Archive for the Category »Travel «

Apr
22nd
  Travel Tip Tuesday: Clearing the Air About Non-Smoking Hotel Rooms – They’re Not as Clean as You Think
Marriott Shadow Ridge Villas from Timesharejuice.com

Marriott Shadow Ridge Villas from Timesharejuice.com

Last week while I was in Rancho Mirage CA, my kids and I visited some friends staying  at Palm Desert’s Marriott Shadow Ridge villas.

I discovered this is a completely smoke-free hotel. I had heard of lodging with nicotine no-nos, but had never run across one. This reminded me of a study published recently, that is important if you have smoke allergies, or are just concerned about your health.

cigarette

The study looked at a random sample of hotels :  some with non smoking rooms, and hotels with complete non smoking bans. Surfaces and air from both types of hotel were analyzed for tobacco smoke pollutants. Not surprisingly, levels were highest in the smoking rooms… BUT what’s significant is levels in non-smoking rooms were much higher than those found at smoke-free hotels.

And…volunteers who stayed overnight in the smoking hotels ended up with sticky nicotine residues on their fingers, even if they stayed in non- smoking rooms. However, urine tests found additional evidence of nicotine exposure in those who stayed in smoking rooms, but not those who stayed in the non-smoking rooms.

It seems third hand smoke  – smoke that seeped under doors, for example – can still linger in drapes, carpet, etc. in non-smoking rooms. We don’t know how dangerous that is, but it is reason to be cautious as we do know that second hand smoke is carcinogenic.

The conclusion is that it’s best for your health to stay in non-smoking hotels whenever possible. Partial smoking bans in hotels do not protect non-smoking guests from exposure to tobacco smoke and tobacco-specific carcinogens

Thankfully, it’s not so hard to find a smoke-free hotel – even in Vegas! –  because the trend is growing. The most comprehensive list I’ve found is here: http://hotelmagician.com/smoke-free_hotels/

And remember, if a smoke-free hotel is not available, and you are booking a hotel online – call the hotel and request a smoke free room if the website doesn’t give you the option. There’s nothing worse than having to spend then night in room with even a hint of cigarette smoke if you are a non-smoker.

As a non-smoker and a mom who travels with kids, I’d like to applaud Marriott and Westin, two chains who offer a number of non smoking hotels across the country. Today on Earth Day, they are good models of those in the industry taking care of our air!

 

 
Apr
11th
  Hey Bay Area! “Travel Detective” Starts Airing on KQED this Weekend!
Valle de Bravo, Mexico while taping Travel Detective

Valle de Bravo, Mexico while taping Travel Detective

If you like this photograph, you are going to want to learn  more about this hidden gem of  a place, Valle de Bravo, Mexico on our travel tv show “The Travel Detective.”

“The Travel Detective” has been airing around the country on PBS member stations, and now will air in the San Francisco Bay Area beginning this weekend! I am a correspondent and report on misleading travel brochures and reviews in this weekend’s episode.

Check here to get email reminders and official times of upcoming broadcasts: www.kqed.org/tv/programs/index.jsp?pgmid=21864

But for now I can tell you “The Travel Detective” airs:

on KQED Plus most Sundays starting April 13 at 11 AM

AND on KQED Life most Saturdays starting April 19 at 5 PM

For more about the show, click here: www.traveldetective.petergreenberg.com/

Have a great weekend!

 
Apr
10th
  Where Kids Will Like to Roam in Rome – Plus Tips You Should Know Before You Go

In my opinion, it is always a special time in Rome, Italy.

But particularly right now, it is especially festive. The ancient city is the top Italian destination for Easter week, or Settimana Santa, primarily because of the events led by the Pope in Vatican City. Special masses are said on Palm Sunday and Easter, attracting large crowds.

But many of us can’t make it to Rome on Easter, so here are some things to do in one of Europe’s most fascinating and layered cities, with the kids all year round. Rome offers so much for families, but you have to be prepared – the Italians are warm and inviting to children, and hotels and restaurants are welcoming. But the museums are some of the least prepared for children of those I’ve seen in Europe – especially compared to London or Paris, where some museums have special family programs and activities.

Looking beyond museums, I  pulled together a list of things to do in Rome with the family…. some that go beyond the expected sights to see.

