Category Archives: Destinations

Mexico Tourism is Up – But Beware The Most Common Crimes Against Travelers

With Punxutawney Phil predicting an early spring (forget that El Nino has not even surfaced as predicted) it is high time to plan spring break if you intend to travel!

One of the most popular spring break places, Mexico, has definitely seen a rocky road in recent years… but is rebounding tremendously.

From mexicanbusinessweb.mx

From mexicanbusinessweb.mx

In Cabo San Lucas, new roads have been built and the international airport has been upgraded since 2014’s Hurricane Odile…Tourism was up  by 14.7 percent  in 2015 from 2014 according to travelmarketreport.com, & there are a plethora of enticing hotels opening all over the country this year to motivate even the most hesitant of border crossers to take the leap.

Mar Adentro by Encanto, Los Cabos

Mar Adentro by Encanto, Los Cabos

A new “W” in Punta Mita… One&Only Mandarina along the Riviera Nayarit … and Mar Adentro by Encanto in San Jose del Cabo are just a few properties that are opening this year or the next.

But, let’s not forget, the US State Department still has a travel warnings out for areas of Mexico. El Chapo may be behind bars again, but there were more than 100 US citizens murdered in Mexico in 2015,  and plenty of crimes and violence committed against travelers. It’s funny how what was seemingly a sketchy place two years ago, has now receded in our memories because of  threats and acts of terrorism from ISIS in other countries like Paris, and Turkey.

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But millions of people still travel to Mexico safely – and Mexico offers so much to travelers – tropical weather, outdoor activities, a different culture – and fabulous food. So how to make sure you are safe? Especially traveling with a family?  Exercise common sense.. and remember there are locations within Mexico where the traveler should exercise extreme caution or avoid if possible.

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I consulted with Tom Bochnowski , Vice President with Redpoint Resolutions  – a company that offers high end individual services  and travel insurance to enhance client safety – including evacuating clients from high danger situations, medical consulting services,  and web-based intelligence sharing. The photo below is from a 2015 excavation after the Nepal earthquake.

RIpcord mission in Nepal, 2015

RIpcord mission in Nepal, 2015

Here is our advice for anyone traveling or contemplating travel to Mexico based on what Bochnowski’s group within Redpoint – Ripcord Travel Protection – has seen, along with my own observations.

1) We sometimes hear of the “Federales” pulling over people roadside, or foreigners getting kidnapped or robbed out of their cars. So what are some precautions? Attempt to schedule your arrival in Mexico during the day so any ground transfer from airport will take place when it is light. If possible, always book airport transfers and other transportation ahead of time with a reputable company. The hotel or resort concierge can be a good transportation resource.  Avoid flagging a simple taxi from the street or the airport. If taxi is the only option, get the name and, if you can, photo of the driver, never share a taxi with people you do not know, and never enter a vehicle if you’re uncomfortable with the driver.

When renting a car, again, try to keep a low profile. Flashy cars like expensive off-road vehicles will earn you the wrong kind of attention in Mexico. And yes, staying on well lit, major roads is good advice, but even then – stay alert.

2) Understand the geography so you can make sense of the travel warnings and the news about regional dynamics. For example, know the Mexican state of your destination so you know if you are close to any dangerous area. Seriously – we don’t often say “I’m going to Jalisco” but that is the state where Puerto Vallarta is located, and some of travel warnings refer to Jalisco.

3) The drug cartels are responsible for most of the violence in Mexico. They are trying to move drugs north into the United States..so the border areas between the two countries are the most dangerous. Bochnowski says because of the high cartel concentration there, fighting for access, travelers have gotten caught up on cartel violence accidentally. It’s advised that  travelers avoid the Mexican side of the Mexico / US border region whenever possible.

4)  Don’t attract unwanted attention. Many travelers have been attacked and robbed by attracting attention beforehand. Here’s one recent example: A group of SCUBA divers were traveling by bus from Tikal, in the southern Yucatan, to Guatemala City. As they waited at a bus stop cafe in broad daylight, the three young men accidentally tipped over a table of empty beer bottles when the bus arrived, causing a loud crash and drawing everyone’s attention to them. The divers handed off thousands of dollars’ worth of new dive gear to the driver to be loaded into the luggage hold and boarded the bus. When they arrived in Guatemala City, surprise! Their gear was gone.

