International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know



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 LoveWining/Dining


IMG_2387 Hoi An

When sharing our itinerary for the recent trip to Southeast Asia, disclosing a visit to the gorgeous Vietnam beach area of Hoi An universally received lots of “ooohs” and “aaahs.”  Including a few days of doing nothing has become a regular part of the trip planning; this respite provides a much-needed opportunity to relax and recharge.  Otherwise, the travel is fast and aggressive in order to see as much as possible in any given destination.


This beach area is accessed by flying into Da Nang International Airport.  Da Nang is another familiar name to many Americans as it was the site of a major air base during the Vietnam War.  This particular location is in the center of the country — it thus provides excellent access to most other cities in Vietnam.

The ancient town of Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage Site, straddling the Thu Bon River.  Our biggest activity there was getting manicures.  Choosing where to go was the big question as the number of available shops closely rivals the number of bars and souvenir stores.  Our two manicures cost a grand total of $14, and that was fine for us.  Compared to Hanoi and Saigon, the takeaway from the town of Hoi An was the height of touristy.  Personnel for stores, clubs and restaurants try every which way to lure customers in for whatever is being offered.  And there were outdoor carts as well.  Maybe the area traffic swelled for the weekend we were there, but the combination of crowds, being pitched and likely the weather (hot and humid; what else?) made the town visit just fair.  Fortunately, the resort itself was a haven for relaxing.

One of three locations the proprietor’s family owns in the area. Foot massages were favored by many of the males in the shop.


In the town of Hoi An at dusk

And that was exactly how the few days were spent by the gorgeous pool at the Four Seasons Resort.   The company acquired this existing property in 2016, and they cater to guests from Korea, Japan and the U.S. by number in that order.  The resort does an excellent job of providing both for families traveling with children and those of us without.  The main pool is for guests 14 and older, providing a very relaxing space.  One could opt for cooking classes, water sports and/or venturing into the aforementioned town if desired.   The setting is so beautiful that we mostly just did nothing — precisely what we had in mind.

Spa treatment rooms at right, Four Seasons Resort

As has the been the case with other resorts, we again had the pleasure of engaging the Executive Sous Chef, Alessandro Fontenesi, a character hailing from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.  He took great pride in giving us a tour of the burgeoning produce garden.  There was pure envy on my part for the available space and neat rows of plants.  While the garden is not able to supply all of the resort’s requirements, everything the garden does produce is used.  Crops are rotated and seasonally planted and the results both look and taste great.  We alternatively wanted the chef to continue providing wonderful tastes and for him to stop tempting us with such delicious food.  What a dilemma!

A couple of kindred spirits ..
Offerings from the chef
Ripening melons
Tough job in very hot weather.
Lots and lots of mango trees!
Overview of the gardens
Doesn’t matter how it’s spelled. Keep it away from me!!

After three terrific and restful days (a total of nine in wonderful Vietnam),  we bid our adieu to the great staff with the promise of a return visit.  Next up, two stops in Cambodia.

Could have easily been in Italy with this ..
Pathway to heaven.
International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

SANTORINI, GREECE — Last stop for a milestone birthday


Thank you to the Greek weather Gods for allowing us to arrive in Santorini to glorious sunshine.  Beautiful blue skies against the white abodes literally built into steep hillsides provide gorgeous contrasts.

Every room has it’s own terrace.
Dining area at the resort.

Our last resort for this trip was in the town of Oia (pronounced “e-a”), about 40 minutes from the ferry in Fira.  Naturally the resort — Mystique — is steep as well, just like pretty much everything else on the island.  The view of the caldera is quite stunning.  “Caldera” refers to the vast opening from the long-ago volcano eruption which formed Santorini itself along with several much smaller islands.  One could sit facing the water and do nothing else.  Of course, navigating up and down the steps required to get anywhere provides added incentive to stay put.  And there’s no “ADA” provisions; it’s simply climb or else.

Our resort with another right above it.
50 steps so far; about a million to go. No handrails.

We did walk into the town to browse around and have lunch at Mezzo Cafe.  It was like the U.N. there with very close tables that lent to conversation.  French folks (from Lyon) to the left and a group of Aussies to the right provided a wonderful opportunity to chat and hear respective impressions of the landscape and life in general.  Our French neighbors immediately asked if I was ok sitting next to their dog.  My response:  “As long as he doesn’t smoke,” which is hardly guaranteed in these parts of the world — especially sitting at an outdoor cafe.  We lucked out on all counts and had a thoroughly terrific time.

