. See me Snoopy dancing?

Here is what I look like



only more blonde and puffier.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hot Air Balloon ride---the REST of the story

There are a variety of operators in the Napa Vally area for hot air balloon rides. We used Balloons Above the Valley which, while I am going to sound like it is miserable, was actually a very competent, helpful organization. I would rate the staff a 5 out of 5 stars from top to bottom. They were all great. It was the balloon ride itself I was a little freaked over.

To give Balloons Above the Valley credit I checked another site's FAQ to see if they covered any of my concerns either and alas they did not. I find it seriously hard to believe that no one else had my concerns after a flight but then I realized that these are PRE FLIGHT FAQs and really they had my money what did they care about how I felt about the landing (FREAKING OUT MOMENT)

I am taking these from the Balloons Above the Valley FAQ page

So here are their FAQs:

What does the LOGO above mean?
Don't be fooled by others claiming "Best Balloon Ride"! ONLY Balloons Above The Valley consistently has received the most votes over all the other balloon companies for the BEST OF guide 17 years in a row. We recently just received again the BEST for the 2009 Best of Guide. Be sure to look for the official logo to guarantee the best balloon ride!


Before people lift thousands of feet in the air THIS is a frequently asked question? Who gives a damn? I want to know who these idiots are who ask this as opposed to say "Where do we land?" (which is NOT a question you will see here) and I want to ensure they are NOT in my wicker basket.


What TIME do we meet?
We meet about thirty minutes before sunrise. Therefore, times do vary throughout the year, ranging from 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Just email us with the date you are inquiring about and we will let you know the meeting time.

Why do we meet so EARLY?
Just before sunrise is when the weather is the coolest and the winds are the calmest which is ideal for ballooning.


Both good informative questions, not much to add here. Keep in mind however that Napa Valley is an affluent area that is building even in this economic recession in CA, so be prepared for road construction at 5am because they would NEVER do it during the day so as to upset the people who live in the area. Only upset the tourists. It's their working motto.

How HIGH will we go?
Generally between 1,000 to 3,000 feet depending on the winds.


Another good question for those afraid of heights because we go freaking high.

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What should we WEAR?
You should wear casual clothing along with comfortable shoes. We suggest to wear light layers so that you can easily adjust to the temperature as the sun comes up. The coolest you will be is on the ground. Once you're in flight, the burners tend to keep the baskets nice and warm.


Yeah, let's talk about this. Comfortable shoes? CHECK. Here are my most comfortable shoes. I wear them every time I travel. They slip on nicely and have molded to my foot perfectly, and since I would prefer to be barefoot I would NEVER consider running shoes as comfortable, so this is what I chose:

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This is what I should have worn! But more on that in a second:

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Let's also talk about WHAT to wear. Another thing that is not explained is that you CLIMB INTO the basket. There is not a gate or a neat little entry way. There are 2 little holes to plug your feet into while you climb a four foot high bucket wall and gracefully fall into the basket. With three other people in there. There are four sections with four people each. Yes there are 16 people in this sucker not including the captain. So I would strongly suggest JEANS. Would be nice to note that thank you please hot air balloon companies.

WHERE do we launch from?
We have several launch sites within Napa Valley. Wind and fog can determine where we may launch on any given day. We also have alternate launch sites in two adjacent valleys.


Please note the part about the alternate launch sites. Not all operators in the area have this. So if you are wanting a balloon ride this is a great company. If you want a NAPA VALLEY balloon ride, chant three times and pray to the almighty fog/cloud goddess because from what I took away those launches can be rare. One lady had rescheduled her launch four times because SHE WAS ONLY GOING UP TO SEE THE VINEYARDS THANK YOU VERY MUCH. I tried not to be this lady, and since I just wanted to go up I was fine, but I do find people who yell at companies because of weather that is beyond their control amusing.

What is also missing here is an important question that I heard people ask and I wondered why it wasn't listed becuase surely it is FREQUENTLY A CONCERN, right?

WHERE DO WE LAND??????????

The answer is farm fields. Now this may be different if you actually get to see the Napa Valley as opposed to the Central Valley which we saw. And after several days of rain this is an example of what we landed in:

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This is actually mud from my backyard and the fields aren't really as rocky as Texas Hill Country, but I had no farm fields to take a picture in so this was my next choice. Let me walk you through our landing.

