Category Archives: Personal Interests

Why You Should (or Maybe Shouldn’t) Date a Traveler

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Photo by JD via Flickr

Recently a number of stories based on the topic of why you should date a girl who travels have been floating around the web. These pro-dating pieces are on mark but to be fair there can also be counter arguments.

Trust me: I’m all for being with someone who is all about seeing the world. I would want that for the guy I’m with and I automatically expect the same thinking from him about me. Yet the reality is that the people we’re dating might have a hard time with our long-term traveling. Or trying to be a good sport about it.

These realizations should be kept in mind too. Heck, even the best travel writers can relate to the delicate balance between maintaining relationships while being on the road.

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So here are some factors to keep in mind about why you should–or maybe shouldn’t–date a traveler:

  • We need – or feel the need – to keep going. Whether for business or for pursuit, travelers are always in motion: making sudden or long-term plans. If we see a mistake airfare sale or a travel opportunity such as conference or event that’s too good to pass up, we don’t. And like with just about any evolving career, if you work in the travel sector in some way, shape or form you have to stay current on what’s happening. And life is short, so we don’t want to dwell on “what ifs.”
  • We could be a part from you for a while. This is a biggie. From a week or two to even a month, or in between weeks, we might be heading out. Or we might be back home for a few days and then be taking off again. With professional travel writing, our assignments with publications or business agreements with companies require us to get the job done. We don’t mean to sound, well, mean but we have to shuffle off. However, we also know when it’s necessary to stay or come home (much desired rest, catching up on routines and projects or when our loved ones need us).
  • Technology can keep us connected. Just because we can’t be there with you in person doesn’t mean we can’t talk to you. As long as there is a good Wi-Fi signal, the beauty of Skype and FaceChat enable us to have conversations wherever we are. Even IMing through Facebook or Google Chat works fine. If we’re posting pictures, it’s for social media reasons along with a bit of excitement in being there.
  • Please don’t get jealous. Yes, we know it sucks to hear when we’re off to a wow destination like Italy or Australia or any place that you’ve always wanted to go (but can’t or haven’t just yet). Note that in many cases our travels involve a lot of planning (research and financial) and preparing (looking at resources, weather or even availability) on our part. My story: An ex of mine assumed I hit up my folks for the cash I would need to go to London. Nope! I did a lot of budgeting, saving, watching flight/hotel prices, and taking on odd jobs for getting extra cash. With press trips, it’s work. Fun, but still work.
  • Maybe you come join us. Depending upon our arrangements, it might be possible for you to come along on our ventures. But remember, if it’s a business arrangement we there to work. Especially with press trips, daily itineraries are made with set times for outings, departures, and arrivals. It’s not likely or even a good idea for us to blow off our work (don’t even suggest it). If all else fails, perhaps we can meet up when we get back or post-press trip in our destination. Or if timing and location are in both our favors, perhaps you can come meet us.

Be assured that we still go places together, unless you don’t like to travel.

On Location Tours Unveils Romantic Movie Moments Tour

cafe-lalo-webresIf you’re a big fan of romantic movies or you really “heart” NYC like I do, here’s some news that might make you swoon. Since the Big Apple has provided the scenery for many memorable tearjerkers and rom-coms, On Location Tours has launched its “Romantic Movie Moments Tour” that takes you en route to famous Manhattan sites featured on the big screen.

Led by a local actor, this tour goes to sites such as the bookstore where Billy Crystal spots Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”; the venue where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw almost marries Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in the film series of “Sex and the City”; and the cafe where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale share a frozen hot chocolate in “Serenity.”

Without giving too many scenes away, other film spots featured include ones in “Sweet Home Alabama,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The tour departs Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout February at 3 p.m.

GoldenEye: The Jamaican Property Where James Bond Was Born

The Fleming Villa - ExteriorJames Bond fans: did you know that this suave British Secret Service agent was born in Jamaica? Literally.

Writer Ian Fleming, who created Bond in 1953 and featured him in 14 novels and a collection of short stories, first came to Jamaica during World War II for a conference and fell in love with the country. He made a promise to himself to return and after the war he went back and acquired 19 acres of property in Oracabessa Bay on Jamaica’s north coast for building a home.
Living Room in Fleming Villa

It was in this basic bungalow retreat called GoldenEye where Fleming would begin to pen “Casino Royale,” his first book introducing Bond during his winter stays. He went on to write every single Bond thriller, every January and February he was there. (Bonus fact: The spy’s name is said to come from a reference book on birds by James Bond, an ornithologist.)