Mezzo Cafe
Go-to lunch: Chicken sovlaki with tzatziki, pita and “chips”

Much like our arrival in Santorini (described in the previous post), we experienced a similar “your driver was delayed” challenge upon leaving for a particularly ideal spot to view the sunset.  In this part of Greece, sunsets are like a religious experience.  But they must be well-timed.  We were booked at Ovac, a beautiful spot we were told was best for viewing.  We had a pre-arranged pick-up at 6:15 for a 6:30 arrival at the restaurant, giving us a solid 30 minutes until the sun fully set.  And then it’s 6:20, 6:25.  Tick tock.  Two hotel courtesy cars were waiting, but both had other commitments.

Mind you, I am not walking back down to get to the main office, because I’ll have to walk back up!  Three phone calls later (from a borrowed cell), one of the cars finally took us (ours was still “delayed”), driving at breakneck speed around the curves and we arrived with enough time to get our photos, but not nearly as relaxing as we had hoped.  We did have a delicious dinner and were glad for the experience.

Amazing salad at Ovac.
That view. That sunset.

I’m now convinced not much runs on time in Greece.  In fairness to our two other stays, both had excellent staff and great service (King George Athens and Bill & Coo Mykonos).  But Santorini had some issues to say the least.  Is it Greece in general?  Hmmm.  The country is not exactly stellar in many aspects.  Maybe with this exquisite location, the expectations are lower.  Good question to ponder.

The final day of our stay in Greece was spent at the resort — reading, spa and a wine tasting in their cellar — really a cave of sorts.  Greek grapes are interesting; they are grown without any water other than rain, humidity and/or mist from the sea.  The volcanic earth retains the moisture.  We tasted four local varietals:  sparkling, white, red and a dessert wine, accompanied by various cheeses, fruit, nuts, etc.  It was a lovely experience followed by a small dinner.

Wine tasting a deux.

Fortunately we were back in the room before the anticipated rains came for we would have not been able to negotiate either the steps or steep slope to our room.  It positively gushed water — and it supposedly only rains 20 days per year on the island.  Timing is everything.

Moderate rain flowing past our room.
The deluge a bit later.

For the journey home, American/British Air booked us via our miles from Athens to an overnight at Heathrow then nonstop to LAX.  I’ve complained before about really disliking BA’s biz class (Club World) configuration of front/back seating and having to climb over the aisle seat from the window seat.  However, we were on a brand new plane and it was really “quite lovely” as the Brits would say.  Next year that seat configuration goes away, and everyone will be facing front.  Hopefully staggered.  Better yet, single seating next to the window.  That is the best!

My cubby for 11+ hours. Plenty of room.
That privacy screen was up after the photo!
International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining



It takes a grand total of 20 minutes in the air to fly from Athens (visit in previous post) to Mykonos.  Other modes of arrival are by cruise ship or ferry from a neighboring island (most likely Santorini, our next stop) or via one’s yacht (sigh).  But flying was the least amount of total time required and the ticket is very reasonable via Agean Air.

Bill & Coo Resort in Mykonos

Anyone else wonder why every building on the island is white?  Aesthetics?  A means of keeping buildings cool in hot weather (yes, that’s a main factor).  How about because it’s the law?  Yes, every building is required to be painted white.  Best part about that is touch-up’s are a cinch because your neighbors all have the same paint!

From the resort toward Mykonos town.
Sunset view from our balcony

The island population is a mere 10,000, but approximately one million visitors experience Mykonos annually during “the season” — April through early November.  Obviously the bulk visit during the true summer months which is precisely why a late September visit was ideal (for us, anyway).  Mykonos town is a series of very narrow, pedestrian-only streets — more like pathways.  It’s hard to imagine navigating during the height of the season when it’s really hot and really crowded.

Classic Greek style

I checked the weather from home and saw mid-70’s.  When we arrived, however, the winds were really strong — gusts up to 35mph and the temp more like the high 60’s.  Planes and ferries were canceled for two days due to the rough waters and winds.  Sitting by the pool was out so that allowed for more time for pure relaxation which is the point of being on vacation.  Fabulous massage, reading, walking to the nearby town for shopping, great food, people watching, etc.  Then there was following the news at home — baseball and hearings.  We didn’t leave the planet after all.

