Teri B.

Teri B.

Things I Love

THE ULTIMATE JOURNEY

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On the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing, I share this post again …

“You are not canceling your trip!”  Those were the oft-repeated words said by my mom as her cancer progressed since the beginning of the year, knowing I was due to leave on the hubby’s and my annual post-tax-season vacation.  But how does one choose to go away when a loved one is sick and the ultimate ending is obviously unpredictable … ?

Frankly, the thought of leaving the country (this time to Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) and not having my customary daily conversation(s) with my mom was nearly unthinkable.  If a true vacation is one where the smart phones are left behind, then focusing on when and how to call didn’t make a lot of sense. The exception to that was last year upon learning our hotel room included free international calls; you can pretty much guess who was the first person I phoned. (You’re correct.)

When the daily phone calls with my mom went away, she and I still had our visits. And when she didn’t have much energy left even for that, it truly became a race against the clock.  There was no way I was leaving so close to her end and there was no way of knowing when exactly that would be.

I almost never pay for trips in advance except airline fees, with major airfare booked using miles which can be reinstated and reused.  The internal flights can be easily be changed (I learned that along the way).  So it is ironic that the first part of this particular trip is with Orient Express in Peru, including Machu Picchu, and that is fully paid, non-refundable inside of 45 days, which deadline is long past.  Travel expert, huh?  Travel insurance rarely speaks to me; I have found the limitations for repayment not commensurate with the cost.  I may rethink this in the future.

How about leave and then come back if her passing is imminent?  Reality check:  No can do (for me personally), even though there are lots of flights between those countries and Los Angeles on AA. After all, we both knew what was coming and little had been left unsaid.  Nevertheless this was indeed a fluid situation, changing day by day.

I really owe the genesis of Travel with Teri B. to my mom.  My writing started on these long, annual trips with lengthy emails to her detailing every day.  She would ask me if she needed to forward the emails to the family and I would tell her no and she would forward them anyway.  Then it morphed into a Shutterfly share site which then two years ago morphed into this blog.  She was always the first to read a new post and always the first to glowingly comment (only via email as couldn’t figure out how to post on the blog site).  When she could no longer use her computer, I would share my new posts with her from my phone.

In the end, none of the “should I or shouldn’t I” mattered as she passed a week before the scheduled departure.  After her suitable and beautiful send off, filled with gales of laughter and buckets of tears, please know that she would have loved hearing about the latest travels as I hope you do too ..

Lovingly dedicated to the memory of Annette Michaels

5/16/29 ~ 4/10/14

 

Things You Should Know

CREDIT CARDS & AIRLINE MILES — AM I A SUCKER?

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The hubby and I enjoy a very successful marriage.  But if there is one subject upon which a fight will certainly ensue, it is the very mention of credit cards and miles.  He thinks it’s a giant Ponzi scheme, sucking people in so they feel they are getting something for free.  I have written a lot about how I believe he and I have personally benefited from using miles for long international flights pretty much every year for our big post-tax-season vacation, and I am sticking with that premise.  Those flights would cost thousands of dollars, but using miles allows us to spend lots more on the ground.   In a recent effort to get a big hit of AA miles, I had a run-in with Citibank after receiving a new AA CitiBusiness Mastercard.

 

 

At one point in the not too distant past, I had a total of three Amex cards:  Platinum for business and travel, Starwood for personal charges as I could transfer the points to American Airlines, and a third card which I’m not even sure why I had it but then closed. Then I decided my Platinum card wasn’t worth the high annual fee as I could get the same resort benefits by booking through Virtuoso, so that one went away.  When I saw the Citibank offer for the business card with low annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and a 70,000 mile sign-up bonus after a very achievable four-month spend requirement, I signed up and got approved.  At this point in my life, all I care about are those AA miles when it comes to credit cards.

Two things then happened.  The credit limit was too low so I asked for and got an increase, but it was still a bit low so that was a problem and it was too soon to ask for another increase.  After four months, I called Citi to see when I was receiving my miles.  “We’re sorry; you don’t qualify for the bonus.”  What???  “You had another card that you canceled 20 months ago and we require 24 months before you can sign up again.”  Really??  Does anyone calendar when they cancel a card?  I’m guessing most don’t.  And why can’t they issue a little red flag:  “Ooops — too soon!  You need to wait four more months before applying!”

So how do those mileage gurus do it?  You know, the ones who brag about basically going around the world on miles achieved with endless sign-up bonuses?  Well, it turns out they are the culprits.  Because of their constant churning of cards to get miles, Citi — and I suppose others — have cracked down on the frequency allowed with which one can apply.

 

#dirtyrottenscoundrels

My pleads to the Citi supervisor were unsuccessful.  Even my veiled threat of going back to Amex fell on deaf ears.  No capitulation.  Finally, they decided to mollify me with 5,000 bonus miles — probably to make me go away.  Actually getting those miles took many more phone calls and many more months, but I finally got them.

