Bali – Getting There Is (or Isn’t) Half the Fun

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

I arrived in Bali after a long journey that started in the U.S. (about 37 hours, to be more precise).  The airfare to Asia was a steal at $750 from Chicago to Singapore round-trip with Delta, my main airline (so all the points counted towards status!), so after getting to Chicago and spending a couple of nights there with great friends, the journey began.

Chicago->Atlanta->Tokyo->Singapore was the outbound part of the trip.  Yes, Atlanta was my first connection airport – for those of you who do not know, that is where I live!  Oh, the irony:   Had I started the itinerary from Atlanta, skipping the Chicago bit, my airfare would have been DOUBLE at $1,500!  So it made good sense to save all that money and spend it DURING the trip 🙂  At least Delta upgraded me from Chicago to Atlanta…

The flight to Tokyo was just plain long and it seemed daunting as I looked at my itinerary.  At 14 hrs., I think it is (and will likely remain) the longest flight I have taken.  But between wine and, later, an Ambien, the flight did not feel as long.  I did not sleep fitfully or for a long time but perhaps 5-6 hrs. of sleep was enough to break up the flight.  That and a couple of movies and it really was not as bad as I expected.

The flight to Singapore was another eight hours.  Mercifully, the connection time in Tokyo was short and with access to a Delta lounge (where, of course, we had to sample and cheer with sake!), it was no biggie.

travel, Asia, Tokyo, Narita, Delta Sky Club, sake, celebration, photo, drink

Sake time!

I don’t remember much about the flight to Singapore.  I believe I slept an hour here or there.  It is a bit of a blur.  I may have watched a movie.  Or two.  Or none.  <blur…>.  We landed in Singapore at midnight local time (12 hrs. difference or so from my body’s time).  We had to retrieve our luggage as the final leg to Bali was not part of the ticket to and from North America so the baggage was not checked through.

Gladly, at that time of the night, the airport is pretty empty and the counters of our next airline (JetStar, a low cost regional airline) were open through the night.  So, we were able to quickly go through customs and turn in our luggage.  We had 5.5 hours total in transit in Singapore but we were coming back at the end of the trip so no pressure to hire a cab to drive us around and show us the city (I was so tired that I likely would not have done that anyway…).  So, we went off to find a lounge where we could shower and, hopefully, feel a little less worn from the journey.  We also discovered the free leg/foot massage machines that dot the Singapore airport.  I imagine that the massage was helpful in getting the blood circulating after so much time in the air!

Changi, Singapore, airport, travel, journey, Samsung Galaxy S7

Singapore’s Changi was empty in the middle of the night

We were scheduled to land in Bali around 7:30AM.   Hotel rooms are normally not available that early in the day for check-in.  But my friend and I are ‘smurt’ (sic) so we were prepared for that.  We had our pool gear (trunks, sunglasses, etc.) in our carry-on so we could leave our luggage with the bellhop upon arrival at the hotel (the W Resort in Seminyak) and head to the pool after grabbing breakfast!

airplane, window seat, view, mountain, Indonesia, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

Approaching Denpasar (Bali)

airplane, window seat, view, mountain, Indonesia, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, island, final approach, sea, landing

Final approach to Bali’s airport

Well, the hotel did deliver a super early check-in but the plan of record remained.  We grabbed breakfast at the plentiful buffet and then proceeded to go enjoy the pool and several Bintang beers for the next few hours (mind you, as we watched U.S. election results stream in into our smartphones!).  It was a great way to decompress from the journey, from work, etc. and connect with vacation mode!

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

The view from my room included a great view of the pool area

Bintang, beer, Indonesia, Bali, beach, pool, refreshing

Refreshing!!

While the journey to Bali was long and tiring, thank God, there were zero hiccups (delays, lost luggage, etc.), and few or no bumps during the flights.  But the best part was the arrival and how it could not have been better set up for entering the R&R zone!  And had I known how great the two weeks would be, I most certainly would NOT have regretted a single hour of the 37 it took to get there!

A Great Hike Right Near Atlanta: Sweetwater Creek State Park

New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Geogia

Atlanta may not be what comes to mind when thinking for a place to go to enjoy the great outdoors. But our little known secret is how close we are to any number of incredible spots to be “with” nature and enjoy the great outdoors. I recently got to explore Sweetwater Creek State Park, a short 15 minute ride west of Atlanta, and was impressed at the place and shocked that I have been a resident of this city for close to three decades and I had never been.Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

The park sits along a reservoir (with all sorts of water activities possible, like fishing and paddle boats) and a creek flowing from it into the larger Chattahoochee River, as it makes its way down to Alabama, Florida, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, GeorgiaSweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, GeorgiaSweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

A lot of work is being done around the park and its visitor center looks to be quite new.  It has some exhibits, a gift shop, and very helpful folks to answer any questions.  We got a map and were told to be sure to do the red trail as it has the more scenic views of the creek and the old mill.  Yes, as any self-respecting creek in the South must, Sweetwater Creek was the former home of a mill for the New Manchester Manufacturing CompanyNew Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

The ruins of the mill, burnt down during the Civil War are still standing which makes for some great photo opportunities.  The fact that its ruins are still there helps transport one to the times not long ago (maybe a century ago?) when mills and ferries were commonplace in this area.  So much so that many streets in Atlanta bear names like Howell Mill, Paces Ferry, Sewell Mill, Montgomery Ferry, etc.New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

After doing the shorter red trail, we connected to the longer white trail.  At some point the white trail departs the shores of the Sweetwater Creek and head inland and uphill.  The whole circuit was around 5 miles and it took us about an hour and forty minutes.  It was a glorious morning in late winter in Atlanta and my first visit to Sweetwater Creek State Park could not have been any better!  And some folks planned ahead exactly how they were going to enjoy the weather and the view!Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia, hammocks

 

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Read about these other great hikes in Georgia:

Sope Creek

Panther Creek

Island Ford

Tallulah Gorge

… and more to come!

Travel and Adventure Show: A Great Way to Explore Destinations

wildlife, sloth, Busch Gardens, travel and adventure show

These days, there are so many ways to learn about places to travel in the U.S. and abroad.  A Google search away you can find a treasure trove of sites (like this one!) with topics from “top X fill-in-the-blank” to “Y on a budget” to tourist boards’ plethora of information about any given destination.  You can also get your question answered on any given platform, for example, by just tweeting your question and hoping the tweet-o-sphere responds back.

On the more “analog” side of things, the options may be more limited but if you are lucky to live in a number of cities in the U.S. (or be able to get to one of them, like I do), the Travel and Adventure shows (which take place in cities like D.C., L.A., Chicago, Dallas and others) are a fun and efficient way to “visit” destinations all in one day (keep up with them at @TravAdventure).  These shows pull in a large number of information and service providers in the arena of travel and adventure, making it easier to scan a larger number of destinations, asking questions from a live human being, and even listen to some famous travelers share their story (including many TV travel show hosts).  In addition, these shows often have some of the fun things you could experience in travel right there for the visitor to try out.

travel and adventure show

The larger space for the guest speakers

Doing the show

I have been to three of these shows in the last two years and I always enjoy the energy of the people who come to the shows.  I do get there early as it is easier to talk to some of the folks with a booth.  I try to pick an aisle of top interest to me and then start there while the crowds are making their way in.

travel and adventure show

Nicaragua’s tourism folks providing information

I am not a big fan of listening to celebrities myself but there are plenty of those to listen to (and some are quite good!) – and the bigger the name, the earlier you want to grab a seat so you can be there up close.

