Travel Photo of the Month: May 2016

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A year ago, in an remote and exotic location, my new husband Jacob and I were on our honeymoon. After weighing the Maldives and French Polynesia, we settled on the latter because of less travel time. While it seems like a world away, the flight to Papeete was only 8 hours from LAX, and we arrived early in the morning ready to get on island time at the Le Meridien. Our first stop: Tahiti–the island that houses a capital city best-known for its les roulottes (French for caravans); I call them food trucks.

I’d recommend travelers to skip Tahiti and head straight to the lush landscapes in Moorea or the stunning waters of Bora Bora…yet that is for a future blog post. The best part of our first day in paradise–snorkeling with my hot husband, who is the guest photographer of this month’s POTM™. Enjoy!

Shallow Waters in Tahiti

Shallow Waters in Tahiti

Christmas on the Las Vegas Strip

Baby, it’s cold outside…especially in Las Vegas! Some people don’t think it gets cold in Sin City, but the desert weather gets pretty chilly in the winter. Right now, it’s 46º degrees…brrr! When the wintry weather arrives, there is no place like Las Vegas Blvd. to get into the Christmas spirit!

Our perennial favorite is the Bellagio, home of the Bellagio Conservatory and our favorite bar–the Petrossian. My fiance’ actually chose this spot to propose, as we come here at least five times a year to see the ever-changing seasons spotlighted at the Conservatory. I’ve even blogged about it before, and the best time of the year to stroll through the gorgeous atrium is holiday time! This year didn’t disappoint–imagine penguins, polar bears constructed of flowers, and a giant Christmas tree!

Another favorite thing to do in Vegas in the winter is ice skating! Several of the casinos, including the stylish Cosmopolitan and the Venetian, have outdoor ice rinks. We’ve enjoyed the one at the Cosmopolitan the last couple of years, as the rooftop pool converted to a rink makes this girl feel as though she is skating down the Strip! And even if you hate to skate, there are glorious fire pits and cold weather cocktails available.

Need some other December ideas for the Strip? There is the world record-breaking Great Santa Run each year in Downtown Las Vegas, lovely holiday shopping at Fashion Show Mall, and the Magical Forest at nearby Opportunity Village.

Princess Cruising to Alaska

In my ever-exciting quest to visit all 50 state capitols, one of my dear friends and I set off for Southeast Alaska to hit Juneau via a Princess Cruise. We were thrilled to learn that the Golden Princess departed on a summer Saturday from Seattle during Seafair, and we spent the day prior to the cruise exploring the Emerald City. My friend and I hit the high points: Pike’s Market, a duck tour of Lake Union, Smith Tower, and drinks with a local friend. The following day, we headed for the largest US state as we boarded our ship.

Upon immediate exploration, we decided to make the most of our time at sea and filled up our days at sea with activities galore: TRX classes at the gym, treatments at the spa, bingo, shopping classes, card games (literally 15+ hours of Spite and Malice at the boat’s wine bar), and enjoying the ship’s big band music. Some things we learned about Alaskan cruising Princess-style: “all-inclusive” barely covers anything, never do the set dining (dull table mates), pack for warmth with layers, and always buy the full bottle of bubbles/make friends with the bartender. We loved the relaxation that we found away from it all, though, and we achieved Princess’ mantra of “escape completely.”

We hit Juneau on a drizzly Monday morning, and we immediately took off through the downtown area towards the state capitol. Upon arrival, a kind volunteer gave us a wonderful tour–did you know that Alaska has the only state seal with a seal on it?–and shared some wonderful stories about Elizabeth Peratrovich, one of the first civil rights activists. Shopping and a whale watching excursion completed our time in the capitol city.

Next stop was Skagway, which was a little town rich with gold rush history. We opted to go on an close-by adventure to a musher’s camp (picture: Alaskan sled dogs made famous by the Iditarod) to experience nature and cuddle the baby huskies. This was especially well-worth the trip when we came across a bear less than 30 feet away. Rar! We also stopped in the famous Red Onion Saloon–a former brothel!–and enjoyed the scandalous tour. The next day, the cruise ship sailed around Glacier Bay, and we happily shelled out more money to sit in the adults-only Sanctuary and watch the beautiful glaciers calving (breaking apart and falling into the water with a loud clap, which the Tlingits called “white thunder.”)

Our favorite stop was in Ketchikan, where we decided to forgo the tourist stops and do Stray Boots‘ art walk scavenger hunt. We saw wonderful galleries, watched the seals play near Creek Street, and discovered the best bar in town: the Arctic Bar, home of the lovely Paula and the best Bloody Mary in Alaska. My friend and I enjoyed going off the beaten path (read: away from fellow cruisers) before getting back on board and cruising onward to Victoria, BC. Having journeyed to beautiful Victoria before, we spent some time people-watching near the harbor during our quick stop in Canada before heading back to the Golden Princess for one final round of Spite and Malice.

 

Business Trip to Bangalore

Although I’ve had the pleasure of journeying to India before (you can read about my trip to Delhi here), I was thrilled to go on a business trip to Bangalore last month. Part of my excitement was visiting the tech hub of India, and after my previous visit to “Incredible India!”, I wanted to experience more. The similarities: the hustle and bustle of daily life, the kindness of the people I encountered, and the incredibly delish cuisine. Speaking of cuisine, I enjoyed some of my favorites–masala, paneer, dosas!–multiple times throughout the visit. I also learned to love Indian tea.