At cafes, restaurants and night clubs in particular, it’s easy for seemingly wealthy and careless foreigners to stand out and attract the attention of those with criminal intentions. Have fun, but keep a low profile and do not display wealth.

5) Is it safe to rent a house after that 2012 incident where Spanish tourists were raped and robbed at a rental home right near the hotels in Acapulco?  For every one tragic and publicized incident such as the one in Acapulco, there are dozens of less dramatic incidents, usually involving theft. For example, thieves regularly steal passports and currency from rental homes in popular resorts, especially Cabo San Lucas. Even though the chances of being robbed are low, when preparing for a trip to Mexico, travelers should prepare ahead of their trip.  Ask about security in any rental home before deciding which to choose, use common-sense measures such as locking windows and doors when on vacation. Have a solution for a stole passport or lost medication.

Experienced travelers always think ahead and leave a copy of their passport photo page, birth certificate, plane ticket, backup photo ID, medication prescriptions, and insurance card with a reliable and trustworthy person back home that can quickly email or fax the documents in an emergency.  Before travel they also purchase travel insurance with primary medical expense coverage and medical evacuation services to their home country hospital of choice that do not require local attending physician authorization.

Large hotel chains are usually safer in Mexico because they provide security staff and other precautions. However, no hotel can guarantee the safety of its occupants. Here are a couple of basic tips: pick rooms away from the hotel foyer and other public spaces, meet visitors in the lobby, and only open the door to your room when you know someone is supposed to be there.

In times of dangerous events, sometimes the US embassy closes first. If you are going to regions where you have any concerns, purchasing travel insurance or evacuation services is always an option.

Remember these tips, exercise basic common sense, and be alert and most travelers will stay safe. To check the latest government warnings, which can change with world events, go to https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html

For more about Ripcord’s services: www.ripcordtravelprotection.com

 

 

 

 

 

Is It Safe To Travel To Europe?

From chron.com

From chron.com

Is it safe to travel right now – especially to #Europe?

That is the question on many travelers’ minds after the horrific violence that ensued in Paris..& unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. It becomes a personal choice, after weighing one’s comfort level with the level of risk.

But here is what you need to know in weighing your decision: Times are different. In the past year, terrorists have been striking “soft targets” more frequently – undefended or vulnerable locations where ordinary people gather. The Russian plane, the Tunisian resort, a train between Paris & Amsterdam, & outside a train station in Ankara, Turkey, are just a few incidents in 2015. Back in July, the state department issued worldwide caution warnings that extremists might elect to attack these venues, & target foreigners because of the West’s attempts to bring down ISIS. But it is impossible to protect against attacks everywhere.

The old advice to avoid high rise hotels, American chain hotels or restaurants still holds true, but these last Paris attacks were much more random. So what can you do?A few simple, concrete things:

If you have plans in the future to travel to Europe, or want to make plans, consider travel insurance that has a terrorism policy -that way if transportation shuts down, or popular destinations close, you can change your trip and not lose money.
Also – pay attention to governments’ travel advisories – not just from the US, but also check the UK’s, & Australia’s for a varied perspective. (www.state.travel.gov/…/alertswarnings/worldwide-caution.html)

So should you go? I would encourage everyone to still travel – otherwise the enemy wins. That is what they want – to create fear, and change our lifestyle. Right now, security is beefed up more than ever. France’s president Francois Hollands is asking for a three month state of emergency that would extend police power to search & arrest, and limit public gatherings in that country. We can support the French people in solidarity by continuing our travel plans.

Having said that, I understand it might be a bigger leap today: The mood may not be as celebratory, & fear provokes irrational thoughts – especially if you are bringing children. You have to weigh your own fear – the odds are not high you will be a victim of terrorism abroad, but psychologically, we all feel safer at home. If you feel you won’t be able to relax and enjoy – wait it out & explore our own great country. (The National Parks are turning 100 in 2016! ) Based on history, things will die down – we will hopefully defeat the extremist organization & it may “feel” safer to you.