Also, if you decide to partake in the activities by trying out scuba diving or climbing a rock wall, the earlier you get there, the shorter the line!

travel and adventure show

Scuba diving practice

I normally spend a few hours there which brings me to the topic of food.  It feels like the options are finally growing but it is relatively expensive so, if you are on a budget or just rather save the money for that trip, pack a protein bar or something else and save money that way.  The show itself costs little for the amount of value and, yes, entertainment it provides.

Value to travelers and presenters

I spoke with some presenters and participants about what value they derive from the show.  Some presenters are from very specific destinations, like counties, while others represent an entire continent, like Africa.  Some presenters are tour providers, lodging providers, or tourism boards.  The variety makes it appealing and valuable regardless of what you are contemplating doing.  In my recent visit to the DC Travel and Adventure show, I learned that Pennsylvania has a canyon and great trails in Tiago County, up in the northern part of the state.  I also learned about Duchess County and the Hudson River Valley in New York – an amazing depth of history, nature, architecture, and even food and wine (including the oldest winery in the U.S.).  I go to the show open to talk to many of the presenters to see what I may discover.  It doesn’t disappoint.

wildlife, sloth, Busch Gardens, travel and adventure show

A sloth at the show (courtesy of Busch Gardens)

That was a sentiment other visitors expressed.  Kimberly Robson, of Washington, D.C. told me how five years ago she went to the show looking for inspiration for adventure travel.  She found it in the form of a non-profit organization that puts together treks around the world to help orphaned children.  She was not quite envisioning that type of service opportunity but the show gave her the opportunity to learn about this organization with which by now she has trekked three times to Guatemala, Thailand, and Romania.

From the presenters’ standpoint, the value seems to be generating awareness which, fortunately for both, mirrors the objective of the visitors.  From sharing about a lesser known county in a neighboring state to providing more depth of awareness into a more well-known destination, the presenters aim to broaden the network of potential visitors or “leads.”

The DC Travel and Adventure show has been running now for 10 years and the company is expanding into new markets like Philadelphia.  I can’t wait for the day they decide to open the doors for the South to dream and explore about travel and adventure by doing a show in my hometown of Atlanta!

 

Gear for Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – Clothing

ilivetotravel in Shira Camp in Kilimanjaro OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Special request:  After reading the article, would you share with me via the comments what you found most helpful about it?  Just trying to learn what helps the most for future writeups.  Thanks!

Planning my hike of Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari was not an easy task.  Good research was key.  That research took many forms:  talking to people who have hiked Kili, reading blogs or websites about hiking, talking to the great folks at REI, and the list and advice given to me by the trek organizer (Trekking for Kids).  In the end, I still had many decisions to make on what felt could be important things.

So, this post is geared (sic) to those contemplating climbing Kilimanjaro to reach its peak:  Uhuru Peak, an adventure that requires both cold and hot weather gear.  I will attempt, as an amateur, to share over a couple of posts what made it to my packing list and how it helped.  This post will focus on clothing.  If you are reading this and planning a similar trek, please feel free to leave any questions as comments and I will reply and try to help.  In addition, should you have other suggested items or even better suggestions than mine, please share!

Before I get on to that, a few key items:

  • I did a safari after the hike so I include in the list things for that very different experience.
  • Kili has multiple climate zones ranging from hot to extreme cold.
  • I am not laying out all the options possible, especially in clothing, but will share what all the advice led me to.
  • I did write about my 7 top items to take on this hike.  It was a high-level view of the question but hopefully this will get more details!

Clothing – Lower Body

From the bottom up:

  • Hiking boots – Get good ones and do your practice hikes with them so you break them in well.  Otherwise you may suffer more during the hike, including dreadful blisters.  Some folks went for shoes that were more like hiking shoes but I like the safety of the ankle support since I am bound to get sloppy and then twist my ankle when tired.  The following are some boots that read well from the product descriptions (mine were REI waterproof hiking boots from a long-time ago so no image at Amazon for them!) – study these and keep in mind that waterproof and comfort reign supreme in terms of choosing one.


  • Gaiters – These help keep mud and scree from doing a number on you.  You will need them at summit for sure and probably on the first day if it has rained recently (it had not for us so I did not use them that day).
  • Socks – Socks for the hike and the safari were very different types.  For the latter, you may not need to be told what to get.  But for the former, remember to use a liner to wick moisture from the feet and then woolen socks over them.  For summiting or the colder days, you need very thick woolen socks.  I was still a little cold in my feet even with the sturdiest of these.
  • Pants – A rainproof outer shell was a must to avoid getting soaked.  However, it does not need to keep you warm (I used under layers to handle the cold).  The outer shell is about rain and, also, wind.  I got a hard shell (you can get a soft shell instead if you want).  When I was not using the outer shell (which was most of the time), I used hiking pants as my exterior layer.  Zip-off (convertible) hiking pants are great for quick adaptability if it gets too hot during the day but also because I could save carrying pairs of shorts for the safari later 🙂  The following are sample hard shell pants – showing you a range but a key feature that I like are the long side zippers to facilitate quick putting-them-on (the Eddie Bauer ones have it).  The STORMTECH ones have gaiters.  Read through all the details of each – bottom line:  wind-proof and water-proof! On the convertible hiking pants shown, they both look basic but basic is fine with me. Mine were the basic REI ones and they worked well enough for me! (NOTE:  When it says “My Picks” below and in other sections, that is text I cannot change.  I show these as illustrative items not as my picks per se.)


  • Base layer for the legs – Base layers (long leggings) made from merino wool (the best) will be important to keep me warm.  This layer, given the material, will also keep odors from building up which makes them re-usable for more than one day (saving the load of what needs to be carried by the porters and taken in my luggage on the trip to/from Africa).  You can use polypropylene for this layer but I hear merino wool just performs better.  On summit day, you may need two layers of base layer.  I wore two under the hiking pants and then the hard shell on the outside.  I was consistently told before the trip that silk is about the best material to help retain warmth next to the skin.  I was surprised when I heard that.  I just happened to have this pair of silk leggings but, once on Tanzania, our lead guide told me to use the two merino layers I had instead of the silk pair and one merino pair.  It worked well enough for me on summit night!
  • Shorts for safari – I wore shorts during the safari (the zip-off hiking pants and an extra pair) but I also did wear my full hiking pants to better protect me from the sun (and bugs, I suppose).  Of course, shorts will also be things you wear in the evening or when exploring towns.

Clothing – Upper Body

  • Base layer– The upper body layering approach is much like the lower body’s.  I used base layers for the colder days – again merino wool.  Usually one but two on summit night!
  • Mid layer – I got a merino wool mid-layer to have for the evenings at camps lower than base camp. On summit night, this jacket would serve as the mid layer between the skin-hugging base layers and the outer layers I will mention next. Of the ones I show below, the Tasc one is interesting as it mixes their signature bamboo fabric with merino wool; I am a fan of their regular bamboo fabric shirts so I am curious how this one would work. The Icebreaker one has the power of one of the best-known and valued brands in terms of quality of the merino wool. Normally that means a higher price point but this one seems quite reasonable. The SmartWool brand, in my short years of serious hiking, has proven to be a good and reliable one; so theirs is worth reading more about when selecting a mid layer top. Finally, the Duofold is mainly polyester and only 11% wool. I include it as a caution that when you search and include the term “wool,” you need to make sure you read the product details as it may not be truly all or mostly wool!