With a packed agenda of meetings and not much time to see the city after it took nearly two days for me to arrive, I hired a driver to take me into the city center on a Sunday afternoon. I visited the quaint Bangalore Palace, which had guided tours and quite a bit of history to learn about the families that lived there in the past. (Note: if you are vehemently against the shooting and displaying of wild game, I’d skip it.) My driver also took me to Shiva Temple, and he was kind enough to tour it with me to explain some of the Hindu traditions. It was there that I took the majority of my photos in Bengaluru, and it–along with some religious history from a kind colleague–I got the best picture of local worship.

The majority of the week was spent in cars going to and fro my hotel–the swanky Zuri Whitefield–and the many meetings I had. The negative side of the Zuri: I did take the opportunity to go to the hotel’s spa (where the masseuse asked me if I ever exercised…I cringed); and the positive:the kind waiters tried to show me which foods were spicy. The one late afternoon I had off, I got to explore a local mall and try on some fabulous clothes at Biba, where I bought a really pretty shirt.

The main difference between this trip and my 2011 trip to India was sadly time: I did not have near enough of it to explore as I would have hoped.

 

Des Moines: French for The Moines

For our second annual Mom/Daughter Eating/Drinking/Touring Extravaganza, my mother and I visited Iowa and Nebraska this weekend. Friends and acquaintances asked why we’d make a specific trip to visit what is known as the “flyover states,” yet I am glad we did–Des Moines is quite a cosmopolitan treasure to explore! We arrived on a Friday morning, and after some navigation of the downtown area’s easily explorable streets, we hit the gorgeous state capitol building.

Iowa was my 36th state capitol to visit, and it was well-worth the trip: a beautiful 23 karat gold dome, a collection of miniature inaugural gowns of Iowa’s first ladies, and an incredibly gorgeous law library. If I lived in Des Moines, I’d try to figure out a way to have my wedding in the library–from stunning spiral staircases to rows and rows of books, it’s no wonder that international dignitaries and politicos regularly visit.

We enjoyed bloody mary drinks and lunch at a local spot before heading back out for a visit to the Center Street Pedestrian Bridge and the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. Free to the public, this was a nice way to burn off lunch…another of which being some light shopping on Locust Street. My favorite store was RAYGUN, which sold wonderful Midwestern-themed graphic products, including wares with this week’s blog headline “Des Moines: French for The Moines” emblazoned across them.

We drove by the well-known Salisbury House and walked through the Pappajohn Sculpture Park–worth a stop. Our evening was spent relaxing at our hotel’s evening reception (a perk to staying at the Embassy Suites) before heading to a delish prix-fixe meal at Lucca, both ideally located on Locust Street, with a beautiful night view of the capitol. We were in town during Iowa’s Capitol City Pride Fest 2014, as well as during an evening concert on the river, so our night ended with a glorious fireworks display. With or without the pyrotechnics, we found Des Moines to be charming!

 

The Joys of Flying

My most current business trip started as most do: I called Uber for my lift to the airport while doing some last-second packing. After many years of traveling for work, I have fitting it all in down pat, although this pre-trip rush always gives me adrenaline. At the airport, I head to a different terminal, as I’m flying on US Airways this particular trip. As a long-time American Airlines fan, I was dreading flying this merging airline, especially with some updates announced today that are sending us frequent AA flyers into a tailspin.

Nevertheless, my trip went was fairly non-eventful–except for some small hiccups. So, here are some friendly reminders for all of us on a flying metal tube to have a pleasant flight:

  • Although your ring tone is a loud “Sweet Child of Mine” by the great Guns ‘N Roses, after the plane door is closed, it’s probably a good idea to silence your phone and have it in airplane mode.
  • Come to think of it, phones should always be in quiet mode during a flight, especially when you’re composing emails the entire trip. That means you, 6B.
  • I can’t understand why passengers seated in the rear of the plane place their carry on luggage near the bulkhead. Those spots fill up so fast, then those who are by law required to stow all luggage have nowhere to put their belongings…which can cause delays!
  • What you’re grabbing for balance every time you get out of your seat is actually the back of the passenger’s in front of you. Remember: we’re all in this together!
  • I’ve read multiple times recently in travel forums how few people actually respond to the flight attendants when they greet boarding travelers. I decided to preempt their greetings with one cheerful “good morning!!” of my own. It’s not only the polite thing to do, but they have been very lovely in response.

Hopefully, this week’s post comes across as a positive one. Travel is definitely my passion, even though I have to remind myself during delayed flights and encounters with rude passengers. We road warriors must remember that it’s all worth it–especially the opportunity to experience new cities, meet new people from around the world, and enjoy the rare–but incredible!–personal excursions we get to take.

 

Things To Do While You’re Alive

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Several years ago, I came across an advertising campaign that inspired me to travel more and live life to the fullest more. Since then, I’ve lived abroad, traveled as much as time would allow, and have opened myself up to new possibilities. While I can’t recall the product that the five ads below were selling, I can still be inspired by these lists of things to do while I’m alive. While “go to the Kentucky Derby” is very much still on my bucket list, I have bargain hunted in Marrakesh, seen a Broadway show front and center, taken my mom on a vacation, and driven on the autobahn. What is on your list of things to do while your alive?

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