Category Archives: Reviews

Quito’s Illa Experience – Luxury hotel review

The Illa luxury hotel lobby and it's mirror pool in Quito, Ecuador
Central lobby pool in the Illa Experience - a luxury hotel review

Central lobby pool in the Illa Experience

I didn’t expect to find an innovative, luxury hotel on a quiet, traditional street in Quito’s Old Town. There’s a hillside neighborhood, San Marcos, filled with homes and historical villas, craftsmans’ studios and bakeries. I joined my host from Latin Trails and to visit galleries, vintage antique shops, cafes and church plazas. Climatically, we stopped in front of a simple, elegant entrance with a starburst logo that glowed next to the door. This was my introduction and the entrance to the Illa Experience, a boutique and luxury hotel. 

(Disclosure: I was hosted for breakfast at the Illa Experience Hotel but all opinions are my own.)
Entrance to the luxury hotel and boutique in Quito's San Marcos neighborhood
Ceiling detail in the Illa Hotel entrance

A historical ceiling detail in the Illa Hotel office

Creative revival inside the Illa Experience luxury hotel

It’s inspirational. The 1700’s family villa was opened to the elements which transformed the space. Each evening the universe is reflected in a lobby mirror pool inset with twinkling candles. The rear of the building opens to the rooftops and mountains of Quito, which also  floods the deeply draped guest rooms with light. Many of the original building’s most unique features have been adapted and preserved. For example, in the office sitting room the ceiling is graced with imprinted tin and an antique convent bookcase features shelves that turn, revealing bottles of local wines.

Illa room with traditional ceramic coffee maker

Illa luxury hotel room with a traditional ceramic coffee maker

Illa luxury hotel bath in one of the ten rooms
There are ten rooms on three floors with details drawn from periods in the capital city’s history: Colonial, Republican and contemporary. Local artwork and traditional ceramic coffee urns nod to the past and culture in each room. The guest suites also have views, from colorful Junin Street or to the famous Panecillo Virgin statue.
One of the breakfast treats at Nuema inside the Illa Luxury Hotel

One of the breakfast trays inside the Illa Luxury Hotel

Each meal is a work of art aas I discovered at breakfast. In the petite dining room, I enjoyed fruit from the region, homemade butters, savory and sweet (sesame & chocho beans plus herbs.) Three different Ecuadorian cheeses and a smoked, carmelized jam with raw sugar adorned a silvery platter. All that was just one course of many!

Chef extradorinaire

Chef Alejandro Chamorro studied at the ground-breaking Nomo in Scandinavia and his passion for Ecuadorian cuisine infuses everything he makes. He and his wife, Piedad Salaza, run the award-winning Nuema restaurant together. They are magicians at presentation and craft exquisite fare from locally sourced ingredients. Daily menus include harvests from small farmers, foragers and artisinal fishermen. But, for all their innovation, the Illa breakfasts also offer traditional items like Quinoa pancakes with homemade syrup; “As grandma used to make,” Chammoro says.
Step inside the Illa and stroll the neighborhood in this video:


Private and curated wines available inside the Illa Experience

One corner of the private and curated wine cellar with some of the best wines from South America and the world.

One of the Illa’s inspirations are experiences tailored for guests. There’s a painting school in the neighborhood and you can work on your brushwork with a private tutor in a studio at the hotel. Perhaps you’d learn how to make traditional desserts, try a few dance steps or take a lesson from one of the other craftsmen in the area.
Inside the Madera Noble shop. The work features small inlays from bone, wood, tagua vegetable ivory from Amazon seed polished, exported as buttons made in Hong Kong.

Inside the Madera Noble shop, pieces feature small inlays of bone, wood, and Tagua vegetable Ivory, a polished Amazon seed.

