Resorts

International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

THANKSGIVING IN VANCOUVER PART 2

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So what did we do for the remaining days in Vancouver during our family vacation over Thanksgiving? Plenty. Please read the many fun and delicious adventures in Part 1.

A chance encounter and discussion with locals resulted in a change of plans.  With rental car in hand, we headed north to see Whistler.  The original plan of the ferry to Vancouver Island, Butchart Gardens, etc., ultimately made little sense with not enough time available to do that “right.” Upon learning the beautiful Whistler area is just 90 minutes from Vancouver, there wasn’t much to deliberate.

En route to Whistler is the Sea to Sky Gondola.  The “Sea” is Howe Sound.  Following the 10 minute ride to the summit (in the spacious, comfortable and safe gondolas), the view is absolutely stunning.  There is a suspension bridge and trails in multiple directions.  We just took in the breathtaking vista, chatted with other visitors, and obviously tested our best photography skills.

Above, with Howe Sound in the background; below, two daredevils cross the suspension bridge

The Whistler Blackcomb ski area is “ranked #1 in North America” according to the Wall Street Journal.  The ranking accounts for the abundance of snow (averaging 33 feet annually), trails, apres-ski “scene” and more.  The trail options are massive as the map below shows. We saw just a snapshot of the area for lunch and a walkabout of the village.  It is very impressive and made me long for my skiing days!

The absolutely breathtaking sunset seen (below) en route back to Vancouver had us pulling over to capture the scene over Howe Sound.

Vancouver’s downtown area not only is eminently walkable, but is home to some truly outstanding restaurants. Most evenings, we walked to dinner (rain permitting).  In addition to the ones covered in Part 1, we were fortunate to enjoy two other greats:  Blue Water Cafe and Boulevard Kitchen.

Blue Water Cafe was a late addition as a result of a (full disclosure) social media post. After seeing  Vancouver’s own (heartthrob and native son) Michael Buble rave about the place, I decided it was well worth a visit.  Thank you Mr. B. not only for your great singing but for the head’s up.  We were fortunate to get a primetime reservation at this very busy place. After initially being put off by our waiter — who not once, not twice, but three times briefly said hello and added the same pat comment about how great the food is leading me to think he’s “dialing it in” — we had fabulous service and equally fabulous food.  Yes, one can get great sushi at a restaurant that isn’t a sushi bar per se.  And then there’s the wine. Oh, my.

After befriending the waiter and disclosing son Sam’s industry affiliation, we were given the grand tour of the place. In addition to the main room with sushi bar, there are several other rooms available for private dinners where wine is on display. Lots of wine, not to mention cellars we viewed.  Hat’s off to everyone we encountered who contributed to a memorable evening.

Below, sushi creations; tuna tartare; Char; desserts

Above; endless wine conversation.  Below, private dining anyone?? (Photo cred: Blue Water Cafe)

Special in a somewhat different way was our dinner at Boulevard Kitchen at the Sutton Place Hotel, situated in Vancouver’s highest end area.  Surrounding the hotel is all the top shops, many of which are on Alberni Street.  The original Fairmont Hotel (there are three others in the area) is nearby.

This dinner was all about the wine.  Again, make friends with your sommelier.  Better yet, with the GM/Wine Director.  We did a “red wine tasting” with a great deal of wine details.  Just don’t count on me repeating them.  But see for yourself the sheer number of glasses on the table! Which is likely the reason for the lack of food photos — just some outstanding fish and a lot of desserts.

That’s a lot of stemware above.  All used!  Below, my favorite:  St. Innocent 2017 Pinot Noir

Before returning the rental car, we headed south to two destinations:  The VanDusen Botanical Gardens and White Rock, the latter located just five minutes north of the US border.

The gardens were definitely in a so-called “shoulder season” — meaning the foliage was mostly gone but no snow yet.  But walking through still proved to be a lovely excursion.

White Rock, on the other hand, is a stunning spot. It is home to Canada’s longest pier. Any time one can see the sea with snow-covered mountains in the background, that is a homerun for me. The namesake “White Rock” is shown in the second photo below.

