Travlin in my backyard

Today was a record snowfall for Dallas, Texas. I walked down to the neighborhood park and took some photos of a rare sight in these parts – about a foot of snow!

Advertisements

San Diego

San Diego – warm days, cool nights in spring time plus fantastic views of San Diego Bay. The downtown Gas Lamp district offers hundreds of things to do and eat that one week is not enough to experience it all. Especially when having to spend most of my time on business. During my stay in January I was able to experience several places and all were excellent.
• Just next to the Hard Rock Hotel, Mary Jane’s Coffee Shop was a blast from the past with funky 60s style décor including paintings of Mick Jagger a la Warhol. Booths featured modern flat screens while showing 60s programs and commercials. Offering scrumptious comfort style food and drink options from the bar at a moderate price. My lunch of Los Wingos with no bonos (boneless chicken wings) and iced tea hit the spot. Next time I’ll try The Hot Elvis . This place is great for a quick breakfast or lunch.
• A few streets down, The Red Pearl offered the best Chinese food I’d had in a while. We ordered the pan-fried pot stickers, spiced minced chicken lettuce wraps, Pho of Kobe Beef and vermicelli noodles and vanilla cinnamon gelato to finish the meal. Everywhere you go there people with bicycle “rickshaws” that will take you to your nearby destination instead of a taxi or walking. On this particular night as we made our way back to the hotel one of them was offering to pose (shirtless and with a spiked collar no less) with a couple of tourists for a buck. I guess they didn’t want to ride his rickshaw so he thought of another service he could offer. Should make for an interesting souvenir photo.
Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza offered more than just pizza. An enjoyable walk from the Omni hotel, on this night we saw a balloon man (making balloon animals of course), various entertainers playing the guitar and singing their versions of some favorite song for a buck and across the restaurant for perhaps later entertainment was the f stop adult store. Dinner this night included of course pizza (which is almost always good anywhere – I loved the Margherita pizza) with thin crust and simple, traditional ingredients and insanely large salads – our choice was the Grilled Balsamic Chicken Salad all around. Appetizers were a mix of the routine and out of ordinary. Most of us enjoyed these more than the pizza – mini duck tacos (oh so cute and did not taste like duck – divine!), garlic cheese bread, mac n cheese, pan-fried pork dumplings (yum!).
Filippis in Little Italy was what I imagined an Italian grocery store back in the day (or maybe still) would look like in Little Italy in New York. With all the fixings available to make fresh, original, true Italian dishes, this little grocery store also features a moderate restaurant in the back of the store. Offering basic Italian dishes – pizza, salad, and the most popular pasta dishes – you’ll want to come with a very large appetite or order extra plates to share family style as portions are extremely generous. Evenings there is always a wait with a line out the door and reservations are only accepted for groups of 10 or more – well worth it. Get the lasagna and house salad – BEST! You’ll probably need a taxi to get to this one.
• If you are in the mood for Spanish food, Café Sevilla is your best bet. All the tapas are excellent and the beef medallions will hit the spot for your entrée with a satisfying glass of Sangria. To finish off the meal the dessert sampler will satisfy all.
Don’t forget to talk a walk on the boardwalk for some great souvenirs and a stop at Chocolot cremerie on 5th Avenue is also a must (the crepe with honey and a scoop of Amaretto gelato is heaven!).

Cozumel, Mexico!

