August 31, 2012

On My Radar Screen



It's hard to believe it's the last day of August and Summer is about to end!!

Here are some fun travel stories I came across this week:

Photo via Apartment Therapy
Wouldn't you like to be hanging out at one of these AMAZING pools this weekend?


Photo via Jetsetter
It's your last chance to book these amazing deals in Italy on Jetsetter...

Photo via Fotopedia
And then sign up for this gelato tour!

Photo via Daily Mail UK

The ultimate use of your frequent flier miles on Virgin Atlantic...

Photo via Vintage Disney Parks Tumblr

What did Disneyland look like in 1956?

Photo via Travel and Leisure

Could you walk across these bridges?


Happy Weekend everyone!!!

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WaterFire Providence

Photo via WaterFire

We are headed to Providence, Rhode Island this weekend to drop off our youngest child for his first year in college. While we are there, I am hoping to experience WaterFire, a unique public art installation. On several evenings throughout the summer, including this Saturday, downtown Providence is transformed by bonfires that float on the surface of the rivers that pass through the middle of downtown. This is the description from WaterFire's web site -
"WaterFire’s over eighty sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from around the world engage all the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park." 
It will be fun to spend some time in a relatively new to us city which we will be getting to know quite well over the next four years. It's a bittersweet trip - we will really miss our son but we are incredibly proud of him as he starts out in this new aspect of his life!

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August 30, 2012

Planning the Perfect Trip - Part 2: Booking Flights


Booking airline flights can be tricky - the rates go up and down constantly. It seems as if you walk away to grab a snack without reserving a flight by the time you get back to your computer the fares have gone up! Here are a few tips to finding the best deals on flights, the best times to fly and which seats are best:
 
Research the airlines. Find out which airlines fly non-stop to where you are going and which airlines have the most reasonable fares on the days when you want to fly. Look at on time records and customer satisfaction surveys. It might be worth paying a little more for a better flying experience.
 
Research ALL the airports near where you are going.  Before you book your flights do some research about your options in terms of airports - many cities have several airports and fares can vary based upon which airport you choose. Balance any fare differences with the difficulty in traveling to and from the various airports. 
 
Decide on paying cash versus using miles/points - You will also want to research whether or not it makes sense to use frequent flier miles or points - this is a complicated topic that could take up this whole post, but the rule of thumb is if the cash price of the ticket is less than 1.5 cents per mile that you would need to redeem for the ticket, it makes more sense to pay cash. If it is more, you will want to consider the best use of your miles/points versus paying cash for the ticket. [Look for a much more extensive post on this later.]
 
It is worth it to pay a little more to fly non-stop, considering the hassle of switching planes and possibly missing connections
 
Travel on days that aren't as busy, if possible. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the least expensive days to fly.
 
Buy when it's cheap - Some experts say that the best time to buy a ticket is on Tuesdays at 3:00pm; others say Wednesday afternoons.
 
Book early - Airfares can rise dramatically within 14 days of departure.
 
But not TOO early - don't buy your tickets more than 3 1/2 months before departure. Airlines do not being to actively "manage" their fares until three or four months before departure so you will end up paying too much.

Book as early as possibly when using miles - the earlier the better as the award seats are capacity controlled.
 
Book directly through the airline - Research fares through one of the large booking sites (Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak) but once you decide which airline you want to fly, book it directly through the airline.  If you have difficulty with the flight, it will be easier to deal directly with the airline rather than having to go through a secondary booking site.
 
Choosing Seats - Check out your flights on Seatguru before you choose your seat to make sure you are not picking a seat that doesn't recline or is undesirable for any reason.
 
Consider paying the premium for better seats - My experience has been that the little bit you pay for extra legroom is usually worth it. (Unless the extra legroom seat is in the center - that's NOT worth paying extra for!)
 
