Destinations

International TravelThings I Love

A SEAMLESS START

IMG_20210418_121547 (2)

When the time to depart finally arrived, I was quite nervous.  After so many blips, changes and uncertainties (see previous post), we were finally airborne.  Changing our arrival in Africa from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam meant an extra flight, but leaving from Burbank Airport (to Seattle) is so swift and hassle free that it was worth it.   Best news is no touching our bags until the “final destination” — which is such a creepy saying.  Need to think of an alternative.  Suggestions?

Stunning Mt. Ranier from the plane

The hubby and I like to think it was an auspicious start to the trip to have the Bruin track team on the flight.  I asked if we should start an “8 clap” and that got everyone’s attention.  We chatted about the epic Final Four and in particular our allegiance to the blue & gold.  My goodness, they were so young!

For the next leg, 14 hours from Seattle to Doha (via the north pole) is daunting, but this was a pleasure.  With a half-full cabin, the staff were even more attentive.  And how can one not love an airplane bathroom where you can actually turn around (and change clothes comfortably).  Highly recommend Qatar Airways, especially if you are part of the One World Alliance (American and British Air, etc.)

My roomy and comfy cabin aboard Qatar.

 

Breakfast is served

The eight-hour Doha layover was limited to the airport per covid restrictions.  But Hamad International rivals Singapore’s Changi in facilities, albeit on a smaller scale.   The endless stream of green-jacket-wearing assistants provided carts and guidance throughout the transfer process.  Maybe it is due to my Platinum status on American or they mistook us for foreign royals, but honestly we just went with the flow.  Except when they kept offering us wheelchairs for some reason.  I later found out American thought I had requested this, which I did not.  At least it wasn’t due to assumed gimpyness of us.

Qatar Lounge
Meal #??? en route at the airport lounge

We finally arrived in Dar es Salaam, but for just two hours.   A short flight to Kilaminjaro Airport in Arusha followed with zero view of the iconic mountain due to clouds.  The flight departed as soon as everyone was on board, a good 15 minutes early.  No “we are cleared for takeoff” or “we are fifth in line for departure.”  Rev up those propellers and take off, with the Arusha arrival 25 minutes early.

Aboard Precision Air

Rivertrees Country Inn provided a perfect overnight to get our sea legs.  We loved a long chat with fellow guest Melvin from the UK.  When I asked about his itinerary, he said “I left for three weeks and that was five months ago.”  Can you imagine?  He had one small bag while buying and discarding clothes as needed per weather requirements.  Interesting way to travel, to say the least.  He traveled to Arusha from Dar es Salaam via train.  What took us just over an hour took him 22 hours with no stops in between.  We’ll stick with the planes, thank you very much.

Next stop:  safari in Central Serengeti.

Usa River
Rivertrees Country Inn

 

Snippets from the Road

PLEASE, NO MORE CHANGES!

fingers-crossed-image-for-blog-post

It’s a very good thing that I love trip planning because the time spent finalizing this itinerary has been rather inordinate.   And that’s a proverbial understatement.

Not long ago, I posted a blog (click HERE) about just how complicated it is to plan an international trip at this particular time due to Covid uncertainties.  Or maybe it’s just because of this destination.  Regardless, that itinerary became moot a week ago and a new one was suggested, agreed upon, and flights were changed.  Again.

We’re now at zero minus 2 days until departure.  Vaccinated to the hilt, results in hand, Covid tested (the first of many for this trip), we are packed and good to go.  We hope.  Maybe just a bit of praying involved.  Our new map is below.  It does look like a lot of moving about, but the flights are mostly short within Tanzania and Uganda. And it is fascinating to see the landscape between destinations.   As for Kenya, we have a brief layover  through Nairobi as they have new restrictions in place prohibiting seeing more of that country.   Trip highlights, starting from the lower right:

Tanzania:  Dar es Salaam (plane change only) to Arusha (near Mt. Kilimanjaro) to Serengeti East to Ngorongoro Crater.

Uganda:  Entebbe, Bwindi Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest (all in the western part).