In the meantime, remember – this was an attack on all humanity, & nothing brings us closer to people in other countries, nothing bridges the gap more, than travel. We must continue to live our lives…& defend freedom.
Below is an article that presents thoughts & latest updates on the subject…Wishing safe travels to all, especially with the holidays approaching.
www.cnn.com/2015/11/15/travel/paris-travel-advice/ ‪#‎prayersforparis‬ ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎travelsafety‬ ‪#‎travelsafely‬ ‪#‎paris‬ ‪#‎europe‬ ‪#‎traveltoeurope‬

San Francisco: What's New, & What's Old but Still "Has It"

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Resonate:  to have particular meaning or importance for someone : to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way

I know I’m not the only one on which San Francisco has that effect, many travelers visit for a reason. But after living there for ten years another lifetime ago, each time I visit, the darn city by the bay carves a deeper niche into my soul.
This past weekend, I was there, and was so happy to see that no matter how things change: tech boom after boom, neighborhoods that I wouldn’t have stepped foot in after dark are now hip and happening, and many new restaurants – things also stay the same: the breeze off the bay, clear crisp autumn days, cable cars, ethnic neighborhoods.
So here’s a round up of what’s new… and what’s sentimentally constant:

New: FANTASTIC restaurant Cotogna in Jackson Square. SF has always been a foodie town, and this place fits right in as one of the most delicious new Italian restaurants. May be one of my best meals I’ve ever had in SF, but then again I was with great company which could have influenced my experience – dont miss the Raviolo di Ricotta w/farm egg. OMG. Warning: Super hard to get a reservation. Book way in advance.

Old but still has it: Bix. Down a dark, hidden alley, stands one of the all time classics. Also in Jackson Square, this supper club with a piano bar is housed in an old bank vault. Many thanks to the bartender who let us stay after hours so my friends and I could take a long, sentimental walk down memory lane at our old hang out. The environment is still classy, & my favorite painting still hangs on the wall – the butler examining the lipstick stain on a champagne glass. Even though there are newer places with younger crowds, this old stand by is unique and doesn’t disappoint if you want a cozy pre or post-dinner drink at the bar. #Sohappyit’sstillthere

New: Belga Restaurant : Really fun, buzzy European bistro-type environment, right in my old neighborhood, on Union St. just walking distance to all the Cow Hollow/Pacific Heights nightlife.

Old: Found great hotel rates at some of the older hotels… trying to stay relevant & compete with some of the newer, more contemporary places. Check the classic hotels – rooms aren’t as fresh, but usually great locations & decent rates.

New: I call it the “Uber” effect – my observation after one weekend is that it seems easier to find a parking spot in the city – WHAT? Sounds crazy I know – but with many people Ubering it, the parking spaces were easier to find. BUT  – because more people are using Uber (it is a SF company and SF is a busy town with many visitors) I had to pay double rates every time I used the service due to high usage. It was always “peak hours.” so budget accordingly. Keep in mind it’s not easy to drive all those hills in San Francisco, and hotel parking is expensive, so these are things to weigh if you consider renting a car vs Uber.

Old: Fall is still the best time to visit, in my opinion. Summer in SF is notoriously cold, autumn can’t be beat.

#itresonates
#greattown
#greatfriends
#grateful

Can't See The Pope During His U.S. Tour? Here are 6 Worship-Worthy Tips If You Visit His Home Instead

Excitement is building for next week’s special visitor to the United States: Pope Francis will come to our country for the very first time, visiting Washington DC, New York, and Philadelphia.

If you are missing him here in the US – as I am sure most of us are! – there are other ways to get your papal fix…but it does involve travel to Rome, unless you are satisfied following him on Twitter. (@Pontifex. Just in case.)

At the Vatican

At the Vatican

I visited his home at the Vatican last summer, & have some valuable tips every smart traveler should know… especially if you are traveling with children, like I do!DSC05169

First, a little background: Vatican City State is walled within the city of Rome, made up of about 110 acres, & a population of about 840. It is the smallest independent state in the world by both area & population. But that doesn’t count the  5 million people who visit a year!