Saint Peter's Square

Saint Peter’s Square

Join an audience with the Pope at the Vatican It doesn’t need to be Easter! Bring your kids to see the Pope himself. Papal Audiences are held on Wednesdays (if the Pope is in Rome, of course). Visitors have the chance to see him in St. Peter’s Square and receive the Papal or Apostolic Blessing. The Pope does a greeting in few different languages, including Italian, English, French, and Spanish, and a ceremony consisting of small teachings and readings.  They are normally scheduled to start at 10:30, or may start earlier depending on the heat. In summer, the readings are done outside, where there is usually sanding room if you don’t get tickets. Tickets are free, but be sure to arrive early to get good seats! Visit http://www.papalaudience.org/ for more details

Note: It is quite an interesting spectacle, but might not hold the attention of very young children. If you want to see the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, plan to stay longer and get tickets in advance through Tickitaly.com. The kids will like climbing the Cupola, the dome of St Peter’s – what a spectacular view from top!!

From Jaunted.com

From Jaunted.com

Rome Treasure Hunts Get to know Rome in the most fun way possible! A group of Roman tour guides have created games, trivia, and quizzes for families. There are multiple tours, including an ancient Rome tour, a Vatican treasure hunt, and an Ancient Ostia treasure hunt. Most tours last 3-4 hours, and include line-skipping privileges.  Visit www.rometreasurehunts.com/ for pricing and reservation details.

Colosseum Of course, once can’t visit Rome without going to the Colosseum… and kids will love taking stroll through history. Middle school students may be  learning about ancient civilizations, so that’s a good age to take the kids.

A tour will shed insight about gladiators and the history. Located in the heart of Piazza del Colosseo, the ancient building is host to thousands of tours a day. Tickets cost €15.50 and operating hours are from 9-4, although there may be changes due to weather. Check out www.rome.info/colosseum/ for more info.

Roman gladiator school from viator.com

Roman gladiator school from viator.com

To go beyond the normal Colosseum tour, there is actually an interactive “Gladiator School” for those who like to dig a little deeper. You have to know your kids – do they like participating? It’s a gladiator history lesson mixed with role playing. Here’s the info: http://www.gsr-roma.com/English/

 

Trevi Fountain from Amore travel guides

Trevi Fountain from Amore travel guides

Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Arguably the most famous fountain in the world, the Fontana de Trevi is found in the Trevi district in Rome.

Made of mostly travertine, it is the largest fountain in all of Rome, standing 86 feet high, and 161 feet wide. Children can throw coins into the fountain, but make sure you do it correctly to ensure a trip back to Rome: Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. Make a wish!

This is more than a quick stop -  there are plenty of dining options and gelato in the square itself.

The fountain was refurbished in 1998; the stonework was scrubbed and all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired by skilled artisans and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps. And thank you Fendi! In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain; it will be the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history.

 

From vatican.va

From vatican.va

Roman Catacombs

On a hot day, this is the coolest place to be: underground tunnels that served as burial grounds for Romans. Not many bones, but a lot of interesting things to see – and sort of spooky for the older child.

The 40 or so known catacombs are actually outside the ancient walls of Rome. From the first through the fifth centuries,  an estimated 375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels were dug, with networks of galleries as many as five layers deep.

http://www.catacombe.roma.it/en/index.php

{Pompeii, from ablogabouthistory.com

{Pompeii, from ablogabouthistory.com

Pompeii

For a quick day trip outside of Rome, nothing is more fascinating than seeing the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

On display are what excavators found…. I didn’t find it gruesome, but there are sensitive remains on display. Be ready to explain to young children what happened. There are casts of human bodies as they were  when the volcano struck.

From Rome, take a two hour train ride to Naples, then at that train station, take a local train to Pompeii. Beware of people trying to take advantage of tourists at the train stations.

TIPS:

–Driving in Rome is nuts. Only for the person who wants to be stressed out. I highly recommend against it and take cabs or public transportation.

–When visiting churches, including the Vatican and St Peter’s, remember to wear conservative clothing – shirts with sleeves and no short shorts.

 

 
Apr
07th
  A Slam Dunk for Basketball Fans

Who ya rooting for – UConn or Kentucky?  Big day in college basketball today.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame from springfieldhampton.com

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame from springfieldhampton.com

But if you just can’t get enough of the sport after the championship game, consider visiting the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. It is a fun-filled stop on an East Coast summer vacation to the New England area… and easy access to anyone who already lives on the East Coast. And don’t you just love the architecture?

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Located in the town where basketball was invented, the hoops haven honors more than 300 former player inductees…. and has 40,000 square feet of basketball history. There are hundreds of interactive exhibits – with live clinics and skills challenges making it very hands on for kids… and who am I kidding? Adults too.

Other fun exhibits : The budding sportscaster can record on video a news read in front of the cameras… or he/she can play in a hoops challenge.

During the summer, there is a program called “60 Days of Summer,” – This summer players Mitch Richmond, Brevin Knight, and Bill Cartwright to name a few will make appearances and sign autographs.

