The wine that locals drink in Sonoma County..The holidays are a great time for you to visit for yourself!

California’s wine country is ready to welcome visitors after October’s devastating fires. Roads are reopened and air quality is better – and businesses want you there!  You may have heard that already.. but I want to emphasize that  the holidays are such a nice time to explore the rustically beautiful region.

Sonoma Wine Country

There is no shortage of festive decor here.. and I find Sonoma more intimate than its neighbor Napa – with wineries and boutiques inviting you in from the cold, ripe air… and a good assortment of  wineries that offer a personal experience.

If you’ve always wondered about which wineries or restaurants to visit,  I have consulted with locals and wine professionals for some suggestions.

I am not a wine expert by any means, but just love the stuff, and prefer to visit the smaller wineries that don’t produce many bottles, so you taste wines you might not be able to find anywhere else. (Great gifts!!) You can get some high quality wines, from grapes grown right on the estate, as opposed to wineries that buy grapes from all over.

But what is really special, is that it’s not a mob scene at these smaller wineries because tasting is usually by reservation only. Therefore, you can meet the winemakers, and get so much more attention.

Sonoma Wine Country

The larger wineries can get a bit like Disneyland with limos pulling up and large crowds.

But for the most part, many are all handsomely decorated, so you will enjoy the spirit no matter where you go,

Here are some that some locals say “get it right.”

SCRIBE WINERY – a new generation of winemakers have made this a hip haunt. Founded by two young brothers in 2007.
http://scribewinery.com/

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MADRONE ESTATE, VALLEY OF THE MOON WINERY – Make sure to reserve the bocce courts!  http://www.valleyofthemoonwinery.com/Portfolio/Madrone-Vineyard-Estate-Series

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HAMEL FAMILY – A place to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery from the deck while sipping your wine. AND – a big thank you for thinking of families – If you must bring your kids, Hamel offers kids “juice” tastings so they don’t feel left out 😉  (Photo from Gould Evans architect) http://hamelfamilywines.com/

BELTANE RANCH – A vineyard, winery, garden, and orchard! It is known for its Savignon Blanc and Zin – all sustainably grown. And..there is a B&B on the premises, but it won’t be reopening until January 2018, although reservations are being taken now. http://beltaneranch.com/

Ram’s Gate Winery

RAM’S GATE WINERY – If you read my blog, you know this is one of my favorites.

Ram’s Gate Winery

The design is absolutely gorgeous with a long Calacatta marble bar and  a lovely patio. Oh and I like the wine too http://ramsgatewinery.com/

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DONUM ESTATE: Winemaking is not the only art here… the sculpture collection itself is Instagrammable. The stunning pieces make an inspiring  statement in the vineyards. The wines? Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. (Photos from winecountry.com)  http://www.thedonumestate.com/

KAMEN ESTATE WINES– Sleek and modern, it offers two wine flights for tasting.  http://kamenwines.com/



And one of my favorite places – THE ADOBE – an historic building right off of Sonoma’s square…

The Adobe, Sonoma

It is one of the town’s few remaining buildings from California’s Mexican period.The interiors are a such a splashy contrast to the significant adobe exterior!

Three Sticks Wine

Reservations are required for a tasting of Three Sticks wines, or a food pairing or even a private lunch in a chic dining area.  Coming here is a unique experience that blends the best of Sonoma’s heritage, with the youthful energy of it’s present. http://www.threestickswines.com/adobe/

FREEMAN WINERY – These wines have received international acclaim and are on the most discriminating wine lists. https://www.freemanwinery.com/

And.. if you can’t make it to Sonoma wine country , you can always support the businesses by joining these wineries’ wine clubs so you can purchase them without visiting.

Beyond the wineries… There is great hiking in Jack London State Historic Park -it was so close to the fires, but thankfully spared. If you are a reader, you will enjoy learning about the White Fang author and seeing artifacts from his life that are located in the park.

In terms of restaurants., my favorite is The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma Square . Some of the tastiest food you will find.

Glen Ellen Star Restaurant

Glen Ellen Star in the quaint town of Glen Ellen is a local’s favorite.

El Dorado Kitchen right on the square is another classic.

Here is a link for holiday activities in Sonoma: https://www.sonoma.com/blog/the-2017-guide-to-sonoma-countys-best-holiday-happenings/

I often feel a little frivolous writing about travel… but this is a nice opportunity to showcase a place that needs the business. So many of the people there lost homes. and need their jobs that are fueled in large part by tourism. It is a special place that is worthy of our support.

 

Need ideas for winter break? Why not Nicaragua!