The Fleming Villa-Entertainment Room

Several years after Fleming’s death, GoldenEye was almost sold to reggae legend Bob Marley, who pulled out of buying it. It was bought in 1976 by Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell and over time turned the property into a world-class resort while still keeping Fleming’s old home.

The Fleming Villa-InteriorBelonging to the Island Outpost collection, GoldenEye now consists of 11 one and two-bedrooms villas located directly on Low Cay Beach or on a seawater lagoon, six lagoon cottages, and one oceanfront villa. Fleming’s former jaunt is still here but now called The Fleming Villa. Rightfully so, it’s marketed as a separate area on the property.

Once you see, you’ll understand why. It’s a place onto itself.

photo 2(13)Far more reclusive and shaded that the other accommodations, the Fleming Villa has its private swimming pool, tropical gardens and a full-time dedicated staff. In the main house, there are five individual bedrooms such as the king-sized 007 Bedroom, which has Fleming’s writing desk; dining/living room area; kitchen and bar; and a private bathroom with an outdoor shower. Up to 10 guests can stay here. A delightful patio area provides a nice lookout over the surrounding beach. There is also a smaller, separate cottage named “The Sweet Spot.”

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Fleming’s detached garage still stands but has been turned into an entertainment room that overlooks the patio and pool area. And James Bond’s presence – movie versions of his books, “Dr. No,” “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with The Golden Gun,” have scenes filmed in Jamaica – is still felt throughout GoldenEye. Readers will find Fleming’s James Bond books placed in bookcases or nightstands inside the various accommodations as well as Fleming Villa. Upon arrival, spot a collection of Bond-related photographs on the walls of a building near the main entrance.

photo 2(12) Spa services are offered at FieldSpa, a lagoon-based cottage, with private and open-air treatment rooms. Spa services include cleansing treatments called bush baths as well as massages, salt scrubs, facials, and herbal wraps.

As for dining, the Bizot Bar provides low-key dining options set near a fresh water swimming pool and the western part of the beach. Breakfast and lunch is served here. Choices include Jamaican fare like saltfish and jerk chicken with rice as well as continental burgers, pasta, and salads.

Its opposite option is The Gazebo. This tree-house style lounge and restaurant provides a bit of a nightlife scene with some international flare. Fine dining dishes include grilled lobster tail and seasoned roast lamb. Its open atmosphere also sets up as a cocktail lounge area where perhaps you might order that martini. Shaken not stirred.

Getting Here: GoldenEye is located 20 minutes east of Ocho Rios. It is a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay Airport and an eight-minute drive from Ian Fleming International Airport (private aviation) in Boscobel, Saint Mary Parish.

Tasting Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee

photo 3(1)On the first full day of our #VisitJamaica Bucket List press trip, we checked off item Number 1: tasting Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. And we went directly to the Blue Mountains to try it.

About half an hour or so from Kingston, Jamaica’s Blue Mountains provides what these coffee plants need to thrive: misty and cool climate, shady areas, and rich soil. Coffee plants were introduced to Jamaica in 1728, but they were originally placed in a parish field in Kingston. Eventually, these plants were brought to the mountains where they’re still raised and harvested today.

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Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee can carry a hefty price tag, yet the reasoning behind it is a good one. Only coffee grown in a legally defined range of the Blue Mountains – starting from 2,000 feet to 5,000 above sea level – gets the stamp of authenticity: a globally protected certification mark.

It’s also a single origin coffee. Just completely red cherry-colored beans are picked, every by hand. Beans then also have to pass inspection codes set by The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica on everything from their coloring to sizing and go through various inspection tests before getting a stamp of approval.

When visiting Jamaica, travelers and coffee drinkers can head to The Blue Mountains. From my experience, I would say that it’s best to research and book a tour directly through sites like Expedia or Viator or other tour companies. When you get to the Blue Mountains, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Through a tour, your ride and your admission to a working coffee plantation is covered, of course, but you definitely want a local to handle the driving.

photo 2(3)Getting there is an interesting uphill journey. The ride involves going up winding and unmarked roads but relax by taking in lush green vegetation, mountain shade and blue-sky views from your side window (get one). Small working communities like Irish Town are found along the route, and I spotted simple homes and even shops scattered in between long stretches of fauna.

One coffee plantation up here that’s open to public is Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation. The property consists of an over 200-year-old Georgian style residence once for housing Jamaica’s dignitaries that is now the welcoming area on this farm.

photo 1(5)Bought by the Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC) in 1981, much of the coffee grown here is exported to Japan. The Japanese market is a major importer of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, above European and U.S. drinkers, due to their government investing in Jamaica’s coffee production in the eighties to re-percolate it.