A great family stop if you are a hoop dreamer or not. The Hall of Fame is about an hour and forty minute drive from Boston.

www.hoophall.com

 

 

 
Apr
04th
  Hotel of the Week: Costa Rica Enchantment in the Jungle
Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica from costaricaexpeditions.com

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica from costaricaexpeditions.com

Costa Rica is a great family travel destination for many reasons – There are diverse regions that can appeal to a wide variety of travelers – Beach? Check. Rain forest and wild life? Check. Adventure? Check. Volcano? Got that too.

The hardest part is deciding where you want to go in this Central America country… most people visit a few places for a few days each to encounter all Costa Rica has to offer.

Another bright spot here when bringing kids is that the tap water is clean, and the local food can be eaten without serious stomach problems… and the country is generally safe. A potential negative: You have to buy airfare.

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica

So that being said, I wanted to share with you what seems to be a reasonably priced, yet totally enchanting lodge in the Costa Rica jungle. I’ve heard about it a few times lately with great reviews. It is the Tortuga Lodge and Gardens.

Tortuga Lodge & gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge & gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens is a small hotel situated on 146 acres of private land on Costa Rica’s northeast Caribbean coast…surrounded by rivers, which is part of the charm – no roads. .  Tortuguero National Park is a 20 minute boat ride away. Prepare to spend a lot of time on the water actually – there is a lot of exploring to be done on  its back water creeks and lagoons with a Tortuguero Naturalist Guide.

Tortuguero Natl Park, from costaricaexpeditions.com

Tortuguero Natl Park, from costaricaexpeditions.com

Tortuguero National Park is an exciting place – At 51,870 acres, it is one of the most biologically rich and last large areas of tropical rain forests in Central America.

From Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

From Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

Among the wild-life you may encounter and your kids will love are three species of monkeys (spider, howler, and white-faced), three-toed sloths, river otters, caimans, iguanas,river turtles, basilisk lizards, poison dart frogs, as well as more than 320 species of birds.

Turtles at Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

Turtles at Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

Some  of the coolest activities available to you at the Tortuga Lodge (for a price) are turtle expeditions. The eco-lodge is located near a major nesting area of the Atlantic Green sea turtle, so there are opportunities to up close to these reptiles. If you’ve never seen these beautiful (and large!) creatures before, the really are a sight to behold on the sand, with the moonlit sparkling water nearby.   One of the outings you can pay for is an outdoor dinner under the stars, and afterward a walk on a secluded beach to observe the nesting of these interesting creatures.

Beyond normal travel activities,  the lodge offers it’s guests a unique opportunity:  to volunteer in the immediate community. Guests can get to know some local children and speak English with them to help them learn the language. It doesn’t cost anything and transportation is provided in exchange for your time. I will say from my travels that getting to experience authentic life in a destination always makes it richer… and this is a chance to give back – Jackpot.

Tortuga Lodge and Gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge and Gardens, Costa Rica

The lodge is NOT a slick, fancy resort… it is basic, but reportedly feels more authentic, while also clean and spacious.

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens Deck

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens Deck

One of the best features in my opinion is the deck off of the main dining room, so you can take a meal there overlooking the river and forest.. or just sit and enjoy. The setting is magical.

Remember – Costa Rica is quite rainy all year long so pack a rain poncho for those unexpected storms.

Good news – it is pretty affordable for the average budget – Room rates at Tortuga start at $178 for a double; $278 for the penthouse… BONUS  Kids ages 0-5 eat free, ages 6-10 receive a 50% discount, ages 11 and older pay full price.

Special packages are also offered on the website, so be sure to check.

www.tortugalodge.com

 

 

 

 
Apr
02nd
  Something You Should Know if You Are Flying to Hawaii
Oahu's Kahala Resort

Oahu’s Kahala Resort

Aaaah… the warm breeze… Hawaiian music in the background… and palm trees swaying. All good, but if you plan on flying to Hawaii for spring break, or any other peak travel season, beware. Specifically, if your departing flight is on Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu International Airport. It is not that relaxing.

Self serve check in counters

Self serve check in counters

Something look different here?  In 2011 Hawaiian Airlines renovated the check-in lobby of the Interisland Terminal, replacing traditional check-in counters with six circular self-serve check-in islands in the middle of the lobbies. (Terminal also serves mainland and international flights)

After checking in at the self serve kiosks, the traveler then needs to bring bags himself to be inspected at another station… then get in line for security.