  • Outer layers – For lower altitudes, a regular long sleeve CoolMax shirt.  If needed, a base layer under it.  I had a hard shell for rain and wind.  I also had a synthetic down jacket which was great because it was very compact when packed.  I could use it in the evenings while at camp on cold nights and, of course, on summit night.  To summarize for summit night:  two merino wool base layers, the merino wool light jacket, the hard shell (for wind, not rain), and the synthetic down jacket – which I was not wearing at the beginning of the ascent but which I wore during breaks and once it got too cold even while moving.
  • Shirts for safari – I had quick-dry short sleeve shirts that also had side vents – very comfortable in warm weather and preventing odors from building up…
  • Head- and neck- gear –  I used different items to cover my head from the cold and from the sun – both very important.  A typical sun hat to protect against the sun (with a rim) was a very good idea.  A skull cap was one of the items I used in cold weather.  In very windy or in rainy conditions, the hood from the hard shell helped a good deal.  I also had a buff which I used when the skull cap seemed like a little much.  In fact, the buff served many purposes, like loosely hanging around my neck to avoid burning up when in the sun.  I also used it to cover my mouth and nose when it got dusty on the trail or in the safari.  Finally, I brought a balaclava for summit night.  It would offer lots of protection with only a small space open to look out.  I could also just use it around my neck (would keep it warmer than the buff would).  So quite a few options!
  • Outer gloves –  You are going to want some extreme gloves! The gloves should be waterproof because you don’t want gloves getting wet where it is cold! And some good heavy duty insulation (e.g., PrimaLoft). You will still need liners underneath (you would think an extreme glove would be enough…).  My fingertips were still a little cold on summit night even with the liners! But that eventually passed as I entered “the zone” (read how summit night unfolded!)  You also need to decide on the type: mitt or separate-fingers. For that outer layer of gloves, I chose mitt. Plus: less “surface” exposed to the outside, so keeps more warmth around your fingers. Minus: Lower usability of your fingers since they cannot move independently. However, my rationale for mitts was that most of the time, I would be holding hiking poles in my hands during the ascent and for that, the mitt grip worked. Once I wanted to reach for tissues or take a photo, yes, I would have to take the mitts off but that was not a big deal. Even fingered style gloves may have been too thick for some of these motions.
  • Liners – I only used the extreme gloves summit night but the liners I used a lot on the days and evenings prior to summit night.  Maybe bring two pairs of liners of different thicknesses, or one pair of liners and one pair of lighter gloves.  The Grabber hand warmer thingies that generate some heat can be helpful though they do not always seem to generate the same level of heat at high altitude.  Nevertheless, any heat helps so you may want to bring some.

Clothing – sleep time

OK, do I really think you need help with this?  No and yes.  No, because sleep wear is such a personal comfort thing.  But yes because part of it is slightly counter-intuitive.  When you are sleeping in the super-cold weather sleeping bag at night at the higher altitudes and on colder nights, the less you wear, THE BETTER.  No, no, nothing kinky about that statement.  Simply the interior of the super-cold weather sleeping bag will make you feel your own body heat warming you as it leaves your body.  So the more clothing you wear, the less your body heat will work with the sleeping bag to keep you warm.  Other than that, keep the jackets, pants, etc. close to the sleeping bag because when you wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself (and, trust me, you WILL if you are taking Diamox), you will need to put those on because you will not be able to go outside in your “sleepwear”!

ilivetotravel Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro Olympus camera

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!  Wearing the merino wool mid layer and the synthetic down jacket.

Can I help you any more?

So, this is the run-down of the clothing for a hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  These are the things I got and used on the hike (and on the subsequent safari) and they served me very well.  Others may have different opinions or additional suggestions and I hope they will share those here.  Finally, I hope if you were not considering hiking Kili or were uncertain, check out my other posts on the topic (which I list below) and know that it is fairly attainable with good training and preparation!

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Day 1 of the hike

Day 2 of the hike

Day 3 of the hike

Day 4 of the hike

Day 5 of the hike

Day 6 of the hike (summit night!)

Day 7 of the hike (going down!)

The Machame Route

7 Items you won’t see me without on Kili

My Top 5 Hotel Pet Peeves

I have stayed in way too many hotels over my professional lifetime and over my pleasure travel lifetime.  A good hotel is a good thing when one is on the road, clearly.  I don’t need perfection – though I know it when I see it and love it – but I also have some pet peeves that REALLY turn me off to a property or even a chain. These are by NO MEANS the biggest problems in the world but, with that, what follows are, in no particular order, what ilivetotravel finds annoying in a hotel experience. 

  1. Bath robes for giants.  Either giants are the vast majority of hotel guests or hotels are slightly clueless.  Yes, I am a short guy but some of these would be evening gown length for most people.  And the average height for a man/woman in this country is not 6′ – that I know of anyway.  I understand a 6’2″ giant needs to cover his/her modest parts to avoid catching a nasty cold but these are below the knee even for them!  The W Hotel in DC did really well in this category with reasonable length robes.  Thank you.
  2. Dark carpets.  No, I have no skills in terms of interior design so this is not an opinion based on the look of the room.  This is about dark carpets affording a hotel the opportunity to be a little more lax with cleaning carpets.  I am not saying hotels with dark carpets do not clean as often as they should BUT why stay somewhere where that opportunity is a little easier?
  3. Drafty windows.  You’d think that this is not a common issue.  And you are right.  But in January this year I had TWO back to back hotel stays where the windows did not properly close.  These were in Chicago and DC during very cold spells.  But besides the cold, I could hear street traffic late at night so I dreaded what it would sound like in the morning.  In both cases, the windows were not closing properly, something I would expect someone would have caught before me.  Both times, I called to have it looked at.  In one case, the hotel immediately just changed rooms for me (giving me an upgrade in the process – GREAT customer relationship building move) and, in the other, I had to call a second time an hour later because no one had come to take care of things… (bad customer relationship building move).
  4. Poor lighting.  This really gets me.  I NEED to see.  I know you are trying to create a mood.  Ever heard of dimmers??  Or at least offer some lamps with good strong light and others without it.  I stayed at a VERY nice DC hotel where none of the lamps seemed to have much of a light bulb making my ability to read anything impossible.  Come on!
  5. The waste culture.  One of the largest hotel chains I have stayed at, across all their brands, seems to do a poor job of minding waste.  That I know of, they don’t participate in any program to recycle used soap, for example.  Or when I hang my towel back, it still gets replaced the next day.  But what really takes the cake is how they take my still half-full little shampoos or lotions and replace them.  I understand you want me to have enough and not run out (thank you for that).  Go ahead, add the new bottle but LEAVE the half-full one there so it doesn’t go to waste.  One little bottle doesn’t make a difference but add this up across all their properties and rooms and nights, and that’s a heck of a lot of not caring about being wasteful.  This chain is not the only one doing this, sadly.

I would love to hear YOUR pet peeves when you stay at a hotel!

The Highlights of Food and Wine in 2012. Mostly Food.

Papanași papanash from Romania

2012 will be remembered by me for many reasons.  Certainly the travel I did in 2012 ranks up there as do the many fun memories with family and friends.  But another memorable aspect of 2012 will be the food and wine!  Here is a small tour of the most memorable ones… mostly food…

BBQ anyone?