First the captain is in communication with your "chase crew," which for us held about 4 young men and the next passengers on the trip. This means that if you are on the SECOND group to go on the balloon ride, that you will be following around your balloon for an hour. Literally, chasing it through the CA countryside. Our captain calls down looking for land that was dry and had access via van. This is for a few reasons:

1. Passengers need to get on and off the balloon in the middle of the field while being held down by 4 young men and the other passengers.

2. The passengers must be able to exit the field. Sounds easy huh? Ummm no. In fact we had to land twice because the first landing was about 20 feet from a 10 foot deep ditch that the van (and the passengers getting OFF the balloon) couldn't cross. And when the van tried to get through another area that didn't have the deep flood ditch it was very muddy and almost got stuck. Thank you flood irrigation!

Additionally as you land you are told to hold on to the sides and face the direction of your landing. This was far more scary than I thought it would be because it was a large LIVE physics problem and this object in motion DID NOT WANT TO STOP. One lady nearly fell out of the basket and we dragged along the ground for some time while the four men pulled down with all their might.

As we exit the balloon we have to make sure the weight is evenly distributed to one group goes in and another takes their place before anyone else leaves. As soon as you leave the ballon you go around to the back and hold down on a balloon that is trying desparately to take off again (what with the lighter weight load). I was sore for days after because we had to hold down so hard on that blasted balloon.

Having the captain screaming at the young men to hold with all their weight while I watched the fact that the men WERE NOT TOUCHING THE GROUND was a bit troubling. What more weight could they have sir????

ANyway after everyone is out you slip slide through mud (and maybe this was just a special treat for me and not everyone gets the special mud treatment!) to your van and drive back to the Napa Valley General Store.


Can we BRING cameras and video cameras?
Yes! Bring lots and lots of film!


I want to know what idiot asked this. Who didn't think you could take a camera? And WHY did they think it wouldn't be allowed. Were they hoping to fly over Area 51??? and obviously you will get no pictures of the landing as you will be holding on for dear life.

How do you get the BALLOON inflated?
A fan is used to blow cool air into the balloon. Later the burners are used to heat the air as the balloon lies on the ground. Gradually the balloon will rise to an upright position.

Is it QUIET in the balloon?
When the burner is off, it is extremely quiet. Quiet is one of the most enjoyable aspects of ballooning.


And this is definitely true. It was so quiet you could hear dogs barking from the ground. No Joke.

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What FABRIC is used for the balloon?
Most common is Dacron or rip-stop nylon.

Does the BASKET sway when flying?
The baskets do not sway since it moves with the wind.


WHERE THE HELL IS THE QUESTION ABOUT what the BASKET is made of? Um design specs please with reinforced metal girders???? Nope it's WICKER PEOPLE. IT's FREAKING WICKER between you and 1500 of free fall. But I lived so I should freak out so much.

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Where do we MEET?
We meet at the Napa General Store (540 Main St. Napa, CA 94559).


HAVE FUN!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hot Air Ballon Ride----the bare bones

This is our balloon, the Voyager.

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Our balloon was already inflated by the time we arrived (from a 45 mintues van ride AWAY from Napa Valley) so I wanted to get a picture of another balloon being inflated.

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As you can see the propane tanks are at your knee level, the captain is in the middle and the FIRE is right above your head! There is no zoom on this picture:

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Once the balloon is inflated to the desired amount the chains holding it down are released. One of the chains is attached to a truck winch. When that is released you immediately rise and shift to the direction of the wind.

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You travel according to wind and at different heights winds flow at different sppeds and directions. So to shift say to the east you would have to rise and fall in altitude. The balloons communicate via radios (which you can hear in the video below) and tell each other what height, direction and speed they find.

This is the kind of farming I would love to live in! A Pool?????? This is NOT South Texas farming let me tell you. I had farmers in my family and not one had an inground pool. Neither do my inlaws. They did however have a 2 foot deep plastic blow up pool a few years ago that I think my kids destroyed what with the jumping in....of course now that I think about it, the in laws may have not gotten a pool because my kdis are dare devils and that would scare the crap out of MIL. Everything scares the crap out of MIL.

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You get pretty freaking high! These are walnut and almond orchards. California, the land of fruits and nuts! But then they take you down so low you can touch the trees.

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Finally they take you back to Napa General Store (another 45 minutes van ride) where you eat all you want at a breakfast buffet with free champagne and mimosas.

