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.



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.


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:


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


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:


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.


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.


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


Monday, October 26, 2009

Hot Air Ballon Ride----the bare bones

This is our balloon, the Voyager.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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!


Her husband brought up a FANTASTIC wine from her cellar and she bought me roses for my race:

down in my room there was a sherry waiting for me with a basket of toiletries that I might need:


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


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.

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: $

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: $

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!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...