Things You Should Know

Things You Should KnowU.S. TravelWining/Dining

FAMILY THANKSGIVING IN NAPA

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If you have either been to Napa and/or know those who have, the concensus is clear.  It appeals on so many different levels to so many people.

Nonetheless, every travel experience contains at least one head-scratcher.  Our flight from Burbank to Oakland was flawless, arriving early with a half-full plane. However,  the rental car pick up was anything but “flawless.”  Remember the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry has a car reservation, but there’s no car available? Bingo. “Anyone can T A K E a reservation,” a frustrated Jerry says to the woman behind the counter.  “But you have to H O L D the reservation.” How exactly does a car rental company have no cars for their bookings?  Fortunately, steps away from Fox was Avis who solved the problem and off we went.

Silverado Country Club offers spacious units with three bedrooms and two baths so that was our choice.  Our family of four could spread out, bring in food for breakfast with the full kitchen and be very comfortable.  COVID meant none of the typical services, but the front desk responded promptly to all our requests.

Over the course of the week, our adventures would satisfy the most dedicated oenophiles.  Son Sam created and with the hubby operates a family enterprise, The Cellar Beverly Hills.  Now in our third year, we offer private wine storage with concierge services and much more.  Given the business has been built almost entirely by word of mouth, imagine our collective glee hearing from a prominent winery that TCBH is quite well known among Wine Country vinters. We were ecstatic.

The images below are from Wheeler, a custom crush facility where we had a tasting from Accendo Cellars.  The bottom photo is Wheeler’s open kitchen (to die for).

Make no mistake — this was a working trip.  Thanksgiving provided a much-needed respite, but the rest of the days were spent making and enhancing winery relationships (21 in all).  If you want to help this area from a devastating year — not just from COVID closures but the fires — buy wine!

We did our part.

Along with wine, the other joy of Napa is eating lots of great food.  Because there are so many choices, strategy was needed to try everywhere we wanted to go.  A couple of restaurants were nixed because of closing for the transition to complete outdoor dining (Avow and The Charter Oak).  A mix of new and old made up the rest:  Mustard’s Grill, Oenotri, Bistro Don Giovani, Celadon, Gott’s Roadside (a must), Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch and our favorite, Poesia in San Francisco.

Tasting at Hartford in Sonoma

You should know a word about outdoor dining this time of year. It’s cold. Very, very cold.  When the sun goes down, Napa drops at least 20 degrees. Every night was mid-40’s. One night required keeping my gloves on between the courses.  The establishments do their best with heaters but those unfortunately don’t reach one’s feet. Brrrr.

Mustard’s on Hwy 29
Celadon entrance

Poesia was a last-minute find for Thanksgiving dinner.  The food (shown below) was fantastic but even more fun was Pietro, the crazy, animated, fun and enthusiastic caretaker of our table.  This Italian/Jewish/filmmaker might just show up on our doorstep one day.  Prego!

Above (clockwise from upper left):  Eggplant parm, Cabbage salad with pears, walnuts & goat cheese; incredible rigatoni marinara; ravioli with pumpkin filling, sage and balsamic.

Below, the quartet of desserts:  Hazelnut gelato with hard chocolate shell; (take the gun but leave the) cannoli; millefoglie with apple; tiramisu.  All magnifico!

Pietro at Poesia

A few precious and careful visits with friends and family were icing on the proverbial cake to this spectacular week.  As a result, layers of ongoing and much welcomed (small) gatherings were added with cousin visits in Silverado, San Francisco and Lafayette.  We got in a quick coffee in Sebastopol with a high school friend, along with tastings at Jeff Cohn Cellars and Littorai in Sonoma.

Touring Mayacamas

Napa continues to be one of the best — if not the best — vacation destinations there is, so go!

Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel

NEVER WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY: A VISIT TO THE CAROLINA’S

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When a great fare was “scored” via American Airlines for an arguably optimistic June trip to Anguilla only to have the island remained closed, a quick decision was made to go anyway.  Obviously not to the island, but rather keeping the round trip flights to and from Charlotte.  I have found the upside to these travel disruptions is a seemingly greater flexibility and willingness on the part of the airlines (at least AA) to make changes.  The original fare included “free” system-wide upgrade awards (meaning flying up front without using miles); that somewhat played a role in the decision.