In over 40 years of traveling to Mexico I finally made it to a different part of this beautiful country. Cozumel was everything we had expected …..and some things we didn’t but it was minor compared to the good stuff. As the plane circled the island to land we were amazed by the many hues of blue to be seen – light blue, dark blue, aqua, blue green and on and on. The day was sunny and we were excited to land and begin the experience. Upon arrival we were bombarded with the usual army of time share salesmen. We were expecting it however as usual my husband got taken under the guise of this guy directing us to a taxi and was escorted to a stand in front of a lady who began her spiel. As soon as he realized she wasn’t going to get us a taxi, we both exclaimed, “We don’t want any!”
We took off and were were finally able to get the correct person for a taxi and were crammed into a van with other passengers eager to be off. Although we would have preferred our own separate taxi, beggars can’t be choosers and they know it. Besides we were just anxious to be out of there and on our way to the hotel. Just know before you go, we did find out later from another travel that we could have rented a car for the week at the airport for what it cost us to rent the car for one day from the hotel (about $75). Next time I plan on researching that and getting it so we have more freedom to explore.
We went to Cozumel during Thanksgiving week so the crowds were minimal. As we already have a time share we stayed at “our” hotel Allegro Cozumel. We were immediately whisked away to the club house for check in and received warm towels to freshen up and a drink. This hotel was very different from any other we had stayed in, the rooms were all set up like apartment buildings and ours was right by the club house. Our girls went with us and they got their own room several units away. if they had been younger I would not have liked this but since they are 18 and 26 it was fine and we were only a phone call away if needed.
Once settled in we immediately began exploration of the beach and hotel. The sand was like coarse sea salt and did not burn when walking on it, the water however was freezing! Upon entering the water you could immediately see all kinds of fish! We had never seen anything like it. We tried our hand at snorkeling (free loaners on the gear at the hotel dive shop) however I seemed to get claustrophobic every time I tried the mask on and gave up.

The girls had fun and saw all kinds of fish and took some photos with the underwater disposable camera – not bad. We got quite a few photos of Iguanas as they were everywhere – a few butterflies too.

This hotel was quite large and very family oriented; there were 3 pools, with the largest featuring slides and other “toys”. It looked like a small water park. Unfortunately since this was a slow week for them they did not have this last pool open. My girls were kind of disappointed even though they would have been too old to play in it. There were 3 restaurants – 2 only available for dinner by reservation only and serving oriental and Mexican food – a bar by the beach and a swim up bar. And there was evening entertainment on Wednesday and Friday nights only – another big disappointment as their sister hotel in Puerto Vallarta (PV) featured entertainment every night.
The first night at the hotel’s main restaurant was a big disappointment as the food was of poor quality. Not very hot, blah tasting and not much variety for a buffet, it improved somewhat as the week went on most likely due to guest complaints. The oriental and Mexican restaurants were by far the better choice. However reservations were limited as they seemed to have a reduced staff working at the hotel perhaps because it was the slow season. Minimal staff resulted in poor service at the main restaurant and in overworked staff at the Mexican and oriental restaurants.

We did rent a car for a day and took a trip around the island exploring a few places for lunch and drinks. The sights were phenomenal, the food fantastic. We learned that next time we split the exploring into two days in order to make the trip to town a full day. By the time we got to the town we were too exhausted from the Tequila Tour
,
Mayan Ruins Tour

and overcome by heat and mosquito bites (oh yeah take plenty of bug spray!) to enjoy it. The Mayan Ruins were awesome with Iguanas everywhere – it was humbling to walk where ancient civilizations had been before us. According to history, Cozumel was where the women went to pray to the goddess of fertility.

We took a short walk along the main street and purchased minimal souvenirs and headed back to the hotel for showering and dinner.
Towards the end of the week we noticed a lot of athletes seemed to be arriving and learned that an Ironman triathlon was to take place that weekend! We were scheduled to leave that Saturday and would miss it. Because more guests were beginning to arrive they decided to turn on the small water park pool on the Saturday that we left – figures.
Although overall we did enjoy the trip – spent relaxing days by the ocean watching sail boats go by, fish swimming in the ocean, beach volleyball and distressing – would like to go again at least one more time to finish exploring – for now our fave is till PV. On the next trip to Cozumel I think I’d rather rent a place or stay in another hotel (perhaps the Occidental Grand) as this one was not an optimal experience.