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On the porch of this house, guests are greeted with a sit-down lesson on “Coffee 101” and its place in Jamaica.

And, yes, you get a cup of coffee.

Our guide, Alton Bedward, told how well traveled coffee has been over time and over the world (Jamaica first exported beans in 1737). In focusing on Blue Mountain coffee, Bedward shared insights on what makes this beverage so delectable. It is packed with antioxidants, and is low in both acidity and in caffeine levels. “Drinking Blue Mountain coffee is like getting a heart massage,” Bedward said, in that having a cup is locally described as though it’s like drinking to your health.

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Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee has a floral aroma and creamy light yet full-bodied flavor. There is little or no lingering aftertaste. “It’s also got a little sweetness,” said Bedward. I got to add a little more sweetness to my cup through adding in a coffee-infused honey made at Craighton.

After our “coffee talk,” we went to see the property. Harvesting season runs from September through the end of January. After being picked, the beans go through a wet processing method of being washed and pulped and then are sundried (the traditional way of removing moisture) at certain facilities.

While keeping long-term coffee growing methods, modern eco-friendly ones are now more included. As shade is a coffee plant’s best friend, Bedward said Jamaica’s department of forestry is encouraging the planting of mahogany trees to give some ground cover and introduce healthy nitrogen into the ground through their roots. At Craighton, local manure is used as fertilizer and coffee plants are cut back every five years to help them rejuvenate throughout their lifespan.

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Visitors to the Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation can walk on an easy paved uphill path from the property to a gazebo that has great panoramic views. While on your way up and back down, you might spot some beans growing too.

Before leaving, visitors are offered the opportunity to buy bags of coffee. I was advised to do so because I would probably pay more in a store and definitely much more at the airport. So I left with two at first, then changed my mind to get four and then settled on a sure six of them to bring home.

Holiday Guide: Travel Gift Box Sets

All good things come in boxes, no doubt. And there are travel-minded gifts that arrive inside them, ready to be opened. Here are three really cool companies that offer ongoing subscription or one-time giving choices that bring parts of the world to your (or your gift receiver’s) front door.

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Photo Credit: Hazel Lane

Hazel Lane
Hazel Lane has various box sets that merge the “best of” goodies and products of different major cities across the United States. Set on a “Made in the USA” strategy, their boxes contain produces that are produced or come from small businesses such as local restaurants. The assortments are said to include eco-friendly, sustainable and organic. The boxes vary in size from a mini-city sampler to a full-on size of assortments.

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Photo Credit: Try the World (Facebook page)

Try the World
Try the World take an edible approach to introducing travelers of all kinds to new destinations through their respective foods. Celebrity chefs from different countries select local and authentic delicacies from their homelands to be boxed and sent as part of Try the World’s subscription based service. Subscribers receive a box every two months, which contains about seven to 10 curated products.

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Photo credit: Little Passports (Facebook page)

Little Passports
For the younger set, roughly from age 3 to 12, Little Passports organizes three types of educational travel packages based on ages and destinations to take kids on a mini-global adventure. Once the subscription is ordered, an introductory kit is said to be mailed that will come with everything these youngsters will need to get their “journeys” started. The packages are destination specific and arrive monthly, containing various items like activity books/sheets, stickers, access to online games and photos.

(Editor’s Note: These selections were based on media pitches and/or recommendations by fellow travel bloggers. I am not receiving any compensation any of their mentions.)

How to Feel Like You’re Traveling… Even When You’re Not

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Photo by Matteo Paciotti via Flickr.com

It sucks when you feel like you can’t go anywhere. Or in reality you can’t go anywhere far.

Any traveler can get these blues. For me, as of now, my 2015 plans might have to be vague. Why? Well, the New Year is coming with higher costs (who else here is feeling insurance sticker shock?) and new priorities (like figuring out where I want and can afford to live). So, except for a press trip next week, I’m going to see what happens.

Yet, you can kind of feel like you’re traveling even when you’re not able to. It’s all about perception, right? Here are some ideas on how to act like you’re traveling… even when you’re not:

1) Go to festivals

From foods and seasons to heritages and holidays, just about any type of festival can put you in a temporary setting. And expose you to different people and well places. You might be able to sample new foods, get a bit of culture, learn a fact or two, or just let loose. Before going to your event, do a Google search to try and find possible price breaks or valid admission discounts. Check their Facebook page or Twitter handle as price-chopper offers might be posted. Travel trade shows are nice too – just watch it on your swag and brochure grabbing.

