Things You Should Know

Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

WHERE TO TRAVEL … AND WHERE NOT!

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A recent Forbes column I received had all kinds of travel warnings for 2020.  The information is important to all of us; thus, here you go.  Let’s start with the good news — places where you’re least likely to encounter danger.  Regrettably, safety cannot be promised to anyone at anytime.  Didn’t your mother ever warn you about getting hit by a bus??  The list in no particular order:

Now, for the no-no’s — most of which are pretty obvious.  Again, these are in no particular order:

  • Libya
  • Syria
  • Iraq
  • Yemen
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Central African Republic
  • Part of the Congo (DRC)
  • Part of eastern Ukraine
  • Mali
  • Parts of Pakistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Part of Egypt

For the excellent full column by Laura Begley Bloom, click here.  I wish you all safe and fulfilling travels in 2020.  Whatever you do, don’t let the ba*#@rds keep you from seeing the world.

 

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe 2016
Snippets from the RoadThings You Should KnowU.S. Travel

EVERYONE’S “FAVORITE” DESTINATION :: THE DMV

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In anticipation of my driver’s license expiring on my upcoming January birthday, I scheduled an appointment to get it renewed and take care of getting a REAL ID.  You’re probably aware that the government has set October 2020 as the date to have either a REAL ID or Passport to board a domestic flight.  Obviously, the REAL ID is far easier than carrying one’s passport around.

After waiting two months for my designated appointment, I showed up with my driver’s license and passport but neglected to bring two other forms of identification — mainly my social security card and perhaps a utility bill or something of that nature.  I renewed my license but was not able to secure the REAL ID.  The good news is the total time spent at the DMV was just 45 minutes.  But –and don’t tell my hubby who asked if I was all prepared — a return trip is required.

Not wanting to wait, I went online to make another appointment.  You’ll never guess the outcome:  They DON’T want me back until earliest 2022!! Why is that?? Well, my newly renewed license expires in 2025 and my Passport in 2027.  So this was their response:

Your federal identification is valid through at least 2022, and you may use it to board a domestic flight or enter secure federal facilities such as military bases, federal courthouses, and other federal offices. We recommend holding off getting a REAL ID until your state or federal identification expires, whichever comes first.

Considering getting it now anyway?
We admire your enthusiasm! However, we expect demand for REAL ID to be very high in the next two years, and we are asking those whose REAL ID needs are not urgent to please wait so that we may serve urgent needs first. We appreciate your understanding, cooperation, and patience.

As much as I WANT to believe this, I’m not even sure I can safely rely on the response.  As the hubby said (I did tell him), you’re going to trust this information as gospel?  Hmmm, what would you do??

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know

DECISIONS, DECISIONS …

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In the course of doing some long-range travel planning — for Spring 2021, no less — I have gotten two proposals for safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  Africa is the one destination that requires significant advance planning as the safari camps can have as few as 6 accommodations and fill up quickly, especially during peak travel periods.  Our trip is during the “slower” months, but still it’s good to book out in advance.  In fact, I was able to secure 2020 rates by booking early.

A beautiful lioness. All photos from previous trip in 2016.

Africa is also a destination that requires the help of professional tour companies.  It is so complex to move from location to location that I (as both a seasoned traveler and planner for others) wouldn’t even attempt it.  I went back to an excellent provider who arranged two previous trips — &beyond.  At the suggestion of a friend who has made numerous trips to Africa,  I likewise engaged African Travel Resources (ATR) to see what they could offer.

King of the Jungle couldn’t care less that we observed.
The elusive leopard.

I literally have streams of emails from both providers.  African safaris are unquestionably one of the most expensive trips to take.  Start with the distance (and travel time) to get to the continent.  Then, once there, it is costly to move around for 10 or 12 or more days from location to location for extraordinary “camps” in the middle of nowhere providing an indescribable experience.  It is also incredibly worth it if one can evaluate such a thing.

Elephants sipping and reflecting.

The dilemma?  How to make the decision.  Having spent my adult career in sales, I know that being on the wrong side of a bid is disappointing.  One invests a lot of time and effort to “get the order.”  The hubby and I were literally at the point of throwing a dart to make our pick.  In the end, the decision was to go with ATR.  Once made and deposit paid,  I wrote a lengthy email to my &beyond Travel Specialist explaining everything.  She was “beyond” gracious, wished me well on our Kenya and Tanzania safari and hopes to have the opportunity to work together again.  Indeed.  I look forward to it.

