Author Archives: Elaine J. Masters

Time for a beach getaway? Where to stay in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Palomas beach resort at sunset

Palomas beach resort at sunset

Less than four hours south of Phoenix there’s a dreamy beach getaway that’s mysteriously off most tourists radar. Puerto Penasco, perched on the northern shore of the Sea of Cortez, is an hour south of the US border but a world away from everyday concerns.

Looking into El Elegante crater inside the PInacate Biosphere.

Looking into El Elegante crater inside the PInacate Biosphere.

The drive south takes you through the wild reaches of the Sonoran desert. Twisting Saguaro cactus salute alongside the road. Beyond them, haggle-tooth red peaks dot the horizon. As you approach the city, signs for the UNESCO protected Pinacate Biosphere dot the highway. Striated black, red, and at times green, miles of Biosphere land lean towards craters. Volcanic cones slope up in the distance.

beach resorts on the Puerto Penasco Bay

Then roadside attractions emerge and you spy tall, scattered rectangles – the area’s high-rise luxury, beach resorts. Suddenly you’re in town. There are so many ways to enjoy the region – hikes in the reserve, renting ATV’s, golf, kayaking, tequila tours, nightlife, and a rainbow of dining options but the best beach getaway revolves around the bright blue and lapping sea.

Penasco del Sol Beach Resort Hotel

Penasco del Sol beach resort sign

I stayed at the Penasco Del Sol, a family-friendly, modestly priced, beach getaway. It’s set on the central beach of Rocky Point, a short drive from the fishing harbor and village. During the fall weekdays, the art-filled lobby and central pool area are relaxed and hushed. On the weekends, couples and families meet and stroll through on their way to soak in the tubs, enjoy the waterfall bar and walk the beach.

Tub time inside the Penasco del Sol beach resort

Tub time inside the Penasco del Sol beach resort

On weekday mornings I could walk the beach with only my shadow for company, but on the weekend crowds fan out from a stepped plaza. A half-dozen tents selling swim-suits to water-wings, food carts set up, and strolling musicians saunter through the beach crowds.

Penasco del sol lobby

Inside the beach resort lobby, there’s a curved bar open most of the day and the dining room serves breakfast buffets and menu items, with traditional specials on Sundays. Dinners full of seafood and local specialties are featured on the evening menu. In the mornings the coffee is strong and I always filled my plate with papaya, melons, and chilaquiles. There were eggs, sausages, local and Norte Americano options too.Penasco del sol room

My room was large enough for me to do some yoga before heading downstairs for breakfast and the day’s activities. In the next building over, condos and timeshare owners had their own pool and beach activities.


La Palomas Beach Getaway

On my last night, we enjoyed a steak dinner in the La Palomas Beach Resort and the band, Agua de Coco serenaded us with Jazz classics.


Palomas Beach getaway view from room deck

A room with a view at the La Palomas Beach Resort


Palomas panorama with sea

La Palomas Beach Resort

The Grand Mayan – Luxury beach getaway

About 45 minutes from town is the exclusive Grand Mayan, a Vidanta Resort. The members-only space is laid out with precision along a broad length of the coastline. A Jack Nicklaus Golf Course lies inland from the resort towers. A tempting, lengthy lazy river snakes through the property. Here members own condos and timeshare apartments which allow them to visit the pools and spas, restaurants and services. The spaces inside and out are palatial with expansion slated over the coming years.

One lobby inside the Grand Mayan property

One lobby inside the Grand Mayan property

The most exclusive rooms come with their own soaking pool as well as a jacuzzi steps from the bed in this beach get away.

The top tier rooms come with their own soaking pool as well as a jacuzzi steps from the bed.

The Dream Weaver Hotel

On the afternoon we went into town for lunch we strolled the Malecon and wandered the village. The town is packed with color and tourist shops. Just up a block from the busiest areas are coffee roasters, small galleries and I spotted the Dream Weaver Hotel.

This quirky place was created by host Diane and each room is unique. The courtyard and upstairs patios are full of local art, murals, reed furniture and there’s a view down to the beach below. These are budget accommodations for those interested in basic comfort, cooking options, and the authentic jostling of village life a few blocks away.

Dream Weaver Inn street view

Dreamweaver lower courtyard

Dreamweaver lower courtyard

I can’t believe it took me so long to visit this part of Mexico! It’s a little over five hours from my home in San Diego and about 3.5 from Phoenix. There is an airport but for the time being only charter flights are allowed.

I’ll be writing more soon about the food and adventures we enjoyed. Mexico is forever in my heart and I look forward to sharing this beach getaway with my family and friends.

This journey was made possible by the Rocky Point/Puerto Penasco Tourism Board. Thank you for hosting me. As always, all opinions are my own. Salut!

Penasco sign on beach

Here’s a Pinnable image to share:Beach Resort bliss inside the Penasco del Sol Hotel

Travel Notes & Beyond

Go West – Driving four US National Parks

Road trip to Mount Rainier one of the US National Parks
One of dozens of trails available around Mount Rainier.

One of dozens of trails available around Mount Rainier.

The US National Parks are grand, wildly diverse and pretty far apart. Visiting several over a week or two takes planning. You don’t want to rush the ride! In too much of a rush to pull over and watch Buffalo sparing because you need to get to the next hotel? Miss the waterfall because you’re snacky? Forget it!
Plan well, stock the car and surrender to opportunities along the way. Here’s a quick, road trip itinerary from Yosemite, up to the coastal Redwood National Park, to Crater Lake and the wonders of Mount Rainier.
I’ve driven across the country several times as a youngster – whiling away the time by fighting with my siblings in the back seat, but I’d never done it as an adult. Over three weeks, two couples – my sweetheart, his son, and wife piled into their car and worked our way up the west coast and across to Omaha before parting ways. It not only gave us plenty of time to hang out, but we hiked, watched wildlife and cozied up to some of the most spectacular natural environments in the country. This first part of the trip took us about seven days but you could see these four US National Parks in far less time.
Yosemite entrance sign on a US National Parks Road Trip

Yosemite National Park

Heading north from Los Angeles we ventured into Yosemite first. We have family close to the Southern entrance, so it made a natural launching spot. While we were there it was heartbreaking to see huge swaths of trees killed by a devastating bark beetle. Forest fires have followed and we need to remember they’re part of a natural cycle. My hope is that the current fires bring new growth for generations to come. Still, once the smoke has cleared nothing surpasses wandering through Yosemite Valley. I highly recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. We hiked a bit, enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and drove out as the line of cars coming into the park slowed to a crawl.
Redwood National and State Parks entrance sign
Nothing compares to looking up into ancient treetops in Redwood National Park

Nothing compares to looking up into ancient treetops.

Redwood State and US National Parks

To escape the summer heat we headed west, skirting the San Francisco Bay Area and up the Pacific coast to wander through the National Redwood Forest. Luckily the moist fogs that often wrap that part of the coast lifted for the day we drove through. There are many day hikes and campgrounds for longer-term term visitors but we were on a mission.  I wanted to stay in the area but we’d set up lodging at our next stop, near Crater Lake.
Crater Lake view and the water is more electric blue than a camera can capture.

Crater Lake view and the water is more electric blue than a camera can capture.

One glimpse of the Hoodoo formations on Pinnacles Trail near Crater Lake

One glimpse of the Hoodoo formations on Pinnacles Trail near Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is one of the most startling of the US National Parks. Nothing can prepare you for the stunning blue of the water. The road up gives few hints and there are many trails around and into the crater. In the late summer, small boats navigate around the lake. We were too early in the season to catch that. After we’d wandered for hours, we wound down the far side of the ancient volcanic crater to walk Pinnacles Trail and see the strange hoodoos, towering ash cones, that have developed from ages of erosion.
Mount Rainier is one of the US National Parks in the Pacific Northwest

Mt. Rainier National Park

Our next choice of US National Parks was just a half-day drive away. While living in the NW during my college years, I’d admired it from a distance but never got close. The majesty of the mountain stunned me as we wound up the summit road.
Mount Rainierr Lodge is built of old growth redwoods.

Mount Rainier Lodge is built of old growth redwoods.

The mail bear inside the Mount Rainier Lodge.

The mail bear just charmed me.

The lodge is constructed of old-growth redwood and has been a destination for vacationers since it opened. There are hanging glaciers nearby and many trails from easy to advanced. The best part about staying at the lodge was a chance to hike as the sun set, watching wildlife, enjoying the flowers as most of the other visitors left the park. Mount Rainier is close to Seattle a wonderful city and with lots of flights available.
Deer on the flanks of Mount Rainier
Critters come out as the day fades inside the US National Parks

Critters come out as the day fades inside the US National Parks

Glacier National Park

Our next destination sent us east to Glacier National Park in Montana. The route leads from Seattle and through Spokane. Both are lovely destinations in themselves. Seattle is the better known, but Spokane has the River Park and waterfall. It’s a great stop on a long drive.
Glacier national park in its glory
The Red Car - Glacier National Park historical shuttle
The park has been plagued by recent fires but nature will rebound. I highly recommend driving or taking one of the many public transportation options up the Road to the Sun. No matter what the weather is you’ll enjoy the views.
Take time to immerse in the beauty of the US National Parks

Driving four Western US National Parks

  • Start planning early – reserve lodging in and near the US National Parks at least 6 months in advance to avoid disappointment and get the best prices.
  • The US National Park Service has free days and discounts for seniors.  Read my earlier post about the special days here. 

US National Parks Service websites:

Go West Four US National Parks road trip

From culture to kitsch – How to enjoy a long layover in the Taiwan Airport

Inside the Taiwan airport the Made In Taiwan Lounge

Taiwan Airport display inside Taoyuan Airport

Discover Taoyuan Airport

A long layover in the Taiwan Airport? Don’t worry, be happy! The terminals are packed with diversions and amenities for all kinds of travelers. From art galleries, puppetry, tribal traditions and even Hello Kitty – each waiting lounge in the Taoyuan airport has its own theme!
My seatmate charms the stewardess.

My seatmate charms the stewardess.


It’s a tortuously long flight into Taiwan for anyone flying from the US or Europe. That is unless you’re in first or business class. I flew economy for over thirteen hours on China Airlines. While I was comfortable enough with a standard seat and leg room upgrade, I did run into a few problems with seatmates. First was the screaming baby, then the nanny who removed her shoes and had me gagging, then kept shoving into my side. I appreciate how difficult it is traveling with a small child. Everyone did their best. They played with the infant and the stewardess did offer me a face mask!
 Sleeping in the Taoyuan airport on recliners throughout the waiting lounges
With the service and entertainment choices, I was reasonably rested as we left the airplane in Taipei. Unfortunately, my layover wasn’t long enough to take one of the free tours into Taipei (you need at least 7 hours – see more details below. However, my partner and I soon discovered, the airport was packed with plenty to keep us entertained.
Upstairs amenities in the main concourse of the Taiwan Airport

Upstairs amenities in the main concourse of the Taiwan Airport

The Taiwan airport terminals are laid in the shape of large H. A swift tram takes passengers from Terminal 1 to 2. That’s great if you’re in a hurry to catch a connection. However, if you take the Skytrain you’ll miss the galleries, the themed gates and scores of shops from designer to duty-free. You won’t see the playgrounds for the kiddies, gardens, massage vendors offering full spa to chair treatments, and the small gym.
Taoyuan airport food court upstairs in the main concourse
Restaurants offer European to traditional Taiwanese foods or head upstairs to the food court for standard Western fare, from Starbucks to Burger King. Upstairs several Premium lounges offer food, drink, showers and comfortable seating or nap areas. There are elite membership airline lounges and others offer reasonable day/night rates. Before getting on my connecting flight I stopped in the Kung Fu Massage parlor. The fifteen minute, table massage was just what my shoulders and back needed.
Here’s a short video about the Taiwan Airport theme gates, galleries, and shops

