Destinations

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
International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know

DECISIONS, DECISIONS …

elephants, kruger - Copy

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.
Things I LoveU.S. Travel

ROAD TRIP COMBINES AMERICA’S FAVORITE PASTIME

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Want to know an outstanding way to combine seeing the USA and enjoying America’s favorite pastime?  Get out on the road and visit ballparks! (Click HERE for last year’s trip) It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to plan and navigate and you’ll see and do things you wouldn’t normally do without investing a bit of time.

A three-stadium baseball trip was great fun notwithstanding the typical hot and humid weather.  The trip began in Philadelphia and continued on to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and a visit with a great friend from LA now living in Louisville, KY (post to follow).  One needs to allow two days in each city in case a game is rained out.  This being August in the east/midwest, there’s a high probability of that.  About two hours prior to game time in Cincinnati, we were driving to our hotel in a blinding deluge.  The rain stopped, the skies cleared for the most part and the game started on time.

Son Sam was also in Philly for a wedding

I grew up as a devoted LA sports fan, just not of baseball.  It was the original LA Rams, Lakers and, of course, UCLA basketball where my dad played.  Baseball is probably my favorite now which is why I enjoy visiting so many stadiums.  And it’s a shared family pastime, which is a big bonus.  I hardly have the encyclopedic memory of particular games and plays possessed by both the hubby and son, but I can hold my own.  Below is the list of the stadiums I’ve been to so far.  Some are older and/or have been renamed (i.e., US Cellular is now Guaranteed Rate Field).  Two big ones are missing:  Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park (e.t.a. Summer 2020).  Cleveland was a near miss in 2012 due to a rain-out but at least I got to see the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame instead.

PHILLY:

Citizens Bank Park is located in what’s called the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.  We walked out of our hotel in downtown and took the Broad Street Line to the last stop.  From there it is a haven for sports lovers — Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, 76’ers and even the Lacrosse team — all in view.  Easy access, ride-share vehicles and taxis just waiting to be hailed if the train isn’t for you.  Vendors sell water, pretzels and peanuts on the way to the stadium.  All that is needed is more Phillies fans to fill the seats.  Oh, and the choice of concessions?  Don’t get me started on how our beloved  Dodger Stadium pales in comparison.

Citizens Bank Park

PITTSBURGH:

PNC Park is widely favored by baseball lovers as America’s best stadium.  It is walkable from the downtown area, has spectacular views from most every seat, is right at the junction where three rivers meet and provides an outstanding fan experience.  Can’t beat that.  It would be hard to find anything about which to critique the venue, therefore it deserves two photos!

View from our seats
PNC PARK

CINCINNATI

Great American Ball Park is also located in the heart of the city.  Again, few fans.  We walked up to the box office at game time and had seats behind home plate at a very reasonable price.  The stadium even has underground parking!  We left the game and walked across the street where there were lots of restaurants to choose from.

GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK — the Great American Insurance Co. building is in the background.

The concession stands were a bit lacking — no mustard anywhere.  Fortunately a kind person brought me a side order ..

Other trip highlights will be posted in Snippets from the Road.  Here’s a few fun photos from the road trip including Philly foods.  Can we just talk about how outstanding ice cream is in this part of the country?  Died and gone to Bassetts heaven lower left; pies at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market (genius idea to sell half pies!); a Philly cheese steak of course.

Below:  Philly, standing in the shadow of two giants; with Columbus friends Todd Applebaum and Larry Levine for impromptu lunch at Giuseppe’s as we drove through the area; WE WANT A RING TOO …  but with blue sapphires!  This one belongs to a scout for the Cubs attending a game.

I would be remiss in not thanking son Sam for selecting my new phone (OnePlus), which was used to take all of the photos contained here ..

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 You Should KnowWining/Dining

MARVELOUS MALAYSIA

PETRONAS TOWERS, KUALA LUMPUR

Immediately upon arriving Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — a quick 50-minute flight from Singapore — the distinction from the recent visits to Cambodia and Vietnam is very apparent.  While both Phnom Penh and Saigon are quite modern, there’s virtually no comparison to KL and the surrounding area seen en route from the airport (a good hour, depending on traffic).

Leaving Singapore; clear evidence of the world’s busiest container port.