Back to Entebbe to Nairobi to exit the continent.

 

Fingers crossed, the next post will be from on the ground in Tanzania.  Stay tuned ..

International TravelThings You Should Know

AND THE AWARD GOES TO …

FIRST PRIZE

For “Best understanding and navigating the complicated world of travel restrictions,” the award goes to :: Anyone who prevails, especially internationally.  I will gladly accept my blue ribbon (after untold hours spent).

Many of us might just cry “Uncle.”  Our family trip to Italy has been rescheduled twice since 2020 and is now calendared for November.  For me and the hubby, this year’s trip was always going to be Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), but what a ride it’s been.  And we haven’t even left yet.

Industrial-strength desire and patience is a must in the planning stages.  It might be tempting for some to think its just too much work to pull off a trip.  And is anyone truly patient?  I know I’m not.  Just when one is certain the itinerary is settled, a new wrinkle appears.  I could fill up a recycling bin with printed copies of reservations made and cancelled.

A LATE CHANGE

The biggest surprise, literally just contemplated and confirmed a few days ago, is Tanzania is out and Uganda is in.  That means in addition to the traditional “Big 5” — lions/leopards/elephants/rhinos/buffalo — we are including gorillas and chimps, oh my!  Until recently, I thought Rwanda was the only place to go for gorilla trekking.  In reality, there are some 400 of these amazing creatures in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest where we’re headed.

The staff at Africa Travel Resource have been extraordinary throughout the process.  Numerous itineraries were offered.  They weighed in with pros and cons.  They have continuously sent clients on safari in spite of the challenges from the pandemic and know the terrain extremely well.

THE JOURNEY THERE

The first hurdle?  Getting to the African continent with travel rules that change daily.  There are few routes (via American Airlines partners) where one is able to “transfer” through a destination.  That means arriving somewhere but not entering the country (i.e., outside immigration).  Instead, the onward travel to the next destination simply continues within the confines of the airport. This avoids any of the country’s quarantine requirements.  Even an overnight at an airport hotel might require quarantine; thus avoid!

A case in point of how airport transfers can become a nightmare:  We once had a plane change in Sri Lanka.  Since we weren’t technically entering the country, I didn’t apply for Visas.  Lo and behold, the Sri Lankans considered going to the baggage carousel to gather our bags for the next flight (on a different airline) to be “entering the country.”  Long lines, language barriers, and a ticking clock to the next departure equaled major stress.  Singapore Airlines more than earned their best airline status by helping us through the calamity.

By the way, if the Sri Lanka episode happens to you, be firm about not missing your next flight.  We were told that there was no way we would make it.  But because of polite persistence and some absolute insistence, we indeed made the flight.  (More about that subject is covered in a previous post linked HERE).

Thus I feel positively victorious to be flying from Los Angeles to Nairobi on just two flights in a mere 22 hours.  We have one plane change in Doha, Qatar, for two hours.  I used 75,000 AA miles per person for the flights on Qatar Airlines. Even with the first leg at 15-1/2 hours, I’m looking forward to experiencing their Q-Suites.

We’re scheduled for the required COVID test just prior to leaving Los Angeles.  Kenya requires proof of a negative test (not more than 96 hours old) for entry to the country.  From there, no quarantine is required so off we go.

The trip map

I will write more later about the rest of the journey.  I’m just happy to be able to finally focus on all that needs to be done before we leave in a few short weeks.  That is a great joy indeed.

Things You Should KnowU.S. TravelWining/Dining

FAMILY THANKSGIVING IN NAPA

IMG_20201127_135754

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!

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

DEEP IN THE HEART (AND SOUTH) OF TEXAS

IMG_20201029_160623

The recent trip to Texas for the glorious World Series was not just about attending the games.  There was more to do and enjoy in the Lonestar State, starting with some pretty great meals.  I know; that’s shocking.  First in Dallas followed by a couple days with our Houston friends.

Sightseeing:  Highland Park and Preston Hollow for spectacular homes; SMU Campus including the George W. Bush Presidential Library (currently closed)

Dallas digs:  AC Hotels by Marriott, a new brand (to me) — upscale, modern and very reasonable! Under $1oo per night for spacious king.