Wifi is available for free throughout the Taiwan Airport. Beyond the themed waiting lounges are spacious seating areas. Most have large recliners perfect for napping. Look for three or more grouped together under stairwells and tucked into side rooms.

maps and brochures for the Taiwan airport in Taipei
After discovering the recliners, we opted for a short rest, hooked up to WiFi, and then set off to explore the airport. I picked up brochures at one of several information kiosks. There were detailed maps in English and several languages. The Mind Garden sounded inspiring but it was simply a seating area stocked with books and magazines. I was especially excited about the Butterfly Garden. However, while still on the map, that space had been turned into something else. We also found that there’s more than one walkway between terminals.
Enjoy a tea ceremony inside the Taoyuan airport terminal

Enjoy a tea ceremony inside the Taoyuan airport terminal

Since we’d flown over thirteen hours we needed exercise. It can be dangerous to sit too long – no matter your age. Staying stuck in cramped seats on lengthy flights can lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis as well as tweaked muscles, sore hips, and back. Read more about the problem and solutions in this earlier post. We walked and walked to work out our kinks.
Taiwan traditional pastries inside Taoyuan Airport

Traditional sweets for the taking inside most shops throughout the airport

Taiwan Airport food

I spied at least one white tablecloth restaurant but most were more casual. While there are drink vending machines throughout the concourses, you need Taiwan change to operate them. Having American dollars wasn’t a problem with other vendors and they did give change in the local currency. Many of the shops offered free samples of liquor, primarily whiskey, and a variety of local pastry bites – Taro, Pineapple and plain. That and a bottle of water could fill-up most any budget-minded traveler. I opted for a fast food meal featuring chicken, noodle soup, and potato salad.
Taiwan noodle soup inside Taoyuan airportThe Glory of High Tech Waiting Lounge inside the Taiwan Airport

Waiting Lounge Themes

These lounges are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Each was set up with exhibits full of color and very detailed layouts. It looked like a different designer was hired for each one.
Hello Kitty shop and waiting lounge inside Taiwan Airport

Doesn’t every airport have a Hello Kitty lounge and gift shop?

orchid garden inside the Taiwan Airport

Nature comes indoors in several garden waiting lounges

Some of the different boarding gates that we visited. (You can see more in the video above .)
Zone A & B:
  • Aboriginal Arts
  • Taiwan Tea
  • Bike Waiting Lounge
  • The Glory of High Tech Lounge
  • Glamorous Textile Art Lounge
  • The Glory of Sports Waiting Lounge
Puppetry waiting lounge inside the Taiwan Airport

Puppetry waiting lounge inside the Taiwan Airport

Zones C & D:

  • Taiwan Music Waiting Lounge
  • The Hello Kitty Waiting Lounge
  • e-Library Waiting Lounge
  • Postal Waiting Lounge
  • Taiwan Cinema Lounge
  • Sea and River Ecology Lounge
  • Arts and Culture Exhibits
  • Pili Puppet Theater Waiting Lounge
  • Foods of Taiwan Waiting Lounge

Taiwan airport children's play area characters

Families with small children will find a large play area with whimsical character statues from favorite cartoons. There are also Breast Feeding and Prayer Rooms in several spots within the terminals.
Taoyuan Airport bathroom ratings

Leave the bathroom and rate your experience!

 Wifi and charging stations inside Taiwan Airport

Map of the night markets in Taiwan

Map of the night markets in Taiwan

Take a free Taipei Tour:

The half-day tours depart in the morning and afternoon. Note that you need a layover of 7 to 8 hours and there are other restrictions. Each is limited to 18 people. You can book at the airport or guarantee your seat by pre-registering online 14-18 days prior to arrival: Check here to see if you are eligible.

Enjoy a Taiwan Airport layover

Most of the airport was waking up during our first stop at Taoyuan. I noticed a very different and more crowded late night vibe when we caught our flight home a week later. If you are in Taipei after a long flight, explore the Taiwan Airport at least for the exercise and entertainment. Your mind and body will be better for it.

Have you ever visited the Taoyuan Airport? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below. I always respond.

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Want to Escape the Summer Heat? 5 Places You Should See

Escape summer heat at the beach or pool

Summer heat is upon us and with it come unpleasant heat waves and lots of sweating. There are many ways to escape the summer heat, but most just choose to go to the beach or a local pool to cool off.

If you want something more exciting than that, you’ve come to the right place! After all, not everybody enjoys overcrowded pools and expensive drinks. There are plenty of locations you can visit that still have acceptable temperatures and interesting sights to see. Guest bloggers, Agness and Cez of, offer five of them starting with South Africa.

Cape Town, South Africa, has a great climate to escape summer heat

#1 Cape Town, South Africa

Since South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, you can enjoy long sunny days without wishing you had a block of ice to hug. June and July are basically South Africa’s winter, so if you want to escape the summer heat – it makes for a great destination.

Just remember to bring a light waterproof jacket. While South African winters aren’t cold and dreary like in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re still bound to catch some warm, rainy days. Summer is the best season to view the wildlife in this wondrous country. and Table Mountain National Park is perfect to explore.

From atop the mountain, you can view the whole city, Robben Island, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, and Devil’s Peak. What makes for an impressive sight from below is the mist that often gathers up at the peaks. While you’re in South Africa, keep in mind not to dress too “touristy.” You might run into trouble with some of the locals in different townships if you flash your wealth around.

SeEscape summer heat on the Isle of Skye

#2 Isle of Skye, Scotland

The United Kingdom is always a great place to escape the summer heat. British weather is cloudy and rainy almost half of the time, and summer is no different. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting this stunning piece of natural landscape in Scotland. It’s especially perfect for those who enjoy hiking but don’t necessarily like the heat.

Visit the fields of Faerie Glen, the cold and clear waters of Fairy Pools, all the way down to the landslip of Quiraing, whose heart-quickening beauty can’t be captured on camera. Dunvegan Castle and its gardens are also nice if you visit when it’s not raining.

Sadly, despite all the folksy names, you won’t encounter any pixie people. The entire isle is still a magical place to be in and there’s a way you can catch the obligatory summer beach fun. Take a trip down to the Claigan Coral Beach for some spectacular views. Don’t forget your jacket, though – the wind can be deeply chilling.

Machu Picchu visitors escape summer heat easily

#3 Machu Picchu, Peru

If the herds of sheep in Scotland aren’t your cup of tea, maybe you’ll enjoy being photo bombed by the Llamas in Machu Picchu. The summer heat is easy to escape in this ancient Inca city high up in the Andes. You might need some time to adjust to the altitude, but once you do this land of mystery holds much to explore.

A guide might be necessary to get the full experience, but you can travel it solo just as well. Machu Picchu is home to many ruins like the Temple of the Sun, the Moon Temple, the Temple of the Three Windows, and others. After you’re done exploring the area up close, there’s one more thing you need to do. Conquer Huayna Picchu peak and admire the expansive mountain layout.

Reykjavik, Iceland, is a great destination to escape summer heat

#4 Reykjavik, Iceland

If you google pictures of Reykjavik you’d swear the city was made out of Legos! Neatly aligned and colorful houses will greet you in the cozy (albeit cold) capital of Iceland. This is where you should go if you’re completely serious about wanting to escape the summer heat. It’s always cold here, but the sights are something to behold.

Reykjavik is a great place to have as your “headquarters” in the country. From there you can go on Arctic cruises to view the Northern Lights, whale watching, wildlife spotting, and other activities. Tours can also lead you to geysers, volcanoes, and ice caves. In no time you’ll see how diverse the geological formations in Iceland are.

Now, while you’re in the city, consider visiting the flea market, Kolaportid – which is located down by the harbor. You can find all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs here without having to spend a fortune.

The list could go on, but we’d rather not spoil everything for you. There are so many interesting places to visit in Iceland – you’d be amazed just how much natural beauty is hiding on this island at the end of the world.

Mt. Denali is always free from scorching summer heat

#5 Denali National Park, Alaska, U.S.A.

What better way to escape the summer heat than by going on a trip to Alaska? Here you’ll be able to admire the tallest mountains in North America while doing some wildlife spotting. Grizzly bears, moose, wolves, caribou, and other majestic creatures live their lives in this clean and well-preserved park.

Go canoeing and have a picnic afterward. Summer really brings out the natural beauty of Alaska in ways you can’t imagine. Just remember that most of the park is tundra. If you were expecting lush forests, you need to head further south and into Southeast Alaska.

Heads up – Only tour buses are allowed to go past mile 15 in the park. If you were planning on renting out a motorhome to visit the park, that might inconvenience some of you. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to take some excellent photographs and enjoy yourself.

How Do You Escape the Summer Heat?

Are you just an average Joe/Jane that goes to the pool, sipping a cold beverage? Or do you enjoy visiting an exciting place once in a while? Tell us your story in the comments! We’d like to hear about some of the interesting locations you’ve traveled to cool off and have some fun.

Agness and Cez write about staying cool in summer

Many thanks to Agness and Cez of for this sponsored post.

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Five ancient to practical reasons you should avoid the eclipse

The eclipse watchers street shadow
The eclipse as shot boy Owen Fuller

Eclipse shot by Owen Fuller:

They call it the King Killer, the death of the sun. The total eclipse of the sun on August 21 is a big deal. The US is in a frenzy of planning and traveling to stand in the great shadow’s path, but ancient societies warn against watching.

They advise against travel or “engaging in risky activities” during a solar eclipse. As the moon blocks the sun, Navajo elders voice caution and Jyotish Astrologer, Blaine Watson, strongly suggests against having anything to do with the eclipse, or with any eclipse partial or full.
1. Vedic Jyotish Experts warn about watching the full solar eclipse:

“This solar eclipse, occurring in the sign of Leo (in Vedic Astrology,) the sign of the king of the jungle, Leo means lion, is deemed a king killer. National leaders are considered at risk as a result.”

Traditionally, in Jyotish we don’t want to expose ourselves to eclipses. They are shadows and considered delicate transition periods, like a change of state from liquid to gas for example where the liquid has to boil in order to create gas. This ‘boiling’ is considered unstable and unpredictable and it is best not to be exposed to it. So, we stay inside. Especially during the total solar eclipse, it is best to stay inside. We also don’t want to have food in our stomachs while eclipses are going on. It is traditional to fast on eclipse days and not to eat until the eclipse is over. This is true for both lunar and solar eclipses.
This total solar eclipse occurs in the sign of Leo with Mercury, the moon, the sun and rahu all placed there at the time of the eclipse. For those of us who have leo moon signs or leo rising signs, this eclipse will have a particularly strong impact and it will be important to take all precautions to avoid risky activities such as long distance travel or crossing streets or brushing teeth. This solar eclipse, occurring in the sign of Leo, the sign of the king of the jungle, Leo means lion, is deemed a king killer. National leaders are considered at risk as a result. ~ Blaine Watson
The solar eclipse path - Annular composition

Annular eclipse image from 2010. Photo credit:

2. The Navajo Nation has similar concerns about watching the eclipse:
Traditional Navajo tribal members won’t look up while the eclipse is happening. Their word for the event is: Jóhonaa’éí daaztsą́  (Listen to how it’s pronounced below.)  The phrase is two words. First is sun followed by a stem that refers to falling but, in this form, translates as death.
Traditionalists believe that watching the eclipse could lead to health problems and misfortune to the family.
According to the Navajos, during an eclipse, the sun dies and is reborn as it passes out of the shadow of the moon. Many Navajo observe the eclipse by fasting the night or day of the event and by staying indoors. According to their tradition, the eclipse is an intimate event between the Earth, Sun, and the Moon. Traditionalists believe that watching the eclipse could lead to health problems and misfortune to the family.
3. Many of the eclipse viewing sites will be impacted, crowd scenes
Across the nation, people are on the move to witness as much of the eclipse as they can. In Oregon where the eclipse hits the continent first, NASA has forecast that Madras, a sleepy city east of Salem, is about to be inundated with hundreds of thousands of visitors. Look up any town in the path of totality and you’ll see what is expected and planned. Roads are bound to be crowded and it’s going to be hot. Here are some tips from an early blog post for taking care of yourself on the road. 
Eclipse Planet - taken in 2015 by György Soponyai

Eclipse Planet – taken in 2015 by György Soponyai Link:

4. Watching the eclipse near major population areas will be expensive

Hotels have been booked and if you find a room, prices are through the roof. We found an Airbnb space months ago but will have to drive over 100 miles to view the totality. Campsites and eclipse-festivals are packed. Food and services will be priced for scarcity = more expensive than usual. Gasoline prices will skyrocket and, I hope, nothing worse.