The colors of Africa.
Snippets from the RoadThings I LoveThings You Should Know

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

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Kindness.  What do I mean by that?  Specifically in the context of people one encounters while traveling.  I believe that reluctance to engage when traveling might have more to do with inhibition or being self-conscious about not speaking correctly or a myriad of other reasons when folks generally do want to engage.  But someone must make the first move.

Three examples reminded me of this.  The first happened to my sister and her husband in Japan.  She tells it like this:

“An amazing moment of human kindness: realizing we might be on the wrong train back to Tokyo (I know, shocking), I tried typing in the name of the correct station on my phone. The young man (maybe 20 years old) sitting next to me sees this, taps me on the arm and starts talking to me via his phone translating Japanese to English. He tells me we are, indeed, going in the wrong direction and then says ‘I will guide you to your train.’ We exit at the next stop and then follow him to the right platform, where he makes sure we know where to go from there – and then he runs off to get back to his train! All this for two strangers, in the middle of rush hour.”

The second is from a trip to South Korea a few years ago.  The hubby and I were going to a baseball game.  We had a print-out of the ticket order but needed to find the Will-Call window.  A young man saw us and not only offered to help but escorted us to the window, spoke Korean to the person in charge and then waited to show us to our seats.  Regrettably there’s no photo of our Good Samaritan, but a couple from the game.

We could have used help with the scoreboard!

Last year in Moscow, we were attempting to find our restaurant in the midst of a parade with very crowded sidewalks.  A young woman noticed us trying to read our map and offered to help.  Again, not only did she provide unsolicited guidance but she walked the several blocks with us until we arrived at our designated spot.  And we learned a lot about each other along the way.

Whenever I see people taking photos, I offer to take the picture so they can be in it together.  Not everyone accepts (and most laugh when the hubby inserts himself in their photo), but I feel better for having done so.

My takeaway is this:  Make the first move.  Ask for guidance.  Engage.  We all benefit from simple acts of kindness.

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know

PUERTO VALLARTA FOR WEEKEND WEDDING

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There’s no question attending a destination wedding is a commitment.  For the hubby and me, even though attending meant leaving the country again a mere four days after returning from three weeks in Southeast Asia, the decision required little thought.  When very dear friends invite you to share a joyful occasion in their lives, you go.  Barring an Act of God, there isn’t much else to discuss.  Were the timing different, we would have stayed an additional day.  But declining the invitation was never part of the equation.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and venture that most of us have been to weddings where the invitation and/or attendance has been “obligatory.”  By that I mean there’s not a deep relationship with perhaps the wedding party, or it’s a business relationship.  This is a friendship that goes back more than 25 years.  We have witnessed the bride essentially grow up and mature — with a bit of typical parental angst as part of the journey.  So to share the ultimate happy moment was something really special.

The destination was the Grand Velas Resort — one of many in Puerto Vallarta offering all-inclusive packages.  There are spacious rooms, multiple pools, food and drinks galore and easy beach access.  We arrived on a Friday afternoon and departed Sunday afternoon, never walking more than 10 minutes anywhere.  That included the the pool, restaurant and wedding festivities.  It was perfect.

But here’s the thing about traveling to Mexico.  Beginning with entering the terminal, there can be a lot of confusion as to which personnel at the various counters are actually in charge.  “We’re from the government” was a familiar way to grab our attention (they weren’t).  The central contact for this wedding had provided us with directions for where to go for our pre-arranged transportation.  If one made the leap to ask where to find this, that led to “that’s us!  We can take you!” They weren’t of course. With some language barriers, it can become quite a frustrating situation when one just wants to get to the destination and not be pitched on a timeshare property.  Give credit to the Mexicans, they can be very creative in handling tourists.

A glimpse of the pool; the hubby with matron of honor Leslie; Shabbat blessing at the rehearsal dinner

Here’s my take on all-inclusive resorts:  I think they are ideal for families with children.  Trying to please fussy eaters on random schedules can take away from the parents actually enjoying themselves.  Were guests to actually pay for all that food and drink, their bill would no doubt be higher.  But — much like cruises — this type of property is not something I would opt for given the choice.  I will reiterate — it was perfect for this wedding.  And US News & World Report ranked the resort #1 for best all-inclusive resorts in Puerta Vallarta.  Click on this link to see the entire list.