Self Serve Bag Check In

Self Serve Bag Check In

photo 3Very modern , yes… but efficient? Not so much according to departing travelers with which I was surrounded  on a recent trip there. Many people were standing around, confused about what to do next, which overall slows down the process. On a crowded travel day,  it is hard to find an agent to help, and the new system is not very well explained, despite large signs saying “Step 1, 2, 3.”

Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu

Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu

On this particular day,  over some people’s spring break, once I checked in, bags and all, there was an enormous line that extended out the door and down the sidewalk   to go through security. An airline employee did try to help out, and steered passengers on certain flights to the next terminal over – about a 10 minute walk.

Bottom line: Don’t be fooled into thinking the airport is on “island time,” and it will be simple. Allow plenty of time if you are departing Oahu during a peak travel time: spring break, summer, Fridays or Sundays, and Christmas. Although the new system was implemented in 2011, it is still new to many travelers.

 

 

 

 
Apr
01st
  Travel Tip Tuesday: 7 Ways to Protect Your Luggage from Thieves
From blog.aztec247.com

From blog.aztec247.com

Disturbing news recently that isn’t all news at all – Police made arrests and announced that a ring of LAX baggage handlers stole thousands of dollars of valuables from travelers’ luggage.

According to law enforcement, airport workers quickly rifled through bags, looking for items to steal, and then pocketed the goods.

Unnerving? Yes. But we’ve heard these stories before throughout the world’s airports. Actually, in terms of rankings in the United States, Miami International Airport has fired the most TSA agents for theft.. then JFK in New York, and  Los Angeles International comes in third.

Police say stolen items from luggage has been increasing significantly, according to the Wall St Journal.

So what can we do about it? There is no way to absolutely prevent a dishonest worker from taking something from your checked bags – but there are ways to make it less likely.

1) Plain and simple: DO NOT pack anything of value in  your checked bags – electronics, money, jewelry are all NO-NOs. Put those in your carry on bags. What was Paris Hilton thinking when she packed a $100,000 watch in her checked bags? It was stolen.

From Fedex.com

From Fedex.com

2) If you have something of value you can’t carry on, ship it ahead of time so it is insured. Fed Ex  and Luggage Free are two companies to help.

 

From securewrap.com

From securewrap.com

3) Police said about this particular ring in Los Angeles that the thieves were looking for a quick steal, something they could pocket in seconds. Wrapping your bag in duct tape… or wrapping your bag in saran wrap are ways to deter the quick theft – Located at some airport terminals,  Secure Wrap engulfs your baggage with saran wrap for about $8-10. Note: If the TSA needs to look through your luggage for any reason, the wrap will be torn off.   www.securewrap.com

4) DON”T use expensive designer luggage  – the Louis Vuitton logo is just a red flag that there may be something of value inside the bag too. Some people I know use their kids’ luggage as a decoy – men’s suits and belts are  items that have gone missing in some cases, and wouldn’t normally be found in a child’s bag.

5) Of course, you can always use a TSA approved lock – but TSA agents have access and some have a track record of stealing too. It is another layer, however, from the average thief.

From Syracuse.com

From Syracuse.com

6) If you opt for a pat down in the security line rather than go through the scanning machine – keep your eyes on your items, and don’t let any loose phones or ipods sit alone, easily available for anyone to take. Ask someone in your party to keep an eye on the items for you, or alert another agent at the other end of the security belt. Sometimes travelers are waiting a bit for an available TSA agent to do a pat down, and every second your stuff is out alone makes it more vulnerable.

7) If you are worried about your entire luggage being stolen, there are FCC approved GPS trackers out there to put in your luggage. Trakdot is one, which sends a text message to the luggage owner about it’s location. www.trakdot.com

It’s no fun to get something stolen – one feels violated, and loses something that could be meaningful. Be careful and smart about how you travel.

Photograph the items in your bag before you go so you can make your case if something does get stolen or your bag goes missing.

If you do notice something missing from your bag, report the stolen items as soon as possible – file a police report and go to the TSA website and fill out papers there. If you want to play sleuth and try to track down your items, some of the dishonest employees arrested at LAX were selling items on Craigs List. But if you find it, contact police instead of contacting the individual on your own.

 

 
Mar
14th
  Hotel of the Week: Where Rock and Roll Royalty Stay

The Sunset Marquis in Hollywood, CA has quite a storied past – It has always been the hotel for rock and roll stars, possibly by a stroke of luck: Just as the nearby Sunset Strip clubs were getting going 50 some years ago, the Sunset Marquis opened its doors.

The musicians finishing at the clubs in the wee hours liked the proximity, yet also the privacy. It is located in a cu-de-sac away from traffic, set in a lush garden.