And then it was time to come home, but not before a memorable sushi lunch at Hello Nori. Counter seating and sushi rolls. That’s it, which means few decisions necessary. And the rolls were delicious! A perfect way to end this glorious week spent with family, for which we feel blessed.

International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

THANKSGIVING IN VANCOUVER PART 2

van18

So what did we do for the remaining days in Vancouver during our family vacation over Thanksgiving? Plenty. Please read the many fun and delicious adventures in Part 1.

A chance encounter and discussion with locals resulted in a change of plans.  With rental car in hand, we headed north to see Whistler.  The original plan of the ferry to Vancouver Island, Butchart Gardens, etc., ultimately made little sense with not enough time available to do that “right.” Upon learning the beautiful Whistler area is just 90 minutes from Vancouver, there wasn’t much to deliberate.

En route to Whistler is the Sea to Sky Gondola.  The “Sea” is Howe Sound.  Following the 10 minute ride to the summit (in the spacious, comfortable and safe gondolas), the view is absolutely stunning.  There is a suspension bridge and trails in multiple directions.  We just took in the breathtaking vista, chatted with other visitors, and obviously tested our best photography skills.

Above, with Howe Sound in the background; below, two daredevils cross the suspension bridge

The Whistler Blackcomb ski area is “ranked #1 in North America” according to the Wall Street Journal.  The ranking accounts for the abundance of snow (averaging 33 feet annually), trails, apres-ski “scene” and more.  The trail options are massive as the map below shows. We saw just a snapshot of the area for lunch and a walkabout of the village.  It is very impressive and made me long for my skiing days!

The absolutely breathtaking sunset seen (below) en route back to Vancouver had us pulling over to capture the scene over Howe Sound.

Vancouver’s downtown area not only is eminently walkable, but is home to some truly outstanding restaurants. Most evenings, we walked to dinner (rain permitting).  In addition to the ones covered in Part 1, we were fortunate to enjoy two other greats:  Blue Water Cafe and Boulevard Kitchen.

Blue Water Cafe was a late addition as a result of a (full disclosure) social media post. After seeing  Vancouver’s own (heartthrob and native son) Michael Buble rave about the place, I decided it was well worth a visit.  Thank you Mr. B. not only for your great singing but for the head’s up.  We were fortunate to get a primetime reservation at this very busy place. After initially being put off by our waiter — who not once, not twice, but three times briefly said hello and added the same pat comment about how great the food is leading me to think he’s “dialing it in” — we had fabulous service and equally fabulous food.  Yes, one can get great sushi at a restaurant that isn’t a sushi bar per se.  And then there’s the wine. Oh, my.

After befriending the waiter and disclosing son Sam’s industry affiliation, we were given the grand tour of the place. In addition to the main room with sushi bar, there are several other rooms available for private dinners where wine is on display. Lots of wine, not to mention cellars we viewed.  Hat’s off to everyone we encountered who contributed to a memorable evening.

Below, sushi creations; tuna tartare; Char; desserts

Above; endless wine conversation.  Below, private dining anyone?? (Photo cred: Blue Water Cafe)

Special in a somewhat different way was our dinner at Boulevard Kitchen at the Sutton Place Hotel, situated in Vancouver’s highest end area.  Surrounding the hotel is all the top shops, many of which are on Alberni Street.  The original Fairmont Hotel (there are three others in the area) is nearby.

This dinner was all about the wine.  Again, make friends with your sommelier.  Better yet, with the GM/Wine Director.  We did a “red wine tasting” with a great deal of wine details.  Just don’t count on me repeating them.  But see for yourself the sheer number of glasses on the table! Which is likely the reason for the lack of food photos — just some outstanding fish and a lot of desserts.

That’s a lot of stemware above.  All used!  Below, my favorite:  St. Innocent 2017 Pinot Noir

Before returning the rental car, we headed south to two destinations:  The VanDusen Botanical Gardens and White Rock, the latter located just five minutes north of the US border.