Bastrop, Texas

October took us to an impromptu trip to Bastrop, Texas. A little town just north of this state’s capitol city of Austin. Although this had been a planned trip for my daughter (she was to stand up in a friend’s wedding), her boyfriend could not go with her at the last minute and rather than let her drive by herself we decided to do a little road trip and with her. This little town ended up being in the middle of nowhere, but very charming and quaint and i could see why the bride and her family loved living here. We left right after work on a friday evening taking 35 south. As night fell and we got closer to our destination, the road lights became less and less as the area became more rural. But we finally made it and settled into our Choice hotel off hwy 71. The next day we set off to find breakfast as the wedding ceremony was not till later that afternoon. The clerk at the hotel directed us to “downtown” Bastrop where we could find various places to eat. Downtown consisted of four corners and we did come across a great little mexican place and had menudo that hit the spot. It was amazing to hear the folks as they came in to eat, you could tell the town was like one big family. After breakfast we still had some time to kill so we walked the four corners to vist the various shops – Christmas decorations, book store, old time drug/candy store, bread shop and other little eateries. Also a quilt shop which i had to muster up the will to pass by without going in (i love quilt shops!).
it was finally time for the ceremony which was lovely, however a huge rainstorm came upon us just as the church ceremony was ending and the poor bride and her party had a time getting out to the cars. We now had to make our way to The Farm on Peach Creek for the dinner and dancing celebration! The storm felt like God was going to flood us out again. We made it to the farm and then had to run in our dresses and heels to the dining area – and there were no paved roads! it was a mess and i felt for the bride! it would have been just beautiful if it had been a sunny day as the celebration would have been outside. everyone looked like we had taken a dip in the pool with our clothes on – we were all soaked. it was definitely a wedding to remember. And once home i went on the Farm’s web site and found it is quite a beautiful place. The Farm is owned by a cute couple – he is a retired heart surgeon and she is a retired nurse. Made me want my own little farm.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Back in October i paid a visit to the area of Salt Lake City. It turned out to be e a trip of “firsts” for me. My first time to travelalone, first time to rent a car and drive to a suburb of Salt Lake City , first time to visit the state of Utah. I was quite nervous and naively hoping I would catch a glimpse of Donny or Marie in my travels. Of course they were busy with their own activities on Dancing with the Stars and their Vegas show. Although i didn’t see them I did catch a glimpse of one of Mexico’s popular soccer teams! They were all quite handsome in their suits as they made their way to catch their flight to their next game or perhaps home. Although this airport didn’t seem large (compared to DFW) there were so many people, it was impossible to get near the team for a photo so i had to content myself with a passing view. I made my way to the rental car area and signed various papers and soon was on my way in a cute little red Ford Focus.

It was a great little car and i was able to maneuver it around quite easily. Although I did have a map of where I needed to go it was still quite confusing and as always I soon found myself going the wrong way. It was still daylight so it wasn’t too nerve racking being lost in a strange city/state. The area was quite rural with wide open spaces and of course gorgeous views of mountains everywhere. It seemed that Texas should look like this, but it doesn’t for the most part – have mostly flat land. Anyway once I whipped that little car around and started going the right way I soon came across my exit and hotel (yeah!). I had made it safe and sound and all by myself!
I was in town to meet a sales member of our Company and once checked into the hotel I now had to find my way to her house tucked up at the foot of the mountains. The Choice hotel was nice and not too noisy even though they had some renovation going on in some parts of the hotel. Across the way there was a mall and on the other side of the highway a shopping center with a Walmart and a Starbucks.
By the time I was ready to head out night had falled and it seemed to get only darker the closer I made my way to the mountains. Driving along the road, the night was quiet and very still. The expansive night sky twinkled with stars and the crisp cool air was fresh and clean. I loved it! Once back at the hotel, i was serenaded by Night Hawks flying overhead, doing a little nighttime manuevers. Morning brought them round again for my wake up call. Awesome.
As I made my way back to our sales associate’s home once again I was even more amazed by the majestic views of the area in daylight. From snow capped mountains, winding roads and skies that seemed to go on forever – these were just average views for those that lived in this area. The trip was only for a couple of days and jam packed with business meetings so alas I did not get to capture any glimpses of famous Salt Lake City landmarks and had to content myself with the postcards i found at WalMart. Each time I get to travel to a new place it just amazes me how each area has their own unique thing that makes them beautiful. I only wish i’d had more time so i could have gone to visit the library of the Church of Latter Day Saints. This church houses the largest library in the world of genealogical records. Some day i hope to visit again, this time for pleasure.