Book the aisle and window seat if there are two of you traveling. The center seats are the last ones to be chosen so there is a good chance it might remain open giving you an entire row. If someone is assigned the middle seat, you will make their day by offering them either the window or the aisle if you want to sit next to your traveling companion.
 
Request an upgrade even if you have no intention of taking it when you book your ticket, . When you arrive at the airport to check in, you can go to the Business or First Class counter to "see if your upgrade went through" and they will check you in there whether you upgrade or not. [Disclaimer - I haven't actually tried this one myself. Has any else tried it? I am very curious!]
 
Hopefully with these few tips, you will be able to book great flights that will make traveling stress free so you can start your vacation off on the right note.

August 29, 2012

Wednesday Wanderlust

Photo courtesy of Visit OB

Where would you like to be on this last weekend of Summer?
 
The final days of summer always make me think of our wonderful family vacations in
 

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August 28, 2012

One Perfect Day in Paris...

 

 

One of my favorite blogs The Enchanted Home regularly features guest posts discussing their "Perfect Day".  This morning after reading a post by another of my favorite bloggers, Elizabeth from Pretty Pink Tulips about her perfect day at Las Ventanas in Los Cabos (great choice, Elizabeth!), I started thinking about what MY perfect day would be and immediately thought of one place - Paris. [Having just finished Kati Marton's memoir Paris - A Love Story may have something to do with my feeling this way.]

There is something comforting about knowing a city well enough to not have to worry about finding your way or feel the need to see all the "must see" sights. I have been to Paris quite a few times but it is the one city where I just can't seem to get my fill - I always want to go back.  I don't speak French and I have never had the opportunity to live in Paris so my choices may still seem a bit "touristy" for those of you who really know Paris. But, for me, this is my idea of a perfect day in Paris....

Photo Courtesy of Leading Hotels of the World

Waking up in a suite at the Le Bristol, it's a gorgeous Spring day and Paris awaits. Sharing my perfect day is my husband, of course, who is my favorite traveling companion.
 



Photo courtesy of Paris Perfect


Our favorite cafe is just down the street so we walk there to have café au lait, freshly squeezed jus d'orange and pain au chocolat. 


Photo courtesy of Paris Walking Tours

After breakfast we stroll through the Jardin de Tuileries, stopping along the way to appreciate the beauty of these gardens, towards the Louvre. We spend some time in the part of the garden with the sculptures by Aristede Maillol.  Since we have already spent hours at the Louvre on other trips it's not part of my perfect day, so we keep walking over the Pont Royal towards the Musee D'Orsay.
 

Photo via Fotopedia

On my perfect day there are no lines of tourists and students waiting to buy tickets for the D'Orsay. We buy our tickets and walk into the blissfully empty museum to spend an hour or so amongst our favorite paintings.  No need to see every inch of the museum as we have seen much of it before. I head straight for my favorite artist, Jean-François Millet,  where I enjoy his stunning paintings of 19th century peasant life. My husband loves Camille Pisarro, so he spends his time admiring his landscapes and scenes of Paris.
 
Photo courtesy of Cuisine Insolite
 
Leaving the museum, we wander towards Boulevard St. Germain and stop to buy some sandwiches at  Gosselin for our picnic lunch.
 

Photo via Fotopedia
 
Picnic in hand, we head to the Musee Rodin where we will enjoy our jambon beurre baguettes alongside Rodin's incredible sculptures and gorgeous gardens behind the museum.
 

Photo courtesy of JCChabot
Because one can never spend enough time in the gardens of Paris, our next destination is the Jardin du Luxembourg where we will spend the early afternoon relaxing by the pond, reading and watching children sail their model boats.
 

Photo via Fotopedia
No ideal day in Paris would be complete without a little retail therapy so we head back over the Seine to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to my favorite store in Paris - Hermes where I pick out a few "souvenirs" to remember my trip.
 