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What you will want to visit are the cultural sites within the Vatican such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel…

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& the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures, & even if you aren’t religious, it is an artistically spiritual experience. No hyperbole there. (Not buying it? Think Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on his back)

Here’s what you need to know before you go:

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1)Wanna avoid the buzzkill of pulling up  & seeing a line like this? Get a guide -you automatically go to the front entrance, bypassing the line. Not only that, with a guide, during the tour you can walk directly from Sistine Chapel to St Peter’s Basilica through a special entrance, saving time and energy.

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The guide doesn’t show you the entire museum, most only have about three hours, so do your research before. If there is a gallery in the museum you really want to see, compare with the guide’s itinerary, & make a special request in advance.

2) Make sure the guide speaks good English!! Especially if you are with children – this is a long long day for them, & you want to keep them engaged. Demand it from the tour guide organization you use.

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3) If you are taking a cab, don’t tell the driver that you are going to “the Vatican.” It is a big place. If you are meeting a guide somewhere, give the specific address. Our guide met us at a nearby cafe. Try to get as close as possible to where you need to be – Cabs have been known to drop off anywhere near St Peter’s Square because travelers think they are close. With kids it can be a long walk.

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4) If you want to see the underground tombs of former popes and St. Peter’s tomb called the “necropolis” you must book long in advance since there is a limit to the number of visitors. It is considered an archaeological site, but OK for kids. You can book tickets through the Vatican.

5) If you really want to do something different, and go when it is less crowded, try a Friday night Vatican tour. They only run during certain months, & you MUST book online – that is mandatory.

It sounds like a fun & much cooler experience, there is even a happy hour, but St Peter’s Basilica because is not open in the evenings. You would have to come back to see that separately… definitely don’t skip it – it is the star of the whole Vatican experience, in my opinion. Price for night time entry is about 20 euros.Kids between 5 and 12 are five euros. Book here: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html

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6)Lastly – REMEMBER: There is a dress code, so even when it is is scorching outside, everyone must abide by the no sleeveless shirts or short shorts rule – even young kids. I wore a sweater over my dress because it was hot outside and we planned on walking around afterward so I could remove my sweater.

This can be an extremely overwhelming day for families, so be prepared to take a number of breaks if you are with young children. Strollers are allowed, but there are staircases inside for which you will need to break down the stroller and carry it up.

Castle Gandolfo, The Papal Summer Home from bookings.com

Castle Gandolfo, The Papal Summer Home from bookings.com

And a bit of good news regarding the pope’s other home: The Vatican’s train line, previously only used by popes, can now be ridden by regular folks to see the papal summer palace.

Each Saturday, the public can climb aboard for an express trip to Castel Gandolfo, a lavish estate Pope Francis himself  has never used but wanted to share with the public in a gesture which will also make money for the church. It looks like a beautiful train ride, and there is more to see at the summer home.

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel of the Week: In an Italian Coastal Town it's Time you Knew About

I was all set for my trip to the Italian coast this past summer – just needed to book that final hotel room in Cinque Terre and I’d be set.

But something didn’t feel right – I spoke with a few hotels, & even though Cinque Terre had been on my bucket list for years, the hilltop towns just weren’t gelling for me for a family vacation. I have two teens and one active 10 year old, & thought perhaps it might be too quiet for them. I also thought they wouldn’t like the rock beaches with no waves…so I slept on it – and then researched. And I’m so glad I did.

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi, Italy

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi, Italy

At the last minute, I was booking at the California Park Hotel in Forte dei Marmi. My impetus?

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

Forte dei Marmi, a resort town right on the Tuscan coast in the province of Lucca, boasts nice, clean, sandy beaches …

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

with waves for my kids to body surf all day. Some Italian beaches like those in Cinque Terre had smaller waves, which might be better for younger children.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Forte dei Marmi’s location in Northern Tuscany still enabled us to take a day trip to Cinque Terre – and Pisa and Florence for that matter.

(And I loved the fact Forte dei Marmi is not in any of the major guide books I checked, but it is a town worth noting for so many reasons. )

Let me warn you however, since Forte dei Marmi is a definite resort town, most of the hotels seemed sleek, and somewhat cold – not places where kids could roam freely…& the prices were not that kid-friendly either! Forte dei Marmi is not a cheap escape, but if you research, it doesn’t have to break the bank.