The gardens were definitely in a so-called “shoulder season” — meaning the foliage was mostly gone but no snow yet.  But walking through still proved to be a lovely excursion.

White Rock, on the other hand, is a stunning spot. It is home to Canada’s longest pier. Any time one can see the sea with snow-covered mountains in the background, that is a homerun for me. The namesake “White Rock” is shown in the second photo below.

And then it was time to come home, but not before a memorable sushi lunch at Hello Nori. Counter seating and sushi rolls. That’s it, which means few decisions necessary. And the rolls were delicious! A perfect way to end this glorious week spent with family, for which we feel blessed.

International TravelThings You Should Know

SPRING TRIP 2023: FIJI

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The last stop on this Spring Trip 2023 was Fiji.  Given that it is just a three-hour flight from New Zealand (our previous stop – read HERE), this was a fairly easy choice.  And because of that proximity, countless Kiwis as well as Aussies make up the vast majority of Fiji’s tourists.

Two initial impressions upon landing at the airport: the heat and humidity (significant but tolerable) and the kind Fijians! That above all else proved to be the takeaway — Fijians are among the nicest, kindest, happiest and fun people. What a joy.

There are two large main islands in Fiji plus several hundred smaller ones.  The smaller ones might have one resort or several, or have no inhabitants at all.  I opted to stay on the main island of Viti Levu (the other is Vanua Levu) with a reasonable drive to the main airport of Nadi. The Sofitel Resort is located within the private resort development of Denarau Island, where there is an assortment of other properties, golf course and the marina for day trips. While many of the ultra-luxe resorts are on the small islands, I preferred to have more options in order to venture away from the hotel.

Below, offsite Italian dinner at the nearby Radisson Blu

We happened to strike up a conversation with an Aussie in the hotel pool as he was in a Dodger cap (a great conversation starter).  The hat turned out to be for no particular reason, but what resulted proved quite interesting nonetheless.  He is a retired corporate CEO who serves on the bank board of Sofitel’s main investor.  He shared that they sunk a great deal of money upgrading the property in late 2019, just in time for — yes, the lockdown. Fiji had virtually no tourism until 2022, and is just now approaching 80%.  They are ecstatic with the return of travelers, an uptick that continues to improve.

I asked one of our drivers how he fared during Covid, and he said it was a rough go.  Most Fijians managed by turning to agricultural or construction jobs.  But obviously their main source of revenue completely dried up.

A big plus for this particular resort is the adult’s only section. That means accommodations, pool and restaurant are dedicated to the adult guests (sans children). We could still opt for the main and enormous restaurant for the endless buffets at breakfast and dinner. Or another spot for mediterranean food. Or leave the resort altogether as we did a few times. As I said earlier, choice is a good thing. There’s a free “Bula Bus” invoking the greeting used by every Fijian encountered: Bula! which means to good life and health.  Or a $4 cab ride which we did many times. And they accept USD.

Below, a portion of the adult pool with swim up bar, of course.

Speaking of Bula, it is literally said at every encounter with a Fijian.  The proper response is either Bula (back) or Vinaka (or just naka).  I thought I was hearing “Binaca” which made absolutely no sense, but I ultimately figured it out.

Below, I’m fascinated with these water lillies opening and closing at different times!

Clearly a high point of the stay was our snorkeling excursion to a small island, about 90 minutes away from the marina. We spent most of the day enjoying snorkeling in crystal clear water, plus a short separate boat ride (glass bottom) for feeding the fish, and lunch. It was most enjoyable!

Above, on approach to our day’s destination.  Below, 100 yards from shore and only knee deep!