Notice the lack of landing pictures....more on that later.

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This is a short video I uploaded so you can get a feel for hot air ballooning travel. Overall it is very quiet. I mean REALLY quiet. Until they heat up the air with propane flames A FEW FEET ABOVE your hair...so note please DO NOT wear a lot of heairspray and a beehive LOL!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good Hostess/Bad Hostess

I adore visiting my friend Janet for a variety of reasons.

First her home is beautiful with a fantastic view!

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Her husband brought up a FANTASTIC wine from her cellar and she bought me roses for my race:
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down in my room there was a sherry waiting for me with a basket of toiletries that I might need:

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This is what she got from me when she visited here:

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Heh the good news is that I have learned from her!!! I did get a reading lamp for the guest bedside for guests to read by :)

So here are some things I learned from Janet to make you a fantastic hostess:

1. Provide a small basket of toiletries in case your guest forgets something. Janet keeps all the small sample sizes she receives from her travels in a basket for her guests to use. It's neat to have a variety to choose from and also a way to find out about other locations your hostess has visited. Maybe you can ask them about the places and get some travel tips!

2. Provide extra towels My friend Kathryn is also an excellent hostess and told me that some people like separate towels for their hair and body WHO KNEW! so she provides several as well.

3. Provide some medicines in case the traveler isn't feeling well. You don't have to stock a pharmacy, but do you really want to ask your hostess for pepto-bismal? Isn't it nice to just provide it in case they need it? Headache medicine, antacids, stomache meds, are just a few examples.

4. Provide a variety of reading materials. I of course travel with a small library, but it is polite to provide some reading material in case the guest forgets, runs out, or just would like something new. Also provide a small reading lamp by the bedside so they can read at night before they fall asleep.

5. Provide a variety of covers. Make sure that you provide an assortment of covers in varying weights and textures. What you love may be too heavy or scratchy for another. You may think your house is just right but your guest may be hot or cold. Provide covers for a variety of tastes.

With just these few things you will be an accomplished hostess and your guests will love you. Of course you may have to turn away a few friends because EVERYONE wants to visit you!!!

Unpacking OCD....

While it may take me until the last minute to pack, when it comes to UNPACKING I do that completely before I fall asleep when I get back home. Even somewhat injured from my half marathon I hobbled around the house putting things away because I couldn't fathom trying to sleep while my luggage remained packed. I have so many posts I want to share!

To organize my thoughts I am listing the upcoming posts in the next week or so.

The Nike Women's Half Marathon.
Hot Air Balloons over (Not) Napa Valley
Beach Blanket Babylon
Italian Food Times Due
Good versus Bad Hostesses (One guess as to which one *I* am)

So that should take me a week or so to put together. LOTS of pics to share. And if I can figure out how to create it a short youtube from the balloon ride.

I came back with so much stuff I was glad they gave out bags at the race or I would have had to buy a new bag. I checked my luggage because I came home with 2 bottles of wine and a bottle of sparkling wine (can't call it champagne if it's from CA!!!) It was so weird because I kept thinking I could only bring home two bottles (customs laws) but finally Janet said something along the lines of me being Texan and thinking I live in another country LOL! Oh yeah duh! There is no limit (except what my suitcase can hold!!)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My city has a pack of roving....chihuahuas....

Not that this has tons to do with travel except that in an attempt to procrastinate doing school work and/or packing I am surfing and seeing what other places have this problem that I heard on the radio.

http://cronereport.com/2008/06/15/roving-pack-of-obnoxious-creatures/

http://www.groomers.net/discus/messages/19/4810.html?987985731

Huh, who knew?

As of now I am about 19 hours from getting on a plane and I have a bag somewhat packed. Ok not really packed so much as piled. Ok so not really piles so much as strewn across the bed. But I do have them grouped into days so I don't forget a key piece... like, say... pants.

I have trouble sleeping before trips. This is probably why I have no problem sleeping on planes. My body adrenaline rush wanes and I am able to sleep in any manner schlumped in a seat. Often leaning on complete strangers without any shame. That is right. I am that hated middle seat person who takes up too much room. Not because I am overweight (which ok I am but not TERRIBLY), but I am a 5'10" woman and my knees don't bend the way they used to. So I tend to LEEEEAAAANNN a bit in my seat :)

I also have about 6 hours of classwork I need to complete in like 4 hours and I have zero motivation. Which was funny when it was for my motivation class but this is for my identity class and i'm having a bit of a crisis. I can't make myself care enough. Le Sigh. I am totally drinking an entire bottle of champagne all by MYSELF when I get to SF.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Magellan's friendly email about lost luggage

I travel a lot and always get luggage and flight insurance with my American Express card because if something bad is going to happen, it's going to happen to me!

