Category Archives: Travel Tips

First stop, Miami!

We have cleared the Mouse Hole! Once thru the tunnel, I leave the “to do” lists behind and enter travel mode. I am in the moment, finally relaxed, even enjoying being up before dawn, mesmerized by the puffs of fog that hover over the road, occasionally enveloping us, then clinging to the hillside as we pass through the mountains and down to Reno.  All focus now is on making our flight.

We park and hop in a taxi for the short drive to the airport. The driver is friendly, asks where we are going, then tells us he has never been out of the country, but he is OK with that, “because people outside the U.S. hate Americans”.  I am sad, and a little surprised, that this myth persists.  Then he tells us that he loves to cook, and shares his insights on Italian culture – that they eat more slowly, enjoying the meal,  instead of wolfing down their food on-the-run like Americans. At least he watches a few travel programs in between the “news”!

South Beach Miami sunset

Arrived just in time for sunset!

To get to the Caribbean from the West Coast, one must either fly a red eye, or over-night somewhere along the way.  Having enjoyed my share of nights on the floors of airports, my dues had been paid. For this trip, I opted to blow a handsome sum on one night out in SoBe – South Beach Miami. Though I will never recommend this sort of travel (one night in a city), the splurge was worth it, this time (to avoid a 6 hour layover in Atlanta).

Ocean Drive is the main drag facing the beach, but dunes obstruct the view of the water from street level. One side is lined with restaurants and sidewalk tables, the other is a walking/bike path between the busy street and the sand.

The “block party” atmosphere goes on all night, so if you like to be right in the thick of things, then stay on Ocean, if not, get a hotel on Collins or Washington.

Mojitos in Miami

A good way to start an evening in SoBe!

Eating is one of the main reasons to go to Miami. Ocean Drive is over-the-top touristy, and not the place to look for great food, but as virgin visitors with only 12 hours, we made the requisite lap through the chaos. Amazingly, we stumbled upon a good Cuban restaurant – Larios. A bit too touristy for me for dinner, but to sit at the bar for a bite, it was perfect – appetizers were very tasty, reasonably priced, and according to the Cuban couple sitting next to us, authentic! They also make great Mojitos, that were fairly priced.

Ocean Drive Miami

CO2 buzz included with drinks!

That is NOT necessarily the case at other restaurants – a note of caution – some Ocean Drive bars like to serve ALL drinks in monster size goblets or hurricane glasses, and charge accordingly. If you want a regular rum and coke, in a normal glass, at a normal price, you better specify, otherwise you’ll get a $20. cocktail that takes 4 people to drink! My favorite thing about Ocean Drive was all of the live music – flamenco & latin jazz, that I’m guessing goes away after midnight when the techno and DJ’s take over?? Oh, and of course, the art deco architecture always gives you something colorful and interesting to admire.

Cool buildings, and cars, everywhere!

Escaping the clamor of Ocean, we wandered into one of those chic, celebrity-chef-owned spots that I typically avoid in favor of more down-to-earth options, but the menu was right up our ally, the staff was welcoming, the ambiance relaxing, and the food was outstanding. AND, major draw, they served Jamon Iberico!!

A little escape from the chaos, Hotel Impala.

For accommodations… The town was pretty booked, so I had to spend quite a bit of time online searching.  The Hotel Impala had availability, I am guessing due to some bad reviews in 2011, but noticing they had just completed a remodeled, I took a chance. The risk paid off – the rooms are beautiful and the location is perfect – near the action, but set back with a quiet courtyard. My favorite feature was the Nespresso machine in every room! Being able to make a yummy latte in the room made the early morning rush to the airport much more pleasant!

Next Leg of the journey: St Lucia!

My NYC journal…

The view from our room at 70 Park Ave Hotel

I fell in love with New York City when I spent 6 weeks there training to be a stock broker in the late 80’s. For many years, David and I would go for my birthday in December, but work has kept us away for the last few years. So, when the opportunity arose to return this year, I was more than ready!

My favorite museum in NYC


My perfect day in NYC: Start with a late morning brunch at a European style bistro (must have excellent coffee). Window shopping, and scoring some cute shoes on sale. Either wine and crostini at a cozy Enoteca, or hit an Indian buffet. More coffee, (or chai). Late afternoon spent in awe of our planet’s many miracles, at the AMNH – “Beyond Planet Earth” for David, followed by an amazing butterfly exhibit and the Asian cultures wing for me. And, back out on the streets to find another latte, or maybe a happy hour…

I want this dish NOW! Boqueria tapas...yum!

Dinner…so many choices…

We try to enjoy as many different types of cuisine as we can in 5 days!

After dinner, and coffee, wander the streets in search of live music. This is one of my favorite things about the Big Apple – all of the small clubs, where you can just happen upon great jazz or blues any night of the week. Finally, walk, or taxi if we must, back to our hotel by 3:00am to get some sleep! And that explains why our day always starts with a late morning brunch, and good coffee!

Thank God Manhattan is so well suited for walking, it enables us to eat our way from uptown to downtown without gaining weight! Strolling the various neighborhoods, scouting for our next meal, and just soaking up that unique NYC energy, is the best way to appreciate the city.

Cafe Lalo & classic upper West side neighborhood


Below is a list of places we enjoyed on this trip. All are worth a visit, but I encourage you to wander the city without a plan and make your own discoveries!


Campbell Apartment at Grand Central, no tourists here on a Wed nite! Martinis in a historic room filled with locals and commuters. Check out the ceiling!

The Modern – Loved this French-American with an Alsatian twist. Great service, stark, contemporary decor, extensive (but expensive) wine list. Dine in the happenin’ bar, or on the other side of the room with lovely views onto the MOMA sculpture garden.