Above, a literal feeding frenzy of zebra fish when given some bread; a couple of happy vacationers below

I mentioned earlier I would compare Bali vs. Fiji, so here goes: Bali has a greater number of high-end properties all accessible on land. Fiji’s comparable resorts require a boat ride or seaplane for access.  Bali’s culture is of a more eastern bent, with a great many temples to visit for a spirtual experience. Fiji’s culture is much more laid back, fun, and I would say more relatable in that regard. Bali is definitely bigger, both by population and area. Both destinations have a heavy concentration of Aussies and Kiwis given the close proximity to both countries. I think Fiji offers superior opportunities for diving (which I do not do) and snorkeling.  Bottom line: I would go back to Fiji; Bali likely not.

Staying abreast of world affairs below!

Fun fact:  Here are the books I read on this trip. And, yes, we take actual hardbacks. Four books is a lot for me (the hubby tallied seven). Hard to pick a favorite as they were so different. Obviously I’m more of a non-fiction reader. Delia Efron’s Left on Tenth and Benjamin Hall’s Saved were both incredibly inspiring.

Lastly, is there a more apt metaphor than the photo below? The sun literally set on this 23-day/5-country/8-flight vacation.  The resort’s beachfront at sunset, natch, casting a long shadow … Bula!

 

 

 

International TravelThings You Should Know

SPRING TRIP 2023: BALI

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The popular island paradise known as Bali is but a small part of Indonesia. The country ranks fourth worldwide in overall population (behind India, China and the US) with some 274 million citizens.  While it is a long way for Americans to travel, it is a hugely popular destination for Australians (just three hours from Perth) as well as New Zealand. Certainly, it is a breeze for travel from Singapore, our previous destination (read HERE).

Every luxury hotel brand has a presence, but there are likewise accommodations at every level. And while one might go for truly extravagant resort prices, the cost of food is surprisingly quite reasonable.  We opted not to stray far from our accommodations at the St. Regis on Nusa Dua beach for most meals and activities, save for a snorkeling/waterfall excursion. Below, feeling very welcomed by the resort.

Exquisite presentation of Salade Nicoise for lunch!

One said activity (the Uluwatu Temple Fire Dance at sunset) was a big fail due to the selected day — the end of Ramadan and a school holiday. When there’s traffic in the area, it is basically a complete standstill. What should have been a 45 minute journey was more like 90 minutes. And sold out by the time we arrived.

So we simply backtracked for our dinner at the magnificent Alila Villas in Uluwatu. Alila is Hyatt’s ultra-high-end brand. While our resort is on a magnificent stretch of beach, the Alila and many others are on cliffs overlooking the ocean. It’s hard to “go wrong” in either case.

Above, before dinner; below, view from the restaurant

Here’s what “struck” me most in Bali: the gracious staff. There’s a lot of bowing with hands clasped. In other words, extremely gracious if not deferential. We definitely felt welcome. Our particular resort is built around “bodies” of water — not just the Indian Ocean, but very large, meandering pools. None of the pools exceed 4′ in depth. Many villas have direct access to the salt water lagoon (BELOW) which I estimated in length to be two football fields. It certainly seemed that big!

With my Marriott status, we were upgraded to a one-bedroom villa that was simply enormous — the “living room” seen below.  It had it’s own small pool, plus the aforementioned lagoon access. Stunning! Now, if we could only figure out the innumerable (and unmarked) light switches. The hubby would frequently ask me, “Are you having fun yet?” as the lights went on and off. Repeatedly.

The main pool, seen above during the day and below beautifully lit at night

One full day was allocated to snorkeling, roughly 90 minutes from the resort.  Our driver provided a good deal of information during the drive but stayed on land while we had a small manned craft take us to a couple of different spots.  Of course no underwater camera on hand.  Trust me, the waters were full of beautiful and colorful fish.  After, we proceeded to the Tegenungan Waterfall for a quick bite and some gorgeous views.

Above, heading down to our vessel; below, the gorgeous falls which many hike into (not us)

These resort stays are intended to be totally relaxing. Mission accomplished. With spa pricing a fraction of typical costs at U.S. properties, two trips during the stay seemed about right. And then that gorgeous beach, seen below, in front of the resort…

If you remember the itinerary laid out initially for this trip (read here), the last stop takes us to Fiji. How do Bali and Fiji compare? Stay tuned. To be covered in a future post. For now, it is on to Queenstown, New Zealand, and a complete change of weather!