The grand welcome at the new Four Seasons Hotel was unexpected!  To say our visit felt appreciated is quite the understatement.  I have written before about the value in creating “brand” relationships.  In this case, the connection between our stay in Vietnam (Hoi An) and now in Kuala Lumpur was indeed a continuation.  A subsequent post will include this trip’s “trifecta” with a layover in Hong Kong.

With the extraordinary Guest Services team — Halilah (manager) and Didi

The area surrounding the hotel is home to numerous high rises, of which the new hotel (open less than a year) fits right in.  The structure combines both hotel followed by residences above and is attached (conveniently) to a large department store.

Readers who follow this blog know that the hubby and I consider ourselves foodies — not just passionate about experiencing cuisines, but likewise connecting with the creators; i.e., the chefs and restaurateurs.  We have such a connection, made two years ago on a visit to the Maldives at the exquisite Four Seasons Kuda Huraa resort.  Executive Chef Junious Dickerson made a fateful comment at departure when we happened to share a short ride from the resort to the mainland:  “Come to Kuala Lumpur!  I am transferring there when the new hotel opens …”

After that trip, we communicated a bit when he would comment on a blog post.  I think it’s safe to say it might have been unexpected for us to actually show up.  Nevertheless, it was a grand reunion with him and we shared some precious time during our brief few days there.  After all, he oversees a kitchen staff of 100 so he’s a busy guy.  And the food offerings were vast and elaborate to say the least.  We happened to be visiting during Ramadan, widely observed by Muslims (Malaysia is roughly 60% Muslim), so nearly ever restaurant was affected.  Since there’s strict fasting between dawn and sunset, a large and elaborate buffet was offered every night during our stay with countless dishes prepared.  Imagine your typical Sunday brunch available at many high-end hotels, and then having to do that every evening.  It is quite the effort to pull off.

With Executive Chef Junious Dickerson — he’s originally from Virginia but has been living abroad for many years. We’d follow him anywhere!
Not your typical avocado toast (with our thanks!)
Arrangement in the dining room. What’s particularly amazing is each cymbidium flower is in it’s own water tube. That is a lot of work.

As happens in the days concluding weeks’ long travel, there is a winding down period where the travel back home is now in sight.  That, coupled with a bit of travel fatigue and less of a desire for sightseeing, led to some very low-key days.  We did go to the famous Petronas Towers, not just your ordinary tall structure, but unique for the two matching towers connected by a floor-to-ceiling, glass-enclosed bridge … about 560 feet above the ground (connecting floors 41 and 42).  I got about about three steps onto the bridge and had an epic failure to proceed.  In fact, I commandeered a guide and then an elevator operator to take me straight down immediately.  I say “commandeered” because my first request was met with “Oh, you need to go to the 82nd floor and then go down with the next tour group” to which I respectfully declined.

Curiously, I was fine on the visit to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa which observation deck is 125 floors up. Or for that matter, lunch in Taipei on the 84th floor.  It was the damn bridge that did me in, feeling there was no support underneath.

That bridge! Photo cred: Wikipedia
Beautiful plaza near the hotel. It is colorfully lit with fountains at night — maybe a little too Vegas-y but fun to watch.
Night view of towers from the terrific steakhouse, Marble 8.

Our couple of days were spent with a visit to their Orchid Garden (not great considering the constant humidity) and, of course, plentiful shopping malls.  If one wanted to see then newly-released Avengers End Game, it was showing on four out of seven screens in one location alone.  Kind of like home.

At the botanical garden
Papaya? Mango?? If you guessed PUMPKIN, you would be correct. It was a delicious offering at a Chinese restaurant.
Sensational and authentic at Strato
Not a lover of dim sum, but this was delicious (soft shell crab)
Time for a healthier choice!

Our last stop of this trip is a long layover in Hong Kong.  I’ll cover that plus my SE Asia “winners and losers” in the next post.

More stunning flowers in the hotel lounge
Kid indeed.
Bar Trigona at the hotel has a cabinet dedicated to scotch afficionados.
The hotel bar was just recognized in the top 50 of best bars in Asia
International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

CAMBODIA — SIEM REAP AND PHNOM PENH

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Visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom and other sites in the northern part of Cambodia is the main reason travelers come to Siem Reap, just a 45-minute flight from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (see previous post).   For an area with fewer than 1 million residents, the current number of area hotels (500 and counting) is surprising.   The local Cambodians rely heavily on tourism as far and away their biggest industry.  If not in hospitality, the Cambodians in the north have a difficult time making a living as it is estimated that 50% of the economy is tourism.  Poverty and primitive living conditions are sadly visible in the surrounding areas; we saw this first hand on our drive from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.  More about that in a bit.

