Hotels

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

DEEP IN THE HEART (AND SOUTH) OF TEXAS

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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

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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.

 

U.S. Travel

THE CAROLINA’S :: CHARLESTON

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Why do so many people have a love affair with Charleston?  That’s such an easy question to answer (said this “expert” after a three-day visit).  Southern charm, waterfront destinations, great restaurants, walk-able streets, lots of history, affordable lifestyle for residents, and so on and so forth.

View from the Hotel Bennett rooftop
First lunch and a must in Charleston
Leon’s Oyster Shop — great food

South Carolina’s largest city has it all going for it, including subtropical weather — a drawback for me.  The timing for this trip was unusual in keeping with pretty much everything else this year so it was go with the flow.  I would love another visit in spring or fall.  It’s a good idea to always carry an umbrella for the sudden and intense downpours.  The summers are hot and humid, exactly our experience.

Charleston Gaillard Center for Performing Arts

It seemed like there were tall church steeples in just about every direction, reinforcing Charleston’s nickname of “The Holy City.”  But it’s also home to two very old synagogues, Kahal Kadosh Elohim (below) founded in 1749 (fourth oldest in the United States) and Brith Shalom Beth Israel, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the south — founded in the 19th century.

Kahal Kadosh Synagogue

We had an interesting experience apropos of what’s going on nationwide.  Upon exiting Hotel Bennett on Marion Square for the evening, we witnessed a a rally and protest taking place simultaneously.  At issue was the statue of John C. Calhoun, the 7th Vice President.  One side was generally advocating for monuments to remain in place; the other for removal.  The statue was taken down on our last day per the decision of the Charleston city council.  By the way, removal of such is no easy task.  Our 7th floor room was barely higher than the statue itself.  The top portion was removed via an enormous crane, but we were told the large granite base will remain for the time being.  The CPD did an excellent job of keeping the peace during this heated period, exhibiting grace under pressure.

For history buffs, a visit to Fort Sumter is a must.  Much like the gentleman we encountered at Bennett House (see previous post), one of the rangers at the Fort is likewise in his retirement “job.”  These guys really know their stuff.  At the risk of sounding like a judgemental parent, I asked him if any of the teenagers that visit seem remotely interested in the history of the Fort.  As was pretty obvious, he said most barely look up from their phones.

At Fort Sumter with the Ravenel Bridge in the background

If one is in the area, seeing Angel Oak on nearby John’s Island is an absolute must.  This extraordinary tree was in the private care of the Angel family for most of it’s 300-400 year history.  The City of Charleston took over in 1991.  It is 28′ in circumference and provides 17,000 square feet of shade.  It’s nearly impossible to get the entire tree in a photo!

Angel Oak — the main portion
Side branches

After a terrific stay, it was back to Highway 17 for the two-hour drive to Hilton Head, the last stop on our visit to the Carolina’s.  Details to follow in the next post.

Classic home in Charleston
Favorite Charleston images
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 …
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 ..