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I felt like “Golidlocks” discovering the California Park Hotel- “this one is just right”… elegant simplicity and unpretentious.

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi

Not to mention, the hotel is surrounded by park-like grounds…tons of grass and trees and space for my kids to run around or kick a soccer ball.

It is located in an upscale residential area, that very much reminded me of Montecito, CA..rugged but pretty surrounded by villas.The room prices are still about two times more than other areas of Italy, even with the strong dollar, but lower than others in Forte dei Marmi.

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Another reason I liked the hotel is that, unlike many other hotels, it has rooms to accommodate families larger than four people. Woot woot! We had villa #506 – a simple, but clean & stylish two bedroom suite. Not the largest space, as there is no common area – just two rooms with a connecting hallway and bathroom…..but the bonus to this room is that there is an outdoor terrace that becomes the living room – late night card games, pre-dinner drinks and appetizers…

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with a great view of the large, pretty pool. The kids enjoyed the pool – not stuffy, and there were other children around.

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The hotel certainly has charm – it is rooted in tradition, and it still uses old fashioned keys – which, although cute, made for a longer time trying to get into the room LOL. And the super small bedside tables were for another era – one that didn’t require charging phones and e-readers bedside so one could read and check emails.

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But the old fashioned elegance certainly put me in a good mood every morning when I got to drink my latte al fresco in this gorgeous china. Who does their best china every morning?!?!? What a great idea. 🙂

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The outdoor dining area was so pleasant, and the breakfast buffet was filled with lovely pastries, meats, etc.

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There’s also a little bar area that I loved – refreshments and cocktails all day, and late night snacks if you need.

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The hotel offers bike rentals right on the property – another charming, family friendly thing about Forte dei Marmi is that you ride bikes E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E!! The hotel is close enough to the beach, and the center of town, so we rode to each meal off the property.

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Forte dei Marmi has a number of beach clubs right on the sand, but the hotel has a relationship with one that will give you a discount – it will cost $50 a day for two chairs and an umbrella to sit on that beach – it may seem like a lot, but that is typical for that area. Yes, I have spent a lot less in other Italian beach towns for a beach club, but Forte dei Marmi is an upscale resort town, so you pay for it. TIP: Here’s one way to save… that we discovered just because we were getting late starts each day due to jet lag – show up after 2PM, and some clubs give you a discount.

There is no hotel gym, but a tiny outdoor gazebo overlooking the pool with two treadmills…

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The staff was very nice, and the hotel was especially clean. I would love to return for a longer time! You could stay a week, and take multiple day trips, and still enjoy the nightlife and beaches of Forte dei Marmi.

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I’m so glad I listened to my gut and changed my plans from staying a few nights in Cinque Terre, to Forte dei Marmi.

http://www.californiaparkhotel.com/en/

Train Travel in Europe – Will it Ever be Secure?

We’ve all heard the story by now, but the names are worth repeating: ‪#‎AlekSkarlatos‬, ‪#‎SpencerStone‬, & ‪#‎AnthonySadler‬, the three young Americans who put their own lives in grave danger and stopped what could have been carnage on a train to Paris. Let’s also not forget Mark Moogalian and British grandfather Chris Norman who said “I would rather die trying to get him down than simply sit in the corner and be shot.”

For any of you who have taken the European trains, I’m sure you pictured yourself in a car,witnessing the frantic scene, thinking “What if that happened to me?”

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I was just riding the trains this summer with my children. I cringe and shudder at the thought of children being in danger like that.

But really, what can be done in the future? The passengers on that train got very lucky having such honorable and brave men aboard. EU officials are reportedly meeting in October to discuss train security, and the latest reports say security is beefed up at train stations now.

But you train travelers know – the train stations are crowded, chaotic, & a security nightmare. Some 15,000 trains cross France alone in a day, with some 3,000 stations. How effective can security be? Officials even knew about the man arrested for the train incident, but can they prevent him from boarding a train? Some say metal detectors would be almost impossible to effectively implement because so many people transfer trains with seconds to spare.