5. There will be lines: Bathrooms, food, and services will be difficult to find or access

The grand solar eclipse of 2017 traverses thirteen states and most of the seventy-mile wide path avoids main population hubs. Those small towns and municipalities, the state parks and camping facilities, in the path are bracing for crowds. Be prepared – bring water, snacks and toilet paper if you are driving the day of the eclipse.

Eclipse photographer with filter

Safe viewing  Photo:

Still, the lure of this lifetime celestial experience is strong.
I can’t fight it. My tribal instincts run toward the cluster *!@?!*? that witnessing the eclipse will be. Since I have meetings in the Pacific Northwest already, I’m going to witness the totality. The sun, moon and the earth will line-up in one of the most celestial phenomenon’s you can see with your eyes. Well not with naked eyes. That’s definitely not recommended. We have found eclipse glasses but many don’t have them. Watching the sun anytime can lead to blindness. The only time you can look up during the eclipse is during the totality, the few minutes that the moon’s shadow fully covers the sun.
Don’t have protective glasses? Make a Pinhole camera for watching the eclipse.

Full disclosure (and because I’m one proud Momma,) my son, Joshua created this animation (but not the captions) as his first project during his fellowship with NASA. 
If you plan on taking the advice of the ancients and stay home during the eclipse, you can still watch it. Visit is external), where you will be directed by default to the NASA TV broadcast.
Here’s a short video about what we experienced where you can actually see the eclipse totality go from night and back to day.


Stay safe and leave a comment. Let me know about your experiences of the eclipse.

the eclipse and five, ancient to practical, reasons to avoid watching

Travel Notes & Beyond

Pala Shines – When the nearest casino is a graceful getaway

Pala Casino is the nearest resort between San Diego and Los Angeles

Pala casino pool and the hills surrounding

The road to Pala Reservation curves through an ancient, river valley as it winds east from the freeway. After leaving California State Highway 15 behind, the land opens to sweeping hills. Lazily cruising along offers time to decompress from everyday concerns. Driving down from Los Angeles or up from San Diego to the casino makes it easy to leave the urban buzz behind. I soon discovered that my nearest casino was a great escape and such a fun one at that.

The Pala Casino Resort rises above the pool

The Pala Casino Resort rises above the pool

The AAA Four Diamond Pala Casino Resort rises midst hills that were still green in mid-summer hues. I entered the complex and drove just beyond the casino, to the hotel entrance and then swung my car up to valet parking next to a vast, cascading fountain. Door attendants guided me into the lobby and pointed towards the reception desk. Not a slot machine could be seen but a wall of windows opened onto the grand lawn, swimming pool, and spa surrounded by green. This is a casino resort I can relate to, I thought.

Take a virtual tour of my nearest casino on my YouTube channel:

So many casinos leave me feeling like I’m navigating a noisy maze – you can find your way in but it’s not easy to get anywhere else. At most casinos, my head feels pummeled with incessant beeping and bells. It’s exciting to a point but at Pala, the gambling fun is more measured. “No Smoking” neon signs glowed on columns throughout my nearest casino. The expansive gaming spaces are laid out logically and the casino parking is simple to get to. I didn’t have to hike the length of a football field to get to my room either.hotel room Pala CasinoSpacious bathroom in Pala Casinopala casino no smoking sign

Playing the slots inside the Pala Casino

Privilage cards make it easy to rack up points and track your winnings in the Pala Casino

Complementary Privilege cards make it easy to rack up points and track winnings.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a night out with a one armed bandit but prefer not being pestered into it like an over-zealous date. My partner loves playing cards. I can’t maintain a Poker face so my inner Bond-girl gets a vicarious thrill just watching him play. Pala offered us lots of entertainment and when we worked up an appetite, there were nearly a dozen eating options to choose from.

The Cave restaurant in the Pala lobby

Cocktail inside the Cave Grill at Pala

The Cave, the lobby’s wide, central bar and restaurant, drew me in for an afternoon cocktail. Later we shared an entree there and enjoyed watching the couples and families surrounding us. The nearest casino restaurants ranged from a central food court with several sit down cafes and a sweeping patio; a spacious and popular buffet; a coffee counter with tempting pastries and ice cream; the cool underground Cave Wine Bar and finally a fine dining steakhouse, The Oak Grill.The Wine Cave at Pala CasinoAppetizer inside the Wine Cave

Luis Rey Food Court inside Pala casino

Patio dining outside the Luis Reys inside the Pala Casino

Patio dining outside the Luis Reys inside the Pala Casino

The Oak Room is a world apart, quiet and refined. It makes a wonderful spot for a special occasion dinner. A friendly sommelier is happy to share suggestions for wine pairings. There are intimate tables and a private dining room as well.appetizer inside the Oak Room in the Pala Casino, my nearest casino resort

Oak Room dining Pala casino and resort

I was lucky to be at the Pala Casino on concert night and the inner lawn was laid out with rows of chairs before a wide stage for UB40 and several other bands.The music started just before 8 pm as the night sky was beginning to darken. Several dedicated bars remained accessible during the night and we found plenty of space to dance.concert seating at Pala Casino Resort at dusk

UB40 takes the stage at Pala Casino

Before we left in the morning, I had time for a dip in the pool and checked out the Spa.

Entrance to the Pala Spa

Pala Casino and Resort Spa shopThe Casino is on the Pala Indian Reservation but inside there are few reminders. If you pay attention at the entrances, you’ll find huge framed displays with some of the Tribal history detailed in pictures and artifacts. I loved studying the pictures and wished there was more information about the people in the area. Next time I visit my nearest casino, I’ll leave time to learn more. The Pala Tribe Cupa Cultural Center and Mission San Antonio de Pala are nearby.Historical pictures inside the entrance to the casino and hotel from the lots.

The Pala Casino and Resort is kicking off an expansive renovation which includes larger suites in a new 349 room tower, creating a multi-pool and entertainment complex along with expanded gaming and casino bar space. The renovations should be done in 2018. I look forward to returning to my now favorite and nearest casino for another sweet and fun escape.


Thank you to the Pala Casino and Resort for sponsoring my visit. As always all opinions are my own.

Hope you enjoyed the post. I’m so happy when you share!The closest casino at Pala is a great weekend getawayProudly a part of these travel blog linkups too:

A Short Holiday in Andermatt, Switzerland

Overview of a holiday in Andermatt in winter
River view while on holiday in Andermatt

River view while on holiday in Andermatt

When you visit Switzerland solo, you’ll find yourself exclaiming a dozen times a day about how gorgeous the view is, how delicious the food is, how sweet the hotel is, and no one will hear. I discovered this obvious truth while spending ten days crossing Switzerland on my own. Having no one close to share my excitement with was the hardest part of my trip. My fantasy is to return to explore more of the country and perhaps, with family and friends, to rent a Swiss vacation home.

swiss rail from Andermatt station
My holiday in Andermatt was far too short. I was there at the end of winter and the village was unexpectedly accessible and so welcoming. I’m fighting using the word ‘charming,’ but that works too and I remain charmed long after I’ve returned home. Perhaps I was channeling the German poet and statesman, Goethe, who visited the Gothard area three times in the 18th Century.
“Of all the places I know, this is the dearest and most interesting to me”
                                                                                                       ~ Goethe
Andermatt was full of surprises. Secluded at a crossroads of four mountain passes, the village has swung from being a remote, spa town to WWII military stronghold to an international destination.
Etching of the Gothard crevice bridge not far from Andermatt

Detail from an etching of the Gothard crevice bridge not far from Andermatt

It wasn’t love-at-first-sight and I’ve spoken with others who found the village lacking. I stepped from my train from the Lucerne region, with twenty-eight hours ahead of me before I caught the Glacier Express. It was early spring. The street and sidewalk to my hotel were surprisingly slushy between the station and my lodging. So un-Swiss, I thought! It was as though a messy lawn hid an impressive house. The impression gave way to wonder as I later explored the city, crossing the River and winding through the village.
Holiday in Andermatt Three Kings
My holiday in Andermatt began at the Hotel 3 Koenigs. It was modest, ‘Swiss cute’ and a little plaque near the door memorialized the fact that Goethe once stayed there. I doubt he stayed in my small but comfortable room. The dining room was crafted in Swiss style with plenty of varnished wood and wonderful service. A broad front patio flooded with sunlight and filled with skiers warming in afternoon.
What I can’t show you are the laughing, young couple peddling balloon-tired bikes down the snowy street; lofty ski cars slowly slipping up the mountain; or the glow on the expansive valley at the end of town. Icicles dripped everywhere from rooftops in the neighborhood.
1602 Church of St. Peter and Paul in Andermatt, Switzerland

Built in 1602, the interior of the Church of St. Peter and Paul

An angel in the snowy graveyard at the Church

An angel in the snowy graveyard at the Church

I crossed bridges over brooks freed from the winter chill. In the village between homes, I opened the church doors and the vision took my breath away.  Inside all was white, fine-detailed murals and gilded decorations plus an exquisite acoustic phenomenon. Many concerts and festivals are performed in the space.

Inside the Talmuseum in Andermatt

Inside the Talmuseum in Andermatt

A historical house, the Talmuseum Usern, was open for visitors and I spent a wonderful hour walking through with only one other guest. The pity was not having English on the signs but it was also less to distract from imagining what it would’ve been like to live there in the 1800’s.
The award-winning Andermatt Crystal

The award-winning Andermatt Crystal 

In one corner of the Talmuseum sat a wooden stool holding a giant crystal. The region is legendary for the smokey stones and from June to October, you can join the Smuggler’s Trail treasure hunt. The premise of the game is that the giant crystal of Usern has been hidden in Andermatt.
The snowy courtyard of the Chedi in Andermatt

The snowy courtyard of the Chedi in Andermatt – photo The Chedi Hotel

Dine in a quintissential Swiss Chalet on the grounds of the Chedi!

Dine in a quintessential Swiss Chalet on the grounds of the Chedi! Photo – The Chedi Hotel

I wrangled a quick tour of the Russian hotel, The Chedi. The hotel and vacation condos that comprise the complex are designed in luxurious detail. No expense has been spared to fill the spaces with artwork, glowing fire pits, paneled ceilings, fur throws and low light – all fashioned for the fashionable set. Perhaps I’ll visit next lifetime!

My dinner perch at the Riverside Inn in Andermatt

My dinner perch at the Riverside Inn in Andermatt

Dinner at the Riverside Inn while on holiday in Andermatt

A modest dinner at the Riverside Inn in Andermatt (and much saved for lunch.)