At Salt Lick, outside of Austin, Texas, the year started with some phenomenal BBQ!

Salt Lick BBQ in Texas

Wine, wine, wine

A few wine tastings with friends and some touring allowed me to cover a lot of ground here!  Virginia and Moldova stand out as unexpected wine places for me.  While I was not able to bring a lot of wine from Moldova, Virginia was a different story!

WIne from Virginia's wineries: Pollock, Cardinal Point, Barboursville, King, Veritas

All but one of the bottles I bought in VA!  The state can thank me later.

Deliciousness from Moldavia

As far as I understand, northeastern Romania and Moldova are known as Moldavia.  The region was an independent/autonomous state between the 14th century and the 19th.  I could see quite a few similarities between the two modern areas when I visited Iasi (Romania) and Moldova.  One of the similarities I saw was in the food.  My favorite dish was pork and mamaliga (a sort of polenta).  And my favorite dessert papanași (papanash; a fried pastry stuffed with jam and soft cheese).  I could eat these every day (an almost did!).

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork - typical food dish from Moldavia, Moldova, Romania

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork – typical food dish

Papanași papanash from Romania

Papanași (papanash)

A homestyle wine tasting

One of my favorite events is the quarterly wine tasting with friends.  Our Frog’s Leap wine tasting (normally, we do not focus on one winery in these tastings) was outstanding and the food was a large part of that.  After looking at the following pictures, could you disagree?

Cheese and crackers always good for a wine tasting

Cheese and crackers couldn’t be absent!

Lobster dip from Costco served in cucumbers

Lobster dip served in cucumbers

Chocolate bomb anyone?

I got to try one mean chocolate dessert at The Oval Room, across Lafayette Square from the White House (which I also got to tour this year!).  This picture  -no- no picture, can ever do this magnificent monument to desserts justice…

Chocolate S'more Bomb from The OVal Room in Washington, D.C. smore

Chocolate S’more Bomb with cookie crumble and salted caramel

Mofongo from Puerto Rico – in Tampa!

I have written about having great Cuban food in Tampa but over Thanksgiving weekend, I went for my favorite Puerto Rican dish:  mofongo with fried pork chunks!!  MMM!!!

Mofongo from Puerto Rico in Tampa, Florida

Paris, oh, Paris

Forget the fancy restaurants and all that frou-frou stuff.  Paris has awesome small “mere-et-pere” type of places with deliciousness galore.  I am lucky to be an eternal Paris visitor and past resident.  This allows me and my friends to enjoy these little-known places whenever I visit.  However, I still enjoy discovering a new unpolished jewel, like the place in Montmartre where I had this delicious potato-and-egg-topped salad (along with a mini carafe of red wine!).

Potato and egg salad in Montmartre

Of course, Paris’ chocolate houses are a must – and a tour of them should be de rigeur unless you are allergic to the stuff!  I always stop by to enjoy some of Paris’ finest chocolate crafts.

Chocolates and macarons from Paris' finest Jean-Paul Hevin

Italy.  What can I say?

No words are needed when it comes to Italy and food.  Here are some of the images from my visit there in April (discovering new and re-visiting old places).

Suppli fried rice ball from Rome, Italy

Suppli fried rice ball – mmm!!

White wine from Italy with Campo de Fiore reflected

I love how the Campo de Fiore is reflected in this glass of wine

Bucatini all'Amatriciana in Rome, Italy

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Carbonara and red wine in Rome, Italy

Carbonara rocks!!

Coffee in Rome, Italy

Coffee the AM I arrived… dropped our luggage at the apt and went out for breakfast. SO. GOOD.

Rome, Italy food:  artichoke, buffalo cheese, tomato, basil

My plate full of our appetizers on our first night in Roma

Sweets from Rome, Italy

Sweets!

Gelato in Rome, Italy

Sublime gelato

Year end:  always a time for food!

For Christmas eve (Nochebuena), I cook the traditional Cuban meal.  Instead of showing a beautiful serving plate or bowl with the end result, I decided to leave the end result to the imagination and show you the work in progress.  I love making my black beans and Cuban pernil!

Cooking Cuban black beans

Cooking Cuban pernil for Christmas eve (Nochebuena)

Now good food didn’t end on Nochebuena.  On our day trip to the charming southern towns of Newnan and Senoia, we had some really good southern food (always comfort food!) right at the square in Newnan.  Those sweet potatoes were outstanding!

Country fried steak, green beens and sweet potatoes - great southern food

The year ends

The year went away like the dessert from this plate – it leaves me wanting more.  What a year it was!

Empty dessert plate

A Year (or the World?) Ends… Either Way, I Travel

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen.  I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet.  BUT, if the end did happen, guess what?  I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story.  Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story.  Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).

So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…

A Texas tweetup in January

January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online.  At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it?  But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with.  So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup!  There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco.  Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?

Normal in February – and other months

Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February.  Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year.  Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen.  I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St.  DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore.  Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.

March Madness:  Mile High Skiing

The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years.  The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010.  Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell.  The bowls of Vail where incredible:  one bowl, then another one behind it, then another.  It seemed to never end!

Statue of skier in Vail, Colorado

How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!

Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April

April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends.  Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary.  It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.

But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored:  Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me.  Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro!  These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro

Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago

May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile.  The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything:  from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob.  It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.

Posing in front of the Bean in Chicago at Millenium Park

Being tourists at The Bean

More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings

In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!).  Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others.  Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!):  @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.

A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR

Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing.  Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me.  A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world.  We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s!  An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!

Sphinx-like rock in the Bucegi Mountains near Omu Peak, Romania

Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??

Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova.  So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship.  I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!

The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe.  Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!

Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August

August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC!  I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!

Rest in September

In September, I took a break from travel.  Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!

Architecture and Wine:  Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say?  No, Virginia in October!

I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way.  I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country.  And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by!  As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines.  And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored!  I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November

So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food!  Someone STOP the madness! 🙂

I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see.  And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC!   The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about.  I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!

Interview with the Ultimate Global Explorer: Len Stanmore

Trekking for Kids

Len Stanmore has climbed the highest peak in every continent (the “7 Summits”), skied to both the North Pole AND the South Pole, and run across 3 of the 4 major deserts of the world:  the driest (Atacama), the windiest (Gobi), and the hottest (Sahara).  Impressed?  From November 22 to December 3, 2012, Len will race across the last major desert:  the coldest (Antarctica) with Racing the Planet’s 4 Deserts series.  With this race, Len will be the only (yes, THE only) person to have ever accomplished all these remarkable feats – a true ultimate global explorer (with all due respect to explorers of other eras)!!

Len Stanmore, Ultimate Global Explorer

I had the good fortune of meeting Len last September as he supports a non-profit organization close to my heart, Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I trekked in Romania earlier this year.  Len has supported TFK before and is now using his Antarctica race as a fundraiser to help TFK improve the lives of orphaned and at-risk children around the world.  Check out more about Len’s support of TFK via his Trekking for Kids page and support him!

Why I am sharing Len’s story? 

Len’s story has inspired me to go somewhere I have never sought to go before:  the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Uhuru Peak Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Believe it or not, I was NEVER hoping to or interested in climbing “Kili“.  But Len’s story of how he got going with this incredible journey inspired me to aim for this summit.  See, Len decided at 49 years old he had to do something to improve his health.  He chose a goal that would push him and he chose Kili.  I thought to myself:  gosh, I am younger than he was and in good physical condition – so why am I NOT trying to climb Kili???  That, and talking to Len and a couple of other veteran Kili hikers sealed the deal for me.  So in February 2013, I will be headed to Tanzania for the climb of my life!