Nicaragua as a travel destination is not on everyone’s radar, but had been popping up in some internet articles recently. Every time I would come across  the Central America country’s name, my brain immediately went to “Contras and Sandinistas, ” and thought, “Is it safe?” I was curious to find out what it offers the traveler.

So, I decided to find out on a family vacation. Yep, I went ALL in and took the family, but admittedly after some research and preparation. I wouldn’t risk taking my children somewhere about which I don’t feel comfortable.

All my concerns about safety were put to rest. The Nicaragua revolution and Iran Contra Affair took place in the 70s and 80s, and has of late been called the safest country in Central America, with only Chile being safer in Central and South America.

The government and business leaders have been developing its tourism, and are priming it to be the “next Costa Rica.” And why not? It has the largest area of primary growth rain forest north of the Amazon, volcanoes to explore, and Spanish colonial cities with distinctive architecture. It’s world renown beaches have been sought after for decades by surfers chasing the perfect wave.

What I didn’t realize, is that this small country has an such an interesting history; It is the first Latin America country to have a woman president.

All sounded intriguing… I was just concerned that we would be going “off season” or “wet season” which is our summer. However, I discovered a secret: The advantages of going during wet season is that everything is so green..and it really only rains late in the afternoon for a short period. On top of that, there is a period called something like “verano pequeno” or small summer, because  two weeks at the end of July it doesn’t rain at all.

So I booked during that time frame two different hotels on the Pacific Coast, south of Managua, near Tola. (Most travelers do visit the Pacific Coast because its roads are more developed.)

One – Mukul Resort… swanky and upscale, and the other – Rancho Santana, a smaller more modest property . I wanted to get a taste of both places, because they are very different. And guess what? It only rained for maybe five minutes the entire trip!

Rancho Santana

We stayed at Rancho Santana first. I really didn’t know what to expect, even after reviewing the website many times… it is hard to capture 2700 acres of lush land, and two miles of shoreline on a few web pages.

Rancho Santana

But it is actually very simple in person. The Inn at Rancho Santana is the heart of the entire ranch area, and is situated right on the Pacific Ocean. The Inn was remodeled a few years ago, and fits the landscape perfectly, without giving up rustic elegance. More importantly, the  architecture feels authentic to the property.

There are 17 rooms at the inn, but we stayed in one of the condos that are part of the property, because they offered our family of five more room. We got a three bedroom, two bathroom place with a kitchen and living room for about $300 a night. It was right near the main hotel and pool area. The only downside is that each condo has a different owner, different style, and was not part of the recent remodel.

All of the rooms at the Inn revolve around a courtyard, and are right near all the action, like the
quick breakfast cafe that makes the most delicious Nicaraguan breakfasts.

They were my favorite meals the entire trip: eggs, with guacamole toast and cabbage over a homemade tortilla. We enjoyed our flavorful breakfast on a lovely patio overlooking the property with an ocean view.

A little further down a walkway is the main restaurant, with a bar and pool table – which led to many hours of late-night family fun. The restaurant is lovely – with seating over the dramatic waves at night.

There is also bocce! A family favorite. And remember, all of this is right in the center of the ranch.

Right nearby are all of the fun features – the pool, cabanas, outdoor bar, and the perfect perch to watch the most incredible sunsets.

I would consider myself a “sunset specialist”… and these from Rancho Santana were the most dramatic and beautiful of anywhere I have ever experienced in the world.

There were plenty of activities to keep all of us busy. The ranch has five different beaches from which to choose. All are pretty, and offer something different – whether it be sand surfing, or regular surfing, but our favorite beach was Los Perros because it had the open-air taqueria right on the sand, next to hammocks to nap off the quesadillas and garden-fresh salsas.

No other word describes it better than “chill.” Grab a cerveza and a taco in a corn tortilla that is made right there, and enjoy it on the beach? It was a nice touch.

Another thing to point out, is that the beaches here are almost empty… and rugged, which means there are no umbrellas and chairs set up for hotel guests to use. At Los Perros beach, you can request chairs for the sand. This is something to consider because you might not want your children in the sun all day, so pack an umbrella or ask where you can get one.

We broke up our time on the sand with surf lessons and hiking around the property’s trails. The one thing I think the ranch could improve is the gym. There is yoga in a nice environment, but the gym is across the street, and is nothing really nice – more of a high school gym.

On one of our most memorable days, we hired a guide from the hotel to take us into Granada.

Granada is Nicaragua’s oldest colonial city, situated right on Lake Nicaragua. It’s home to many Spanish-Colonial landmarks that have survived pirate invasions, and the town square is just eye candy with all the vibrant colors of the structures.