1. SIEM REAP

Above top is the magnificent lotus flower:  it is closed at night so the display upper right required manually opening each flower.  We opted for the best way to get anywhere — via tuk tuk — about $2 for any distance.  Bottom right, delicious Mango Mille Fueille plus two excellent dishes — rice with pineapple and a refreshing salad with pomelo, which I loved.

This is an epidemic everywhere.

We followed the advice of many to capture Angkor Wat at sunrise, a particularly magical hour.  A 4:45 a.m. pick-up obviously meant waking up in Siem Reap at the crack of dawn.  Credit to the beautiful Park Hyatt for suggesting the early departure, then afterward we rest a bit, clean up and have a leisurely breakfast mid-morning.  It really made the timing of the entire plan much more palatable!

Angkor Wat is just 30 minutes from the town, including a brief stop to acquire tickets — $37 each.  By the way, US dollars are the acceptable currency in Cambodia; obviously not having to convert money always makes travel much easier.  Advance reading prior to this trip suggested carrying a decent amount of small bills — $1’s and $5’s — some great advice we happily followed.

One would think it would be much cooler at the early hour.  Hah — wishful thinking.  At least 90 degrees and very humid at our 5:30 am arrival.  There was a significant gathering of tourists, even though it’s “low season” — soon to be desolate with the impending rains.  The following pictures paint a much better story than my words.  Enjoy.

Crowds angling for the perfect sunrise photo
Hot air ballon over the area
Korean tour group, pretty in pink
Shrubs popping out of a spire. Maintenance takes great care in removing all plants, otherwise the spire would eventually be covered.
We’ll pass on this one ..
We observed the request for “modest attire” — no shorts or bare shoulders — adding to the heat.
The extent of this trip’s encounter with animals — a wild monkey perched and hoping to find food
Worth getting up for …

2. PHNOM PENH

For us, this was a one-and-done temple visit.  Others go all in and see many, but we were happy with the experience and chose to bum around the town a bit, rest up and arrange for a car and driver for the 5-hour journey south to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.  At a cost of $200 US, the opportunity of going door to door in air conditioning, sans airport, and seeing the countryside en route was an easy decision. Nonetheless, some sights were truly heart-wrenching as there is significant poverty visible.  Then the developed area of Phnom Penh came into view.  Much like Saigon, it is a (mostly) modern metropolis with high-rise buildings developed around the Mekong River.

We were told that few American tourists visit Phnom Penh; rather, it is mainly business clientele and largely from other Asian countries.  The Chinese are investing heavily in real estate, building new housing, hotels and casinos.  I would suggest the infrastructure could use a lot of work — mainly trash pick up.  But there’s great wifi everywhere, lots of shopping opportunities and some excellent restaurants.  And we were spoiled rotten at the gorgeous new Rosewood Hotel with exceptional treatment!  If you’re not familiar with the brand, look for it.  They have nearly as many properties opening in the next few years as they have open now; i.e, ambitious expansion.

Rosewood temptations: their tuk-tuk; bar snack (amazing); french pastry shop

We had a fabulous dinner at Palais la Poste, which building was formerly the Indochina Bank.  From upper left, a lovely French red; scallops with squid-ink risotto; escargot; profiteroles; grilled salmon.  The French influence is very evident in much of the cuisine in Cambodia (as well as Vietnam).

Our visit to the notorious “Killing Fields” and Prison Museum recalling the unspeakable atrocities at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge was very difficult.  Our wonderful young guide, Nicky, shared with us that her grandparents were killed but the subject cannot be broached with her parents.  It is still just too hard.  She chooses to look instead to the promise of Cambodia’s future.  Wise thinking.  Next up .. our final stop for this trip:  Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

One of only four children to survive the prison (depicted in the photo), this gentleman has written his story of how he survived the inhumane treatment of Cambodians.
With our wonderful young guide Nicky and driver Mr. Thao.