Photo via Fotopedia
 
No trip to Paris is complete without macarons from Laduree so that is our last stop before returning to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
 

Photo courtesy of Travel Muse
 
Dinner is at our favorite neighborhood restaurant Chez Flottes on the rue Cambon. It is neither fancy or stuffy - I order the simple, but perfectly prepared, roast chicken along with their signature aligot (whipped potatoes with tomme cheese), we share a bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and tarte tatin for dessert. A perfect ending  to a perfect day in Paris...

Where and how would you spend your "perfect day"?
 

August 27, 2012

Dollars and Sense - How Best to Use Your Frequent Flier Miles



After accumulating frequent flier miles, hotel loyalty points or credit card points for a while you have finally accumulated over 100,000 miles or points and are finally ready to use them on a vacation. What is the best way to get maximum value from your miles or points? 


Here are a few examples of how you could use those 100,000 miles or points:

Four Round Trip Economy Class tickets on United Airlines from New York to Los Angeles using United Mileage Plus Saver Awards (average cost in cash is $1334)

Two Round Trip Business Class tickets on United Airlines from New York to Los Angeles using United Mileage Plus Saver Awards (average cost in cash is $4949)

One Upper (First) Class ticket on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London using Virgin Flying Miles or American Express Rewards Points transferred to Virgin Atlantic (average cost in cash is $4167)

Five nights at the St. Regis in Rome in a Superior King room using Starwood Points (average cost in cash is $3402)

One Apple IPad 64GB with WiFi using American Express Rewards Points (average cost in cash is $829)

Which would you choose?

(Average cash cost is based on purchasing flights or hotel rooms on the same routes or dates that awards were available. Fares and rates could be higher or lower depending on dates, sales or capacity.)

August 24, 2012

On My Radar Screen

Random travel tips and tidbits on my radar screen this week ~


Paris - A Love Story - Kati Marton


Edgar Degas ©The Art Institute, Chicago
Musee D'Orsay ~ September 25, 2012 through January 20, 2013
Metropolitan Museum of Art ~ February 19, 2013 through May 27, 2013
The Art Institute of Chicago - June 30, 2013 through September 22, 2013
 
 
Southern Living - Photo: Jennifer Davick
The Best Barbeque in the South






August 23, 2012

Outstanding in the Field




Foodies will love Outstanding in the Field, which organizes family-style farm to table dinners all over the US and Europe. According to their web site it "is a roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls. Since 1999 we have set the long table at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. Occasionally the table is set indoors: a beautiful refurbished barn, a cool greenhouse or a stately museum. Wherever the location, the consistent theme of each dinner is to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table."



Check here for the schedule for the remainder of the North American 2012 season and here for the European 2012 season, but be sure to book in advance as these popular dinners sell out very quickly.

August 22, 2012

Wednesday Wanderlust


Where would you like to be wandering today??


Hawaii, perhaps??

Off the Beaten Path



Have you seen all the "must see" sights in a city where you are traveling?  Would you like to  see how the locals live? Or, maybe you would like to discover another side of the city where you live. Several companies offer opportunities to gain unparalleled insight into the culture of a city you may be visiting.


(vayable.com)

Vayable is a year old company that connects adventurous travelers with "seasoned experts" and "savvy locals"  who have signed up to take visitors on tours that promise a unique perspective of their city or home location. Travel expert Arthur Frommer describes a few of the tour options -  "In the south Pacific, the 'king' of a particular island will take you fishing. In London, a street artist will show you the best of the graffiti found in urban areas; another will take you shopping in Paris; still another will lead you to small, off-beat restaurants where the chefs will invite you into their kitchens to explain a distinctive approach to cooking."



In New York, the launch of Sidetour also offers similar off the beaten path experiences. Through Sidetour, you can choose from a variety of opportunities such as stepping into a high-profile recording studio to see how stars lay down tracks and capture vocals, creating and sharing a meal alongside an up and coming chef, or visiting New York's hottest contemporary art galleries with a professional art adviser.  Currently, Sidetour is working to bring their custom experiences to other cities as well.