The trip into town was a fantastic way to break up all the beach time with some culture. I always love talking to the local guides and learning about life in their native town or country, and the two hour drive into Granada gave us time to do just that. The drive also allowed us to see the countryside..and sadly, the poverty. I can see why the guides do not like to make the trip home in the dark – there are many large animals that roam the roads freely.

On the way, to Granada we stopped to hike Volcano Mombacho, and also zip line across the rain forest.

There were very few tourists – which was so refreshing. We didn’t have to wait on any line for the canopy tours, and because it was quiet, we saw some baby monkeys on the hike.

Once in Granada, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the middle of all the colorful Spanish-Colonial churches and cafes. It really is a lovely town and something to see. I only wish we had had more time to wander around.

At the wharf of Granada, there are boatmen offering people rides on Lake Nicaragua. What is interesting about this boat ride, is that there are hundreds of islets in Lake Nicaragua, which provide habitats for birds and animals, and there are some that have one house on them for people to live on their own private islands.

The islets all range in size, and were formed when rocks flew from a volcano eruption thousands of years ago.

We took the boat ride, and had one of the most epic moments of the trip. There is one island that has a handful of monkeys living on it.

As we approached the monkey island, the boatman slowed down and eventually stopped right in front of it so the kids could see the monkeys.

The most astonishing thing then happened – one of the monkeys jumped on board… and walked directly over to the driver and gave him a long hug.

It was remarkable to witness the capacity for emotion these monkeys have. They clearly recognized the boatman, as he takes people out 1-2 times a day he says, and sometimes offers them food.

My children were stunned silent..but then of course wanted that important selfie with the monkey!

It was a nice outing, especially at sunset with the volcano in the background. We accomplished all of this sightseeing in one day between 8:30 AM and 7PM. It was worth it, and the price at Rancho to do this was substantially less than what it costs at Mukul to hire one of their guides.

When we moved to Mukul after a few days, let’s just say the sexy, open-air lobby grabbed me.

But there was also a hugely impressive array of glass bottles of alcohol set up right there – so right away I felt a different vibe than at Rancho Santana.

Our rooms (little bungalows in the trees called bohios) were beautiful, but small, and unfortunately, not conducive for families. We had to book two bohios because the most one bohio could sleep is 3 people.

The resort does have 12 2-bedroom beach villas, with their own pools, but they were approximately $1000 more a night than two bohios. The bohios were fine for privacy, but they aren’t so close to each other, and made organizing the family a little more complicated.

The nice touch is that coffee is delivered to your bohio every morning at a time you request. The coffee comes with a couple cookies, but I don’t understand why this is still the case – there are aggressive birds around the resort who are not afraid to come after those cookies and disrupt your peaceful morning coffee on your deck, so beware 🙂

This resort is also right on the beach, with the pool steps away.

Wander down the beach a bit and there is a cafe and a recreation area with volleyball courts and water sports. We took another surf lesson, for about double the price of Rancho Santana – but, as the instructor promised, it really was the best surf lesson I’ve ever had.

The nice thing about Mukul’s beach is that there are dozens of palapas with thatched rooves under which a handful of people can lay on the lounge chairs.

There is a beautiful spa and golf course, but the golf course was not in the best shape, which is surprising because we were there during the wet season, so you’d expect it to be green and lush. But at Mukul, we strangely felt like it was “off season” – not as many servers near the pool so you had to track someone down to order food or a drink, the cafe closed earlier than normal, our morning coffee wasn’t always delivered when we requested the night before, etc. It just seemed understaffed.  In all fairness, I had a friend visit Mukul during the winter, and had a better experience with the service.

If you are thinking about going to Nicaragua – here are some nuts and bolts:
Flying into Nicaragua is actually easier than one may think. The easiest way is to fly into Managua, and either book the hotel’s transportation service to pick you up and drive you for a couple hours to the resort, or take a 1/2 hour connecting flight to the small regional Costa Esmeralda airport, which is about 15-20 minutes from either resort.

Or you can fly into Costa Rica’s Liberia airport, where there are more flight options. From there I would recommend taking a flight into Costa Esmeralda – If you have the hotel pick you up at the airport and drive to either resort, it’s a long rough 4 hour drive with a stop at the border.

Flight times from the following cities to Managua: Dallas – 3 hours, New York – 6 1/2.
Flight times from the following cities to Liberia; Baltimore – 4.5 hours, Los Angeles 5.5 ***Southwest and Jet Blue fly from certain destinations to Liberia.

Happy Travels!

The other California wine country: Paso Robles

Northern California’s idyllic wine country has faced its share of disaster and unthinkable heartbreak. . Although there are parts of the wine region that remain unscorched after the devastating fires, and firefighters have gained ground, industry insiders are recommending postponing travel plans to the area since a number of roads are closed, air quality is poor,and thousands of emergency crews are still working away.