Len graciously made some time to talk to me as his training and prep wind down and the big day gets near and I wanted to share that with you…

Now to the interview… Everyone, meet Len Stanmore

–>  Len, the set of races/climbs that you will complete in November with your run across Antarctica sounds like beyond the reach of mere mortals:  Was this part of a grand goal you set for yourself after your first climb or how did it come to happen?

My first and only goal at the time was Kilimanjaro.  It was while doing Kilimanjaro that I first heard the term “7 Summits”.  I decided during that hike that the Vinson Massif, the tallest peak in Antarctica, would be next – for no good reason!  I guess it not being that tall at around 16,000 ft made it seem quite attainable.  Of course, I did not stop to think about how cold it would be!  From then on, I would just hear of the other types of expeditions and then pursue them.

–>  Did you ever feel that one of the goals was be too big of a challenge to accomplish?

I had not done much research on the 7 Summits so I was not sure early on if I would get to summit Everest.   I will say that the scariest of all was McKinley. The climate is quite harsh (not that Everest’s isn’t!).  In fact, I first attempted to summit McKinley but it was too stormy and I decided not to pursue it that time.  Then I did Everest.  Eventually I returned to McKinley and reached the summit.  The other thing about McKinley is that you don’t have porters.  You take ALL your stuff UP the mountain breaking into sweat for real:  carrying a bag weighing about 60 lbs and pulling a sled with another 70-80 lbs (at this point, the interviewer was feeling out of breath and breaking into a sweat just thinking about it!).

–>  You have said that Kilimanjaro was your favorite hike.  Why is it?

Kilimanjaro is the only one of the places I have tackled that I would go back to.  I love Africa.  And I love that climbing Kilimanjaro allows you to experience so many ecosystems.  It, along with Everest, are the better known mountains of the seven and Kili is quite doable (though training is still required!).

–>  Len, I heard you say you were scared of heights… 

I still am!  Going up a ladder to about 20 feet is about it for me!

–>  How did you work through that fear to climb the 7 Summits?   How did you avoid thinking about it?

What makes you think I DIDN’T think about it?!  My stomach tightens up in those situations… Usually it’s the downhill that’s the worse.  I just force myself to focus and keep moving.

Len Stanmore completes the Gobi Desert Race in the 4 Desert Series

After completing the Gobi Desert race in 2011

–>  Of all these expeditions which one was your least favorite?  If you had to do all these again but were allowed to exclude one, which one would it be?

Oh wow. Let me recap all in my mind… (pauses for a moment) I think it would be Aconcagua.  At the time it was the highest altitude I had attempted so I felt the lack of oxygen.  It was really hot in the valley you crossed to get there.  Plus, it was not very scenic, not breathtaking like the others.

–>  Of the day-to-day things on your expeditions, what are the worst things you wish you did not have to deal with?

Oh, the worst part is when you are at altitude or in a very cold place and you wake up and have to get out of your warm sleeping bag!  Then rush to find your things and pack up quickly in very little time.  There is a lot of pressure in the morning.  When you start for a summit, many times you leave at night.  It’s a dash, trying to do everything with the headlamp, and then you realize most people are ready and you are not.  It’s nerve-wracking!

–>  And what do you look forward to in the day-to-day of these expeditions (beyond finishing!)?

Besides the camaraderie of the group hiking together, the best part of the every day is simple.  You have left camp and started the day’s hike, past the hustle of getting ready.  Thirty minutes to an hour after the start of the day’s hike, your body calms down, your heart rate goes down, and you start appreciating where you are and you soak it all in.

–>  You have selected Trekking for Kids and its mission to benefit from your accomplishments – what led you to select this organization?

I was hiking Cotopaxi in Ecuador and my guide, Luis Benitez, asked me if I wanted to go with him to an orphanage he had to make a stop at.  I accompanied him and saw the situation where the girls in the orphanage at a certain age have to leave.  I thought to  myself:  if these girls do not get an education or skills, what will happen to them?  And even before that day comes, at the orphanage it felt it was almost a matter of day-to-day survival.  I have been skeptical of organizations that ask for money for orphanages for a long time.  But it is different with TFK.  The money goes to specific projects that the orphanage identifies and that TFK vets (with receipts being submitted, etc.).  It blew me away the work TFK does with the orphanages – it’s amazing.  I know that the funds I give to and raise on behalf of TFK is going to benefit the kids, not a middleman or an organization.

Trekking for Kids

–>  What would you hope people who learn about your story get from it?

Simple.  My hope would be that they would identify their own quest or challenge, and that they go for it whatever it is!

–>  Finally, and the most important question:  You, your wife Liz, myself, and others will be hiking Kilimanjaro next February with TFK.  I just did my first big hike in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania last July.  On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned are you that I will beat you to the summit? 🙂

(laughs)  VERY concerned!  Are you kidding me??!!   In all seriousness, we will get to the summit at the same exact time as one group!

What now?  And a more important reason why I share his story with you

Now?  I am now eagerly following Len’s preparations for Antarctica and will follow him during the race via TFK’s Facebook page where daily updates will be posted. It will be exciting to hear about his race!  Best of luck, Len, in this last leg of a great series – and I will see you and Liz in Tanzania in February!!

I find Len’s story to be an amazing one and I hope that sharing it with you may inspire you to your own epic journey (be it of this kind or any other!) as it has inspired me to push myself physically and mentally to do Kili!

A Traveler’s Tale: Leaving Home Not as Easy

I have traveled lots for business and pleasure over the last two decades.  At times, I traveled every single week for 4-5 day weeks on and off some of those years.  One time, I did that for 3 years straight!  Yes, it was crazy but I was young, ready to see the world, meet people, and get good work opportunities as a consultant in a large firm.

Mercifully, that has changed in the later years.  I have gone years without the weekly travel but occasional trips.  Now I am doing 3-4 day per week travel every other week.  Really easy.  I get to be home a lot and get to be in a city I really enjoy (Washington, D.C.) and that is much easier to get to than the 26 round trips I did in 2010 to go to Chile for work…

Last night before we had left the ground for my 8:30 PM flight to Reagan National, I sat in my first class seat (complimentary upgrade!! thanks, Delta!) looking outside as the plane began to pull away from the gate.  We were on the first gate in the middle of the T Concourse of Hartsfield airport so there was no gate next to us on my side of the plane, just empty space.  The lights were on around the tarmac; those yellow-like floodlights that are almost mood-altering.

The plane pulled back but stopped for a few short minutes.  And though an occasional luggage cart or ground crew member passed by, the place felt empty – an unfamiliar thing for me in this, one of the world’s largest and busiest airports.  Even the luggage cart or the ground crew member looked lonely.

As I looked out the window with the inside lights turned off as is customary for takeoff, I was disconnected from the passengers on the plane, like in my own private world.  And then I felt melancholy.  I felt I was alone looking at the world outside the window and that world looked calm.  Looked like everyone had gone home.  And here I was leaving home…  I wished I hadn’t been…  Those darn mood-altering floodlights…

My Delta Special Service – a Real Treat – and My Friends’ Reactions

A couple of weeks ago, I was treated by my hometown airline and my preferred airline, Delta, to a very nice airport arrival in Atlanta.  The following week, the same wonderful welcome was offered again.  Not only was the actual special welcome so enjoyable, fun, and appreciated, the response from my friends was equally enjoyable, fun, and appreciated!