And now I am closing that account.  Not just because of the unsatisfactory handling all around,  but because I just upgraded to Amex Bonvoy.  Yes, the fee is akin to Platinum, but I can get most of it back via a credit for one annual stay at a Marriott brand (including Sheraton, St. Regis, Westin, W and lots of others).  Oh, and I’ll get 100,000 points soon which I can transfer to American.  So all is well.  Just don’t tell the hubby.

Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

TIPS FOR GETTING THE BEST AIRFARE

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Once again, Scott McCartney (WSJ’s The Middle Seat) comes through with some salient tips about  buying airline tickets, while debunking some popular myths.  In a nutshell:

  1. Non-stop flights are generally less expensive than flights with stops — especially in markets with low-cost competition.  Non-stops will most likely cost more on international flights and cities serviced by fewer carriers.
  2. Sunday is still the best day to buy tickets, with Tuesday the second best.  Avoid Wednesdays and Thursdays if possible.  Ironically, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least expensive days to travel because “who wants to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday?”
  3. Include a Saturday overnight stay to get the best discounts on international fares.  Domestic is a different story, although it still may help lessen the cost.
  4. Supply and demand is what drives pricing now.  The tie-in to oil prices is no longer relevant.  So fuel costs might go down and fares will still go up due to lack of available seats.
  5. According to a study by Expedia/ARC, the best window for buying tickets is three months before departure —  up to three weeks before.  Once inside 30 days, travelers are at the mercy of the airlines.
Illustration by Fabio Consoli

 

Things You Should KnowTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

BACKYARD FUN

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“Backyard” can have lots of different meanings.  Given the relatively “inclement” weather we’re experiencing in So Cal (we’ve already surpassed our average annual rainfall!), in this case “backyard” is a euphemism for Los Angeles in general — i.e., having fun locally by enjoying a couple of new adventures.

The first was attending the Travel & Adventure Show at the LA Convention Center.  This is a two-day affair with seminars and lots of exhibitors, both international and domestic.  I invited a friend to go with me and pre-registered online.  Easy.

Gorgeous clear skies!

The biggest debate was where should we have lunch? Before or after the show?  Downtown LA (DTLA) has endless options and there were lots of cultural pockets en route from our Beverly Hills meeting place.  We remarkably ruled out Langer’s (DTLA-adjacent with simply THE BEST pastrami sandwich) and kept on with “how about (insert type of food)???”  We also didn’t want to park multiple times. What to do …?

During the drive while my friend Sandra was on a business call, I was observing restaurant signs and got a craving for Korean BBQ.  I pulled over to search Google for nearby places and was elated to discover we were just 3 minutes from Park’s BBQ, arguably the best in all of LA.  I say “arguably” because it’s all in the palate of the beholder.  But this is a place I’ve long wanted to try.

Parks is just north of Olympic Boulevard on S. Vermont in the heart of Koreatown.  The area traffic is always heavy but the restaurant is well marked.  There is a free-of-charge valet (tips welcome) so that made it easy.  It was before noon and the place was already bustling.  And you know what is commonly said about judging an ethic-food place?  Well, let’s just say we were the only non-Asians dining there.

All the sides and condiments first

Ever since the hubby’s and my 2013 trip to Seoul, I have loved Korean culture and food.  The problem is there’s top choices of sushi and Thai food in our ‘hood, but almost no Korean.  My efforts haven’t been exactly stellar to seek out different places.  Regardless, back to the meal at hand …

We ordered two a la carte proteins to be grilled at the table: marinated chicken and paper-thin beef, prepared with onions and seasoning.  They were served with a small bowl of rice and lots of different condiments and small sides.   The hardest part was waiting for the server to give us the go to eat!  Diners are not supposed to do the cooking but rather wait until the meats are done.  We impatiently waited for our server (who supervised the grill) to return.

Hurry up and cook!
Delicious with side of rice.
Best part? Scraping the bits off the grill … ask for a fork!

The verdict?  Delicious.  Not inexpensive.  Good quality.  Lots of flavors to try.  And if you’re into spicy, you’re definitely in the right place.  I now will book a return visit with my Foodies group (executive women gathering to try different restaurants along with socializing) and I’m looking forward to that.

As for the show, if you’ve been to one convention … The best takeaway for me was collecting guides to study for the upcoming trip to SE Asia (Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur).   For the most part,the show’s exhibitors were largely promoting group tour travel and cruises.  For my friend Sandra, it was the exhibit from Billings, MT, with lots of suggestions on doing a road trip encompassing Yellowstone Park.  Particularly good info there.

One of the exhibitors .. who knew?

 

With my adventurous friend, Sandra Heller

This was a fun and somewhat spur-of-the-moment outing in our city — a place so vast that these types of experiences are virtually endless — and right in your own backyard.

Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

ELEVEN MADISON PARK: TRULY A WORLD-CLASS RESTAURANT

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When one considers dining at a world-class establishment, a number of thoughts come to mind:  1) How much is it?  2) Can I get a booking?  3) What if it’s not worth it?

Reservations open on the first day of the month preceding your desired date. For me, that meant a note to self:  Call EMP on 12.1.18 for a reservation on 1.8.19.  That worked; #2 was done.  As for #1, I’ll just say it’s pricey for sure. Full payment (including gratuity) is required at the time the booking is made.  There’s no additional tipping; more about that later.  So alcohol is what’s due at the end of the meal.  As for #3, “worth” is a subjective term.  Let’s just say any expectation was more than exceeded.  Their three Michelin Stars and top-of-the-list ranking on the World’s Best list are well deserved.

A week prior to our reservation, I received a lengthy email from my “person” who would greet us at the front desk.  She had a number of inquiries — are we celebrating anything; food allergies; anything else they should know.  This advance communication was really impressive.  I wrote a lengthy reply with details about our trip to NY.  I also requested the opportunity to meet the proprietors Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (who worked together at the original EMP and ultimately bought out founder Danny Meyer).  Could we see the kitchen was a big request.  Lastly, I stressed NO CILANTRO!  Laura and I had several exchanges so that when we finally met, a warmth had already been established followed by hugs.

The building that houses EMP is a registered historical landmark, originally built in 1906 in art deco style.  The restaurant seats about 80 (close to max for a Michelin restaurant) but is cavernous inside due to high ceilings and enormous windows looking out on Madison Park.   Tables are generously proportioned; the hubby and I sat side-by-side on a banquette to watch all the action.   Bar seating is also available with a different menu featuring fewer courses.

The wine list is vast — we learned there are 21,000 bottles on the premises with seven full-time sommeliers.  There is a wine room currently under construction for future dining opportunities.  Our young friend Watson looked barely old enough to be serving alcohol, let alone be an accomplished somm.  A Patrick Corbineau Cab Franc was selected  (we enjoyed a different varietal of his the previous night at Daniel).  Watson employed a spectacular decanting method (at our request) usually reserved for much older bottles and port in particular where there is concern the cork might be bad.  The neck of the bottle is removed, sealed with wax (no jagged edges!) and then given to guests in an acrylic case. Here’s a video of this unique and amazing process:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpOz1PCTpa4

We had a few course choices (fish, meat, primary dessert), but otherwise dishes were presented one after another in remarkable vessels obviously designed just so.  They were rich thus justifiably on the small side which was just fine as the course count was high by the end.  Photos and descriptions (clockwise from upper left) are neither in the order eaten nor complete as one can only cover so much …

Lobster; Fennel Salad; Black Truffle Souffle with Leek and Potato; Scallop
Veal with Bitter Greens and Pear; Striped Bass with Shitake Mushrooms; Roasted Pumpkin; Glazed Duck with Napa Cabbage/Pear

Of the numerous aspects that made this experience stand out, I’ll cite two.  Midway through the dinner, a lovely woman from “Guest Relations” approached our table and asked if we were ready to tour the kitchen.  We were escorted through an entrance leading to a vast space (guessing about 2,000 sf) of gleaming surfaces, smiling staff bustling about as we tried not to interfere.   A fun and brief quiz was given as to the main ingredient of three apple drinks made before us (allspice, coriander and one other).  We then chatted with Chef de Cuisine Brian Lockwood who seemed unphased engaging us while overseeing his massive staff.  After the visit we were escorted out a different door and back to our table.  It was extraordinary.

At the apple tasting station and Chef Lockwood keeping a watch over his shoulder. The pastry station can also be seen.

The second standout was this:  We left after 3.5 hours in order to have a nightcap with a dear friend in town, taking with us some parting gifts but not the menu.  I was contacted by EMP that night to inquire where we were staying (and for how long) so they could messenger the menu to our hotel before we departed.  A package was delivered the next morning and, as if that weren’t enough, along with the menus was the aforementioned small case containing the wine bottle top.  Inside the case, EMP returned the gratuity we left when we paid for our wine.  In other words, when they say your gratuity is included in your prepayment, they mean it.  Nothing additional is accepted.  Holy crap.  I even confirmed this with my buddy Laura to make sure this is standard procedure and not special treatment for us before writing this.

How to summarize?  One doesn’t start out dining like this.  If one is considering this experience, I suggest starting out a bit more modestly in the world of fine dining and working up to it.  It’s not for everyone for sure. For all of you who “eat to live,” this experience would surely be a waste.  But for others who can and want to appreciate the extraordinary detail that goes into an exceptional and memorable restaurant experience, I say go.  It’s that simple.  I will certainly forever remember my 65th birthday dinner.

Pumpkin Cake; Apple Brandy and insane Chocolate Pretzel, Apple Donut (my fave!); Chocolate with Chai and Gingerbread
The menu – custom printed with each course, fanfolded into a small tin – and some take-home granola.
Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

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I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.