Sadly..they  are not sure what impact the infernos will have on tourism. Understandably, of course, because people may read the headlines, and devastating stories, stay away from beloved Napa and Sonoma for who knows how long.

As of this weekend Visit Napa Valley listed an enormous number of wineries and hotels that are currently closed…however there are also some that are still open. If you have travel plans in the near future, obviously check with your hotel first. Check here for more updates www.visitnapavalley.com and www.sonomavalley.com

Even though the it might not be the best time to visit –  please, when the wine country is ready for visitors…one of the best things we travelers can do is spend out travel dollars in the region.

Paso Robles WIne Country

Paso Robles WIne Country

But if you are hankering for harvest season in a vineyard anytime soon, Visit Napa valley is suggesting other wine regions – I’d like to share my experience in another California wine heaven, Paso Robles. Oct 20-22 is Harvest Wine Weekend there!

Downtown Paso Robles

Downtown Paso Robles

Paso flies a little lower on the travel radar than popular Napa and Sonoma, but there is charm in its old world, small town feel. And whatever you do – don’t think the wines are any less delicious. 🙂

Located half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, in San Luis Obispo County, it is not a far detour from Sonoma and Napa. There are more than 40 different wine grape varietals planted here..and the AVA has more than 200 wineries to visit!

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Some of the more well-known wineries are JUSTIN – which helped put Paso on the map with its Wine Spectator 1997 award for one of the top wines in the world – Meridian,  and J. Lohr. I am definitely no wine expert, but visited a few that I felt were definitely creative, with a youthful spirit not so typical in established wineries. I love learning the stories behind the winemaker and wineries, so please indulge me… and you may like learning about them as well. By the way – most of these wineries listed require reservations, and charge a tasting fee that is often waved if you end up purchasing wine.

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Booker Wines. Named after the two orphan Booker brothers who purchased the land back in the 1920s, the Bookers were not only farmers, but were some of the areas greatest philanthropists. When they died, they left 100% of their estate to charity according to the winery website.

The new owners have given new wings to the fruitful roots – you can feel it in the tasting room with the minimalist but chic decor…and you understand it in their philosophy., I love that they practice biodynamic farming … meaning they believe everything on the farm (soil, plants, livestock) is interrelated, and the health of one influences the health of the other.

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The cute bulldog on premises doesn’t hurt. Appointments necessary. www.bookerwines.com

Turley WInery

Turley WInery

Turley Wines. What makes this winery interesting is that most of the wines are single vineyard… which means they are premium grapes that the winemaker did not want to water down by blending with lesser quality. And – they are all certified organic.

They specialize in old vine Zinfadel and Petite Sirah.

Their philosophy, off the website: “We make wines we love, to be shared with those you hold most dear.”  We felt it – we had a great large group tasting outside with a nearby view of the vineyards and the people there made it a festive time. www.turleywinecellars.com

 

Linne Calodo Winery

Linne Calodo Winery

Linne Calodo The story behind this winery might be one of the most compelling in terms of following one’s passion. Founder Matt Trevisan started making wine when he was working as a fork lift driver, living out of his car..and sold all of his assets to buy labels and bottles for his first vintage.

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Now, he owns one of the loveliest wineries, and makes some admired wine…and holds the reputation of being “one of the hottest cult winemakers,” according to a wine writer of The Gray Report.

Linne Calodo Winery

Linne Calodo Winery

The winemaker now makes about 7-10 blends..largely Rhone varietals and Zinfadel… and the winemaker likes to use “esoteric varietals from all over the world.” The philosophy: “Love + farming + science + art + philosophy + passion = great wine.” www.linnecalodo.com

L"Aventure Winery

L”Aventure Winery

L’Aventure Because of consistently high wine scores, this winery has been informally coined “The Grand Cru of Paso Robles.”

Honestly, it was the most casual, and underwhelming of tasting rooms, but I understand there is a new tasting room that may contribute to a better ambiance- but what does it matter to true oenophiles? The wine is high quality and is consistently listed as one of the top wines from Paso Robles.

The owner and winemaker Stephan Asseo trained in Burgundy, France…made wine there for a little while..but then wanted to be more creative than the AOC laws in France would allow. So he began looking around the world for a new place to make his wines – from South Africa to Lebanon to Argentina to Napa… and decided upon Paso Robles. www.aventurewine.com

Lodging

Hotel Cheval

Hotel Cheval

After all the wine tasting.. you are going to want to most comfortable lodging to relax – and Hotel Cheval is perfect. I personally love boutique hotels – and this one oozes warmth. With only 16 rooms, it is not too crowded…yet because of it’s small size, you need to book far in advance.

