Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Russian River Valley, CA - Stunning

If you haven't been to Russian River Valley, CA - you are missing a little slice of heaven. This town of Healdsburg, CA surrounded by Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley is the little gem in the wine country. The wines coming out of CA these days compete at a whole new level. And their price points are climbing - so make a trip soon to get in on the action. 

We visited J Vineyards, Williams-Seylem, Dutton-Goldfield, Hawke, Merry Edwards and Lynmar (all pictured below). Each vineyard different from the next with their own beautiful settings and fabulous wines. You will drink a lot of Pinots here but more and more complex wines are also being introduced. Now - I love a good Pinot - so I am NOT complaining at all. 

When you visit Healdsburg be sure to take one entire day walking around the charming town center. There are so many little family owned vineyards represented here with fabulous wines!! We visited 7-8 in one day and spent time getting to know the winemakers at each. What a treat! Please stop by: Gustafson, Williamson, Hawley, and Windsor in the town square - you won't be disappointed. 

Amazing restaurants and VRBO rentals are everywhere. You can't go wrong with a trip to the heart of Sonoma County! Enjoy and drink up!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thailand - Might be our favorite so far....

We recently returned from a 18 day trip to Thailand. We explored more of the country than we ever thought possible in such a short time frame. And, we were rushed. And, we spent time on planes, trains, automobiles, ferry's, long-tail boats and tuk tuks! But it ended up being one of our most favorite places in the world!

The food....the culture....the people....the architecture....the Wats (temples).....the beaches....and the privilege of being a tourist in such an accommodating country - simply amazing!

I will write more later to share. For now, please enjoy some of my favorite photos from our exploration.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Raising Travelers

If you’re a traveler and a parent, there is no doubt you struggle to manage your love for both. Balancing that trip to Europe against the rising costs of day care seems a daunting task. Not to mention the plain day-to-day monotony of life…soccer games, piano practice, school work, etc. I know how you feel. I did it for 23 years and have just recently come out the other side with my youngest now in college.

Bottom line, you should make every effort to remain true to your passions (travel and your children) and make it happen! You will want this for your kids; they will thank you for it later. Personally, we raised our kids traveling their entire lives. Exotic destinations and visiting new places was how our family spent our time. Whether it was local or international, my kids were traveling. As an individual, I have traveled to over 14 countries and many, many of those were with kids in tow (and sometimes in lead!).

Indulge me for a few minutes while I share the fabulousness that comes out of raising travelers. My kids are the most socially adjusted kids you will ever meet; they don’t know a stranger and adjust to all levels of conversation. It’s beautiful to hear them order food in Spanish and then watch them plan trips with their friends. Our daughter, now 23, is taking a year off to live abroad before moving to New York after college. I might add that she knows absolutely no one in New York. She has targeted Paris for that year in between. Knowing how expensive Paris can be and how dirt poor she is, she still has no hesitations, “I will just make it work, Mom.”

Our son, upon graduating from high school, decided to travel through Europe for 2 months (on his own dime I might add) prior to beginning college. He is not traveling with companions; he is comfortable that he will meet people abroad traveling through local hostels. And, of course he will. I came home from work one day to find had planned his entire trip, day by day.  He is starting in Portugal, on through Spain, then up to France and finishing with a stint in Germany. All planned out down to the Euro rail stop in each city.  He put together a budget of the costs (breaking it down to the daily meal level and Euro pass costs) and determined a monthly savings plan for himself between now and his departure

Another example of the beauty of raising travelers is an Italian exploration story. I am divorced (now remarried for 11 years) and the kids traveled with their father to Italy last year. They were 22 and 17. I will never forget receiving that call, “Mom, we are in Venice!” As the conversation progressed I realized the group they were traveling with had decided to stay in for the day. My kids, realizing they only had one chance to experience Venice, took off on a train to conquer it alone. Hearing this, I literally must have fallen out of my chair and immediately went into “mommy” mode. Do you have a jacket? Do you have a map? Where are you going? Do you need me to google anything? They laughed at me and said, “Mom, we got this!” And, so they did. They called later to talk about all of the places they visited and the bar they drank in…uh-hum! They had discovered Venice together, like a sister and brother should. I remember hanging up the phone and thinking that I have never been more proud of them!

As a traveler and parent, this is absolutely what you want foryour kids. And, you already know they learn through our guidance. Therefore, it is almost your job to introduce them to the world so that they learn the skills and get comfortable in a travel setting.
So, what next, money? Yes, the big thing is the cost. I am not going to say it’s easy, because it isn’t. It takes a bit of planning, prioritizing, budgeting and watching the specials. You will have to budget at home during the year to make travel happen. And, you may have to cut things out. Don’t think of it as “cutting,” think of it as trading.  Trade a little shopping, a few nice dinners stateside for dinner in Belize….it’s worth it!

Yes, there is more airfare involved when the whole family travels together, but hotels are the same cost for one king versus two doubles. Meals can be somewhat reasonable by finding bargains. Eat from street vendors; it’s typically cheaper and tasty. Consider getting a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) or house swap, instead of a hotel. If you buy groceries, after you land, you can eat breakfast before leaving each day and occasionally, after a long day of exploring, make a dinner or two. 