Dallas restaurants:   The Mercury and Yardbird (first grid); Terry Black’s for excellent BBQ in Deep Ellum — a very hip area located near Baylor U (second grid).

Terry Black’s food and outdoor smokers

Next, we hightailed it down to Houston to spend a couple days with our longtime friends there (Kay & Fred Zeidman). For the Houston dining, highlights were Kenny & Ziggy’s deli (“We Schlep Nationwide” via Goldbelly), Killen’s BBQ (fabulous!) plus Porta’Vino and somehow DQ always seems to pop up and we can’t resist.

Ziggy (in mask) makes terrific food!
Killen’s BBQ killed it!
Porta’Vino

We’re always sad to leave our Texas friends — especially after this particularly spectacular visit.  We even loved seeing Fred’s WS ring from the Nats organization — we “countered” in our Dodger gear.  Can’t wait to see y’all again!

 

Lapdog Willa felt just like home.

 

 

U.S. Travel

THE CAROLINA’S :: HILTON HEAD, BEAUFORT AND HOME AGAIN

IMG_20200625_172220

Note:  Sorry for the long delay in this final post from the June trip to the Carolina’s.  Life intervened but happy to be back with this wrap up and future posts to follow! 

The idyllic setting at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island was just the ticket to wrap up our swing through both of the Carolina’s (see previous posts here).  It’s an easy drive down the highway from Charleston to the general area.  The hubby was in charge of finding a place for lunch prior to arriving at our hotel.

To say that he entered nirvana at Magiamo in Hilton Head is the proverbial understatement for this year or any other.  The restaurant happens to have very good pizza, but the food is completely secondary to the experience as the “home away from home for The Ohio State Buckeyes.”

“You can’t believe all the stuff here!!”
Memorabilia from other Ohio teams

From the moment one enters, it is literally Buckeye memorabilia covering every inch.  Signed and framed jerseys, game balls, newspaper articles, enormous photos from big wins and every other item one can imagine.  The one that truly “hits below the belt” is shown in the photo below, a testament to the depth of the Michigan rivalry.  We’re told that game viewing is insane, probably second only to being at The Shoe (aka Ohio Stadium).

Ouch .. the ultimate diss.
Oh, what a game! Hubby and son were there.

If living in a gated golf community is what you desire, then Hilton Head is your place.  Once on the island, we passed innumerable entryways to communities.  We walked past what appeared to be multi-unit buildings, town homes and single-family residences — all part of the Harbor Town area.  It seemed like everyone was riding bikes, even at night when it was too dark to see a street sign!

Harbor area.

As with the recent road trip, our itinerary was routed to include another high school reunion.  In nearby Beaufort, SC, en route back to Charlotte for the flight home, we visited two LA transplants. We had a great time hearing about life there vs. what we know it to be in California.

High school friends and sisters Lorraine & Sheila

Here are some quick facts on travel adapted to mitigate the spread of COVID ::

  • Don’t expect much in the way of housekeeping. The first time full service was provided at any hotel we’ve stayed in (either this trip or the previous one) was in Hilton Head.  We were asked at check-in for our preferred time slot so we could plan to be out of the room.  This helps the staff with fewer encounters.
  • The smaller of the two pools also required a reservation to preclude over-crowding.  Likewise the gym.
  • Everything is under wraps, including remote controls.
  • There are signs posted as to how many should be in the elevator at one time.  At Sea Pines, it was limited to one family per ride; in Charleston it was no more than six people but the elevators were much larger.

None of the above facts are noted for anything other than information sharing.  If one chooses to travel at this particular time, one needs to know that the hospitality industry is both trying to survive while at the same time doing everything possible to mitigate any spread according to guidelines.

Poolside social distancing.

My takeaway: Same as with the previous road trip, travelers are happy to be out and about.  It’s hot as hell, it’s summer and we’re being mindful.  Clearly others may feel differently and we all just need to respect one another’s choices.