Choppy waters all around
Justin Turner (separated-at-birth) lookalike, complete with Dodger cap
Deep contemplation at sunset

Fortunately, our scheduled ferry to our next and last destination, Santorini, was available, more or less as planned.  The ferry itself was very nice with spacious seats on the top level.  When we departed Mykonos it was quite rainy.  But all that gave way to glorious sunshine upon arriving in Santorini.  Hooray.

Our Mykonos departure with some soggy travelers.
On the ferry


Hip, hip hooray! On approach to Fira in Santorini.

Alas, the sunshine was about the only good part of the arrival.  Our luggage was stored in the ship’s lowest level, right next to where the cars park.  Everyone was crowded together, gathering their bags, and tightly packed in waiting to exit.  Curiously, they were boarding passengers at the same time we were exiting.  Total chaos even before we all were on land searching for our respective transportation — either large groups finding buses, or individuals like us looking for our drivers.  An absolute mass of travelers all trying to get out.  Total travel time door-to-door:  Seven hours!  Most of that was spent on the Santorini end.

The traffic snafus as a result of the over-crowded ferries were remarkable.  The line of vehicles to get their passengers was backed up probably a good two hours.  There’s only one very steep road (think California’s Highway 1) to the ferry dock area with continuous hairpin curves, usually with two enormous buses passing simultaneously — one down and one up.  We saw quite a few people obviously so concerned about missing their departing ferry that they gave up and WALKED down the road with their luggage.  They deserve a lot of credit for that!

But we made it to a beautiful resort.  My report on our Santorini stay in the next post.

At Kalita Restaurant in Mykonos, absolutely empty at 8pm except for us (the Americans!)
Fabulous fresh sea bass with zucchini ribbons in foamy sauce. Yum!

Below — what I’ve read so far.  Two wonderful books.  Two wonderful love stories.  Lots of tissue required.


International TravelThings I Love

THE MAGNIFICENT MALDIVES (Part 6 in a series on recent Journey)

Sharing with people that one is fortunate enough to visit the Maldive Islands typically garners one of two reactions:  1) Where is that? -or- (more commonly) 2) Oh, that’s on my bucket list!! I can’t wait to go there!!!  In answer to number 1, southwest of India. In answer to number 2, there is a very good reason for that reaction … 
Upon making the decision to visit India, the proximity to the Maldives made it nearly automatic to include this exquisite location in the itinerary. The biggest decision was how much time to allocate and how much time we could afford.  This destination is not for the faint of wallet, so the decision became four days/three nights of splendor.

e flew Sri Lankan Air from Delhi en route to Male.  A schedule change had us at the airport in Colombo (Sri Lanka) for roughly nine hours. Brilliant move on the part of the airlines to add a nice, clean hotel attached to the airline lounge that literally books by the hour — $10 USD.  I reserved the room in advance and followed their directions.  We did not have to pass through immigration so it’s a breeze.  We checked our bags all the way through from Delhi to the Maldives, got a decent night’s sleep, boarded the continuation of our flight and were at the resort by 9am. Win/win all around.

On approach to the main city of Male (above); new resort construction (left) visible from the plane.
It is a 25-minute boat ride to the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, one of multiple options for the company in the area.  I deliberately picked this one for the proximity to the airport. Depending upon flight arrival time, one might have their resort arrival delayed and I wanted to take advantage of every single minute.  Indeed, we were met after collecting our bags, and in our room a short time later.  Nirvana.  
View from the room.  I know (WOW factor).  All accommodations have their own small pool.  Through the shrubs was the white sand beach.


Above left:  phenomenal snorkling right in front of the property;  Above right:  beach service awaits with the press of a button. 



So what does one do in the Maldives?   Not much, which is kind of the point.  Of the 1,100+ islands, less than 200 are even inhabited.  The area is busy for avid divers at certain times of the year.  We happened to stay during a slower period, which was quite fine.  Lots of gazing at the incredible colors, swimming, enjoying terrific food, etc. But I was particularly fascinated with the resort’s Marine Center, where turtles are rescued and nurtured by trained biologists in the most comprehensive manner.