Lost Luggage

1. Allow plenty of time at the airport. Bags checked right before departure time may travel on a later flight.
2. Find the destination airport code on your ticket or itinerary, and make sure that the routing tag placed on your luggage at check-in shows the correct code. I had a bag going to SAN ANTONIO (SAT) instead go to SAN DIEGO (SAN) because I didn't do this. I am sure to check now.
3. Make a list of your itinerary, including hotel names, addresses and phone numbers, and the dates of your stay so that delayed luggage can be delivered to you. Keep a copy with you, and place a copy inside each checked bag.
4. Personalize each checked bag with a colorful luggage tag or strap, and take a quick photo with your cell phone or digital camera. Should your bag be lost or delayed, it will be easily described and identified. As I said in this post last month, another idea is to take a picture of your contents as well before you leave so that you have pictures and proof of what you took with you. I would never be able to remember exactly everything that was there for reimbursement (and know also that the limit of responsibility for airlines is $2800 including the suitcase itself if you don't have insurance)
5. Do not check valuables - carry them on board. Frankly if you do, you deserve to have it stolen!
6. Place a change of clothing in your carry-on bag. You'll have an outfit to wear and an outfit to wash should your luggage be delayed or lost. If you travel are traveling with another person, split up your belongings. When only my luggage was lost in Rome, I sure wished I had packed half the stuff in Craig's suitcase so that I wasn't worrying about wearing the same thing in all the pictures. Also, I would stink. Because additionally I packed the deodorant in the suitcase. Now I ALWAYS take deodorant on board, because there is a reason Roman men have a reputation for not smelling like roses and the $12 deodorant that DOES NOT WORK is it.
7. Lock your check-in luggage with a TSA approved luggage lock or strap. This is of course why Magellan sent me this email because SURPRISE they happen to sell these!!
8. Report any loss or damage before you leave the airport. Repeated DO NOT leave the airport without doing this.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Food post????

This past weekend my family went to my husband's cousin's wedding, which occurred at 3pm and had an open bar at the reception which is probably not so great an idea when people are standing 50 people deep in a line for the cheese and crackers appetizer! Empty stomachs and unlimited booze = not well behaved reception guests. But it wasn't my wedding and frankly I didn't really care about drunk antics, I was just hungry. There was barely enough food for everyone and when we left at 9pm I was still hungry.

So we headed to our home base for the weekend and left the kids with my in-laws and then went out in search for more sustenance.

Now this wedding took place in Bryan-College Station which is the location of Texas A&M Univeristy, where my husband, my brother-in-law and I all matriculated. (Heh, I love that word. It also sounds like masticated, which kind of sounds dirty but is in actuality perfect for this blog post about food!) The pride of Aggieland is that they are lame. We don't have the out there music scene, or alternative theatre groups. We have lots of cowboys and some horses on campus instead. And a kick ass vet school. So really we shouldn't have been surprised when we went at 10:45 to find a placeto eat and found the majority of the restaurants closing at 11. ELEVEN at night. I must have mentioned 50 katrillion times how Vegas would have things open. And Vegas would not be dead at Eleven and my husband calmly tells me from the back seat to STFU or something else would be dead at eleven. (This didn't really happen, but I think it did in my husband's head)

So I stopped complaining and we ate breakfast at a Denny's Diner. Which is like a Denny's but serves fewer choices but is realy just as crappy. I am sad that I am looking more forward to my trip to Vegas than my trip to San Francisco but thatmay be because of the 13 miles I have to walk when I get there. Maybe.

This ALSO reminded me of the time we went to eat dinner in Rome and every book told me that no Roman eats dinner before 9pm but we were hungry and figured the books had to be wrong based on translation or something and went to eat at 7pm where the only other diners were a family from America, a British couple and nuns.

Oh yeah, we party like nuns.