Sand & Surf

Here at last are some pics from my trip to Virginia Beach. As the water was very cold only a few brave surfers were out catching a few waves. But the day was sunny and the views were fabulous all around.

Virginia Beach

Today is a dreary, rainy day here at home and I’ve recently returned from the latest business trip. This time I went to Virginia Beach where it was in the mid-60s, sunny and beautiful when I left it this past Sunday. I had been previously warned about our hotel – The Double Tree. Upon driving up it looked very nice and the lobby was very clean, carpet like new. When the promised “warm cookie upon arrival” was in fact not warm, I knew it did not bode well. In a previous stay at a Double Tree in Ontario, CA, not only the chocolate chips, but the cookie melted in my mouth from the warmth. And although I am very fond of dogs (I have a miniature pinscher), I wasn’t particularly pleased that this was a dog friendly hotel. As I made my way to my room I became aware of a very strong stench in the hallway. It was hard to identify, possibly a mixture of animal odor, tobacco, sweat, air freshener, etc. Thank goodness this did not transfer into my room. Upon entering the room it appeared clean enough as I did a walkthrough of the room I noticed a faint white, milky stain on the chair and made a mental to note to sit only on the bed. Aside from the unpleasantness of this hotel the sights and atmosphere around the hotel was of a small, laid back type of town with not much going on at this time of year and the locals seemed to enjoy having the town to themselves.
We dined in some excellent establishments, among those highly recommended by locals – Tautogs, set up in a quaint little old house a block from the beach. We choose a table on the large enclosed porch as it was a bright sunny day. I lunched on some of the freshest crab cakes I’ve eaten in a long time. Il Guardino [http://www.ilgiardino.com/]. I highly recommend the excellent, yet inexpensive focaccia bread with regular and chili infused olive oils for dipping. Il Guardino has a fabulous piano bar with the absolutely FANTASTIC Billy Batte. You may want to save any meaningful conversation for a later time as the music and singing is very loud. We went on a Saturday night and it was quite full with Prom goers and athletes carbing up for the big Shamrock Marathon the next morning. Rumor has it this was the fave spot for the local mafia and Shania Twain is reported to have eaten here as well. Great entertainment, great food, great fun. Catch 31 [http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/ORFVHHF-Hilton-Virginia-Beach-Oceanfront-Virginia/dining.do] at the local Hilton Hotel was also fabulous (and crowded). It was quite chilly the night we went so unfortunately we could not eat outside at the fire pit tables where the view of the beach is excellent. I highly recommend the Mango BBQ Salmon as the main course with Calamari as the appetizer. Check out the restroom it’s quite interesting (and dark!).
My last day in town I walked from the hotel to the beach (about 4 or 5 blocks) passing streets with names of Monopoly – Pacific Ave., Baltic Ave., etc. I then walked down the boardwalk from 19th to 31st street and back. Plenty of joggers, walkers, skateboarders and the like were about. Bicyclists used a separate lane on one side reserved just for them. From time to time I’d take a short break and watch various activities along the beach. A game of sand volleyball was in the works in one area. Horses had just been brought out in another, ready to be rented and ridden along the ocean’s edge. A group of surfers rode the waves wearing their bodysuits to protect against the frigid temperature of the water. At one point a gentleman took up a spot on a nearby bench to share his music with all by playing his mandolin. The Shamrock Marathon [http://www.shamrockmarathon.com/site3.aspx] was also just finishing up and family and friends were at the finish line encouraging the runners for that last leg of the race.
For now a preview of the sites from some postcards I picked up at a souvenir shop, check back to see more photos soon.