Winter is a lovely time for a holiday in Andermatt. Only when I paused to study the mountainside could I make out skittering skiers moving across the white expanse like water bugs on a pond’s surface. If I’d arrived earlier I’d definitely ridden a gondola to the mountaintop. In summertime, the area is riddled with trails for hikers too.
Riverside Inn in Andermatt
With my notebook for company, I slipped into the Riverhouse Inn and spent an hour listening to a group of guides enjoying a night off, riffed in broken English with the bartender, and slipped upstairs for a few moments to get a glimpse of the rooms.
Horse drawn carriage for a holiday in AndermattIf you holiday in Andermatt:
  • Visit by train using a Swiss Pass
  • Visit by car during the warmer months and don’t miss the Gothard bridges
  • Step back in time at the Talmuseum Usern House
  • Join the paper treasure hunt to find the ‘missing’ Usern Crystal.
  • Stay at the 3 Koenigs, a traditional Swiss Inn
  • Visit the Riverside Inn, a boutique hotel in the town
  • Stay at the Chedi Andermatt for the ultimate in luxury
  • Consider renting a luxury villa for your family or group to enjoy
  • Create your own holiday in Andermatt and contact the local tourism office.
More suggestions for your Swiss Itinerary:
I thank Swiss Travel Pass for making my dream of seeing Switzerland a reality. Now, I need to find a way to spend a long holiday in Andermatt and bring friends!

Travel Notes & Beyond

Hungry and thirsty in Slovakia? Check out these things to do in Kosice

Central Kosice offers many things to do and see
Kosice center Angel and Plague Column

Kosice memorial to the victims of the Plague.

Slovakia, the center of Europe with its High Tetras mountains, sweeping plains, and hillside villages, is too often overlooked by travelers. That’s one of the best reasons to visit! It’s an undiscovered gem. The history is colorful and today the medieval towns, castles and wooden churches offer quiet interests. There’s plenty going on for familes and the party crowd too. From traditional cuisine to chic cocktails, museums, galleries, gothic towers, music clubs and parks, every visitor will find many things to do in Kosice.

The gothic cathedral of St. Elizabeth one of the things to do in Kosice

Visiting the gothic cathedral of St. Elizabeth, largest in Eastern Europe, is one of the things to do in Kosice.

A few facts about Kosice

Chosen the European Capital of Culture in 2013 (with Marseille, France,) Kosice is half the size of the capital city of Bratislava. With a population of fewer than 300,000, Kosice’s central core is walkable and open.

St. Elizabeth's towers over the central core of Kosice

St. Elizabeth’s towers over the central core of Kosice

Mural inside St. Elizabeth's

Mural inside St. Elizabeth’s

Inside the Gothic St. Elizabeth's Cathedral, Kosice, Slovakia

Inside the Gothic St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral, Kosice, Slovakia

The historical district is bounded by remnants of the medieval wall. The river, Hornad, flows through town. When you arrive by bus, it’s a ten-minute walk over the river bridge into the historical core.

Homage to Andy Warhol in Kosice's historical core.

Homage to Andy Warhol in Kosice’s historical core.

There are famous locals too. Around town, I spotted six-foot shoe sculptures. A bit worn in the heel, they are an homage to Andy Warhol, whose parents came from Slovakia.  It’s also the birthplace of Bela Gerster, the engineer who designed the Panama Canal.

Bites and sips in Kosice perfect things to do in Slovakia

Inside Hostinec brewery Kosice

Inside Hostinec brewery Kosice

Slávia - café and the best restaurant in the Košice region awarded by Trend Top 2017 and awarded with 7th place of Gurmán Award 2017

Cocktails at Slávia – Awarded best restaurant in the Košice region by Trend Top 2017 and awarded with 7th place of Gurmán Award

Things to do in Kosice – Eat and Drink!

The borders have shifted with conflicts and political maneuvers over centuries. The cultures and foods of the Austria-Hungarians, the Slavs, and the Polish have left their mark. The Slavic cultures share many traditions and recipes. Milk, potatoes, and cabbage are central to the local diet but don’t think ‘boring.’ Flourishing coffee cafe, brewery, and cocktail cultures offer many things to do, eat and drink.Things to do in Kosice include great dining and drinking


Yes, it appears that the Smelly Cat cafe was named after the coffee shop in the TV series, Friends.

Yes, it appears that the Smelly Cat cafe was named after the coffee shop in the TV series, Friends!

Things to do in Kosice – Museums, Parks, and Performances

There are historical, art and natural history museums in Kosice, but check the hours. When I visited in the spring most opened after noon. We were able to get into the Technical Museum. The collections, like walls of telephones and displays memorializing the Steel Industry, were fascinating.

Memorializing the steel industry inside one of many museums in Kosice

Memorializing industry inside the Kosice Technical Museum

Ironically, I had to take a picture of old phones with my cell.

Ironically, I had to take a picture of old phones with my cell.

Pottery and Gallery street Hrnčiarska. Photo: Viktor of Traveling Lifestyle

Pottery and Gallery street Hrnčiarska. Photo: Viktor of Traveling Lifestyle

Kulturpark / Steelpark

Steel Park is outside of the historical core. Several blocks of Soviet era barracks have been transformed by the European Capital of Culture Project into museums, galleries, and performance spaces. Check the events calendar to see what’s happening while you’re in town.

villa regio in Kosice

Where to stay in Kosice

There are several hotels and pensiones throughout Kosice. Chain hotels sit outside the historical core. We couldn’t have been happier with our loft room inside Villa Regia and claimed a breakfast nook near the window. Over complimentary eggs, rolls and coffee, we glanced out across the courtyard to watch the Farmer’s Market set up. That market has been going strong for several hundred years. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Kosice.

breakfast villa regia kosice

Breakfast nook in Villa Regia Pensione

Check out my post about visiting Slovakia and the countryside.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments and here are two pins to share:

Things to do in Kosice when thirsty and hungry Pins

Travel Notes & Beyond


Not just a boy’s club – Women Scuba Divers make a big splash

Whale shark women scuba dive

Whale shark women scuba dive

Let’s make this clear – You don’t have to be a jock or adrenaline junkie to start diving. If you love the ocean, there’s no greater thrill than scooting around the bottom, getting close to stunning wildlife, sliding through clouds of fish or tunnels. It’s no longer a boys club too and, single ladies, you don’t have to know a bunch of women scuba divers or have a bubble blowing boyfriend to start.

It’s a great community – even for land-locked regions. There are dive clubs with events planned year round in lakes and quarries. Many put together their own trips, pooling know-how and experience to find exotic places and the best times to go. Women scuba divers are a big part of the bunch.

Scuba diving is another way to help protect the oceans too. Jacques Cousteau said, “You protect what you love.” Here’s a sweet video about the mission to help the oceans with PADI instructor, Rocio Gajon.

I’m writing this as I prepare for Women’s Diving Day on July 15th. This is the third year that PADI has organized a day dedicated for women scuba divers. More than 700 locations internationally have participated past events designed to grow the dive community. New and expert divers have come together, in all kinds of activities from high tea on the high seas to shark dives and underwater cleanups. I’ll be stepping into the sea with the women scuba divers from Ocean Enterprises in San Diego. You don’t have to be a certified diver to participate but can tag along with your snorkel and fins, get to know the local divers and learn more about diving.

2016 Women’s Diving Day in La Jolla, California:

Want to join the scores of women scuba divers?

Getting certified as a diver is the first step. I’d recommend PADI dive courses and if you can manage it, take an accelerated course over 4 – 5 days in a tropical location. Perhaps you learned how to dive ages ago and need to refresh your skills? There are courses and events for that. Being confident as a scuba diver is freeing. The skill to let go and just enjoy the underwater world comes with regular practice.

I learned in Cozumel and found the dive masters deeply invested in making me comfortable and keeping me safe. The entire PADI course is set up for security and ease. The water in Mexico was deliciously warm and startlingly clear. I was in love from the first descent – while making every mistake I could. Still, it was much easier to do my open water dive from a boat on calm waters rather than walking in, back bent with tank weight, through cold waves as my son did. There are tips for new divers in an earlier post.

Elaine Titanic pose women scuba divers wreck dive

My son Josh, photo bombing my best Titanic pose.

It doesn’t have to be expensive.
  • Check out dive clubs for used equipment, even camera gear, and lights. Someone is always upgrading and happy to get something for their gear.
  • There are annual sales at dive shops and online. You don’t have to get designer gear to begin with or ever. Make sure the sport works for you before investing.
  • Rent gear. Dive shops will happily fit you with the right sizes. They’ll answer questions and find out what is best for your body shape and size. You shouldn’t worry about fins falling off or a suit that chafes.
  • Learn with a friend or as a family. Dive centers often offer discounts.
  • Dive trips don’t have to drain your bank account. Scour magazines for dive specials, ask at local shops, and join dive clubs. Watch for airfare sales too.
Spinner Dolphins at the surface, Kona Coast, Hawaii

Snorkeling with wild Spinner Dolphins, Kona Coast, Hawaii

I never anticipated becoming a scuba diver. I’m not particularly fond of high-tech sports and their expense. However, after snorkeling for decades, I wasn’t about to give up the opportunity to learn to scuba with my guy, a sea-urchin-diver-turned-underwater-photographer. Over the past eight years, I’ve managed a little over 300 dives. It started with me struggling to keep up, carrying his spare camera and sucking my air tanks dry long before he was ready to surface. That’s all in the past as I just invested in my own camera and lights – second hand – and often climb up the dive ladder with air to spare. I adore my dive buddy as well as joining women scuba divers. Legendary diver, Chuck Nicklin, is my model. He’s turning ninety this year and still leading dive trips around the world. I hope to match his record.

Here’s more inspiration about Women Scuba Divers and the groundbreakers who have helped us all become better divers.

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PADI Women Divers Day 2017


Travel Notes & Beyond



Get happy! The best travel books increase happiness with anticipation

I need a vacation t-shirt

An exotic travel mural fuels wanderlust much as the best travel books do

Travel planning releases endorphins! Anticipation, actively planning an adventure, picturing the fun you’ll have, reading the best travel books – all help relieve everyday stress. They lift you out of the humdrum of daily routines. Reading about adventures, watching movies about destinations, even pouring over maps, creates happiness. Travel fantasies also help relieve the eventual, inevitable complications that arise from making any trip a reality.

Here are a few of the best travel books I’ve come across in the last few months. Two fall into the aspirational category, one is eye-opening for anyone interested in extending their travel budget and immersing in new cultures. The final book is a keen reference for anyone who suffers from Jet Lag.

yoga in poppies at Antelope Preserve.

The Yoga of Max’s Discontent – Karan Bajaj
Rumi once said: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”

Compelling and contagious, this novel hooked me deeply. I’ve been meditating for decades and was a yoga teacher for nearly ten years. It was easy to imagine the aspirations of the novel’s character, Max, but his fictionalized journey into and beyond Yoga will shake anyone who’s fantasized about exploring India’s spiritual culture.

The first page introduces us to Max, a Wall Street banker who travels the world in search of truth and enlightenment. Don’t imagine hippie beads and tie-dye, you can’t anticipate where Max goes with the desire to be something more. Author Karan Bajaj, was already a No. 1 bestselling author in India when he followed the endless trek of professionals chucking their productivity-obsessed professions, their complicated lives, to become beginners again and explore simply being. Within a year sabbatical, Bajaj grasped enough to settle into writing and returned to his corporate job in New York, changed in unexpected ways. The Yoga of Max’s Discontent is one of the best travel books I’ve read.

travel wall art looks like an illustration in the best travel books

The Yellow Envelope – Kim Dinan

A lighter read, Kim Dinan’s novel about embracing a nomadic life will appeal to any of us who have pictured selling everything and leaving for parts unknown for as long as we can. The yellow envelope of the title becomes something of a talisman propelling Kim’s journeys, or repelling them. While the most compelling shifts happen within, luckily, Dinan pens introspection vividly. She dances close to Eat, Pray, Love territory but twists to surprising revelations.