Europe prides itself on the ease of which people can move between borders – enhanced by the “Schengen agreement” eliminating border checks. Not many people want to see the freedom change.

According to French President Francois Hollande, to be more secure in the future, we will all need to hope for the courage of average citizens to dig deep and stand up – as displayed by the heroics of Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler.

Here’s a great article on train security via Time magazine:

http://time.com/4008276/europe-terror-trains/ ‪#‎traintravel‬ ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎traveltuesday‬

It's the little things that make a difference at the Roman Colosseum…

DSC05341The Roman Colosseum is the most famous and awe-inspiring monument to have survived ancient Rome. Can you believe it is some 2000 years old?

So of course you are going to fight the crowds, sizzle in the Mediterranean heat, and drag your kids to this ancient amphitheatre when you go to the Eternal City!

You just don’t want to end up like some of the gladiators when you do- beat and conquered. If you are traveling with family, then you know you need to be even more prepared because keeping children happy can be more challenging. This can be one of their favorite experiences if you do it right. I promise, I’ve lived it. Teens who have studied this at school will especially appreciate it.

By the way -a ticket to the Colosseum also gets you to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – all must sees. They are fascinating.

Here are some things to remember to make the trip a victory… sometimes the most obvious practices vanish in the jet lag haze….

1) My top recommendation to make it an enriching, memorable experience is to bite the bullet and hire a tour guide. There are all kinds of tours you can find online, but try to get a personal recommendation from someone who has done it. If you have kids, book one that specifically states it is child-friendly – they do exist.

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We had a phenomenal guide… we got SO lucky – she was an archaeologist, with advanced degrees, who has literally dug up parts of Rome. There wasn’t one question of ours she couldn’t answer in great detail, and she also made it interesting. I don’t usually recommend just one company, but she was so good, this might be valuable for you. This company says they only use licensed tour guides: www.walksinsiderome.com Ask for Valentina Amato.

BONUS: Amato speaks fantastic English – not a trace of an accent. We used the same company the day before at the Vatican tour, and sadly, the accent was so thick, it was not easy to understand the other guide.

2) Did I forget to say that one of the logistical perks to taking a tour is YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAND IN THOSE LOOONG LINES. Whew. Glad I remembered. If you do decide to stand in line and not pay for a tour, then definitely don’t stand in line at the Colosseum – go to the Palatine Hill or the Forum entrances for the same entry ticket, but lines over at those two attractions can be shorter because people don’t realize you can buy Colosseum tickets there.

3) Bring your own water. If you have a water bottle, or bring a collapsable one from home, you can fill up almost anywhere in Rome at public fountains. However, at the Colosseum, even the former emperors would have a hard time finding H2O there today..unless you want to be at the mercy of the peddlers trying to sell water bottles for $5. Trust me, you will get thirsty.

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4) Bring an umbrella if you really want to stay out of the sun – the Forum and Colosseum are almost all in the sun. You will catch a patch of shade here and there in the Colosseum depending on the time of day. Sunscreen, hats, misters – all good too.

5) That being said – try to visit early or late in the day to avoid peak heat, and get better photo-taking light.

6) If you take the subway there – it is really easy – there is food in the station – but it is pretty gross. Sadly, many travelers overpay and give in to the food right there because it is easy – but if you can walk a couple blocks to the end of the Colosseum opposite the Forum, you will find a few cafes and take away places. They aren’t visible from the Colosseum, so ask a local if you need to. That’s my MO.

Have a great time. This is one destination I have visited perhaps four times, and I learn something new each visit.

 

 

What You Should Know Before a Beach Vacation: The Dangers Lurking

A beach vacation can be a care-free family vacation – no need to plan what you are going to do every day – you have the beautiful blue ocean right there for you.

But sometimes when we wade into a pretty new environment, we are so mesmerized with our surroundings, we can neglect cautionary facts about our location.

Did you know that according to the CDC, 4,000 people die each year in the United States from drowning? About 50-75% of them are drownings in open waters, like the ocean.

Most are preventable.

So parents – watch your kids, and take heed of these beach safety tips.

Ken Burns's Favorite National Park & How You Can Get in Free!