Other ideas of how to not break the bank are to have picnic lunches on the mountainside and hike around town instead of going to the theatre. Lay on the beach with crackers, cheese and wine (for the parents). Also, enjoying some of the little local amusement parks in Europe always brought us tons of joy at a reasonable price. We ended up meeting really great people and explored funky rides like a flying Panda bear ride in Germany or large water filled orbs that bounce down the side of the mountain in New Zealand.   

At the end of the day, you may not be able to attend all the plays, eat at every restaurant and take in all of the guided excursions. However, you are doing something so much bigger. You are introducing future travelers to the world.

When your kids are married and have children of their own, just think of the amazing experiences you can have together raising another generation of travelers!

Enjoy and relax – you and your kids deserve it!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Relax...It's Just Travel...Right?

(NOTE: I wrote this article as a ghost writer for a new brand of hotels.) 

Are you tired of the travelers who refuse to wear easy lace up shoes in the airport security lines? Or, the people who don’t know that airlines now charge for baggage and then make a fuss at the ticket counter airline personnel as if they can change the rules?

Traveling is just plain difficult and these experiences make it that much more unbearable. Short flights can be just as painful as international flights. It’s even more frustrating to wait in a 30minute security line after you have arrived one hour early, only to board a flight that takes 40 minutes. Good grief….you could have driven to your destination city by this time! 

And, why is it that the coffee lady doesn’t seem to understand that you are about to miss your flight as she takes her sweet time to get your latte? It should be a rule that everyone who is employed at an airport would work under the assumption that each person there is about to miss a flight. The process would just go a lot smoother that way.

Don’t even get us started on international flying! If you can’t afford first class (which most of us can’t) then be prepared… isn’t a pretty sight on a 10 hour flight my friends!

The only way to survive such chaos is to keep a sense of humor about it all. Arrive early and watch the other’s (who are running late) struggle with that belt that they don’t seem to realize has metal on it for the third go round of metal detection. And, the guy who is getting, what appears to be, a full body cavity search, get frustrated at security. Just laugh it off and enjoy the fact that you, for once, have arrived early and are reaping the rewards!

Another way to make your travel that much more rewarding…. Stay at ______– where it’s all about you being “Free To Be You!” Our suites are tech savvy, well-appointed, comfortable, beautifully decorated and have an emphasis on being your home away from home! We want you to walk into your suite for the night and forget all about the lady who brought a bag too big for overhead storage and now needs to get back to the front of the plane to check it. This too shall pass!

Don’t forget to bring Rufus and your IPOD because we have a place for them both!  

Your Dad Can't Even Handle This Hotel

(NOTE: I wrote this article as a ghost writer for a new brand of hotels.) 

Remember pulling over for that night’s stay in some strange city on the way to the family vacation destination? There always seemed to be a conference room table beside the wall-inserted air conditioning unit. Those units read hot or cold with arrows pointing in either direction. You never knew what temperature that meant so you stayed under the covers only to awaken to sub-zero room temperatures. Over that conference room table was a huge floral chandelier with tassel trim and an antiqued gold chain draping from the wall socket.

When you checked into the room, you simply had one box TV, one blinking clock radio and fresh (but cardboard like) towels. Those rooms served their purpose; there is no doubt. They kept us warm (or really, really cold) and provided a taco type atmosphere in which to sleep at night. Without a doubt you would wake up snuggled entirely too close to your older brother who smelled funny and made strange snoring sounds.

Well, there is a new cowboy in town and they aim to please!

Finally, hotels have evolved and are making our lives comfortable, like home. The theme is…..“Free To Be You!” This means your parents wouldn’t know what to do with this brand of hotel! No conference room tables or cheesy chains…only high-tech, cool d├ęcor and pet friendly rooms to ensure Rufus doesn’t have to sleep in the car (and you don’t have to sneak him in through the back door late at night).

_____ has opened its first hotel in ____________ and launched us into what will surely be the next generation of expectations in the hotel business. These suites have thought of it all! They focus on convenience and are trendy and hip, insanely affordable and generally just a cool place to be seen!

They will catch your eye with the bright color schemes and sleek lines (but we can’t give you the name of our decorator…sorry). Nothing has been left out from the 42” HD Flat Panel TV to Serta Suite Dreams Bed and wireless access to well-appointed kitchens.

So, bring Rufus and your IPOD/MP3 player, because they enjoy both. These suites are so comfortable that you might just end up staying longer than planned!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Princesses Stay In Castles - A Hotel Review

Schoenburg Castle - Oberwesel, Germany

Nestled high above the town of Oberwesel, Germany towers the brilliant Schoenburg Castle. It reigns over the town, as if to say, “You are royalty in these gardens!” This castle draws you in as one of the most magnificent structures along the Rhine River. It’s no wonder that dukes and duchesses have called Schoenburg home for centuries. First mentioned between 911 and 1166, Schoenburg is unique in that it is one of the few that would “fall” (or be bequeathed) to each of its immediate heirs. Which means, when the duke of the castle died all of his sons became heirs instead of only the eldest. This cultural “right of passage” aligned in such a manner that in the 14th century there are notations of over 250 people living in the castle from 24 different families. Therefore, as I arrived for my stay, I began to feel just like the princess that my grandmother always said I was meant to be.