Barcibo Enoteca – upper West side, near Lincoln Center, hence a tad pricey, but loved the menu – grilled squid with spinach – and nice selection of wines and crostinis, for late afternoon break.

Vin et Fleurs – Quaint, tiny SOHO bistro. Have some sparkling with lunch and be transported to France.

Takashi – Beef, beef nothing but the beef. Japanese Korean BBQ where all parts of the cow are gloriously celebrated and consumed. (Chef buys only the highest quality beef)

Cafe Lalo – Get buzzed on coffee and atmosphere at this Upper West side cafe. Great menu using high quality, locally sourced, or organic ingredients.

Boqueria – Great selection of authentic Spanish tapas, including Jamon!

Picking cow parts from teeth. (beef stomach is tasty, but chewy)

Buvette – West Village. Tiny, ultra cute, stop in any time of day for a lite meal, with great coffee & and wine by the glass. Also high quality, locally sourced, or organic ingredients.

Jazz & Blues…

Smalls, Greenwich Village

La Lanterna di Vittorio and The Bar Next Door

Terra Blues, Groove, Cafe Wha?, Arthurs Tavern, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center

Relationship Test Drive…


Guys get big points for carrying the purse!

Before you get too far along in a courtship, travel with your beloved (a “vacation” doesn’t count, sipping Mai Tais at a beach resort will not really tell you what you need to know!) I guarantee this will be the best relationship advice you ever get, and will save you a fortune in self help books and therapy!

To test your compatibility, invest in a real trip, preferably with few set plans. If you have been dating someone for awhile, and are wondering if this is “the one”, traveling will answer that question, in 2 or 3 weeks, instead of years!  The daily trials and tribulations – figuring out where to eat, where to sleep, and navigating, either in a rental car, or public transport, will test every skill you will ever need for a long relationship. You get to see how your mate behaves when they are tired, hungry, and frustrated. You see how they handle challenges, and what sort of problem solving skills they possess. It takes a whole lot of energy to hide the whiner, pessimist, blamer, control freak, for extended, uninterrupted periods. If these personality traits are lurking behind the curtain, they will be exposed. Better to find out now, than later!

My best travel partner, sherpa and hubby!

You will also see what kind of team the two of you make. Are you both struggling to be the leader? Or do you fall into natural, comfortable roles? When one person is having an off day, does the other “step up”, or crumble at having to pick up the slack? Are your biorhythms in sync? Does one enjoy sharing food, while the other guards their plate? Travel is the best way to discover these important answers in a short period of time.

My husband David had not traveled internationally when he met me. (That seems hard to believe now!) After about nine months of dating, we rented a car and toured Italy. He drove and schlepped bags,  I navigated and scouted pensiones. Our final test came in Florence, where a train strike thwarted our plans. Faced with missing our return flight from Milan to the U.S., David sprang into action. While I sat on the curb with our bags, he ran off to rent a car, again, then drove at break neck speed (not in his nature) on the autostrada to come screeching up to the curb at Malpensa, where we handed the keys to a porter and ran for our flight. We were stressed, but still laughing, and I was impressed by his ability to keep cool under pressure.

All travel has challenges, as do all relationships, but in three weeks we had learned more about each other than most people do in years. Fast forward 20 years, and we are still happily rockin’ down the hiway together! (He has learned to ignore me when I tell him how to drive) 🙂

For the male perspective, read Mike’s very funny take on the travel and relationships!

3 Tips for Healthy Air Travel…

Heading to Pakse to explore southern Laos and the Mekong...

I read somewhere that 75% of people get sick in the first week of the their holiday. Most people blame their vacation illness on “the guy that was coughing in the seat behind”, but, really, germs are everywhere, it’s a matter of how well you have equipped your body to fight them.

Here’s my quick analysis of the problem… when you are getting ready to leave for a trip, life gets crazy – there’s a ton to do before you leave, and, you have to pack (always a source of stress for me!) Being extra busy keeps you from eating right and getting enough sleep, adding to the stress. Now, you and your compromised immune system get on a plane, with a bunch of people, and germs. 

I take precautions, but they may not be what you’d think!

Get every shot you can, take antibiotics as a preventative, wear a face mask in the airport, and drink heavily on the plane. I’m just KIDDING!  I actually know people that do this – but really, I do not recommend any of these strategies.

Here is what WILL save you:

Think of your immune system as your army – you must prepare your soldiers for war – germs & stress are the enemy! Organize your battle strategy. The week prior to departure is critical. To minimize all of that last-minute stress, set a fake deadline at least 2 days before your actual departure for getting as much taken care of as possible, and give this same deadline to others, that way when they dump projects on you at the last minute, you’ll actually have time to deal with it. Prioritize! Only do what absolutely must get done. Ask yourself, “will putting this off a couple of weeks, really matter?” (Yes, in this case, procrastination is your friend!)

Make lists, keep one by your bed, it’ll help you sleep better. Make eating right and getting enough sleep a priority (it’ll be difficult, but just DO IT!) Take vitamins that boost your immune system – my savior is “Wellness Formula” by Source Naturals. And, cut back on alcohol and sugar, both weaken your army!

On the plane, drink lots of water, the less alcohol the better, and try to sleep. I refuse to get neurotic about germs, but I guess wiping down your armrest and tray table with sanitized handy wipes would be OK, (but I have never done it). Wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face, and take your vitamins – same prescription for flu season.

If possible, plan your trip so that you do not hit the ground running – allow a recovery day or two in someplace relaxing. Don’t visit the big city FIRST, save it for the end of your trip. I am not a big pill-taker, but DO take something to help you sleep for the first 2-4 nights – depending on how many time zones you have crossed. And, continue to boost your immune system with vitamins for the first week of your trip.

Salud and Gesundheit!