I can almost guarantee a great night’s sleep  here- the beds are so comfortable. I even purchased the same pillows the hotel uses for my own house.

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The patio off the bar and restaurant is a charming place to listen to music before dinner…

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and  we used the courtyard near the rooms for late night card games on warm nights. As I mentioned before, the hotel is only a half block from the main town, so it is convenient. www.hotelcheval.com

TIps

There can be great distances between the wineries… you may want to look into a driving service that specializes in touring the wineries. The drivers are used to storing any wine you purchase  well, and keeping it cool…and they often have good recommendations.

Bringing kids?  I think it’s better to indulge yourself kid-free in the fantastic food and wine and tranquilizing landscape, but if you must, here you will find some good suggestions: http://www.travelpaso.com/mavericks/mom

Even though the disastrous fires of Northern California have all of us concerned for the area, local economy, and for those who have lost their homes or loved ones,  there are other wine  regions to try. And.. remember Oct 20-22 happens to be Harvest Wine Weekend in Paso Robles!!

But – as soon as the time is right – we can really help the businesses affected in the disasters by visiting Napa and Sonoma again. In the mean time, be sure to order California wines on any menu, or buy them at the store.

For other ways to help – www.visitnapavalley.com and www.sonomavalley.com .

 

 

 

 

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Best Time to Buy Holiday Airfares

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After a day like yesterday, many of us just want to hug our little ones,  spend time with those who mean the world to us, and truly appreciate all we have. Although that is a great mantra every single day, the official day on the calendar to do just that is around the corner – Thanksgiving. If you want to visit with family this holiday, I’ve got some news about the best time to buy airline tickets to save you money. (Oh my – some GOOD news!)

I’ve been researching this for a long time, and different websites, travel groups., etc  all seem to have varied takes on this. But – I found a group that analyzed LAST year’s travel data and all tickets purchased to arrive at the best time to buy tickets this year. They used current data, which I like, to tell us when we can save the most money.

The answer? Drum roll please – The best deals are found 55-65 days before the day you want to travel for Thanksgiving… and the price steadily creeps up each day after that. So based on this information – you should have booked your ticket last week as today it is about 51 days before Thanksgiving itself!

(And if you are looking ahead, you should buy 85 days before the day you want to travel around Christmas)

Of course, this all depends on where you are going – but you can use this as a guideline. Prices reportedly skyrocket 20 days before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As a very general rule, the sweet spot to buy any domestic ticket is between 3 months and 3 weeks before travel. But no matter what study or analysis you listen to – it’s time to start looking for holiday airfares!

To read a complete report for other holidays too:

https://www.dealnews.com/features/Heres-The-Best-Time-to-Book-a-Flight-for-Every-Holiday/1929086.html

Happy and safe travels everyone.

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Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to the Caribbean During Hurricane Season

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Floods, storms, fires… so unfortunate all the news lately! The latest Category 5 Hurricane Irma has slammed into the Caribbean, & is now making its way to Florida..where major theme parks like Walt Disney World Resort , Sea World & Universal Orlando Resort are watching & have **refund polices** in place for visitors because of the weather.
Many Caribbean islands have been affected…& wise travelers know it IS hurricane season after all- June 1-November 30. But travelers, if you are ever thinking about booking a trip to the Caribbean, there are tremendous savings if you do end up going during this storm-prone period, along with the unlikelihood you will be caught in a disastrous storm, according to weather watchers.

On average, twelve tropical storms hit the Caribbean, & Gulf of Mexico each year during hurricane season. About six of those storms turn into hurricanes, according to the National Weather Service & the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Here is some great insight from meteorologists which outlines which islands to visit during each month to minimize your dangerous weather risk… Ways to potentially beat the storms by using science. But just know – there is absolutely no guarantee. 

High risk areas:

• June and July: Gulf of Mexico…which includes many Florida and Texas areas

• August & September: Northern Windward Islands (Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, etc.), Leeward Islands (U.S./British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Guadeloupe Islands, etc.), Greater Antilles (Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, etc.)

• October and November: Western Caribbean and the southeast U.S. coast

By the way – my favorite tip: The ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, are largely free from the hurricane paths. #travel

I just want to add…we are talking about Mother Nature, and I want to reiterate there is no guarantee you won’t be caught in a storm. There is always some risk. Travel insurance is smart to purchase with the money you save by traveling during this time… that way if a storm is predicted in advance, you can reschedule and recoup any money spent. Look at all the insurance options and consider “trip cancellation” or “interruption” policies. But for the policy to kick in, you’ll nee to have purchased it before the storm is forecast. Read the fine print of everything and ask specific questions about what exactly it covers.