2) Go out to eat

Yes, the cost of eating out can be sketchy. So start slowly with options. Food trucks can be good for artisan or ethnic food finds. Consider lunch specials or wait for upcoming promotions like a restaurant week. Search sites like Yelp or Chowhound or your local sources for in-the-know reviews on reasonably priced but equally good places. YipIt also a good source for daily deals.

I did a post recently on communal dining, which is also another good thing. Scope out food-focused Meetup groups or register with service sites like Feastly and EatWith. Groupon or LivingSocial lists some perk deals but buy them sparingly.

3) Volunteer your time

One often overlooked way to get into travel-related events or similar offerings is to volunteer. Your assigned task can be menial but you get a behind the scenes look—and even better appreciation—of what goes into holding these events.

Back in March, I volunteered at the first Women’s Travel Fest and was delegated to manning the coat checkroom. Once coats were carefully stored, I got to listen in on lectures by some leading ladies in the travel and community sectors. Plus, I got to take Samantha Brown’s coat. Well, I was so nervous that I gave her a hanger instead of grabbing her coat first. But I recovered.

4) Give your location a second look

How often do we live in a place for years and never see everything or even our own state. Whether you’re in a city or rural section, take your car or subway or bus and scope out a different neighborhood. For that museum you’ve never considered going to–or haven’t been to since you were a kid–now’s the time to visit. Bus trips might seem lame but they have their conveniences. Sometimes I’ve been by far the youngest person on a bus trip, but for me it was easier and cheaper for getting to places this way than on my own.

Tell me what you think.

Book Review: National Geographic’s ‘World’s Best Cities’

World's Best Cities CoverLast week, National Geographic released its latest travel book “World’s Best Cities: Celebrating 220 Great Destinations” (Hardcover, $40 US). I got a review copy in the mail, and immediately its picturesque photos and informational tidbits make it an eye-catching read from start to finish.

Even if you can’t get to these cities just yet, this guidebook gives you the feeling of picturing yourself already there, with tips to give you a good head start.

“World’s Best Cities” is inspired by a publication released by the Rockefeller Foundation citing how for the first time ever most people now live in cities – which is impressive.

Photo by Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock New York, New York Central Park, an oasis in the middle of Manhattan. Source: WORLD’S BEST CITIES: Celebrating 220 Great Destinations

Photo by Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock – New York, New York
Central Park, an oasis in the middle of Manhattan Source: World’s Best Cities: Celebrating 220 Great Destinations

This coffee table book starts off list of more than 200 cities based on population, starting with Tokyo and ending with Vatican City. Then there are further breakdown lists of cities by specific traveler’s interests – food, spa, eco-smart, festivals and nightlife – and offbeat or plain cute ones ranging from haunted or walled to happiest or high-altitude. These list-centered pages are mixed in through out the book – smart move! – so you keep going through every page entirely.

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain.

Photo by MasterLu/iStockphoto Barcelona, Spain – The Gaudí-designed Parc Güell. Source: World’s Best Cities: Celebrating 220 Great Destinations

Overall, its layout is good. Fun or odd facts are on the far right of one page, vital stats or in the lower left corner of the other. Full-color and historic photos really shine here in showcasing various city landscapes and landmarks and the occasional food dish or local person. Some city pages also include point of view essays by residents who have built a reputable street cred (forgive the pun) while other pages go straight to their facts.

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Photo by Ocean/Corbis Mexico City, Mexico Today’s Mexico City is a cultural hub and kaleidoscope of humanity. Its rich, 1,000-year history intermingles distinctly modern atmospherics created by contemporary art with irresistible crafts and street vendors hocking classic Mexican eats. Source: World’s Best Cities: Celebrating 220 Great Destinations

As food and local culture are now key points for many travelers, each city’s respective page gives a lot of explanations on what is the native cuisine and where to find locally-made goods. Best local places to go to tips are a good touch as well.

Nat Geo’s “Urban Insider” columnist Annie Fitzsimmons wrote the book’s preface. I’ve “virtually” met Annie (I follow her on Twitter and we have mutual friends in the travel sector) but she knows her stuff.

For those who enjoy exploring big cities by foot or book, this coffee table is nice for both active and armchair travelers.