The Welcome

I landed on A31 in Atlanta Hartsfield, the end of Concourse A.  I remember thinking “ugh”, having to walk down the terminal at peak hour to get to the train, to get to the shuttle bus, to get to my car, to drive, and, finally, to get home.  No, it is not a horrible thing but sometimes I am just tired.

I get off the plane, I mean, I literally step out of the plane, and from the corner of my eye I catch my name on a sign being help up by a guy in a suit.  I never look at anything or anyone when I am deplaning.  I am on a mission to get the heck out of Dodge.  Along with my name is another name.   What is this?  Did I have too many SunChips?

I identify myself to the suited guy and before I can ask anything, the other name shows up, a guy in a suit who tells the guy greeting us that he is traveling with someone; the guy greeting us says it is OK.  I ask what is this about and the greeter tells me, I am taking you out of here.  I was not sure what that meant and asked for clarification.  He said he had a car downstairs (downstairs from the jet-way) and that he was driving us to baggage claim.  I don’t know how many seconds it took me to process what he had said.  What was this?  The other two guys seem to know what this was about and, as they all started going down the stairs, I followed.  I see a black Porsche Cayenne at the bottom of the stairs and my first thought is “I need a picture of this”.  I had a camera with me but those 2 suits traveling with me looked too darn serious and I figured I need to act serious too, especially if I am being driven away.  I kicked myself for this for about a week afterwards – I wanted a picture of this most unlikely situation for me.  Our driver dropped us all off and gave me the card:  Delta Elite Services Team.  (I hope I didn’t just reveal a secret!  Please do not remove my Million Miler status!!)

I speculated about what all this was about.  During the drive I understood that this is normally something done for government officials or celebrities so they do not have to traverse the airport but I still didn’t know how I fit into either category.  I did write-in my name once in a ballot in some election but, last I had heard, I only got one vote.

I regretted not having taken my picture and told the story to people saying that.  Well, God really wanted me to get the darned picture because the next week, landing on the A1 gate in Atlanta, once again I saw a suited guy holding a sign with two names and one of them was mine again!  This time I knew what this was about and felt much smarter.  This time it was a white Cayenne and I was drive out in style.  BUT, as I went down the stairs, I asked the greeter/driver to please take my picture though this time I only had a smartphone camera.  He took some pictures of me where I am all smiles.

Also, this time, I got to ask about how regular folks get the service.  The greeter told me that usually when there are none of the VIPs above, they pick up Delta frequent fliers with all the right calendar and lifetime status who may have tight connections, or lacking any of those, fliers who land at the far gates in a concourse.  That made tons of sense and seems to be a brilliant way for Delta to surprise and reward a very frequent flier every now and then (and I am hoping more “now” than “then”!).

The Pictures

After a week of kicking myself, I GOT THE PICTURE!  In fact, I got a few.  Here are two!

Delta frequent flyer

Now to the Funnies

Alright, since I did not ask family and friends if I could show them here as I shared comments to the statuses in Facebook on these two events, I feel obliged to protect their anonymity but I invite them to comment here if they read this!  I laughed at some of the comments!

In Conclusion (I Have to Be Serious, Don’t I?)

Thanks to Delta, from this Million Miler and charter Diamond Medallion, for that extra touch.  CRM is key to any business.  This is great evidence of good thinking.

Thanks to my friends for allowing me to enjoy this little pleasure a little more by sharing it and hearing from them!

How I Roll – The ABCs of Travel

A set of questions about my approach to travel – fascinating set!   Posted by Leah (check out her post:  http://leahtravels.com/site/things/how-i-roll-the-abcs-of-travel) who in turn received it from someone else who got it from someone else, … you get the pic.  Thanks, Leah!  And in turn, I will say other important “thanks” as I respond.  Here it goes!

A. Age you went on your first international trip

Technically going to PR from Miami as a toddler doesn’t count since it is U.S. territory…  My first trip abroad was when I was eleven.  I went to visit my aunt and her family in Panama.  I went with my grandmother and my sister.  It was SO cool.  We flew to Miami and then to Panama.  We either flew Eastern or Pan Am to Miami but it must have been the latter since we then flew Pan Am to our final destination.  I remember my grandmother was a little nervous.  I?  I was on an adventure!  I remember that on the Pan Am flight to Panama (that’s an alliteration!) each passenger was given a small bottle of wine (not the mini ones but maybe a 0.5L bottle) – and that included, apparently, 11 yr olds too!  My grandmother made me give it to my uncle once I arrived in Panama since I clearly couldn’t drink it.  I knew she was right but I sorta felt cheated…  Thanks, Abuela!

B. Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

A Belgian Trappist beer called Chimay.  The blue label one.  It then became my goal to get a Chimay glass (way before they started selling them).  I got one but to hear the story, well, I will have to tell you in person because I am not typing how I got it 😉  Just want to say, thanks Joy!

I first tasted it when I lived in France in 1999.  Upon my return to the wonderful state of Georgia, I discovered that it was not sold here because of its higher alcohol content.  Ridiculous!  A co-worker who commuted every week to Atlanta from DC would bring me a batch every so often in her carry-on (this was in 2000).  Now THAT is a friend.  We are still friends today, needless to say – thanks, Laura!  (P.S. – A few years ago Georgia left the Middle Ages and I can get Chimay here any time I want.  Thanks, legislators.)

C.  Cuisine – favorite

Well, duh, Cuban!  All that garlic, pork, fried stuff, and black beans.  I am working myself into hunger as I type…  Italian is a good runner up for sure.  And could I turn down Peruvian??  But Cuban it is.  My Mom cooks it VERY well.  She must have learned from her grandmother, whom we called Doña as kids for some reason.  I remember her cooking still.  For teaching her granddaughters to cook well so I could enjoy Cuban food, thanks Doña!

D.  Destinations:  favorite, least favorite, and why

Favorite:  Chilean Patagonia followed closely by the southern island of New Zealand.  Why?  Breathtaking examples of God’s work.  A+!  Check the pix out!  Thanks, God.

Cueva del Milodón in Chile's Patagonia

View from la Cueva del Milodón

Least favorite:  I tend to find something I like about most places.  It may not be pretty but the people make it likable, or the food, or who I was traveling with.  But if I search for places that didn’t impress me (not that I did not like being there), Copenhagen was one.   It had some nice things, it wasn’t unlikable.  But it seemed bland (maybe I was comparing it to Stockholm and Oslo which did impress me).  Beijing was an absolute disappointment with the terrible pollution.  Of course, it had some sites that were worth seeing but overall as a city, my least favorite.  San Marino seemed to be only a duty-free zone or a tourist trap zone, except for the church.  Oh, I was the one in the group who wanted to drive through it – and I heard it a few times…  Thanks, Me.

E.  Event you experienced above that made you say “wow”

Several things come to mind.  Seeing Holy Week processions and events in Malta was pretty awesome.  Being in Chile during a historical year:  first time in the World Cup in 40 odd years, a historical election seeing the right come to power for the first time since the dictatorship ended, the trapped miners, the massive and terrible earthquake, and there was a fifth one but it escapes me… Seeing the emotion of Chileans watching their national team with such joy was a wow.  Seeing the very civilized behaviors between election winner and loser (which made me feel for my country…) was a wow.  I wasn’t there on the day of the earthquake otherwise that would have won THE wow.  But being there for the miners’ rescue was one of those moments that truly was a wow.  Gracias, Chile!