Our thoughts are with all those affected in the line of the storm…

 

Stargazing after theSolar Eclipse: Where to take the family

Today’s solar eclipse  has many of us in North America focused on science, space, and nature. If  you are one of those star stuck after the big event, that’s great news! There are many places around the country to explore yourself, or take your family of budding astronomers to keep everyone engaged with space. Many of these places have incredible shows with the newest technology. It’s not your mama’s telescope anymore!

Some of my favorite planetariums and why you should visit them:

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles from pachd.com

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles from pachd.com

  1. Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

The Samuel Oschin Planetarium at the Griffith Observatory (In my hometown Los Angeles) It got is “close up” in this year’s Academy Award winning La La Land, and the Griffith Observatory is a classic landmark overlooking an fantastic view of the City of Angels. The regular exhibits are a little advanced for the younger kids, but the movie inside the planetarium theater is interesting and can hold the attention of most kids.

My favorite thing about this observatory is the once a month public star gazing party outdoors.          Knowledgable astronomers are on hand to help look through telescopes, and it is an engaging experience. http://griffithobservatory.org/

Hayden Planetarium, NY photo by AMNH.org

Hayden Planetarium, NY photo by AMNH.org

2) Hayden Planetarium New York :

One would expect New York City, with all its museums and resources,  to offer a top notch experience in astronomy. The Hayden Planetarium doesn’t disappoint, and it’s located in the equally as interesting Museum of Natural History. What makes the Hayden special is the digital universe atlas it has developed, mapping our world in 3D!! This can be seen in the 429-seat Space Theater. The Museum’s Space Shows are also displayed here. In addition – Check out the incredible programs and speakers scheduled it you visit New York! In addition to the  star shows, the planetarium has live sky talks once a month, as well as lectures by prominent authors and astrophysicists. (BTW if you are a fan of the show “Cosmos,” the accomplished director of the planetarium is the host of the show!)  http://www.amnh.org/our-research/hayden-planetarium

Burke Baker Planetarium, Houston Photo by HMNS

Burke Baker Planetarium, Houston Photo by HMNS

3) Burke Baker Planetarium in Houston, TX

Houston, we have a planetarium. If your travels take you to this Texas city , the Museum of Natural Science and its Burke Baker Planetarium should be the first stop in your space museum exploration. It is an exciting place to visit as it is home to a dome theater that is actually used to train NASA astronauts in star field identification. The planetarium offers a large number of special shows.

(And while you are in Houston, take advantage of all the space edutainment offerings and visit  NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center too!)  http://www.hmns.org/planetarium/

4) Gates Planetarium in Denver, CO :

At the Gates Planetarium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, visitors get a closer look at one of the most mysterious astronomical phenomenon, black holes. For the younger set, the museum’s One World, One Sky show takes you on a journey with Big Bird and Elmo to the moon and back in an educational yet entertaining journey.  http://www.dmns.org/planetarium/

5) Morrison Planetarium, San Francisco, CA:

Not surprisingly, the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Arts and Sciences, near the center of the tech world , has the largest all-digital planetarium in the world. The programing lineup includes traditional star shows, live tours of the universe, live NASA feeds and broadcasts from  researchers reporting from the field. The CA Academy of Arts and Sciences was remodeled about 8 years ago, and is considered a cultural gem – so overall a lot to see at this one destination.  http://www.calacademy.org/exhibits/morrison-planetarium

Adler Planetarium, Chicago photo from Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, Chicago photo from Adler Planetarium

6) The Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Il – This is reportedly the first planetarium built in the United States..and certainly one of the most entertaining. There are so many programs here, you are sure to find something interesting when you visit Chicago.  At Doane at Dusk, guests will enjoy nighttime telescope viewings and related discussions with Adler Astronomers after museum hours. And if you are looking for a unique date night, Adler at Dark is for ages 21 and above and is a different space-related experience once a month… Or how ’bout a truly spiritual yoga class on Satrudays in the planetarium while star gazing? Keeping up with the times, there is a special exhibition about Eclipse Chasing at the planetarium right now. http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/#h2AhH0tYMpSyIR7r.97

7) You don’t have to visit a planetarium to engage with the universe – when traveling takes you to remote areas far from big cities, where the night sky is more clear, that is an excellent time to break out the various apps that help you star gaze and identify celestial bodies. Some recommended apps:

Night Sky 4 (IOS) ..Night Sky Lite (Android)…Star Map…Star Walk 2.