Check Out #TakeaBreakinChile

photo 1-3If you’re passing through Grand Central Terminal now until this Monday, Oct. 27, take a look at #TakeaBreakinChile, a promotion held by Turismo Chile. As a kickoff for its NYC event, Turismo Chile hosted an evening reception this week to unveil this new campaign in promoting this South American destination.

Not knowing much about Chile at first, I had a good time chatting with reps from tourism companies representing various hotels, airlines, cruises and other expeditions and hearing more about the different opportunities to explore the country. There was also a great presentation relating to Chile’s geography and its cultural and culinary offerings.

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Here’s what I learned.

photo 5For adventure travel, Chile is pretty awesome. Its five zones highlight different climates – from desert to mountain to grasslands – so travelers can enjoy activities like hiking, climbing and rafting. It’s also a connecting point for getting to Antarctica (now that would be awesome) as well as to Patagonia and Easter Island. Also, in being great news for Chile, the travel publication Lonely Planet has featured the Atacama Desert on its “Best in Travel 2015” edition. It comes in at number 9 on its “Top 10 Regions” list.

Plus, being another helpful tip for American travelers, is that to U.S. citizens no longer will have to pay a $160 “reciprocity fee” when they enter Chile (this is in exchange for Chile’s citizens now longer needing a visa for business or pleasure travel to the U.S.). photo 1-4With culinary travel, Chile has a wine making heritage that dates back to the arrival of Spainards who found it to be an ideal place to plant vines. Today, Chile’s wine regions produce primary reds such as Cabernet Franc, Cabaret Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah and whites including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. At Turismo Chile’s reception, I got to taste some of these wine varieties. I also tried some culinary finds including quinoa, lamb, oysters, and empanadas.  photo-16 photo 2-1
The evening also included cultural demonstrations featuring a musical performance and a showing of Cueca, a traditional dance.

At Grand Central, the #TakeaBreakinChile exhibit is in Vanderbilt Hall. It’s an interactive exhibit featuring a giant cube that you can step into too. The exhibit closes Monday at 2 p.m.

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I Got to #TrySwedish Cuisine with Visit Sweden

Although I came late to The Old Bowery Station in New York City’s downtown area, I did still get the chance to taste some Swedish delicacies at an invitation-only event held by Visit Sweden last week. The afternoon gathering was all about learning and tasting foods from Western Sweden as part of Visit Sweden’s #TrySwedish promotion.

One of the great food locations on Sweden’s Western coast is the seaside city of Gothenburg. Gothenburg gets high marks for multiple seafood varieties and I was able to sample some Nordic style sushi. If you happen to get to this city, vRÅ is recommended as a good place for sushi and the Michelin starred Sjömagasinet is known for both its fine traditional and creative seafood dishes. I also got to sip on a lovely berry-flavored Rekorderlig Cider, which originated in Sweden.

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In addition to what I ate–and what I sadly missed out on eating–it was nice to later read up on Swedish culinary traditions and growing food movements such saving and using more of indigenous ingredients and a renaissance of artisan beverages. Bread and cakes are said to be still much loved in Sweden, from kanelbullar cinnamon rolls (there’s actually a Cinnamon Bun Day every October!) to a dark rye called kavring.

photo(147)Culinary accolades also go beyond Gothenburg. In Sweden’s Jämtland region, the city of Östersund has been designated as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy with its fine cheeses and meats, herbs, and breads.

Plus with culinary tourism growing in public taste, it’s fitting that Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the foodie foresight to initiate a campaign called “Sweden – the New Culinary Nation” in 2008. It has an ambitious goal of making Sweden a leading country for food by 2020.

Last week’s event tied in with the second annual NORTH Food Festival, a week-long showcase of Nordic culinary presentations and tastings. Learn more about #TrySwedish here.

 

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! Sept. 27

I like scouting out free events, so if you’re into visiting museums (like I am), here is one offer not to pass up.

“Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live!” is providing free admission for two to participating museums across the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories this Saturday, September 27. This annual event includes a good number of museums and historical or cultural institutions, birthplaces and centers.

The list includes a mixture of places that are either already well-visited, have niche collections or focus on specific subjects. Here is a sampling:

New York City
New York City Fire Museum

Salem, Massachusetts
The House of the Seven Gables

Los Angeles, California
The GRAMMY Museum

San Diego, California
San Diego Air & Space Museum

Washington, D.C.
Newseum

Yet, with all of them, there’s just a slight catch: You must register to obtain a ticket to the venue of your choosing beforehand. Once your ticket is ready, you can download it and print it and/or access it from your smartphone. My suggestion would be to print a copy to take along. Get your ticket here.