F.  Favorite mode of transportation

Well, a plane.  I don’t totally enjoy the ride but when time is limited, nothing like getting there fast!  First class preferred, of course.  Thanks, Wright bros.

G.  Greatest feeling when traveling

Discovering something new that blows me away.  Like the landscapes of southern New Zealand.  Or phenomenal hole-in-the-wall eateries like La Porta in Montecchiello in Tuscany.  Thanks to my passport!

Osteria La Porta, Montecchiello in Tuscany, Italy

Osteria La Porta, Montecchiello

H.  Hottest place you have traveled to

At the World Expo in Sevilla in 1992 it was over 40C (over 104F).  That ranks up there though my hometown sometimes can feel hotter than hell.  Well, really, it is because of the humidity.  Thanks, H2O

I.  Incredible service you have experienced and where

Quite a few but in my over 20 round trips to Chile a couple of years ago, I tended to coincide with a flight crew every other week or so.  These flight attendants took GREAT care of me, even though I flew coach.  Let’s just say, at some point, I no longer was served coach wine…  Thanks, Delta for having flight attendants that know how to treat your valuable frequent flyers even when your rules prevent the Delta staff from doing the right thing…

J.  Journey that took the longest

I would like to say going to Australia but that wasn’t the longest.  Nor was it driving from Atlanta to Denver with my college roommate.  My actual longest journey was when I went to Tanzania.  I went with work, an international NGO, so I thought I had to absolutely get the cheapest possible itinerary.  So I ended with a 2-stop (not awful per se) trip to get to Dar es Salaam (via London and Dubai; a 6 and 9 hr layover respectively).  I learned later that policy was to get the cheapest flight with a reasonable duration which meant I could have gone for the cheapest 1-stop route…   Overall the journey was over 30 hrs. and I was supremely beat though when I landed in Dar, the tiredness dissipated for a little bit as I soaked in everything around me!  Thanks, former employer for laying out the rules clearly – grrrr….

K.  Keepsake from your travels

I always bring back money from the countries I visit for me and for kids I know.  I do it to perhaps stir curiosity of the world in them much as stamps did for me when I was a kid.  I also mail post cards (though not many) to share a little of trip with people close to me.  Other than that, photos, photos, and more photos!  On occasion, if I find a particular item that grabs a hold of me, then I get it.  But I am not a big shopper usually because it means I have to carry it all back!  One of my prized acquisitions was a wood carving I bought at Los Dominicos in Santiago, Chile.  Gracias, Señor Salazar.

L.  Let-down sight, why and where

Stonehenge, hands down.  A pile of big stones, yes, put up by people long ago for mystical/spiritual purposes when there wasn’t machinery to make things easy.  But it wasn’t just that.  The place is cordoned off so you watch them from a distance.  Not that touching them would mean something but if I could have walked amongst them or at least get close enough to “feel” their size.  It’s not like watching the Great Pyramids at a distance.  It is watching large stones at a distance.  It is not watching the giant heads in Easter Island.  Those are carved.  It is watching large stones at a distance.  Get it?  But, of course, I am glad I saw them so no one can tell about them.  Thanks to my college roommate, Andreas, for driving us there and checking it off the list.  One-and-done. No repeat visit.  (P.S. – I am not sure if I have been clear on what I think about Stonehenge…)

M.  Moment where you fell in love with travel

None.  I was born loving travel as far as I can tell.  The thrill of going somewhere new, exploring.  Or of getting back to a place I really like (Paris, Chile, Venice).  Now the wanderlust was created by my childhood hobby of stamp collecting.  I wanted to know about all these places, I relished seeing new stamps that told me something about each country.  I HAD to see them!  Thanks to my Mom, Dad, tío Ernesto and all those who used to save stamps for me for supporting me in this hobby that stirred this passion!  (Hence, the wallpaper on my Twitter page!)

N.  Nicest hotel you have stayed in

I would say the Four Seasons in Dallas but it was an overnight stay for work and I arrived very late the night before.  The Loew’s in Miami Beach for a work conference was very nice.  But my favorite was the Boca Raton Beach Resort where we went a couple of years for work “retreats”.  Thanks, Andersen Consulting!

O.  Obsession, what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling

In one trip to Italy, I was obsessed with capturing a nun in motion (her habits flowing as she walked).  I didn’t take any great picture.  That I knew of…  When I got home and developed the film, a nun had crossed the street in one of my pix.  You see, I must have missed the fact she was there because I was switching lenses to take a picture of the same view with and without zoom lens to see how the two pix would contrast.  I probably was so engrossed in not dropping the lens I wasn’t using and in focusing on the arch far away that I missed what was in front of me:  a nun in motion!  Thanks, miracle nun!

But that was only for that trip.  Generally, I like to take pictures of people doing nothing in particular.  Just walking, sitting, being…  But I have developed a little interest in taking pictures of people taking or posing for pictures for others when I go to very touristy areas.  It is interesting to watch people touristing!

Happiness at the feet of the Torres del Paine in Chile's Patagonia

P.  Passport stamps – how many and from where

In the current passport or in all my passports??!!  I do not plan to count them, especially since one very full passport was stolen during a home break-in a dozen years ago.  Plus I have more than one stamp of some countries.  Which led to requiring new pages added to the passport…  Thanks Chile for stamping my passport EACH AND EVERY time I entered and departed 26 times in 2010…

I have visited 49 countries and thanks to the breakup of Yugoslavia, in April I won’t just hit 50, I will get to 52!  Thanks, Marshall Tito!

Q.  Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

I want to say somewhere in the middle of Kansas through one of my drives to/from Boulder.  But nothing comes to mind.  Or something in Central Florida.  That sounds right, right?  The Big Chicken in Marietta – is that an attraction or just a fast food place?  Thanks to no one for quirky attractions.

R.  Recommended sight, event, or experience

Leah said the Scavi tour under St. Peter’s Basilica and I would agree.  I have done it twice but will pass on this next trip to Rome.  Other things to see!  The Great Pyramids are an obvious answer to this.  In terms of views, seeing Rio from the Corcovado is tops.  The view of Cape Town from Table Mountain is also outstanding.  And experiencing the peacefulness and breathtaking landscapes of the Chilean Patagonia rounds up my answer.  Thanks to these eyes for letting me soak it all in…

Looking at Cape Point in the Cape of Good Hope in Africa

Outstanding views near the Cape of Good Hope! (Cape Point)

S.  Splurge, something you have no problem forking over for while traveling

A great meal!!  I don’t mean going to the Maxim’s or some other fancy-schmancy restaurant.  I mean at a local place with great food like La Porta in Montecchielo or the restaurant in Venice we so enjoyed or at Cuero Vaca in Santiago.  Once I am there, the price on the menu is ignored.  Oh, that’s for the food part.  You DO have to look at the price of a bottle of wine – don’t intend to fork $500 any time soon for a bottle of wine – plenty of good stuff out there for much less thanks to many great winemakers!

T.  Touristy thing you’ve done

Throwing a coin over my shoulder in the Trevi Fountain in Rome to make sure I return!  But it has worked twice already!  Grazie, Trevi!  Bella!