Some are missing one or both front fins but seem to manage pretty well. They are treated for various infections, weighed and measured regularly, and hand fed fresh fish via tweezers.  They hit the turtle lottery in this regard! 
Clockwise from top left:  kids are carefully petting a turtle; one is being examined; big guy clocks in at 70 lbs; interesting names for the turtles with their vitals noted.
Among the activities offered, there is shark feeding at dusk each evening. The black-tip sharks are quite small, safe, and seem to know when it’s chow time as a lot of them showed up.




By the over-water bungalows
Don’t you decorate your bed at home with fresh flowers?!
Dusk at the main pool


Madives takeway: It’s a safe bet that the various luxury properties here — one per atoll or small island — such as One and Only, Taj and others, offer excellent service. But we can only speak for the Four Seasons where not a thing was missed.  Best of all was not only getting into our room at 9am, but likewise being able to stay in the room until departure time at 6pm.  Four FULL days. Cannot thank the resort enough for making it so easy on us. The Maldives are indeed magnificent. Expensive? No question. We’re feeling quite fortunate for the experience. Next up: Three flights to Perth!


Thank you Chef Junious for this delicious and inventive dessert:  Red velvet cake with raspberry-studded frozen yogurt and edible sponge cake depicting the local coral.  Amazing!


International Travel


It’s no secret that Cabo San Lucas, just a two-hour flight southeast of LA, makes for an ideal getaway. What’s astonishing is the massive growth that continues to occur unabated.
The iconic Cabo arch
The hubby surprised me for a major birthday back in 2004 with the first trip to Cabo. The locals were thrilled that the first Costco had just opened up, and they could purchase essentials like bread and milk for significantly less than the area markets.  We stayed at Las Ventanas which was a splurge to say the least. Infinity pools were unique back then so entering that gorgeous resort seemed staggering as the pool “fell” into the ocean beyond.
The next trip was for our daughter’s graduation in 2009.  At the time, the area was just desolate due to fears of kidnapping and the like.  We had a great time and never felt the least bit unsafe.
Flash forward to 2017.  Unlike the first trip where five-star properties were just three — Las Ventanas (Rosewood), Esperanza (Auberge) and One & Only Palmilla — there’s now La Pedregal, The Montage, The Cape and a Ritz Carlton still under construction. And that’s just the high end.  The growth is at least 10% annually, and up to 20% at times.  Three thousand rooms will be added in 2017.  During the high season (November through May), there are sometimes 40 commercial flights on Saturdays and Sundays.


It’s not just the high end experiencing growth (multi-million-dollar vacation homes), but the huge amount of “all-inclusive” resorts that are very affordable and abundant.  This trip was the result of purchasing a three-night stay (at a charity auction) at Fiesta Grand Americana.  Personally I am not a fan of all-inclusive — typical of cruise ships and the like — where one almost feels obligated to indulge because “it’s free.” I’d rather think twice about consumption while paying as I go. To each his own.


So what to do in a short time span?  Visit the spa!  An 80-minute deep tissue for $90 works for me (after some sort of discount plus gratuity).  But the big outing was whale watching via Cabo Adventures ..
We were given the choice of either a small but very fast boat (which was like a life raft) holding 26 plus 3 crew, or a very large double-decker.  We opted for the small one, which adventure was called “Whale Safari.”  Having experienced an African safari last year, I get the connection:  both vehicles go very fast and communicate with other vehicles when game (in this case whales) are spotted. This thing flew over the water! No wonder we were asked if we had any back issues beforehand; I was indeed reminded of the safari jeeps.
Sea lions sunning themselves
It was worth it to catch multiple glimpses of these beautiful creatures, both full size and young-in’s.  Taking photos is challenging, as the action is swift and the boat rocky.  But you get the idea .. happy I got just one!
Absolutely worth mentioning are the following restaurants: Los Tres Gallos was a last-minute decision that was amazing. Delicious food, with some unexpected twists, in an indoor/outdoor setting.  We also loved Mi Casa, with traditional fare in a lively atmosphere.  Both spots are in downtown Cabo, close to the marina.
Mi Casa had fabulous margaritas (mango in particular) plus carnitas

and mole (ole!).

           Open kitchen at Los Tres Gallos plus some
           delicious courses we enjoyed. 
 It’s the thought that counts from housekeeping —
the letters were formed from rice.  Buenas noches!