For the tourist who is looking for something more in-depth and thought provoking while visiting a typical tourist destination, Context is a personal favorite of mine. Their tag line is "Walking Tours for the Intellectually Curious".  Scholarly small group and private tours are led by architects, historians, art historians and other specialists in 18 cities around the world.  I have had the opportunity to take Context walks  at the Uffizi in Florence, the Vatican in Rome and in New York City's Greenwich Village which allowed me to gain a much more in-depth understanding than I ever would have been able to discover on my own.  Whether it's a Tea Tasting in Hangzhou, China, a Chocolate Walk in Paris or a Private After Hours Tour of the Vatican Museums, you can count on Context to provide you with unique and scholarly insight.

The next time you travel, try one of these singular experiences. It will take you beyond hourdes of tourists and endless souvenir shops and allow you an insider view into the city where you are visiting.

 

August 21, 2012

Hermes Festival Des Metiers



Coming to New York, San Francisco and Houston




Hermes - Festival des Metiers

New York ~September 5 - 9
San Francisco ~ September 20-24
Houston ~ October 10-14

Hermes Festival des Metiers (Festival of Crafts) is a weeklong showcase and celebration of the luxury fashion house's craftsmanship. The event will feature demonstrations by the artisans and craftsmen from the Hermès workshops in France. Guests will be able to meet with the people responsible for creating some of the world's most luxurious leather goods, silk scarves, and jewelry.

August 20, 2012

Planning the Perfect Trip - Part 1: Deciding Where to Go and Booking Hotels




Everyone imagines the ideal trip where everything goes exactly as planned - flights aren't delayed, baggage isn't lost, hotel rooms are better than described, the sites and restaurants are never crowded and you packed exactly the right clothes. Okay, let's face it, how often does that really happen? However, with a little advance planning, you can greatly increase the likelihood of your travels going smoothly and be able to handle any bumps in the road more easily.




When I begin to plan a trip, the very first thing I do is research, research, research.  Whether it's buying my favorite Eyewitness Travel Guide or Off the Beaten Path book, saving articles from travel magazines, or finding information online, I like to learn a little about where I am going before I ever book my hotel or flights.  What sights do I want to see? What's the best neighborhood to stay in? Which restaurants do I want to try? Are there any conventions or events in town that might make things more crowded? How is the weather at the time of year when I will be there? Do I want to go to a play or sporting event and if so, will I be able to get tickets? With all of this knowledge at hand, I can begin to plan my trip.




Before I book my flights, I like to make sure I have a great place to stay. First stop - tripadvisor.com  if I am staying in a hotel (or homeaway.com  if I am hoping to rent a home or condo).  I read the reviews of the various hotels and look at the user posted photos (beware of the fancy professional photo gallery posted by the hotels - they make every hotel look like the Ritz while this is often not the case).  Make sure you research the hotel's location - nothing will spoil a trip more than ending up in a bad neighborhood, being too far away from the things you want to see or being next to a busy highway. I like to go on Google Maps Street View and virtually walk around the area where the hotel is located.  There are even sites and apps now where you can check which rooms in the hotel are the best (Room77 for iPhone) or if they have had a problem with bedbugs (raveable.com). 

Once I narrow it down to a couple of hotels where I would like to stay,  I search everywhere for the best deals (expedia.com, hotels.com, etc.) and make sure I can find availability. I have tried all the major internet booking sites and, surprisingly, more often than not, the best deals come from the actual hotel web site. They also have the most up to date availability. You can also try calling directly - the rates usually aren't any better, but they may show availablity if the web site does not.  Also, some great deals on hotels are to be found through loyalty clubs and flash sales as I discussed here.