Kim, like the protagonist Max, also abandoned a cubicle job, and told me that “There are times in life where we have to do the things that terrify us.”  I won’t spoil her trajectory for you but the hopeful adventure is fraught with change, realization and quiet drama. How she gets there and where she goes next will surprise you.

everyone smiles in the same language

Going Local: Experiences and Encounters on the Road – Nicholas Kontis

Authentic experiences, cultural immersion, and peer-to-peer encounters have become buzzwords within the travel industry. Long before business caught on, Nick Kontis was traveling and seeking new opportunities to experience the world. The sharing economy and internet access has opened up travel to those venturing on a shoestring as well as luxury wanderers. Kontis details Apps and other tools to connect with locals.

How to travel responsibly and consciously are issues dear to my nomadic heart. Kontis has connected with some of the most successful travelers in media, Tony Wheeler (Lonely Planet,) Rick Steves (TV and podcasts,) Richard Bangs (often considered the father of modern adventure travel,) Don George (pre-eminent travel writer and editor,) Judith Fein (award-winning travel writer and lecturer,) David Noyes (travel writer and photographer,) and James Dorsey (Explorers and Adventurers Club, photographer and lecturer.) Their wisdom pepper the chapters with invaluable insights. Food tourism, volunteer efforts, and home stays and exchanges, with Kontis’ guidance, will turn the exotic, otherness into face-to-face exchanges of a lifetime.

I will be referring to Go Local again and again.

Aiplane art with house sculptures

The Cure for Jet Lag – Lynne Walker Scanlon and Charles F. Ehret, PhD.

I’m including a book that has transformed the way I approach any time-zone hopping flight. Whether it’s crossing from California to New York or zipping abroad, this program – The Cure for Jetlag – has saved many a trip. Jet lag affects each of us differently and unfortunately, I’m one who suffers most. My cells rebel, leaving my head heavy with fatigue and I spend long nights tossing in an effort to sleep. It’s not just personal discomfort but jet lag impacts my work and relationships. This program, which I’ve written about before, is detailed and specific. It becomes second nature with use. I’ve included a link to the updated book below. The program was originally developed at Argonne National Laboratory and used by Fortune 500 executives as well as U.S. Army Rapid Deployment Forces since Ronald Reagan was President.

Where to find the best travel books:


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The best travel books build happiness

Where to eat local in Rome’s Prati District – Roman Food Tour

eat local on a roman food tour starting at Bonci Pizzarium

Eat local in Secondo Tradizione in Rome

Molto Male! How horrible to miss the Prati District in Rome. If it weren’t for the Roman Food Tour, I’d never know the tasty treasures it holds. After days combing the city’s famous landmarks, we met our tour in the plaza of a subway station near the Vatican. It was easy to spy our small group. Within a few hours we had bonded over tasty bites and delicious wines, learning to eat local as curated by our guide, the effervescent, Jess.

For several years, Jess has led the Roman Food Tour company journeys. Italy is in her blood. After living in the US, she returned to her family’s country and make Rome her home. All that’s to say, she’s fluent in English and Italian (plus other languages!) Her passion for fine food, traditional ingredients and authenticity were infectious.

On the Roman Food Tour discover the joys of fine aged vinegars

Eat local in the Prati District

The Prati district is a working class neighborhood that’s picking up steam. Grand, old buildings are filling with office workers and families wanting to be close to their business. The area quietly percolates in the evening. Locals fill restaurants, cafes, clubs, and bars. On weekends a high-end shopping avenue, the Cola di Rienzo, is buzzing. During business hours, lawyers move quickly across the Palazzo di Giustizia, on their way to and from the Supreme Court. There aren’t monuments for tourists to clamber over but they’re most welcome to join hungry guests who know how to eat local and well.Inside the Mercato Trifonale the perfect spot to find ingredients to eat local in Rome

The Mercato Trionfale

The Prati neighborhood also houses Rome’s largest indoor marketplace, the Mercato Trionfale. It originally opened in the 1930’s and became one of the largest marketplaces in Italy. Since 2009 it’s housed in a new glass and steel building along Andrea Doria Road. We returned to explore it the day after our tour and eat local with a few chunks of cheese and snack supplies.

The freshest buffalo mozarella in Le Ciccherie in Rome

Mozarella di Bufala

We started our food tour slowly with a bit of education and the night progressed, as more wine was poured and company relaxed. Jess fed us well with tasty clues on how to choose authentic cheeses and aged vinegar samples at Le Chiccherie cheese shop. Their specialty is Mozzarella di Bufala from the Campagna region. You’ll have to watch the video on how to recognize fresh Mozzarella.

Secondo Tradizione is a treasure trove of fine meats and wine. Once we were seated and clinking glasses in toasts, Jess ventured upstairs to chat a moment with a family who had returned for more after taking the tour a few days earlier. My time in Rome was too brief to follow their example!

Join the Secondo Tradizione owner with a prized aged ham when you eat local in Rome

Did you know that most pizza makers in Rome sell by the slice? ‘Pizza al taglio’ is sold by weight. The server will have you tell them how much you want and then weigh the slice before handing you a bill. Talk about how to eat local, I wish the US followed that example. According to our guide, most places still follow the tradition but at Bonci you pay extra for fame and innovative quality. The Pizzarium is open to the street and on our Friday evening, a crowd was scattered at the few tables and benches along the sidewalk.

The Bonci Pizzarium in the Prati District of Rome

This is pizza inside Bonci Pizzarium!

This is pizza inside Bonci Pizzarium!

The names of the pizzas and the lists of ingredients told me that was going to be like no pizza I’d eaten before. From potato (a tradition) to mixes of onion marinated in juniper, fine pecorino, fresh basil slathered with just enough sauce across an incredibly light, slim crust – each bite was a revelation. Rumor has it that the founder, Gabriele Bonci, has opened a Pizzarium in Chicago. Now that’s on my wish list.Inside the garden of the cat and fox

We were getting very, very full! But the tour continued after a short walk to a family run restaurant, Al Giardino del Gatto e la Volpe. Open for over eighty years, we were treated to two hand-made, menu items – Gnocchi and Ravioli. Settling in at a long table on the back patio, I noticed diners facing huge rounds of pizza. I marveled that a slim miss in a suit had her own. A man nearby hunched over his and a small family had no fewer than 4 personal pizzas in front of them. As full as I was, thankfully we were there for the pasta and Gnocchi. “Like pillows,” Jess described, and she was right.

Traditional Ravioli and Gnocchi

Before parting, we stopped by Fatamorgana, a gelateria. While in Europe, I had been indulging in gelato after walking for hours daily. While it tasted good, I hadn’t a clue about what I was actually eating. Jess enlightened us about the fillers and artificial colorings that most use. Not so at Fatamorgana – each scoop was dense and a marvel of flavors. Ice cream. What’s not to love?!

flavors at Fatamorgana gelataria

Traditional labeling of flavors in Fatamorgana gelateria

Fatamorgana gelato server

And with that final bite, our tour came to a close. With grace, Jess made sure that each of our small group had directions to get home. I needed a walk and strolled through the broad streets of the Prati, then across St. Peter’s plaza, full of tummy and full of the beauty that is Rome.

roman food tour brochure

Special thanks to the Roman Food Tour for hosting us. With tours by day and evening, Sundays and even a Colosseum / Food tour combo there are so many ways to eat local in the ‘Eternal City.’ As they say, “When in Rome…!”

Where to eat local in Rome’s Prati Neighborhood:

Share with a friend (or two or three!)

Local food on the Roman Food Tour

Travel Notes & Beyond

The World’s Greatest Happy Hour Tradition – Rome’s Aperitivo

Art Gallery bartender Rome one of the world's best happy hours
Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Rome's Bukowski Bar

Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Bukowski’s Bar

Bukowski in Rome? Why is a bar just outside of the Vatican city walls called Bukowski’s**? A business card from my Airbnb host was the first clue and I had to investigate. It was my first step towards discovering the world’s greatest happy hour tradition, Aperitivo.

Bukowski’s bar, Galleria and bistrot (sic) is a casual jumble of couches and small tables. Open during the day as a coffee house, jazz fills the air in the evenings as locals mingle over drinks. As a pair of travel-weary Americans on our first night out in Rome, we were a bit naive about local traditions. Two glasses of wine later, as we were about to order a snack, our waitress pointed to a modest buffet and invited us to indulge. It was all part of the world’s greatest happy hour tradition.Inside the Bukowski Bar in Rome

A modest Aperitivo inside the Bukowski Bar, one of the world's greatest.

A modest Aperitivo inside Bukowski’s Bar

The world’s greatest happy hour tradition in expensive Rome begins around 6:30 pm and lasts until 8 pm or later. I indulged early as a Westerner unaccustomed to eating dinner at 9 or 10 pm.

The Aperitivo tradition reportedly began in Milan. ‘L’aperitivo’ (as they say in Rome) is a chance to hang out with friends after work and before dinner. The classic drink is a Spritz made with white wine or Prosecco, Campari, or Aperol. Some claim that drinks are over-priced during Aperitivo hours but that wasn’t my experience. In fact, Aperitivo is an inexpensive dinner for the budget minded (and mind you, we only visited smaller bars.)

Trastevere charms

The next day after a steamy afternoon tour of Rome’s Colosseum and a coffee meeting with a Roman local, we were pointed to the charms of the Trastevere neighborhood. It was perfect for getting away from the crowds. Cafes and bars spilled onto narrow avenues. Small shops and galleries lured lookers. Trees lined small squares. While tourists passed quickly, locals sauntered and paused to visit with friends. We searched for a cool drink and stepped into the quirky art bar, Alembic.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world's best Aperitivo, happy hours.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world’s greatest, Aperitivo, happy hours.

The Alembic Spread in Trastevere

The Hybris Art Gallery and Bar

Another find in the Travestere area is Hybris. While it’s inviting and creative inside, we parked ourselves at a table near the door and watched the neighborhood unfold. The tall bartender mixed gorgeous cocktails. The Aperitivo buffet was delicious and we pretended to be Italian for an hour.


Hybris art gallery and bar in Rome has one of the world's greatest happy hours

My dear Dave in Hybris – note stylish street life behind him.

Stylish in Travestere
Hybris bartender at work
Off the Tourist track – the Pratti Neighborhood

Come Friday, we joined a small group and the Roman Food Tour company. Over a few blissful hours, we sampled and learned about Romes’ most delicious and authentic foods. (Story to come.) As an appetizer, here’s a glimpse inside our Aperitivo at Secondo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secundo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secondo Tradizione.

How to find some of the world’s greatest happy hours in Rome:
  • Secondo Tradizone – Serves fine aged meats and cheese pairings with wine. Open for dinner as well as Aperitivo. Website.
  • Bukowski’s Bar – Casual hangout day or evening. Affordably priced drinks. Facebook page.
  • Alembic – Set on a corner in Travestere, Aperitivo costs 10 Euro including selected drinks. Facebook page.
  • Hybris Art Gallery and Bar – Rotating art shows, great people watching, food and drinks.
  • Take a food tour! The Roman Food Tour offers many options and times.
Links to Rome Aperitivo listings:

** About Bukowski in Rome: There’s no record that the Beat Poet ever made it to Italy but an Italian movie immortalized his debaucheries in Los Angeles. The Italian director, Marco Ferreri, shot ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness‘ in Los Angeles and in English. The movie was panned in the US but found critical success in Europe. Perhaps the Bukowski’s bar owner saw it and somehow identified with the rough writer. Looking at his fresh and happy face, it seems his fate is much kinder.


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Travel Notes & Beyond

Twelve Things to Do in the Slovakian Countryside

Kosice singing fountain wide

Things to do in the Humene open air park

Slovakians often think of their country as the center of Europe. It’s a historical claim but most travelers miss Slovakia completely and, center of Europe or not, they’re missing out. There are so many things to do in Slovakia!