My curiosity about flying during COVID has been satisfied.  Here’s my report:   The TSA folks have managed to create a “no touch” procedure.  Rather than handing over your ID, they ask you hold it next to your face for comparison, and they remain behind plexiglass.  There are distancing signs as well as cleaning crews everywhere.  Masks, are of course, required in the terminal.  Few food stores were open, but it was a very early flight.

On board the flight, masks are required at all times except if a passenger is eating or drinking.  Even though this was a cross-country flight of more than four hours, there was no beverage service although we were able to request drinks after take-off.   Snack bags were provided at boarding:  a small water bottle, a bag of corn nuts and a wipe.  Upon landing, deplaning is like leaving a funeral — stay in your seat until the row in front of you has exited.  The directions were somewhat adhered to.  All in all, the whole experience was uneventful.

Worth the wait!

The year 2020 for us has been about visiting new states as opposed to new countries.  With this trip, my count is 46 out of 50 (still missing: Maine, Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama), of which I am very proud.  Neither the hubby nor I had been to the Carolina’s.  Again, it didn’t take long to map out the 11-night itinerary.  There’s so much to see, the trip could easily be longer.  It is a relief to have “short” drives to the various stops, as opposed to 400-500 miles on average covered daily in the recent road trip.

NASCAR HQ

As for Charlotte, it is immediately apparent why this has become one of America’s best cities in which to reside.  The hubby and I seriously considered leaving CA maybe 10 years ago.  We took a survey that asks what your priorities are for a city and then tells you what location best suits your criteria.  Charlotte was at the top of the list for both of us.  When our kids settled in LA for their careers after college, we decided to stay put.

Downtown Charlotte

The city is a sprawling metropolis but at the same time is easy to navigate with some beautiful residential areas. Gracious homes on generous lots is very different from what we So Cal dwellers are accustomed to — not to mention how much less the cost is for much more house.  Of course there were some delicious food finds; one is depicted in the photos below from Flour Shop.  Bank of America headquarters anchors downtown Charlotte along with their beloved Panthers’ stadium, Hornets’ arena and a beautiful new stadium for the AAA baseball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  My personal favorite — Lowe’s — is likewise based in Charlotte, together with more than a dozen Fortune 1000 companies.  Big city opportunities, southern charm and four distinct seasons.  All that’s needed is an MLB franchise.

Next stop:  Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill — aka The Triangle.

Jerry Richardson brought the Panthers to Charlotte.

 

Help!  Where can I see a game?
International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

LOOK WHAT I FOUND!

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Does anyone NOT spend a lot of time on the internet in the course of researching and planning travel?  I think not.  It was in this spirit that I was noodling around and thought for fun I would Google myself.  I know, you’ve never done that; right?

Most of what I found I knew … no, I don’t have a criminal record nor am I a deadbeat.  But on about the fourth page, I found a link to an article I wrote in 2015!  And it’s held up quite well.  While I’ve writing/posting as “Travel with Teri B” since 2012, this website is just two years old.  That means the link to the column has not  previously been shared.  And so here you are from Travel Post Monthly:

Eating in Spain: “Basqueing” in the Glow of San Sebastian

View from Hotel Maria Cristina

Oh, how I remember the meals so well:  Arzak, Martin Berasategui (possibly my favorite restaurant ever) … the extraordinary Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and the beautiful Hotel Maria Cristina.  I’m often asked about favorite places and/or return visits.  San Sebastian is at the top of my list.

So enjoy this piece from a few years ago.  Que aproveche!

 

Composed salad at Martin Berasategui
International TravelThings You Should Know

WHY PANAMA?

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When one needs to reuse airfare, the most important aspect is calendaring the expiration date!  It’s likely fair to say that many a cancelled fare has been forgotten and never used.  I know I have done that.  Put the expiration date in your calendar, or keep the original reservation sheet in your travel folder, or wherever is your best place to keep track of it.

Most of the Panama City skyline did not exist 10 years ago ..

In this case, 2019 Boston travel plans changed resulting in unused fare on American.  We had until April 2020 or the credit would go bye-bye.  Early January is the best (and only) time the hubby is free to travel during tax season — plus it happens to coincide with my birthday.  So, where to go???