Today, your nightly stay at Schoenburg transcends as though you are royalty retiring to one of the many estate rooms filled with rich history and seductive romanticism. From the smallest of single rooms to the large stately rooms, every detail of this experience will leave you breathless. 

As you drive across the small bridge into the castle courtyard, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe at the majestic view. Upon check in, you will gather your royal map describing the brief history of the property. The key to unlock your door is just as majestic as the castle itself. The 8” silver plated figurine is that of a soldier or knight that feels (in your hand) as though you are regally entering your room and now are actually holding a piece of this castle.

As you explore the castle take note of the details and intricacies. A small room hidden in a tower serves as a private dining area for six. The walls are darkish brown and grey stone showing their many years of wear and tear. Uncover the many balconies scattered around the grounds that offer you a different perspective of the various parts of the castle and heart-stopping views of the imposing Rhine River. 

The courtyard in the middle of the castle is the perfect resting place for a morning coffee. Undoubtedly, you will feel the morning dew and the dampness that surrounds the castle courtyard in the morning; the very same dampness that the lady of the castle may have felt in 1100. After a brief sit, enter the dining room for a daily breakfast buffet. It is included in the price of your stay. You will take pleasure in customary German cuisine such as cheese assortment, cold cut fresh meats, variety of rolls, pastries and cereals.    

During the day or just before dinner, have a quiet read in the brilliantly decorated blue and red library. The wait staff is happy to bring you beverage of choice while you enjoy the roaring fireplace and choose from a plethora of books ranging in dates and interests. 

For dinner, you will have difficult decisions to make amongst exquisite dining options such as smoked breast of duck with green apples and goat’s cream cheese or roasted saddle of venison in spiced goat cheese with cherry sabayon and au-gratin potatoes. You might be greeted with a complimentary chef special appetizer, such as cool cucumber soup or blue cheese on crostini with a dash of pepper. The dinner prices are on the high end, but it is more than worth the price to indulge your palate. I would not suggest you skip this part of the experience.

For a little adventure, take a hike along a narrow path beside the parking lot. Along this trail, the enduring gate to the gardens still stands and each column is topped with ancient castle cannon balls. Shortly after, along the path, wonder at the large black and red door; it seems to lead to a retired entrance directly under the castle. You might envision it to be a secret passage for the queen or knight of the castle. It’s hidden in the overgrown shrubbery, so look carefully. By utilizing the path in the front of the castle, you can descend down 200 yards to a beautiful oriental style garden and pond in a tranquil courtyard.

Honeymooners, you will want to experience the private honeymoon quarters. It’s a picture perfect place to begin your journey of life together with a lovely four poster bed, extensive courtyard views and a large bathing tub (perfect for two). It is separated from the main stay of the castle and therefore offers the perfect amount of seclusion.

The small house structure is the seperate honeymoon quarters.
Enjoy your time in this special place; you will not soon forget your royal stature! I think you will be happy staying at Schoenberg Castle with or without children. Be sure to take time to explore and spend time walking the grounds. This is a place of beauty and intrigue that will leave you feeling as if you just walked in the footsteps of kings and queens and the history of the walls will draw you in for sure. I hope that you will have thoughts similiar to mine as I left this place...."Princesses do stay in castles."

My assessment: 5 Star Rating

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3 Ways to Keep Your Facebook Fans Engaged

You want to keep your Facebook active and your fans engaged, right? Here are three simple ways to do just that: 
  • Entice your fans to tag themselves
  • Give away something useful
  • Provide content they can't get anywhere else

#1 Entice your fans to tag themselves
Each time a fan is tagged in a photo, it's instantly shared with their friends. This can create a powerful viral effect. You can do something as simple as offering something each time you're tagged in a photo or keep a running tally (competition always works). Use this strategy wisely and have fun, but also be careful, because you will annoy fans if you tag them without permission.

#2 Give away something useful

You can use white papers, DVD's, tutorials and various forms of research to give to your fans and get them talking on Facebook. As you have probably already heard, Guy Kawasaki is doing this very well. When a fan likes his page, Guy offers them a free download of his first book. It's fabulous because it give fans something cool and encourages them to pass it along, plus Guy now has permission to contacts these fans again.

#3 Provide content they can't get anywhere else

If you want to get people excited and sharing, you've got to provide something they can't get anywhere else thus starting the chatter tree. Livestrong does a great job of this by sharing various information for research on cancer and expert advice for those affected by cancer. They also connect other organizations to those that follow them, therefore making their Facebook page the "go to" page for people needing more resources or data.

These are all very simple ways to enhance your Facebook page and further engage your fans. Get creative and show some will reap the rewards!