I was there for a week driving through the countryside with a local. Yuri was helping my family find long-lost relatives. DNA travel some call it, and it was a wonderful lens to see the country through. Being hosted by a native, who knew the countryside well, led to all kinds of unique experiences. Here’s some of the best:

Riding the bus into Kosice Slovakia

Bus travel is comfortable and efficient

There are (1) tourist buses (Euro Bus and Flix Bus, to name two) which make getting in and out of Slovakia easy. I traveled via Flixbus from Budapest to Kosice and out again to Zagreb, Croatia. Each was a fairly long ride but the seats were plush and had foot-rests. I had either a full row of seats to myself or the interesting company of international travelers. Each bus had a strong WiFi signal but no power plugs. Although the bus had no bathroom, there was a snack and bathroom break during the ride. Crossing the border into Croatia was a mere formality as well but delays are determined by politics. Ask your driver what to expect – you definitely will need a passport or inter-border card.

St. Elisabeths Cathedral in Kosice Slovakia

St. Elisabeth’s Cathedral in Kosice, Slovakia

KOSICE is full of things to do

This medieval city is a traveler’s delight. Whether you travel in high style (modern, historic or chain hotels and sleekly designed restaurants, well-curated museums and art galleries) or you’re backpacking, (hostels, inexpensive cafes, and bars) you’ll find lots of things to do. My next post will detail bars and restaurants in the area.

Farmer’s Market

We arrived by bus about 10 pm and took a pleasant ten-minute walk into the center of town. After passing the (2) Gothic Cathedral, we found our small hotel easily (Villa Regia.) The next morning outside the hotel entrance, long rows of tables were set up for a (3) farmer’s market and I do mean farmer’s. For several hundred years this marketplace has been feeding the city. On Sundays, we found it turns into an (3b) antique and artisan’s market.

Weekday market in Kosice is one of the things to do

Singing Fountain

There’s a central, (4) ‘singing’ fountain that’s lit beautifully in the evenings and music fills the air. Families and couples stroll the main street. (5) Cafes open on the lengthy pedestrian plaza. Many (6) museums are set along that avenue and easy to get to. (7) During the day, a tourist ‘train’ runs the length of the main street shuttling visitors from one end to the other.

The singing fountain in Kosice, Slovakia

Gothic Cathedral

The towering, Gothic cathedral, St. Elizabeth Minster, is the most eastern in Europe and for a few Euro you can climb the north tower to admire the view. Church bells ring out daily and on Sundays, services are packed with locals.

Plan on spending your evenings strolling the historical core. Pull up a seat at one of the sidewalk cafe/bars for great people watching and don’t miss the historical bars or the odd (8) coffee houses like the stylish, Smelly Cat, or Tabacka Kulturfabrik, which is a coffeeshop/hangout/performance space in an old industrial building.

The old bar, Hostinec in Kosice

Claiming to be from 1542, the bar Hostinec serves some mighty brews.


One of the largest towns outside of Kosice, (9) Humenne, is set among rolling hills near the volcanic Vihorlat mountains. Two rivers, the Laborec and Cirocha, meet there which makes it a wonderful city for strolling and parks. There are several hotels in the city but we elected to make it a day trip.

The grinning monk at a roadside restaurant

The grinning monk at Dvor pod Vinicnou skalou, a roadside restaurant

One day on the road to Humenne, we stopped in Brekov at the (10) Roadhouse, Dvor pod Vinicnou skalou (which roughly translates to Justice Under Rock.) It’s a very interesting road stop and one of the only places where you can order cabbage rolls. The restaurant and grounds are dotted with unique, carved sculptures by the celebrated Polish artist, Marian Pazucha.

In Humenne proper, the central pedestrian plaza is very wide and dotted with sculptures from Communist days. Our lunch prepared us for an afternoon investigating the (11) open-air, architectural museum.

A moment inside a small wooden house inside the Humenne open air museum

If only I could show you the gleaming icons inside the wooden Greek Catholic church, but no pictures were allowed. You can get an idea of how stunning they are by visiting the manor house. If you get to Humenne, negotiate to have the park church opened to see for yourself. It was built in 1745 on the borders between Slovakia and Ukraine in the village of Nová Sedlica. During WWII the church was badly damaged. With a restoration, it was moved to the open air museum in 1977.

humenne manor house

Vihorlatske Museum

We caught glimpses of several ancient castles in the hills on the way to Humenne. Once these bastions of security kept the villagers safe from marauders, Goths and other invading hordes. After gunpowder was available, the great families moved into town and the remote castle culture came to a close.

Luckily the Humenne (12) manor house has survived and visitors are welcome to walk through the grounds and hallways. It’s full of antiques, collections, natural history exhibits and religious art.

A friendly, furry local in Kosice

Visiting with a friendly, furry local in Kosice

With so many things to do in the countryside, a visit to the capital of Bratislava will have to wait. I wish there had been time to see the capital city where Viennese and Hungarian culture mingle but it will have to be another time.

I hope you enjoyed the post and will share it with friends. Pin this!Things to do in the Slovakia countryside

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Travel Notes & Beyond



Getting around Budapest, from practical to frivolous

hello hungary sign
 Getting around Budapest crossing bridges
Jetlag and hubris can conspire to make you a victim. It can happen to anyone, but over-confidence and fatigue led me into trouble while I was getting around Budapest. After a quick airport rendezvous with my jet lagged partner, we stepped out into the midnight air and joined a small crowd, all of us jostling for transportation. I’d arrived the day before and my Airbnb host had arranged a ride to the airport with a Yellow Cab driver, so I felt confident about how much the trip should cost. At that late hour taking another cab seemed like the best and swiftest choice.
A man stepped up and asked if we needed a taxi. In moments, he handed us to off to a Yellow Cab driver and we sped off into the night.
On the way into town, Dave and I quietly discussed how much the trip should cost and he started counting out bills. He’d been in the air for over 11 hours and it was his first time with Budapest currency. Once we arrived, the driver grabbed the bills, swept them into his wallet, and then kept asking for more!
Our 25 Euro ride ended up costing almost four times as much! He left us blinking on the sidewalk as he sped away. Smooth operator! It was a sour beginning to our vacation but luckily, after letting it go as a lesson, we discovered that getting around Budapest can be easy and much less expensive.
A few Taxi tips: (These apply most anywhere)
  • Ask how much first – We didn’t ask how much or agree on the cost of the trip.
  • Take a second to see if there’s a meter – We got in before realizing there was none.
  • Hold on! Our driver was reckless, tail-gated, drove way faster than anyone else, and started texting from the fast lane.
  • Get their license number or snap a picture of them and the car. Report any problems to the authorities! We thought of that long after he’d sped away.
Biking in Budapest
Getting around Budapest
Budapest is beautiful year round but in springtime it positively glows. In May the weather was pleasantly warm, in the 60’s and high 70’s. It can get much hotter in the summer. I was there in the Shoulder Season, as they call the months before the most popular and crowded times of the year – the summer and winter breaks. Hotels and accommodations were less expensive and easier to find than peak times for tourism.
The transportation infrastructure of Budapest is impressive. There are subway trains, trolleys, buses, and taxis, but no Uber, unfortunately. With a little research, getting around Budapest can be easy. There are four central Metro lines and many tram lines. The M1 line is the European Continent’s first underground rail line and improvements keep coming.
Getting to and from the airport

I’d chosen a taxi on a local’s advice and because of the late night/early morning arrival. There are other much less expensive options. Whichever terminal you arrive at in Budapest, after customs there are BKK Information and Ticket booths (also closed at midnight.) There are maps, you can purchase any number of train tickets or the Budapest Card. The cards work in 24 / 48 / 72 hour increments from first usage, so if you’re not planning to go use them for the first day after arriving, purchase just enough tickets to get into town (usually two per person.)

I highly recommend checking out the Budapest By Locals page about your transportation options and the official Budapest Info Page for details relating to your dates and the seasonal discounts and free offers that come with using the card (Free thermal baths!)

 Flix bus can help with getting around Budapest
Budapest Central Bus Station – Nepliget

International and domestic buses arrive and depart from the station. The buses are central to life in the region and much nicer than the public buses and Greyhound buses I’ve taken in the US. There’s free WiFi and some have bathrooms (or they pull over for coffee/bathroom breaks.)


In the station, there’s WiFi to piggy-back onto from the buses but otherwise it isn’t available inside the station. The underground and surface rail lines both have stations here. Nepliget is a central hub for visitors and about a 15 – 20-minute ride into central Budapest. There is an information desk (take a number) and public restrooms (cost.) We were able to check baggage into lockers during a layover between buses and visit downtown easily during a 3.5 hour break.

Buda or Pest?
Our rental was on the Buda side of Budapest, the cliff and hillside area on the west side of the Danube, the area where the castle is. We were able to catch trams into town and walk across the many historic bridges. It’s easy enough to get around from Buda but if you’re into the club and bar scene, the Jewish Quarter and the Pest side is easier.
Aside from Taxis and Public Transportation, there are lots of ways for getting around Budapest. As it’s a central tourist destination there are many bus tours available. Check online or in your hotel to arrange a tour.
The Pest side of Budapest was built on a low-lying plain, which makes it fairly easy to navigate. There are bike lanes everywhere. In the central town, close to both sides of the river, there are many pedestrian and bike-only streets. Bike shops abound but be prepared to rent the day before – it’s a popular past time. We tried renting the green bikes that are available from racks but they only work for Hungarian citizens or other locals (you need local ID.)
Electric Scooter for getting around Budapest
Getting around Budapest on an electric scooter or Segway appealed to my independent spirit. There are tours using both available as well. Around the corner from our apartment, we rented electric scooters for three hours. With a little practice, I got comfortable with the brakes and throttle, turning and balancing.
The scooters made it easy to get to the top of the Citadel, across bridges, to visit the Parliament and main Cathedral. We even got to Margaret Island briefly before my scooter’s battery gave out. With a short call, our host showed up with a fresh battery and we were off again. The afternoon ride lasted about three hours and was a lot of fun.
Enjoy Budapest. It’s a wonderful city to walk but taking public transportation or renting wheels offers a chance to explore swiftly and independently.
Travel Notes & Beyond  

Cruising Croatia Islands – Surrendering to the wind

Katarina Line leaves the harbor

A muse cruising Croatia with Katarina Line

Cruising Croatia

One thing about sailing – nature has the upper hand. In the Adriatic, especially when cruising Croatia, you get to know the Jugo wind. The Croatia news calls it a “Strong southeastern wind that blows along the Adriatic shores from the Sahara desert of Africa.” It can cause white-capped waves and humidity, often filling the skies with gray clouds and rain.

If the Jugo is mild, cruising Croatia goes as planned, but when white caps peak wise captains know to take shelter in port. Luckily, there are many fascinating ports tucked in around the Croatian islands and sailing crews stay flexible.

On a short cruise with Katarina Line, I had planned to spend the night in Split but our Katarina Captain, Tom, knew our departure window to the islands was short and the team quickly changed plans. Over three days instead of seeing three villages, we visited five! I was happy for that Jugo wind.

Leaving Milna when cruising Croatia

Southern Islands

You might think that flying solo internationally to a land where you don’t speak the language or know anyone would be risky. But I didn’t worry a bit about cruising Croatia as the Katarina Line tour guides kept me up to date with emails and texts from the moment the trip was confirmed. Once I landed in Croatia, they guided me easily to the ship in Split.

Split waterfront and the Katarina Line, Seagull

Split waterfront and the Katarina Line ship, the Seagull

The airport shuttle dropped me at an open station a few blocks south of the historical core. I grabbed my roller bag and strolled along the waterfront towards Diocletian’s Palace. It was easy to spot the Seagull and the crew helped me on board.

Full bed Katarina Line

My full bed on the Katarina Line

Seagull Lounge

Seagull Lounge

After welcoming drinks and a short presentation we were soon underway to our first port on the island of Brac.

katarina aperatif

In the small port of Pučišće, we had a delicious seafood dinner and then strolled along the waterfront. Our host, Sanja, led us into a small bar and introduced us to the joys of traditional aperitifs and digestif made from honey, walnuts, herbs and cherries.