Nowhere with snow or I’d be traveling solo.  It’s high season in the Caribbean with crazy rates.  The South Pacific is on the to-do list, but will need to wait.  I started looking at Central American countries.  Panama unanimously gets positive feedback from other travelers who have been.  We wanted to see the canal without going on a cruise.  A moderate downside is American routes through Miami (at least from LA), with a plane change then another 2.5 hours to Panama.   If you have a choice, either Copa or United fly nonstop from LA.  Still, Panama got the nod.

Long Miami layover allowed for lunch at Joe’s Stone Crabs with the hubby’s family — Uncle Mike & Shelley of Boynton.

I was thrilled to see how affordable the hotel rates are!  Your dollar goes far with accommodations, meals and most everything else.  The experience is easy — Panama is on both the USD and the same electrical current — and most folks are English speaking.

1. Accommodations

After initially booking the Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort, I followed a frequent visitor’s suggestion to stay right in the city so I changed us to the JW Marriott.  That turned out to be a mistake as there were significant renovations impacting the pool experience among other issues there.

Poolside at the Santa Maria with the golf course in the background.

Here’s where one of my favorite topics — Brand Loyalty — played a huge role.  Both properties are under the Marriott umbrella.  Upon explaining our situation, the JWM general manager without hesitation facilitated our move to our original choice, providing a car and driver for the transfer.  The same rate was honored.  We were welcomed at the Santa Maria literally with open arms.  But it gets better.  Gorgeous flowers arrived two days later on my birthday from the JWM manager with lovely wishes.  That’s what I call customer service 101.  Brilliant.

Feeling the birthday love, all courtesy of the hotels.

2. Visiting the Canal

A trip to Panama is not complete without some tour of the Canal, whether via cruise ship or our choice of going to the Miraflores Visitor Center.  An excellent documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman at the adjacent Imax theater provided the history of the canal from which I learned a great deal.  And then we waited on a viewing deck for an enormous ship to pass through (one of forty in a 24-hour cycle).  Patience is key as it is very slow going, about one hour to transcend a particular lock.  In the end, it’s fascinating to see the canal in “action.”

Jockeying for position to capture a photo of the vessel heading down the Miraflores Lock.
From our guide’s phone — apps that show all Canal traffic and descriptions of the vessels.
Near side full and far side empty. Remarkable engineering.
With Robert Valencia, our excellent guide.
Two trains on each side attached by cables pull this enormous vessel through the lock. A captain up top guides a ship from the beginning to end.

3.  Fit for Foodies

A birthday dinner at Maito (#17 on the San Pelligrino Top 50 in Latin America) was a great experience.  It’s hard to pinpoint a specific “Panamanian” cuisine.  We had everything during our visit from fresh fish to terrific and authentic pizza to a French bistro preparing steak tartare tableside.   With the very large and observant Jewish population, Kosher restaurants are abundant and we’re told excellent.

Above from Maito (clockwise from upper left):  Kale with fresh hearts of palm; tacos; Cline Pinot from Sonoma; Banana Napolean; Coconut Ice Cream in Chocolate Shell; flat iron steak — all excellent!

Authentic French bistro in the old town.

4.  My Takeaway

Scenic.  Safe.  Affordable.   Three key phrases to entice travelers for a visit plus expats and retirees looking to possibly relocate to this terrific destination.

Cheers! We had a great time …
Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

WHY LOYALTY MATTERS …

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Repeated robocalls.  Anyone not sick of them? The hubby answers far many more of them at home than I do, and even engages some of them to my ever astonishment.  So when the phone rang and showed American Airlines as the caller he answered — and this one was for real, with the caller asking to speak to me.

“Hi, Mrs. Bialosky, this is so-and-so from the American Airlines Platinum desk calling to congratulate you on recently achieving Lifetime Platinum status!  May I give you our dedicated phone line?  Let me know when you’re ready to write down the number.”

 

Loyalty pays.  Recognition, free bags, early boarding, upgrades, more mileage rewarded, lounge access among other perks.  But just being thanked and acknowledged for loyalty says it all.  And it only took me a little over 32 years to achieve!

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