So the whole point of another post about food is to KNOW YOUR LOCATION. I can handle showing up early and looking like a tourist at dinner, but arriving too late to eat. That is a freaking Greek tragedy. So look at the opening/closing/serving hours when you read travel books. They are there for a reason!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vegas - A buffet isn't a buffet isn't a buffet

Last year I went to Vegas 4 times. This year I will go 3 times. My husband will go four times this year. We like Vegas. My dad is actually concerned I have a problem with gambling, but that isn't why I love Vegas (although I do ADORE craps).

I like Vegas because it doesn't matter what time of day you can find a place to eat. Several places. There is all day and all night entertainment, which is why I chose Vegas as my place to travel to cross off my Bucket List. A 24 hours, no luggage, never sleep vacation. It was a blast!

However in the morning, we wandered around like lost sheep looking for a breakfast buffet. We are breakfast people. I could eat a big breakfast and then not eat all day. And up until last year Ballly's on the strip had the BEST BREAKFAST BUFFET in the city. So imagine our horror when we went there last year at asscrack of dawn to find that said buffet no longer existed. (This day is also known as the DAY OF ALL DARKNESS as it took Craig at least 24 hours to stop mourning). Henceforth we have been trying to find a goof breakfast buffet.

So far the top runner is Monte Carlo. I've only been once and I wasn't terribly impressed but Craig went back last month and still said it was decent. Not Bally's but then, nothing is SOB!

I wonder if we start a petition if they would bring it back......

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Vegas Family Reunion- Bull riding and steaks

Somehow our trip to Vegas in December turned into a immediate family reunion for my husband's side of the family. His brother was always going but we talked his parents in to meeting us there. This of course is more impressive than it sounds as his parents are farmers and vacations usually involve some sort of crop viewing in far flung states.

We solved the dilemma of how to get them there by buying their plane tickets for them. This way their guilt will impel them to get on the plane. All we asked is that they paid for their hotel (which at $49/night wasn't asking too much!)

Additionally we will be going to the NFR (another compromise to make this seem like a farmer-ish vacation!)



This is typically not my kind of thing, but I will take part to.... well... basically hold over my husband's head next time I want him to do something he doesn't like!

Additionally we will be going to dinner for a steak. Last trip my husband had dinner at Smith & Wollensky which is apparently a chain, but as we don't have them here we don't mind and he wants me to try it as well. I am up for a new restaurant in Vegas and I'll give a review when I get back.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Speaking of Money Sense

While perusing one of my links (see I do look at what I suggest to you!) I found this nifty little Travel Budget Calculator. Start off in their site and get a feel for what you dream to spend and where you can cut costs. I copied the sections and added them to Excel so you can copy from here and save your budget to your computer for future use.


Air Travel
Airfare: $
Checked baggage fee: $
Airport parking: days at $/day
Airport transfers: $

Transportation
Car rental: $
Gas: $
Other car expenses (tolls, parking): $
Rail passes/train tickets: $
Public transportation & taxis: $

Accommodations & Meals
Accommodations: nights at $/night
Meals: days at $/day
Tips (for tour guides, hotel staff, etc): days at $/day

Sightseeing & Activities
Vacation package/organized tours: $
Nightlife/entertainment: $
Spa treatments: $
Activities, tours & entrance fees: $
Souvenirs/shopping: $

Cruising
Cruise fare: $
Shore excursions: $
Dining surcharges: $
Fitness classes: $
Spa charges: $
Private pool cabanas: $
Internet onboard: $
Cocktails and sodas: $
Onboard gift shop: $
Gratuities: days at $/day

Other Expenses
Travel insurance: $
Passports, visas & travel documents: $
Pet or child care while away: days at $/day
Phone/calling card expenses: $
Internet access/cafes: $
Currency exchange & bank fees: $
Immunizations/medications: $
Luggage & gear: $
Miscellaneous: $

Add Your Own!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Plane Tickets- Limbo your way to flexibility

I get frequent flier miles almost exclusively from Delta because my American Express is tied to it and this makes me pay off my purchases immediately and plus when I buy delta tickets I get like triple points or something. I probably should pay closer attention to that :)

Anyway next Summer I will be taking my son on a trip. I have promised all my kids an international trip before they graduate from HS and his choice was Berlin. When I saw how close this was to Prague (and frankly since we live in Texas we consider a lot close...in fact we will be driving 4 hours to travel from a larger city to get better flight prices) I decided it needed to be a Berlin/Prague trip.

So basically my plan was to find tickets that were around $900 each. Flights to Eastern Europe are typically more expensive than say Paris or London. Unfortunately no matter where I looked I couldn't find anything less that $1100. Even driving to the bigger city where I would stay with a friend the night before we get on the plane.