And lastly… wherever your travels may take you – Here’s  a complete list of planetariums around the country:  http://www.go-astronomy.com/planetariums.htm

 

 

How NOT to get bumped from a flight

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I have been processing that disturbing video of the United Airlines passenger getting dragged off the plane, and like most, can’t believe the way that situation was handled. Yes, it is within the airline’s legal rights to remove passengers, but c’mon , there could have been more humane ways to deal with the situation…especially because they were kicking that passenger off to make room for their own employees!

Everyone has a price they will take to voluntarily get bumped –  why not just offer two round trip tickets anywhere in the US – or world – next time? Sign me up! It is now costing the airline much, much more.

That being said.. Overbooking, while rearing it’s ugly head in this isolated incident, actually makes airfares lower by enhancing the airlines’ revenues ensuring flights are booked. In 2016, airlines posted an involuntary bumping rate of 62 per 1 million fliers, according to the Bureau of Transportation.

So as we head into summer – one of the busiest travel seasons -what can you as a consumer do to protect yourself from being bumped?

According to the  Department of Transportation , “it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities,” but for the most part, these tips reflect those priorities:

  • Check in to your flight as early as possible – print that boarding pass 24 hours in advance.. or if not possible because you are camping in the wilderness, LOL, download to your mobile as soon as you can!!! The last to arrive, the first in line to get bumped.
  • If you are loyal to one airline and have elite status, you are lower on the list to get bumped.
  • Same goes with the kind of seat you buy – the cheaper the seat, the more likely you are easily bumped.
  • If you are bumped voluntarily or non-voluntarily on a domestic flight – know this: You  are entitled to 200% of the one-way fare in compensation (but no more than $675) in cash if their delay is between one and two hours, according to a federal regulation. If the delay is more than two hours, customers are entitled to 400% of a one-way fare (but no more than $1,350) in cash. Be firm, and negotiate what you want. Check the contract of carriage on your airline.
  • Consider the airlines – according to Crankyflier.com, JetBlue doesn’t oversell flights.

While involuntary bumping could happen to any of us, consider these tips and it can be less likely. Safe travels everyone!

 

 

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Don’t Let This Storm Cost You in Frequent Flier Miles: Here’s a Little Known Secret

 

From newsline.com -FlIghts cancelled due to winter storm

 

A big winter storm on the East Coast has grounded many flights – Are you one of the many having to change travel plans? Yes, this costs the airlines money having to terminate flights – but it also costs passengers.

Don’t let it cost you in frequent flyer miles! For those of you who are mile mavens, keeping precise track of how many miles you earn and are already calculating to reach a new premier level, every little mile counts.

So if you’ve been rerouted this winter due to storms, make sure you check on how many miles the new route brings you. If it brings you LESS than your original route, you are entitled to collect higher number of miles you originally booked.

Also – if you have been rerouted to another airline, you can call the original airline and try to collect from that airline – presuming it is the airline you fly frequently.

Sometimes you then get to double dip with the airline you actually fly, and the one with which you originally booked.

All of this, of course, ONLY if you get rerouted or rebooked involuntarily.

Yeah yeah I know. It can be a hassle to call the airlines and work it out, and frankly, may people just don’t do it. But trust me.. when you are booking your summer vacation flight to Orlando and are 120 miles short of getting a free ticket, you will appreciate having laid the groundwork.

Safe Travels!

All Eyes On DC: My Top Things To Do With Kids In Our Nation’s Capital

This is probably the one non-political post about Washington DC today – so if you want a break from transition of power topics, read on!

On other days, when Washington DC is not so crowded, it is one of the best places I’ve ever been to take children – kids of all ages for that matter. Here are my top eight things to do in our nation’s capital:

 1) You gotta see the National Mall and Memorial Parks. This area is made up of greenspace, as well as memorials and monuments honoring former presidents and fallen soldiers, to name a few. It’s a nice walk all around, but it’s longer than it looks on the map. There are bikes you can take out right there – but be warned, there are few for small children.  Also – right near the Jefferson Memorial is Tidal Basin, where you can rent paddle boats and see the monuments from a distance, but from the water!  Tip: The Washington Monument is closed until spring of 2019, so you can’t go up to the top. When it reopens, there can be quite a line to go up… go around late dinner time, right before the sun sets and  when all the tourists are eating.

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2) The Capitol – Touring the Capitol is more than a look at the workings of government. The art and architecture are impressive, and stories about them are not lost on kids. Tours are free and try to book before -but if you don’t some same day tickets are available. Visitors can also see the House and Senate galleries, but that takes planning ahead. Tip: Be sure to go to the Library of Congress right next door – fascinating, and it has inauguration souvenirs and speeches on display, if you get inspired today. https://www.loc.gov/

3) The Smithsonian Museums – What people DONT tell you is that you could spend two or three days just exploring http://www.si.edu/Visit/Hours

The Air and Space Museum is overwhelming – so much stimuli, you have to take it in small doses..There’s also the Natural History Museum and the American Art Museum , just to name a few. ALL are free!!