Croatian drinks at a bar in the village of Pučišće

In the morning, and just steps from our mooring, we visited a traditional stone cutting workshop where young stone cutters train for years before entering university. The stone from Brac was chosen for the Split Palace of Diocletian and we soon recognized it everywhere.

Brac Stonemason school

Entrance to the Brac Stonemason school

Head in progress inside stonemason school on Brac

Head model inside stonemason school on Brac

On we sailed in style to Milna, Supetar, Stari Grad, and Hvar. In each port we explored on our own, followed trails, ate ice cream or enjoyed the local brews. The company was delightful from crew to fellow travelers – we few Americans mingling with Germans, Brits, and Dutch guests. Each meal was beautifully presented and every effort was made to accommodate dietary restrictions.

A few of the delicious presentations on board the Katarina Line.

A few of the delicious presentations on board the Katarina Line.

In several ports we met historian guides who expertly excited us about the local history and sights, always leaving time for us to poke around on our own.

Historian Dino at a fountain inside Diocletian's Palace

Historian Dino at a fountain inside Diocletian’s Palace

One gate into Diocletians Palace, Split, Croatia

One gate into Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

Captain's dinner Katarina Line

Captain’s dinner Katarina Line

Of course, there was a Captain’s dinner with live music, singing, and a wonderful meal. On the last cruise night in Split and we explored the UNESCO site of Diocletian’s Palace. If it reminds you of scenes from Game of Thrones, you’re not imagining things. Several segments and fights were filmed within the stone gates.

Cruise pals Katarina Line

Cruise pals on my Katarina Line cruise – Hvar

After sad goodbyes, I felt grounded and excited about exploring more of Croatia. While Katarina Lines offers land tours as well as other cruises from bicycling to yoga, adventure to luxury, I was ready to head up to Zagreb – but that’s another story.

Special thanks to the hard-working and fun team at Katarina Lines for making my cruising Croatia dreams come true. I will always admire how you were so flexible and accommodating, even when the Jugo wind kept changing all your carefully crafted plans!

Don’t miss Milwaukee – Windows, walls and wings

The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

 The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

I love great architecture and towns in the American Midwest are full of beautiful craftsmanship and glorious buildings. Milwaukee was a business center in the 1900’s. Captains of commerce erected sturdy buildings and many remain within a few short blocks of downtown. New architecture is taking flight along the shores of Lake Michigan as well. Don’t miss Milwaukee.
Don't miss Milwaukee and Planinton's great arcade

Don’t miss Milwaukee and Plankinton’s great arcade

In 1915, John Plankinton, the founder and owner of a Meat Packing Company, built the Plankinton Arcade as an entertainment center with bowling and billiards. It was fashioned in a 15th-century Italian Gothic style that remains but today it houses shops and cafes.
The Loyalty building in Milwaukee
The Loyalty building designed by Richardson Romanesque in a unique classical style now houses a hotel. Mader’s Restaurant has been serving German fare since 1902.
One window inside the German restaurant, Maders

One window inside the German restaurant, Mader’s

three brothers is part of don't miss Milwaukee
James Beard award-winning, Three Brothers, serves authentic Serbian food inside a historic Schlitz tavern in the Bay View neighborhood. (Note the cream brick.)
A glimpse of the Public Market in Milwaukee

A glimpse of the Public Market in Milwaukee

The Third Ward is overflowing with new cafes and bars. Grab a bite in its centerpiece, the Public Market.
Don'miss Milwaukee and the great Grain Hall

Inside the Grain Hall

Inside the Grain Hall, there are massive stain glass windows and classical murals. The floor is inset with a huge, restored medallion.
This video will give you a moving glimpse. Don’t miss Milwaukee in your travels:


The Iron Block ranks among Milwaukee’s most important Civil War era building. It is the only remaining major example of cast-iron architecture in the city and is one of a few of its kind left in the Midwest.
Pristine cream brick inside Swig in the Third Quarter

Pristine cream brick inside Swig in the Third Quarter

Cream City bricks are made from a red clay containing large amounts of sulfur. It was commonly found in the Milwaukee area. When fired, the bricks become creamy-yellow in color. Unfortunately, they are also porous and soak up city grit. Today many cream brick buildings remain but unless scrubbed with chemicals regularly they remain dark.
The ceiling in the Pfister Building is part of the don't miss Milwaukee wonders

The ceiling in the Pfister Building is one of the don’t miss Milwaukee wonders

The Pfister Hotel lobby is one of uplifting opulence and built for the public to enjoy. Today the hotel still retains its glory. There are panoramic views also in the penthouse Blu Bar.
The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

But the greatest discovery, to my mind, is the new Art Museum. Created by engineer – architect, Santiago Calatrava.Several times a day, when the Lake Michigan winds permit, the building’s giant wings open to allow light into the interior.
Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum

Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum

The immense space feels like it breathes. It certainly had me breathing faster as I walked through. The Milwaukee Art Museum has been noted around the world for its wings. Inside and out the building is a wonder to experience.
That’s a brief look at some of the windows, the unique walls and the wings that make visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s downtown a great town to walk and ponder.
Here’s another glimpse into Milwaukee culture – The Harley Davidson Museum.
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Mobile WiFi Hotspot – XComGlobal to the rescue

xcom global mobile wifi banner
xcom global mobile wifi banner
Post Updated to include Fair Use considerations, June 2017
As spring fever hits, those of us with wanderlust start packing and planning how to stay connected on the road. There are dozens of APPs and social media connections but you need Internet access. In urban areas around the globe, WiFi is abundant but can be spotty, if you can log in at all, and it might not be secure. If keeping a tether by phone or computer to family, work or GPS in a foreign country is important, on-demand WiFi is more necessary than ever. That’s why I’ve come round to using the Xcom Global Mobile WiFi hotspot.
Mobile Hotspot Options
I’ve gotten pushback from my travel buddy. He has a huge cell phone data plan through work and needs to be reachable by phone. With a Verizon plan, he can pay about $10 a day for the service and then can use his phone as a Mobile WiFi hotspot for his laptop. We’ll see how well his strategy works!
mobile wifi hotspot compared to the expense of roaming data
Check with your Cell provider
It’s not as easy for everyone. Sometimes your cell phone provider will have an affordable plan but read the fine print. Will you need more data than you use at home? Data charges can skyrocket if you’re sending pictures and videos, or watching videos when you’re out of the country. Turn off your data, put the phone in Airplane mode and make another arrangement.
Here’s a video about my experience with staying connected overseas:
Digital freedom with a Mobile WiFi hotspot
I need access to the internet pretty regularly and have found that traveling with a Mobile WiFi hotspot is best. A personal hotspot tethers to existing cell signals. It was of no use while I was bobbing around in the middle of the Sulu Sea on a dive boat for five days. We were 90 miles from land, far from cell towers and the captain had only satellite signals for navigation. I knew that might happen in advance and took a digital break – not a bad idea! (See more about that adventure here.)
How a mobile wifi hotspot works
Three mobile hotspot players
TEP Mobile Hotspot
Last year while traveling in Switzerland, I arranged to use the TEP system. The Mobile WiFi hotspot can be mailed but I arranged to pick up and drop it off in Heathrow Airport while on layovers between flights. On arriving it would have been simple enough but I had to visit a different terminal and luckily had plenty of time to do so before catching my connecting flight.
TEP worked well enough. I needed to be in the range of cell service and found the only drawback was dropout as my trains dipped in and out of tunnels. The unit was a bright red color, which made it easy to find in my bag and it was easy enough to charge electrically (provided I had the correct adapter for the country.) I did notice that more I used it, the more daily data I drew, the signal would slow down and battery life diminished fairly quickly. Still, it was reliable and made my life easier.
One Tep wrinkle – when I dropped it off in Heathrow, I asked for a receipt. It was lucky that I did as the company contacted me later saying the unit had not been returned. What could’ve been an expensive administrative mistake for me was avoided with the receipt. Ask for and keep your receipt!.
Skyroam and Purchasing a Mobile Hotspot
As that system worked so well and I have been traveling in and out of Mexico more frequently, it made sense to purchase a Mobile WiFi hotspot. The advantage is that once it was paid off there’s only a daily use charge.
My local electronics store carried the Skyroam hotspot and I snapped one up to avoid shipping costs. Five free days of WiFi were included – a nice perk. What wasn’t as nice was the fact that the unit didn’t work. It looked like the same device as TEP, which I thought would speed up the learning curve, but it wasn’t working. I had several people check it out and ended up contacting support to replace it.
Again, save the receipt! I luckily did and several months later returned it (with that pesky shipping charge after all.) Will they return a working model? Will they reinstate the extra days I paid for? I’ll update this post once I know more.
xcom global mobile wifi kit is set up for easy internet connection in over 150 countries

Xcom Global Mobile WiFi hotspot kit

The Xcom Global Mobile WiFi Hotspot
My hero hotspot now is the Xcomglobal unit. The company has offices in San Diego, not far from my home and I was able to meet the team, then pick up the package. It came in a nice leather case with documentation and instructions, a charging cord and a multi-country plug. The unit was nested in a small pocket inside.
  1. The Xcomglobal hotspot is small and ergonomic. It’s lightweight and easy to tuck in a pocket.
  2. The password and model number are on the front – Easy to access.
  3. Once I turned it on, it tethered to the closest and strongest cell signal within 30 – 45 seconds.
  4. A personal Mobile WiFi hotspot is much more secure than using public WiFi. You are the only one with the password.
  5. You can connect up to ten devices!
  6. The screen is small but clear.
  7. There’s only an on/off button – no multi-option display or buttons to toggle.
  8. My Samsung Android phone loves it. The WiFi signal pops up quickly and once connected it recognizes the device every time I turn it on.
  9. A personal mobile WiFi hotspot is secure
  10. The device covers over 150 countries.
  11. If you have a multi-country trip coming up, the second country is free.
  12. It’s cheaper per day than other systems at $7.77 US
The few downsides I’ve encountered in a week of use – the battery runs down fairly quickly, so I need to recharge and it’s slow to fully load. I’m working a strategy of turning off and on only as needed. That’s not a problem but with a gaggle of chargers and plugs to manage, I run into prioritizing what charges and when. It just comes with being a digital nomad!
The Xcom Global Fair Use Policy reminder comes in the Mobile Hotspot package.

The Xcom Global Fair Use Policy reminder comes in the Hotspot package.

IMPORTANT: Manage your Data and pay attention to Fair Use Policies

I came late to this part of the mobile hotspot situation. While using Skyroam in Switzerland my internet access slowed. The fact that I was sending pictures to social media and uploading short videos had an impact but the device still worked.

Farm stay near Plitvice Lakes

Farm stay near Plitvice Lakes

On my next trip, during a farm-stay in Croatia, I spent an evening catching up with online work. I was hooked up to WiFi through the Xcomglobal device and all went well. Thunder shook the windows and a heavy rain fell, then the lights went out. My computer wasn’t plugged in so I wasn’t worried about possible damage from surges. Amazingly, the WiFi stayed connected. I didn’t lose my work or have to reboot. All great.

However, the following day my hotspot stopped connecting. I didn’t know what the problem was but I didn’t start investigating until we arrived at our next destination. I contacted Xcomglobal support and thus began my enlightenment about Fair Use policies. They informed me that could take 12 hours for the device to “refresh my data,” and if it didn’t automatically, they emailed detailed instructions on how to manually refresh should I need to. Luckily that wasn’t necessary.