So the flexibility plan works like this 2 cities + travel to another city to fly out of + frequent flyer possibilities = lots of time needed to come up with the best possible scenario.

I tried online sites like expedia and cheaptickets and while I found a couple of decent prices none of them fell in the $900 range. Plus it seemed to only be cost effective to fly in and out of the same city. This would mean on the way home we would have to ride a train BACK to the initial city hope on a plane and then drive 4 hours home. I wasn't looking forward to this in the least.

So I started looking at multiple city plane tickets. To my pleasant surprise not only was this extremely affordable, it saved time but it was flexible no matter which city came first. Plus i moved around some dates and found that travelling a month later would be better. AND it was so far in advance that when I looked up on my frequent flyer site I had more than enough miles to get a free ticket! So basically I found tickets with only one stopover with a multiple city ticket for $100 less PER TICKET than I was hoping for! A good day!

Basically, I know people say this all the time, but flexibility pays off!

Some things to think of:
Try a home airport that might be farther away but has more service. You are guaranteed to get cheaper tickets from there if for no other reason than because more carriers use that airport.

Be willing to change your dates. Originally I had one month in mind but things kept happening to push it back. The final month actually works out well because this means we will be in Berlin on my son's birthday. What a 17th birthday present! I bet he will never forget it!

Realize distance is relative. So if you want to travel to say Poland, I know flights are far more expensive than Berlin. but if you factor in a rail ticket and the ability to see multiple countries you would be shocked how much you save flying in to one country and taking the rail or renting a car to get to your final destination. Make sure you do your research though. I've had people travel to Texas and want to know if I could meet them in Dallas. This is 6 hours away. 3-4 hours is my max to drive without it consuming my whole day. So think about that and what you are willing to exchange for cost.

Days of the week matter. make sure you stay over a Saturday and try to avoid travels on the weekend (for a variety of reasons such as crowds and cost). I also think that the day you book matters too. I have heard that booking on Wednesdays is cheaper. I know that Delta gives deals on Wed. Find out if your preferred carrier does this too.

Hope these help and Good Luck!

Monday, September 28, 2009

New York, New York & Chocolate?

There is a small chance that I will be visiting New York again in January and if so I plan to take my daughter with me to see Mamma Mia! on stage. We love that movie and I'd love for her to see it on stage.

Additionally, because I love Context Travel (and seriously I cannot compliment them enough) I checked to see what tours they have of New York and this one immediately jumped at me: A Chocolate Tour! To be honest I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but my daughter and mother are and I could suffer for the masses ;)

Here's my favorite song from the movie :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

I feel the need to verify

I really did buy so many books for Rome last year. I won't share my pile for the trip next year but here is the shelf of books for Rome.

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I look like I could open my own travel book store, if the insides weren't ripped to shreds!

Today my son and I sent in the application for his passport. It's feeling more real now. He says it will feel real for him when the plane tickets are bought. I wonder what the tipping point for people is when they start thinking...this trip is going to happen!!!

Note a couple things.

As I said about my experience in a French restaurant, I try to read about the etiquette of each country I travel to. Some countries don't have these books so the internet is your most valuable tool there. But Western european countries definitely have them so find one to help you. I like to get all the typical books and then find a few that aren't typical (like the Born to Shop which really helped me in Provence).

Also note the language books. Please do not travel to any country without knowing basic niceties like please, thank you, hello and goodbye. Seriously with those four phrases you will feel better about yourself and the country and the local people will treat you better. Ciao!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

San Francisco---countdown to trip

I've been to San Francisco twice so far. Once was a women's trip through the Napa Valley. The second time I took my daughter to visit my friend Janet who is hosting me this trip too. I've put the trip in her hands and told her I had two things she had to plan around.

The first was hot air ballooning. This is on my bucket list and I thought that SF would be a perfect place to enjoy the bird's eye view. Here's hoping it's clear that day!!

The other was The Nike Women's Marathon. I had given myself this goal as incentive in March. This was a lottery system and I figured if I got chosen it was a sign to get my butt back in gear. Shock to all that I was chosen (and no one else I knew was chosen as well!) Of course the real reason I chose this race in particular was the Tiffany Necklace they hand out as you cross the finish line. I had wondered what I would do for a Tiffancy Necklace. Apparently, I will walk 13.1 miles :)

Our last planned adventure was Janet's idea. But I'm all for it! How could I have gone to SF before withOUT seeing Beach Blanket Babylon? Can't WAIT!!!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Enjoy your home town...don't only eat out well on vacation!