4) The International Spy Museum – After all the culture from the Smithsonians, this is a fun, but well curated collection of spy culture history. Intriguing for mystery-seekers of all ages, it features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts on display to the public.

5) The White House – aka Mr Trump’s residence now. No matter what your politics, it’s a must see. BUT you really need to plan about 6 months in advance to get tickets through a member of Congress. When you book through your member of Congress, and need special hearing or visual assistance, you need to let them know in advance.

6) National Archives – Go on your own “national treasure” hunt and see where the Declaration of Independence is, as well as other documents from our nation’s beginnings.

7) The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing: The kids will love to see how money is printed, and how we protect from counterfeiters.  https://www.moneyfactory.gov/services/takeatour.html

8) Just outside of Washington DC , almost 15 miles away – but SO worth the trip , is Mount Vernon – the plantation home of George and Martha Washington. Right on the banks of the Potomac, this is one of the most kid-friendly and interactive attractions. The tour of the Washington home gets intimate, showing the very room where George Washington took his last breath. The museum on the property explains slavery, war, in relationship to Washington’s life, and includes a look at personal moments – like George and Martha’s relationship – in very clear terms for all. You can even see Washington’s infamous dentures!  http://www.mountvernon.org/

Happy Travels!

What I was reminded of while traveling in 2016 & will keep in mind in 2017…

I’m not going to sugar coat this – 2016 was a dramatic year. There was tension in the air with the presidential election looming… more terrorist attacks in beloved destinations… and too many deaths of well-known contributors to society.
Sprinkled in between, I took a higher number of trips than normal, which were great, but with the backdrop of unsettling world events, it felt like a little much. (Did I just say that?) This leads to my number one thing I was reminded of regarding traveling:
1) If you travel for business, or are just able to travel a lot for the heck of it, don’t underestimate the importance of pacing out the trips! If your dopp kit or cosmetic bag is still packed with your toiletries by the next trip, it’s probably too soon.
That’s just me, but I like to recharge so I can fully appreciate the next destination.

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2) I’m a fan of traveling during the off-season to avoid crowds and grab some deals. However, you need to do your research to make sure it’s still the type of atmosphere you want. For instance – I visited two hotels in Nicaragua last summer – Rancho Santana, and Mukul Resort.

Rancho didn’t miss a beat. However at Mukul, service must have been cut because it was slow season as it was hard to find anyone to help poolside or on the beach… And – one of the restaurants closed earlier.
By the way – the last couple weeks of July are still a fantastic time to visit Nicaragua – it is green from rains, but typically doesn’t rain during this time very much. We only got about 10 minutes of rain the entire week.

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3) Don’t assume it will be cheaper to use Uber in a city than renting a car, especially in San Francisco where it is ALWAYS peak hour rates. So many people use it in that tech universe, that it is so much more expensive. Take into account parking costs, then figure out if renting a car or a ride service like Uber or Lyft is cheaper…or consider a form of public transportation.

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4) When renting a home, try to talk to someone local who may be managing the property, instead of the owner who may live far away. They might be more qualified to tell you: Is there construction going on? If there are facilities like a pool or gym, will this be open while you are there? You can even go as far as to ask for contact information of guest who have recently stayed.

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5) If you can, go to Hawaii when school is in session – not in summer or any of the traditional school breaks. Even Waikiki seems quiet then! It is easier to get reservations for any activities, hotels, or restaurants…and the weather is fabulous all year round. I always say to truly appreciate the Aloha State is to get off your lounge chair and go beyond the nice hotel. That’s where you’ll find the true Aloha Spirit. Take a hike…visit a mom and pop eatery. But whatever you do, if you explore all the beaches, make sure you go to one with a lifeguard who knows the riptides, and where there are rocks.

Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, Nashville TN

Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, Nashville TN

6) Nashville is so much more than the music scene. Yes, it’s all that – but honestly, you could spend days there exploring and having a great time without ever stepping foot on Broadway! (Although, you must do that too.) There is so much culture and history… Plantations, Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Cheekwood Gardens to name a few.

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But when you do get your dancing shoes on – wander to the strip and find the place that is right for you. There are tons of clubs – many packed with bridal showers and revelers – so do’t stop at the first one you come to. There are plenty – most with amazing music.

Happy travels in 2017 everyone – may they be safe, yet meaningful.