Portland, Oregon

During a business trip here back in Oct. 2008 we got to stay in the luxurious Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront Hotel. The beds were the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in and the customer service was outstanding. They bent over backwards to make sure our conference there went off without a hitch. One attendee who had driven to the conference mentioned her grocery bags had been misplaced somewhere between her car and the delivery of her luggage to her room. The hotel staff searched but could not find them. In the meantime she had to attend the opening session of our conference and by the time she returned to her room, the hotel had provided a spread of appetizers for her group. This place goes above and beyond in service. The gift shop was also exceptional with some unique (although expensive) items such as speciality Christmas ornaments and fine wine from Portland vineyards. Although the weather was overcast the view from our hotel was exquisite – the leaves were a multitude of yellow, red and orange all over the city. I definitely will be going back one day as there are many sites I wanted to see – The Classical Chinese Garden, The Grotto, Oregon Coast, The Wine Country and much more. The food at the hotel was absolutely fabulous and I gained a few I’m sure during my stay. We went to Fratelli’s one night and I had the best ravioli with some kind of fig filling – DELICIOUS. The flavor was very unique, a little sweet but not too much. Definitely worth trying. The only thing about Fratelli’s is it was quite dark and even though we asked for more lighting (we had to use the candles on the table to read the menu) we never got more than the candlelight. The picturesque walking trails across the street from the hotel at the Waterfront Park would have helped keep those pounds at bay but alas we had our nose to the grindstone the whole time.They also have a Starbucks in the lobby and fresh, naturally flavored water is available (free) in front of the elevators. One day it would be water with lemons, another day with strawberries. yummy. Wherever I go I like to take a few photos and get a few postcards as a momento of my stay (in addition to sending to the kids).
[rockyou id=133303915&w=426&h=319]

Magnificent Grand Canyon

What is a trip to Arizona without a visit to the Grand Canyon? A group of co-workers were going on an organized day trip to the canyon and when I learned of it, I just couldn’t pass it up. Who knows when I might pass this way again. We ended up picking up two other people at different hotels – Helen from England who was here for a special needs teacher’s conference and John who had just come to Phoenix from Rome (he was not Italian). The rest of us all worked for the same Company and chatted as we began what would be a four-hour drive. Our guide explained we would be going through at least five different climate zones during our drive. The first just outside of Phoenix was what you would picture as the typical desert dotted with Saguaro cacti. We made a stop at Starbucks (because we need our Starbucks to get the juices flowing at such an early hour) and continued on our way. It began to rain and many of us voiced our disappointment thinking this might last the whole day but our guide assured us we were now in a different climate zone and this would soon pass. Sure enough the sun eventually became visible again and before we knew it we began to see snow along the road, apparently common for this time of year in a now different climate zone. Our guide took us off the beaten path to an abandoned one-room hut. It was almost like a modern-day teepee with an opening in the center of the roof so the smoke from the fire could escape. We were told it had most likely been abandoned due to someone having died in the hut. From his explanation this home would now be off limits to all Indians as they believe in not disturbing areas where someone has passed away. From this point we could begin to see the edge of the Grand Canyon and with quiet reverence we made our way back to the van to continue our journey. As it was nearing lunch time we stopped at the Historic Cameron Trading Post. Most of us ordered the specialty of a Navajo Taco. Be forewarned you’ll want to get the half-order as this is a very large meal consisting basically of meat, beans, lettuce and cheese in soft, puffy bread. Delicious! Of course once lunch was over we all shopped for souvenirs and I’m so glad we did. I would have been very disappointed if I had waited to purchase my items at the Grand Canyon gift shop as the Trading Post had a much larger, extensive selection of so many items and at reasonable prices. From postcards, t-shirts, Indian blankets, cactus plants in beautifully painted clay pots and of course jewelry and so much more! They will even ship your items to your home so you don’t have to worry about packing them or taking them on the plane. Once we’d all bought our trinkets for family and friends and our hanger had been sated we continued our journey to the canyon.
We became more excited the closer we got and were very surprised by how cold and windy it was. Needless to say several of us were unprepared and had only light sweaters. Would have been best to dress in layers to take off or add on as the day progressed depending on the climate. Words and pictures cannot sufficiently describe the awesome miracle that is the Grand Canyon. The Canyon stretches for almost 300 miles wide and is a mile deep. All throughout the day the sunshine brought out the various shades of color featured along the wall of the canyon from the earth’s layers – pinks, reds, gray, brown. Our guide said this was the perfect time of year because there were no heavy crowds like they have in summer. Our first stop to view the canyon was at the Watch Tower. This building was built in 1932 and if you stand outside and look up at the tower it appears to be moving. Several of us got quite dizzy. The watch tower features a small gift shop and is several floors of scenic views through large windows. We spent about 45 minutes here and continued on to various other viewpoints. There were no bad viewpoints as we made our way along the south rim stopping at intervals to get down and explore the views, take photos, etc. Eventually we arrived at the El Tovar Hotel. This beautiful hotel built in 1905 made me feel like we were in a ski lodge with huge moose heads on the lobby walls, a large fireplace and Indian rugs throughout. The train depot was visible from the front porch where our guide mentioned during Christmas they put on a Polar Express Train Ride. There were more gift shops here but little pricier and not as many items as at the Cameron Trading Post. We all agreed it had been a great excursion and we left knowing each other a little better as well has having made new acquaintances (Helen & John). Not knowing if I would ever travel this area again, I’m so glad I decided to join this excursion for this once-in –a-lifetime view of nature at its best. It was so worth it! For more info on the Grand Canyon visit http://www.nps.gov/grca/.
[rockyou id=133016469&w=426&h=320]