I live in one of the top vacation spots in the USA. This year we had a staycation (more on that later) and I've vowed that my children will see all the local spots that tourists see. I always laugh when I visit friends and want to see things and they have never been there themselves. Additionally, I HATE chain restaurants. Unfortuantely San Antonians prefer chains. They do make an exception for a handful of restaurants though.

One example is La Fogata. I love this place!



Things to look for in a Mexican Restaurant
There are a couple of things that I prefer in a Mexican restaurant. It may mean they are more "authentic" or that I'm OCD but whatever. Here are a couple things I look for.
Choice of borracho or refried beans
A patio
Excellent Margaritas Actually a choice of drinks beyond beer and coke.
Hot salsa Not tomato sauce with onions
A Menu in Spanish There better be some words in Spanish!
Spanish speaking waiters Some restaurants here are ok, but they are like chains and basically a Mexican Bennigans
Restroom door to say Damas So maybe it is just my OCD :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another reason to travel-- or why I didn't go to Vegas this weekend

The reason Craig took off without me is because I spent Saturday in a race. The Urban Dare. If you haven't ever done an urban race and liked the show Amazing Race then you have GOT to try it!! Another alternative is High Trek Adventure. I haven't tried any of these races but they look similar to Urban Dare in premise.

The race is outlined over a 5 mile course. The problem is the clues are in no particular order so we probably covered 7 miles (what with the backtracking) Part of the reason is that we could not figure out 2 clues and when we did (after solving most of the others) we found we had to go back to where we had started! ARGH.

Basically you get a sheet of 10 or so clues that lead you to either a place to take a picture or a dare. The dare can be physical or mental. We had 4 dares. One to figure out a puzzle of letters/numbers, one to walk three legged around a park, a bean bag toss, and one wheel barrow dare. the rest of the places we had to take pictures of ourselves at the location and both of us had to be in the pictures.

For example:

Photobucket


The clue for this one was: This daycare is named after a Lewis Carroll novel. Get your picture in front of their sign.
Photobucket

If you do this race I would recommend the following:
~Figure out your clues BEFORE you take off running. This way you don't make your course longer than needed.

~Have good phones/smartphones. I had a 2 year old iphone that was temperamental and my friend had an ancient flip phone. Lesson Learned!

~Have a friend to call that knows the history of the area. While it was nice to know the city somewhat, the fact that my mother went to school downtown and was raised in the city helped tremendously. YAY MOM!

~Have several (3-4) friends who are google savvy help you figure out clues and find addresses for you. Without the help of my friend's husband and my son (who I think I will do a race with) we never would have found the last two clues.

So check out the sites, and tie up your running shoes and HAVE FUN!

Post Script 9/24
We got the results and we finished 13th out of 50 overall and were 3rd in the female partner division. GO US!!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

My suitcase.....with prayers for its safe return home

Last night my husband packed my favorite suitcase to take to Vegas (he is going without me, but I can forgive him for that...since I went alone last year!) I have only used this suitcase once and I LOVE it. Seriously love it. In fact while I had no problem sending my husband off, the thought of the suitcase leaving without me choked me up. Craig had to promise to keep it safe and agreed to other assorted safety requirements for its safe return home.

It's a 22" Victorinox Mobilizer.

I love its zip in suiter
I love its expandable zipper
I love its mesh pockets
I love its removeable velcroed side pockets
I love its secret tweezers and gizmos

but most of all I LOVE that it was FREE!!! My husband's boss told me he would order it for me before my cruise to the Bahamas in March and a week before when I asked him to check on it, we found out his boss had forgotten to order it! So he put a special rush on it and it arrived THE DAY I LEFT and he felt so guilty he gave it to me for free! Thanks H!!!!

Last night I took a picture of his packed bag for a BEFORE picture in case there is any damage :) But this gave me an idea. How great would it have been if I had a picture with me of my suitcase when I went to Italy last year and they LOST MY LUGGAGE in MILAN (when I was in Rome).

Photobucket

and then I thought how smart would it be to take a picture of the packed contents. So that if they really do lose it, you can have detailed images of what you had packed.
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