Today it is still a hotel where the “who’s who” go to get away from groupies. Not only is it a private sanctuary, but there is one of the best recording studios in the country in the basement – According to reports this year alone, 21 of the Grammy nominated artists have recorded at the hotel’s below-house studio, NightBird.

In honor of the hotel’s 50th anniversary, the hotel got a little nip and tuck Hollywood style… and hotel management published the book, “If These Walls Could Rock.”

I had a fun visit to the place where many rock star photo shoots take place… and where rock and roll fantasies come true. Check it out:

www.sunsetmarquis.com

 
Mar
13th
  Kiev: What You May Not Know About this Headline-Making City as a Travel Destination

I like talking travel. And lately, the conversations have been about Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Kiev, Ukraine from Enjoy-Ukraine.com

Kiev, Ukraine from Enjoy-Ukraine.com

The chatter has not just about how Crimea will be played out , or the anti-government protests that led to a new president. But surprisingly, more people have confided in me that it is one of their most beloved places to travel.

Right now, is not the best time to go obviously, but file these thoughts away for the right time when things settle down in this Eastern European gem.

Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, dating back to the 5th century, which makes for an interesting mix of the ancient juxtaposed against the modern.  Think cobblestone streets, and with modern buildings jetting up in the backdrop. In 1775, it was annexed into the Russian Empire, and experienced an influx of Russians and Russification.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kiev became the capital of Ukraine, and saw many Russians go back to their country. Currently, Kiev is about 85% Ukrainian, and 12% Russian. The Ukrainian language is the main language, so it may be difficult to read signs when traveling there, or converse with locals…which makes it more of an adventure.

What to see:

Chernobyl Museum

Chernobyl Museum

1) The Chernobyl Museum – Housed in an early 20th century building, this museum focuses on a piece of tragic history: the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. On site are media, artifacts, and other representational items to educate the public about many facets of the disaster, without being grotesque. It is a highly engaging experience, and tours are available in English which is recommended since signs are in Russian. khreshchatyk-street-kiev-ukraine-august-pedestrians-walk-night-august-kiev-ukraine-main-kiev-34883227 2) Khreshchatyk Street – The main drag of the city center. It is closed to traffic on some weekends and full of entertainers and people wandering around. Great place for people watching.

Hidropark Island, Kiev from Norwegian.com

Hidropark Island, Kiev from Norwegian.com

3) Hidropark Island in the Dnieper River. Kiev has  city beaches that line the Dnieper. A great day would be to  visit the parks and beaches of the islands, where you can play beach volleyball, swim in the river or in the pools on the island, or just soak up the sun.

St Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev from Fostours.com

St Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev from Fostours.com

4) St Sophia’s Cathedral: The oldest remaining church in Kiev is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here you can see the world’s biggest ensemble of frescoes and mosaics dating from 11th century. You can climb the bell tower and get a guided tour if desired. kiev park 5) Mariinsky Palace  and Mariinsky Park : I am a park lover when I travel. They reveal so much about the spirit of a  place to me.

Mariinsky park is one of the most popular walking destinations among Kiev residents. It is a picturesque spot  on the hilly bank of the Dnieper River and received its name from the nearby Mariinsky Palace which was built in Baroque style at the end of eighteenth century. The palace should be completely renovated by 2015 and open to the public, according to sources. Rent bikes or Segways for a fun day here.

6) One thing that sounds really fun to do is to take a tour given by locals. The website www.Sputnik8.com hooks you up with tours that vary from kid friendly, to off the beaten path, all lead by natives.

Now… all eyes are on Kiev for a different reason… as the world powers battle over Ukraine’s future. Stay tuned.

 
Mar
10th
  Malaysia Flight 370 Exposes Frightening Security Lapse: You’d be Surprised how Many Lost Passports Aren’t Checked

passportCan’t stop reading the headlines about Malaysia Air Flight 370. The story is tragic and perplexing. One can only imagine the daily despair amongst family members of those on the plane  as each day drags on with very little new information.
It’s still not known if the travelers using two stolen passports to board the Malaysia Air flight  had anything to do with the plane’s missing status. However, it has opened our eyes to a very scary security flaw:

More than 1 billion times last year, travelers boarded planes without their passports being checked against the International Police’s (Interpol’s) database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents, according to the Lyon-based organization.
How crazy is that?  What’s the point of all the other layers of security if lost or stolen passports aren’t even being checked??? To find out some reasons why there isn’t better fact finding, here’s a good article.
http://bigstory.ap.org/article/interpol-database-not-checked-pre-malaysia-flight?utm_campaign=Lifestyles&utm_source=SocialFlow&utm_medium=Twitter