About our Houston friends, this completes the wedding cycle for their four offspring, which events have allowed us to get to know their other friends and family.  Kudos to the them for planning yet another beautiful and heartfelt event.

Below:  Fred & Kay Zeidman walk beautiful bride Nancy down the aisle, having been preceded by the nephews; the bride’s brothers and groom’s mom under the Chuppah.

Below after the ceremony, us with the happy parents.  The morning after, it’s possible one of us could have used a bit more sleep … and Advil.

Wishing every joy to Mr. & Mrs. Cory Accardo!

As the sun set over the horizon, we were filled with gratitude for the friendships in our lives.  There is much to be thankful for …

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

HONG KONG; PLUS WINNERS & LOSERS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

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If you want to know why I’m so big on brand loyalty, how we were graciously treated for all of a few hours in Hong Kong says it all.  “A few hours” in this case means landing around 2pm and departing at midnight.  It’s roughly 30-40 minutes via taxi from the airport to most of the city.  Our bags were checked through to Los Angeles, so there was no waiting for luggage.  We each had a carry-on.

Once we got to the airport’s very fast and efficient taxi line after clearing customs, it was not much after 3pm when we made it to the Central part of Hong Kong (the other main part is Kowloon, separated by the bay).  The driver waited briefly while the hubby acquired some local currency, just enough for to pay for our cabs and some tips.  Where were we?

At the Four Seasons Hong Kong, courtesy of a call from our friends at their sister hotel in Kuala Lumpur where we had just stayed.  We were familiar with the hotel from a previous visit to Hong Kong in 2017.  So instead of watching the clock at the airport, we had the most lovely afternoon — first in the hotel’s Executive Club, followed by a quick clean up and clothes change in the spa.  We then walked to the Landmark complex (a shopper’s dream come true and location of a newer Mandarin Oriental hotel) for our spectacular “last supper” at  L’Atelier Joel Robuchon.  By 9pm, we were back at the hotel to gather our belongings and were then transported swiftly to the airport for the flight home.  We have great appreciation for their lovely hospitality and plan on returning the next time we are in Asia.

A colossus of cuisine was lost in August last year when Chef Robuchon died at age 73, having been awarded 32 stars total in his lifetime — a record.  His imprimatur lives on in his signature style and exquisite cuisine.  I believe his teams are committed to carry on his traditions and high standards.  If there’s one of his restaurants where this big spring trip takes us, we’ll be there — this was our fourth visit (previously in Hong Kong, plus last year in Paris and before that London).  In the U.S., there are locations in New York’s Meatpacking District and in Las Vegas at the MGM.

Below:  One actually can live on bread and wine .. and spectacular butter.  Fourteen varieties of bread, all made daily on the premises, and all incredible.

Below, top row:  bird’s eye view into the kitchen, aka “L’atelier” (workshop); artistic burrata and tomatoes; bottom row: the best baby lamb chops; make that one can live on bread, wine AND chocolate.  The establishment is well deserving of their three Michelin stars.

Below: 26 seconds of Hong Kong on a remarkably bright, clear day — from the hotel’s 46th floor balcony:

 

Hong Kong was the end of our three weeks for Spring 2019.  Here are my “winners & losers” from this trip:

WINNERS:

Vietnam.  There’s a reason virtually everyone comes away having enjoyed their time in this country.  Great people, food, culture.

Vietnam Airlines:  Five flights, all on time, great service.  I would fly EVA again as well (Taiwan’s airline).  Cathay Airlines is always great — I am happy they are an American/One World partner.

Four Seasons Hotels:  I don’t get compensated for my recommendations (why is that?); I simply think they do a great job. Rosewood Hotels is right up there as well.  Whatever your brand is, be consistent and let management know when they do something right, not just when you have a complaint.

Advance planning:  It pays off in spades.  Visas.  Airport greeters.  Tours.  Pre-arranged and nothing missed.

Malaysia:  Very enjoyable and our 70th country, therefore a winner!

Asia travel in general:  The tendency for so many Americans is to head east (i.e., Europe).  I say go west! For U.S travelers living west of the Mississippi, traveling to numerous gateways is easy.   So much to do and see in so many countries.  And it can be done very economically.  And a whole lot easier to get award seats.

LOSER:

Humidity.  Enough said.

And that’s a wrap.