Suggestions from Xcomglobal to lower data consumption:


  1. Close All Applications That Send Or Receive Data Automatically – On the iPhone, this can include iCloud, Photo Stream, and Document & Data backup
    2. Cache Maps Before Traveling – If you know where you’ll be going, you can search for that area and view it while you’re online, then that data should be stored in the app ready to view when you’re offline
    3. Disable “Push Content” – Push content is any data that’s automatically “pushed” to your phone without user interaction. A high volume of push button alerts from email or other programs can increase data usage over time.
    4. Avoid Streaming – Avoid streaming audio or video as it requires large amounts of data.
    5. Don’t Update Apps Or Operating System
    6. Use A Data Monitor App To Keep An Eye On Usage

If you need to download apps, maps, videos, make Skype calls, etc. connect to public WiFi that is password protected (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and subscribe to a VPN service for security. I’m certainly no internet expert but I imagine that while Fair Use limits might be reached, you won’t risk blocking your hotspot.

Easy going with a mobile hotspot

Stay in touch with a Mobile WiFi Hotspot
Postcards are wistfully nice but if you’re traveling abroad they’ll arrive after you get home. I’m banking on my digital systems and photos for memories and look forward to keeping up with work and family with my Xcom Global Mobile WiFi Hotspot.
Have you used a Mobile WiFi device? Let me know how it worked in the comments section!
For more information:
Disclosure: I didn’t receive compensation or a free mobile WiFi unit to test. All opinions are mine. 

It’s time to ditch plastic bottled water. GoPure Review

Bottled water options

plastic water bottles shelf

On a remote island in Thailand, I perched in a comfortable bamboo hut above massive boulders and a gently lapping, tropical bay. As the sun set, I could hear a didgeridoo. The thrumming rhythm was courtesy of my German neighbor, his head full of dreadlocks. We toasted to the night, each raising our plastic bottled water.

The next day I climbed up to the platform restaurant and beyond when an acrid aroma hit me. Smoke was billowing into view. As I climbed over the crest, the view swerved from tranquility to trash. This was the inn owner’s dump where they burnt my leftover plastic water bottle. It was 1991.

Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for this review but a GoPure capsule to test.

Go pure bottled water purifier

GoPure capsule at work

It was a problem then – toxic fumes, no infrastructure for waste, reliance on foreign sources for basic needs and a rising tide of plastic waste in our oceans and in our bodies. Drinking plastic bottled water is a bigger problem twenty-five five years later.

That’s why I was curious about the GoPure pod. On the plastic water bottle front, it not only saves money but one pod also keeps 2,000 plastic water bottles out of our environment. It lasts up to six months and can treat up to 264 gallons of water.

Go Pure Infographic

I knew that having an easy way to purify water while traveling would be a big plus. There are concerns about drinking tap water in the US but also around the world. The pod rids water of these dangerous impurities so you can have peace of mind that the water you’re drinking is clean, safe and tastes delicious.

There are other benefits I discovered while using it at home. Refilling my BPA free water bottle daily has become a new ritual. I’ve been drinking more water and making sure to drink the full bottle of water each day. That’s great for skin and organs. I’ve begun traveling with it and as long as I keep the bottle clean, don’t lose the pod, and have tap water to draw from, this should keep me well hydrated for months.

A little of the science* behind the GoPure bottled water purifier:
  •  The PuriBloc pod is a well-designed device manufactured under GMP. It is simple and convenient to use.
  •  A wide range of tests on the PuriBloc pod and its components demonstrate a marked ability and efficacy in reducing bacterial numbers in water. This property still remains for over 6 months whilst in constant use.
  • There is also an effect of raising pH and alkalinity of water which can improve the taste.
  • An exceptional capacity for removal of health risk contaminants by the PuriBloc pod has been demonstrated at high loading levels. This is a dramatic feature in light of current global anxiety over such contaminants.
  • Trace minerals are released from the pod but will depend on equilibrium dynamics of the prior mineral content of the water. This may also serve to enhance the taste*
* Data sources 
Product Safety Data Sheet Customer’s information Sheet. NanoHorizons In-house tests re
port 16/4/2015 CAL Ltd Report of June 2013 Moyne Institute Laboratory Reports of February and October 2014 Waterford Institute of Technology Report on ICP analyses of water post-PuriBloc exposure City Analysts Report of June 2013 NanoHorizons GMP certificate NanoHorizons In-house tests report 16/4/2015 Ceramtec GMP certificate AquaNu High Porosity Ceramic Overview. Report by The Potable Water and Hygiene Laboratory, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, Federal Republic of Germany 11/4/2014

I wanted to be a biker – Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson Museum

The beauty of the beast inside the Harley Davidson Museum
 Harley Davidson sculptureIt didn’t take much encouragement. I swung my leg over the tank, leaned forward, my hands on the throttle, and mentally mumbled, Vroom, Vroom. That was just the beginning of my night at the museum – the Harley Davidson temple in Milwaukee.
(Disclosure: My visit was included as part of attending the WITS17 opening night party. More about that community of Women in Travel: .)
Harley Davidson Museum Milwaukee
Confessions of an aspiring biker
I grew up in Southern California’s Pomona Valley close to the base of the San Bernadino mountains. My first love was a biker wannabe, he was center stage in my Catholic school rebellion period after high school. I learned the wonders of motorcycle riding while riding out to the beach, loving the sense of freedom, being able to smell and hear everything and to hold on tight to my guy. He bought me a little motorcycle, a Honda 80, for my birthday and kept it at his house so my parents wouldn’t know until I moved up to college in San Francisco.
Elaine motorcycle Harley Davidson
I still remember riding over the Chino hillside, spooking jackrabbits and learning how to handle the bike. However, once I moved north, the relationship soured, as long distance couples often find out. I used the bike only a few times in the intimidating San Francisco traffic before admitting defeat and took to safer forms of transportation in the midst of buses, trucks and crazy pedestrians. Ignominiously the bike became a plant stand for a fuchsia in my living room. Then, like the relationship, I moved on and sold the bike to pay for furniture.
 old time motorcyelc sign at the Harley Davidson museum
Like a kid a candy shop, I trekked around the ‘campus’ as they call it on the river in Milwaukee. The sun was setting fast and I wanted to see things before dark closed in. There was a wooden shed on the edge of a field. It’s a replica of the original 10 x 15-foot shed that the Davidson brothers’ father built behind their home. He was a cabinet maker who probably grew from incredulity to amazement as the boys’ inventions led to a worldwide craze. The company headquarters still stand across the street from the original location in a large, wooden building.
Harley Davidson shed

Replica of the original Harley Davidson shed

The museum is really a reflection of the history of America. The Harley Davidson company stayed in the black by delivering bikes during the Great Depression and World Wars. They’ve been used by police and fire departments for decades.
The original Harly Davidson brothers

The original Harley Davidson brothers

There’s a culture to biking that I can only imagine but within the walls of the Harley Davidson museum, you can immerse yourself in it, biker or not. There’s a floor dedicated to pop culture. There are dramatically lit replicas of the Easy Rider bike and movie poster, the Elvis bike and the Rhinestone Harley, to name a few.
The Easy Rider motorcycle replica inside the Harley Davidson musuem

The Easy Rider motorcycle replica

The Harley-Davidson Museum is laid out over several floors and each is more interesting than the next. I wish I’d had more than a quick few minutes to walk through. Plan on spending several hours.
The Tank display inside the Harley Davidson Museum

The Tank display inside the Harley Davidson Museum

There’s even lots for kids to do. They’ll love sitting on the different motorcycles and playing the old school arcade game, the Evel Knievel Daredevil Challenge.
The Museum is a bit expensive ($20 per adult.) Look online for discounts and even if you can’t break for a ticket visit the store that’s overflowing with memorabilia and replicas of classic shirts, pants, and even pajamas.
Motor bar bike Harley Davidson

Motorcycle on the Motor Bar – open to the public without fee.

The Motor cafe is open to all and sits facing the river with a menu that boasts about “American Classics celebrating life on the road.” That’s a tall order but with Road House Chili, BBQ ribs and lots of Wisconsin favorites I won’t quibble.
The beauty of the beast inside the Harley Davidson Museum

The beauty of the beast

While you walk the grounds keep your ears alert for different languages. The Harley Davidson Museum is a mecca for international visitors indulging their inner biker too. It’s fuel for the fantasy. Vroom. Vroom.
Harley Davidson Museum Campus Map
If you go to the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee:
  • Address: 400 W Canal St, At the corner of 6th and Canal, Milwaukee, WI 53203-3208
  • +1 877-436-8738
  • The Harley Davidson Experience –

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Country bliss – Lajitas, the best of Texas Resorts

Banner for Lajitas Resort

Dawn in Lajitas one of the best Texas resorts

Dawn reveals things magically. We’d pulled into the Lajitas Golf and Spa Resort while the morning sky was still black. In minutes the world came to light, filling the dining rooms’ towering glass windows. That and the strong coffee cleared my head. I’d just started to discover why Lajitas is considered one of the best Texas resorts.

Lajitas golf and spa resort breakfast

It was too early to check in but we dropped off our luggage and went off for a day of horseback riding and paddling the Rio Grande (more of that story here.) Dinner was accompanied by wedding festivities on the terrace. The bridal party was perfectly Texan – the groom’s men wore rhinestone studded jeans and the bride pivoted on embroidered cowboy boots!

Lajitas ranch one of the best Texas resorts

What makes Lajitas one of the best Texas Resorts

The ranch sits center stage. As we wandered the acres, the history of the place opened up. Close to the Terlingua community with its eccentricities, Lajitas offers a quiet and graceful contrast.

Lajitas golf resort and spa arcade

There are shops and a spa of course, but I didn’t take the time to investigate. I wanted to be outside. The Lajitas resort is famous as a magnificent golf course rolling over hills and between mesas. There’s no wonder it’s award winning – voted the #1 most beautiful golf course in Texas by Golf Magazine, Best of Texas resorts for golf by Texas Outside and the Dallas Morning News considers it the # one public course you can play in Texas.

lajitas golf course always beautiful

Once handicaps were mightily challenged – one hole lay across the Rio Grande in Mexico! Those days are gone now but the course still runs along the border and that meandering river. If it weren’t for a light rain, you’d be seeing pictures of me in a golf cart careening along the course trails. Along with trails galore, the resort sits close to a marked nature walk flush with local flora and fauna.

lajitas trail sign

There’s a historic chapel filled with local artists’ work.

lajitas chapel

Nearby, a zip line sat ready, its lines looped up into the highlands. There are nine lines with three different courses for various levels and ages. We met the guides who were getting ready for fall guests. Their shop also manages shooting activities: Five stand sporting cays, a cowboy action shoot full of Wild West arms, a combat course, and packages combining them.

One glimpse of the Lajitas zip line


Inside the outfitters shop in one of Texas resorts

My favorite spot, the key to this being one of the best Texas resorts, is Black Jack’s crossing. Don’t let them tell you it’s just a golf shop – there’s much more inside. The owners manage one of the largest collections of Longhorn displays in the West. Rooms are full of the noble horns. Historic pictures, branding irons, log books, and a wide mural surround the golf shop amenities. I don’t play golf but would go out of my way to see this collection.

inside blackjacks crossing

Another historic space that makes this one of the best Texas resorts is the Ocotillo event space. Once a fine dining restaurant featured in Gourmet magazine, now the two-story building hosts private events. It’s worth a stop to climb the tower and admire the views. There’s even a Texas state shaped pond!

ocotillo event space in Lajitas resort

Last but not least are the stables offering equestrian adventures including sunset and sunrise trail rides.

horses in Lajitas stables

As we completed our visit, dining as the stars emerged, I felt closer to the heart of this land in Lajitas, definitely one of the finest Texas resorts.

lajitas resort grounds

If you explore Lajitas golf resort and spa, one of the best Texas resorts:
  • Make reservations for lodging, golf, spa and activities at the resort (
  • Getting there: There’s a small airport nearby but most visitors arrive by car.
  • Spend some time on the River with Big Bend River Tours (
  • The Barton Warnock Visitors Center has lots of information about Big Bend National Park (

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