Recently, I had the absolute privilege of sitting next to documentary maker Ken Burns at a dinner party.

You must know his work on PBS on a wide variety of important subjects from – “The Civil War,” to “Baseball,” to “The Roosevelts.” Needless to say, it was a fascinating dinner conversation with all the guests peppering him with questions, and him, with his encyclopedic memory, recanting tales and facts from his years of observing and listening on the job. He even recited the Gettysburg Address from start to finish. He certainly honors his subjects through the stories he tells on, and off the screen.

Yosemite

Yosemite

But it his six- episode documentary on our country’s  national parks (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea)  that prompted me to ask him my travel-related question: “Which national park is your favorite? ”

Without missing a beat Burns said “Yosemite.” And… I of course returned, in the same rapid fire speed, the question “Why Yosemite?” He answered in three words, “Because. It’s. Beautiful.”

What??! Not because of Half Dome’s lurking majesty? Or the delicate but plentiful bursts of color from Wawona Meadow’s wild flowers? Or the sheer trance-setting Bridalveil Fall?

Quick to ask (perhaps too quick, but still with the utmost respect) I said, “That’s it? Just because it’s beautiful?” I expected  a much more poetic answer from someone who has so much to say on so many topics..and who had spent a lot of time at the park and on the subject.

His effortless answer struck me..stayed with me.  It was almost as if he found Yosemite so awe-inspiring – all 750,000 acres of it – that the sheer magnitude of its beauty left even the most descriptive, expressive writer who can’t wait to tell the next story, somewhat speechless.

Sometimes a simple answer leaves just as big an impact. (Or perhaps he was just tired of answering my questions, LOL)

So on this note, I want you to see for yourself. Spring is a fantastic time to visit Yosemite, but there are some special things going on at the park all year long:

1) This October Yosemite will celebrate it’s 125th anniversary ! President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation making Yosemite our country’s third national park. There are all sorts of activities organized leading up to Oct – many for kids! –  so check here for how to best plan your trip: www.nps.gov/featurecontent/yose/anniversary/index94d6.html?doing_wp_cron=1425330117.6956789493560791015625

2) Every Kid in a Park: Starting this September if you have a fourth grade child, you and your family can get into any national park for free for a year. The idea is the Obama administration’s incentive to encourage children to get away from screens, and see our beautiful country. Fourth grade was chosen because someone felt this is the ideal age to expose kids to the great outdoors. This could be a nice savings for millions of families… as an annual pass costs around $80.

Spring has sprung! So much to see… and if you can’t make it to Yosemite, you might want to check out Ken Burn’s series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Just beautiful.

The Hotel that Inspired a Golden Globe Winning Film

I was so happy to see the film “Grand Budapest Hotel” win Best Picture Musical/Comedy last night at the Golden Globes!

I have seen it three times now, on flights I took last summer. Loved it every time – it is an eccentric but charming movie following a concierge at the height a grand dame hotel’s popularity during the period between World War I and World War II.  I’m no movie critic, but Ralph Fiennes is captivating – he brings to this role a freshness anyone can appreciate – very different from his roles in the “English Patient” or the “Harry Potter” series. And… there are some unexpected, fun cameos throughout.

Corinthia Budapest Hotel

Yes, there is a travel theme – thus, my enthusiasm. If you love being in hotels, that is the film’s backdrop. But there is allegedly some real life inspiration for this. Some have drawn parallels between the Grand Budapest Hotel and the hey day and even architecture of an existing Budapest hotel, the Corinthia Budapest in Budapest, Hungary. Filmmaker Wes Anderson reportedly stayed there, and the similarities are striking.

Corinthia Budapest Hotel

The Corinthia Budapest has quite a history – opened in 1896, it survived wars and the Hungarian Revolution… In the upcoming months, I will have a story about that on Travel Detective on PBS member stations on a recurring segment “Hotels with a Past.”

By the way, if you can get to Budapest, I recommend it. It has has areas that are as lovely as other top European destinations, and is less expensive… with historic sights and a great nightlife atmosphere.

In the meantime, catch the film! In a surprise win over “Birdman”, it may have some Oscar traction….