U.  Unforgettable travel memory

A few for sure.  Typically when standing in front of magnificent scenery many of which I have cited above and many that I have left out.  Another is my first helicopter ride to see the 12 Apostles near Melbourne and then my second ride to land on Franz Josef Glacier in NZ.

But one of the most unforgettable travel memories for me is when I walked into the room where the future John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland.  There was a large picture of him as a toddler and I got goose bumps thinking who would have told that child, that family, those neighbors that this child would become a giant in the faith of millions and a giant in the battle against oppression in the Communist world, etc.  It hit me that the potential of ANY child is about infinite.  It only starts narrowing with every passing year, depending on circumstances, education, health, etc.  Very unexpected moment for me.

V.  Visas, how many and for where?

One, from CapitalOne.  What’s in your wallet?

W.  Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?

A glass or two of Sauternes at of Chateau Sahuc-Lestours.  We randomly visited this winery and met the owners who sat down with us to sip Sauternes (they sipped, I almost gulped) in the garden of their home/winery.  At the end of the visit, they corked the unlabelled bottle we had drunk, and gave it to us (plus the bottle we each had bought).  Fast forward 8 yrs, and I return.  The husband wasn’t there but the wife was.  I recounted not only the visit but the things they had told us and she knew it was true that I had been there before.  I don’t recall her name but we called her Margaret on that first visit for some reason.  Merci beaucoup et au revoir, Margaret!

X.  eXcellent view and from where?

So I mentioned earlier the views from Corcovado in Rio, Table Mountain in Cape Town, and any view in Chilean Patagonia.  I will add:

–   the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower which puts all of Paris at your footsteps

–   the view from Pienza in Tuscany where you can see the rolling hills of the region and the neighboring mountain town

–  the view as you fly over the Andes – endless mountain range (and I mean east-west, not just north-south!)

–  the view from my apt building in Paris:  the Arc d’Triomphe almost right across the street with the Eiffel Tower behind it in the distance

–  the view from the executive lounge of the Santiago Marriott at sunset looking at the Andes

and I could keep on going… thanks for letting me list more than one!

Crossing the Andes

Flying over the glorious Andes

Y.  Years spent traveling

Since I was a toddler ilivetotravel!   My first trip to Europe was when I was 25.  Kids are spoiled today, they get to go younger, thanks to deregulation.  Who says deregulation is bad???

Z.  Zealous sports fans and where?

Have never been to a World Cup.  Have been to a World Series game but, it is baseball.  Have been to 2 Olympics.  But the best memory is watching fans of many countries who made it to the 2010 World Cup work together and compare notes as the World Cup took place was fun.  Unfortunately, my bragging rights ended on the earlier side so then it was fun to throw ambers on the fires around me 🙂  Those Brazilians, Chileans, Spanish, Argentines, and Mexicans definitely showed zealotry and good spirit.  Thanks to my client in Chile for installing flat screen TVs around the building so people could peek at matches during work hours.

Thanks for reading some or all of the above!! 

Just as I was tagged, I get to tag others. So…

Pola at http://www.jettingaround.com

Tawny at http://www.captainandclark.com

Henie at http://www.HennArtOnline.com

Mark at http://www.twylah.com/marktravel

TAG, YOU ARE IT!

And Work Took Me Places…

A lot of my international travels have been part of or enabled by work.  Whether is being asked if in 24 hours I could leave for Helsinki to spend 3 weeks there in the middle of winter, or whether the miles accumulated by years of sometimes-weekly travel have allowed me to go out of the country for vacation, work has always been a key factor in my exploring.  I would say it is second only to my zest for travel and exploring!

As part of this reflection, I thought it would be cool to capture where all have I been to related to work whether for a one-day meeting to year+ assignments.  Here it goes!

GERMANY

In Germany, my discoveries were how great German food is (not just the ones I had known like wursts).  Also, my colleagues made it a point of making sure they were showing me places like beer halls and good restaurants and that hospitality -no offense intended- took me by surprise, especially when compared to other countries where I had expected a warmer culture.

Sulzbach/Bad Soden (outside of Frankfurt, Germany)

Dusseldorf (Germany)

Munich (Germany)

FRANCE

I have been to a good bit of France but for work these two sites were it.  In the Riviera, I enjoyed being by the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean and yet seeing the Alps at a distance, staying in Cannes or Nice, depending on the week and the mood!  Paris, well, what can I say.  An incredible city even if it was hard to develop social contacts due to the long hours at work and perhaps the language barrier (I spoke basic French then; medium after I left there and focused on learning the language).

Paris (France)

Sophia-Antipolis (France)

View from the terrace of the apartment building where I lived in Paris!

THE NETHERLANDS

Basically shuttling between client offices in both towns.  I was amazed at how small the country is and yet how exotic it felt to me.  Den Haag much more subdued than Amsterdam.  Amsterdam, just phenomenally interesting.  Getting to work with the Dutch allowed to see how their cultural traits are unique and how some of the stereotypes I had heard of showed up in work settings.

Den Haag (The Netherlands)

Amsterdam (The Netherlamnds)

OTHER EUROPE

The rest of the European work sites were of shorter durations than the ones above with the longest being 3 weeks.  But they all allowed me to explore each of the places and/or visit with friends who lived in those places.  Work definitely gave me a good opportunity to see more of Europe.  How else would I have spent 3 weeks in Helsinki had it not been for work?!

Geneva (Switzerland)

Oslo (Norway)

Vienna (Austria)

Helsinki (Finland)

London (UK)

Madrid (Spain)

View of Oslo Fjord

LATIN AMERICA

My experiences in Latin America have been phenomenal.  Perhaps the cultural affinity or the approach to life, especially in Brazil, but I have seldom been disappointed or failed to enjoy my stay.

Chile trumps all other places in L.A.  by sheer duration of my work experience there (over a year).  I had worked there many, many yrs before (check my other blog entries) and I got to see more of the country in that year.  What a beautiful country!

In Peru, I got to explore more off the beaten path locations by the nature of the work assignment.  I got to see many places the average tourist sees and many they would never get to.  And, I got to enjoy the food of Lima which is just outstanding!

Brazil offered me good food and great fun besides the work.  Spending weekends in Rio or going out for the nightlife of Sao Paulo, Brazil never disappointed.

Sao Paulo (Brazil)

Quito (Ecuador)

Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Santiago (Chile)

Lima (Peru)

Cuzco (Peru)

Puno (Peru)

Huaraz (Peru)

Panama City (Panama)

Mayaguez (PR)

Church in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago

AFRICA

Here I definitely got to see some diverse places from Muslim and Arab Egypt, to deep Africa in Tanzania, to cosmopolitan cities in South Africa (I visited Cape Town too but not for work).  I have enjoyed the unique experiences each offered whether it was visiting HIV/AIDS patients in the rural areas around Mwanza, to going for food in very local places in massive Cairo, to getting into the history of apartheid in Joburg.

Johannesburg (South Africa)

Cairo (Egypt)

Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Stone Town (Tanzania)

At the Apartheid Museum in Joburg

CANADA

I got to spend a LOT of time in Toronto and had a lot of fun with a great crew of Canadians whose key contribution to my skill sets was to have me start calling a puck “puck” and not “the thing”.  I also learned that I needed better pacing drinking Canadian beer as it was stronger than the American variety.  Finally, I learned how to curl (as in the game/sport).

Toronto (Canada)

Montreal (Canada)

What has been your most interesting and rewarding international work experience??

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