Another tip, remember that the rates quoted on many internet hotel booking sites do not include tax which can add as much as 20% to the cost of the room. Also, research any extra charges (parking, rollaway beds, resort fees) and factor them into your nightly rate. Domestically, being a AAA member usually will save you about 10%. Do you want breakfast included? Look for a Bed & Breakfast package but make sure it's worth it - it may be cheaper to pay for breakfast separately. Sometimes the best rate is a non-refundable one - however, I try to avoid these rates unless I am 100% certain of my dates and that I am definitely going on the trip. It's hard enough to change flights these days, I don't like to be on the hook for the hotel as well.

With a little information and diligent research, you are on your way to booking the "Perfect Trip"!

August 15, 2012

Wednesday Wanderlust - Turks and Caicos



One of the most beautiful beaches in the world....


(Regent Palms on Grace Bay. Photo courtesy of Jetsetter)



...Turks and Caicos

Wouldn't this be perfect for a fall weekend??

August 14, 2012

La Cucina Romana

 

When looking back on one's travels, people have different ways of remembering things. For me, it is always about the food!! Nowhere is this truer than in Italy, particularly in Rome.

Here are a few of my best food memories from Rome, along with recommendations for a few of my favorite trattorias, cafes, gelaterias and more...

Gelato



Countless articles, blogs and even books have been written on where to find the best gelato in Rome. My personal favorite is Giolitti not far from the Piazza Navona. Try the Straciatella or Zuppa Inglese. Another favorite is San Crispino, near the Trevi Fountain.


Tartufo



Tartufo translates to truffle – imagine a dark chocolate truffle the size of a baseball filled with chocolate ice cream topped with whipped cream. The best in Roma is at Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona. If you don’t eat at any of the restaurants in the Piazza Navona, at least sit down outside and enjoy this wonderful dessert.


Cappuccino and Cornetto



 Best at Sant’Eustachio il Caffe – stop in for a mid morning break near the Pantheon – order a cappuccino and a cornetto and you will not be disappointed. Order inside and eat at a counter like the locals (you will be charged more for eating at a table).


Granita Di Caffe con Panna



 Best at Tazza D’Oro – This is a mixture of shaved ice and espresso with delicious fresh whipped cream topping. Perfect for an afternoon pick me up after sightseeing near the Pantheon. For something special, try one at the historic Antico Caffe Greco on Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps where Byron, Goethe and even Casanova have sipped caffe since 1760.

 
Carciofi alla Guida




Fried artichokes are a delicacy in Rome, originating in the Jewish district. These are seasonal and may only be on the menu in the Spring, but if they have them, you MUST order them! Best at Matricianella or Da Giggetto.



Fiori di Zucca



Zucchini blossoms are fried and stuffed with cheese and sometimes anchovy paste.


Suppli (Arancini)



Risotto balls filled with cheese and fried. 


Cacio e Pepe


Literally, cheese and pepper, this simple pasta dish is quintessentially Roman.


Bucatinia alla Amatriciana


A thick spaghetti with a spicy tomato sauce with pancetta or guanciale (Italian fried pork similar to pancetta).


Spaghetti alla Carbonara


The classic Roman pasta - spaghetti with cheese, guanciale and an egg cooked in the hot pasta to create a creamy sauce. (I don’t like eggs but I LOVE a good carbonara!)


Saltimbocca alla Romana  



 “Jump in your mouth” – a delicious veal scaloppine made with prosciutto and sage.


Involtini alla Romana
Beef rolls stuffed with celery, carrot and sometimes greens, served in tomato sauce.


Pizza

Pizza Rossa

Pizza Bianca

While the best pizza is found a few hours south in Naples, one can still find some pretty amazing pizza in Rome. Pizza Rossa is topped with tomato sauce. Pizza Bianco does not have tomato sauce but is topped or filled with various ingredients. A few favorites are at Pizzeria Da Baffetto and Dar Poeta. Tip - If you order a pepperoni pizza in Rome, it will be topped with bell peppers.


And, finally, Volpetti...



...an amazing food store where you can buy Italian specialties from fresh Mozzarella to balsamic vinegar, it's a great place to buy gifts to take home.

Buon Appetito!