Phoenix!

On a recent business trip to Phoenix (first time in Arizona) I experienced one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in – the housekeeping staff did not much but the most minimal of wiping down and straightening of beds. This hotel was chosen by our Company so we were stuck there. The Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel in Phoenix is not one I would recommend to anyone. The only advantage was the proximity of the rail transportation across the street. You could ride this very inexpensively to downtown Phoenix and beyond. You’ll want to take care and ride in the car behind the driver and I wouldn’t recommend going alone at night. They also did not have a gift shop and there was nothing close by to purchase inexpensive souvenirs. As a mom, whenever I travel on business my kids love receiving a postcard from where I’m staying. This hotel had nothing. You can check out additional reviews of the hotel at http://www.tripadvisor.com. Nasty hotel aside the best part of the trip was being able to take in the fabulous nature views. The glorious sunrise every morning with hues of blue, pink and then a burst of yellow against the back drop of the mountains helped to start the day off right. We were fortunate to be one of the first events to experience a newly renovated Phoenix Convention Center. The beauty of the desert was brought inside with large windows overlooking small, desert garden displays of cactus and palos verdes trees. This center also had the best restrooms I’ve ever seen in a convention center with mosiac tiles and a modern spa-like atmosphere. Many of us felt we could stay there rather than go back to that hotel. Although most of my time was taken up with business activities I did manage to take a few photos of the area – a small park across the street next to St. Mary’s Basilica made for an idyllic escape.
A couple of dining places we managed to visit – PF Chang (www.pfchangs.com), a chinese eatery which I believe is common to most large cities. Our waiter was fabulous and tended us well despite being at the end of a double shift! The night we ate there they had a great special – 2 for $40. This included an appetizer, soup, entree and a mini desert. As usual the food was fabulous and the atmosphere wonderful. Maria Maria restaurant (www.mariamariarestaurant.com) – A joint venture between musician Carlos Santana and Chef Roberto Santibañez, this place was not your usual Mexican fare but definitely very good. Be forewarned the food is spicy so if you have a very low tolerance you may want to ask for the spices/sauce on the side. The menu consisted of the usual favorites – chicken enchiladas suizas, carnitas, chile relleno, fajitas, nachos and a very interesting and delicious chicken and mole tortilla casserole. This mexican food has a definite southwestern kick, but not so much so that it isn’t recognizable from say mexican food you might have had in Texas or Mexico. On weekends you can enjoy live music. The atmosphere is modern and tasteful, a couple of big screen plasma TVs will feature either the big game or pleasant landscapes depending on the crowd. As you can see in the photo below, the food has great presentation and is as good as it looks.
[rockyou id=133014996&w=426&h=319]