International TravelThings I LoveU.S. Travel

FAREWELL 2021; HELLO 2022

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As has become my custom, I end the current year and begin the new year with both a wrap up and a forecast.  Planned travel is something that required fluidity in the last two years, at least if one wants to remain sane.  Practically the only thing for sure is that some aspect of a plan might change.  Following is the 2021 recap, for which travel I am extremely thankful.  Click on each destination heading for the various posts.

WHERE WE WENT

International ::

TANZANIA

UGANDA

BERMUDA

Domestic ::

CLEVELAND

DETROIT

CHICAGO

CHARLESTON

SAVANANNAH

WHERE WE’RE GOING

The big post-tax-season trip starts in Iceland followed by Norway & Sweden (traversing the southern areas by car).  From Stockholm, we fly to St. Petersburg as a visa snafu ejected us from Russia after our 2018 Moscow visit. The Russians are very serious about their visas.  After that, we meet up with our kids to enjoy Florence and Venice (they start in Rome and end in Milan).  This family trip was postponed from 2020; thus, we are very much looking forward!

Other travel (domestic) includes a wedding in Dallas, maybe a trip to New Orleans (site of this year’s Final Four), Lake Tahoe for a postponed concert (Train) and who knows what else.  Wherever we do go, I am forever grateful for readers who travel along.  April 2022 marks ten years of Travel with Teri B visiting 38 countries (out of 76 total), and I have loved every minute.

 

International TravelSnippets from the Road

BERMUDA BLISS

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Here’s a key piece of advice:  Factor in downtime for your travel, especially if your itinerary includes going non-stop in order to “see it all.”

One of the things the hubby and I truly appreciate is having a few days to do nothing.  That means no plans, alarms, or advance decisions on how to spend the day. Not only is that a true luxury but something one really needs.  Plus there’s the added bonus of returning home just slightly less tired.  It can be a time to reflect on the trip highpoints/lowpoints.  Since time is obviously so precious, it makes sense to evaluate what works best for you in order to mitigate mistakes or unforced errors.

Bermuda has always been on the to-do list, but it’s minimum two flights from the west coast.  With our post-Africa route through Heathrow, getting to Bermuda was just one more flight.

There are some 70,000 residents collectively in the 150+ islands, but most principally reside on the five largest.  I was surprised at the number of native Bermudians we met with families that had been there for generations.  Most other people — especially those working in hospitality — were an international mix.  Not surprisingly, tourism is the main source of revenue along with insurance and Bermuda onions (not kidding).

Below — the Rosewood Bermuda.

Bermuda is colonial in feel and sometimes in attire where men don pastel Bermuda shorts with loafers and button-down shirts.  Golf is huge; at least eight courses on the main island.  Many hotel guests send their clubs in advance via Ship Sticks.  I used them to send resort clothes ahead as African flights were limited for luggage, but the recommended timeframe to send the bag seemed ridiculously early (shipped from LA on April 16 for our May 4 arrival).

It wasn’t early at all.  The bag in fact made it to the island around April 26 but only delivered to our room on May 5.  With major custom delays (Covid strikes again), copious emails resulted between the shipper, the resort and me.  In the end, in our room there was a sight for sore eyes and a source of clean clothes.

So we took our own advice and did pretty much nothing.

At the main pool
At the beach pool
At the beach
Simple and perfect nightly dessert. Homemade.

The one big adventure consisted of a “car” from Rugged Rentals and driving to the other side of the island.  Seen below is a golf cart disguised as a Hummer with no power steering, brakes or shock absorbers.  Factor in driving on the “wrong” side in Bermuda, and my arms got a workout.

And, as with all good things, this trip came to an end … after 24 days, 3 countries, 15 flights, 6 covid tests and endless memories.  What a blessing to be on these adventures together.

Bye, Bermuda .. Until we meet again.