The traditional neighborhood whic has been home to generations of artists, writers, and musicians in a tight-knit community. There are small cafes and few cars. It’s a lovely place for strolling and admiring views of town and the hillsides. For all this, the hotel is only a five minute walk from Old Town’s central, Plaza Grande.
 One house was previously owned by the artist, Suarez, born in 1918. A memorial tile plaque sits near the front door. It reads:
“The walls and wood of this house … are impregnated with her dreams and life.”
As we stroll, neighbors stop to say hello. I wish there’d been time to join one restaurant owner for lunch. His award-winning purple porridge is a favorite for Ecuadorian style Day of the Dead celebrations. The soup is made from a sweet purple corn and served with dolls and lambs made of bread. Our host says it’s one of the best restaurants in Quito.
A local fruit stand in San Marcos, Quito, Ecuador

A local fruit stand in San Marcos.

Another neighborhood cafe in San Marcos serves an afternoon special on Sundays. “By afternoon she’s sold out,” I’m told. The owner/chef stands in the doorway next to a grill filled with potato patties and pork that’s been oven roasted in a brick oven. Elsewhere small markets offers seasonal fruits from the region, the ingredients go from “cobb to pot,” they say in Quito.

Chef Chamorro in the kitchen. Photo: Illa Experience website

Chef Chamorro in the kitchen. Photo from the Illa Experience website

My dream is to return to Quito and spend several nights soaking up the ambiance of San Marcos. I’d try my hand at watercolor painting and sip wine as gorgeous morsels fill my dinner table, but that fantasy will have to wait for another time.

Find out more about the Illa Experience here. The hotel is part of the Latin Trails Tour group which also offers luxury Galapagos Island Tours. You’ll see the wildlife and lush experiences to be found on their Sea Star cruise. Find out more about another another  overlooked treasure of Quito – its Roses!
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Luxury awaits inside the Illa Hotel in Quito, EcuadorStep into the Illa luxury hotel experience in Quito, Ecuador


Travel Notes & Beyond

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

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:

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

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

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 (

Twelve tasty food adventures from a year of wanderlust

cuatros cuatros sunset
cuatros cuatros sunset

Wine tasting at Cuatros Cuatros on the coast in Baja, Mexico

A sip of a ginger-infused cocktail, a mouthful of deeply spiced Machaca whose flavors swell with each bite, a glance spurred by the scent of clove cigarettes – all smells, sounds, and tastes. Often that’s all we need to flashback to a place and time. Tasty food adventures are like that.

My life is gratefully marked with delicious and audacious bites and sips, but this year has been especially full. Most often eating well is more memorable because of the ambiance and the company – it’s an alchemy of sorts. Taste also becomes the marker of a location on an emotional level. A flood of sensations and memories may flash to mind from months ago. The following foods do that for me. I hope you enjoy the feast too.

Tasty food adventures in Switzerland

I took off for Switzerland in early spring after scoring a ridiculously low airfare through a Cyber Monday airline sale. The flight went from LAX to London and then onto Geneva. Over ten days I wandered alone, mostly via Swiss Rail Pass, and always looking to eat the local specialties.

My Alpen Hut tasty food adventure at Cafe des Alpes

My Alpen Hut dinner at Cafe des Alpes

One of the first stops was in Interlaken. I arrived as a light snow was falling and sloshed to my hotel. As the day darkened, the weather lifted and I ventured into the village ending up in a bright Swatch store full of colorful displays and a friendly staff. The manager recommended the Cafe Des Alpes for dinner as it was on my walk back to the hotel and reasonably priced. What made the meal spectacular was a rich combination of luxuries. My ‘Alpen Hut’ plate was a small but overflowing skillet with ‘jugged’ deer, spaetzle, the most delicious spiced cabbage, mushrooms and hazelnuts all topped with a petite, stewed pear. As I finished and the empty plate was whisked away, the waiter set a bottle of Pear Schnapps on my table with a shot glass and left. It didn’t take me long to indulge in an aperitif or two. Luckily the hotel was a short walk away!

Reindeer visitor on the Glacier Express

A visitor to our car on the Glacier Express!

I wouldn’t have thought that a memorable food adventure could be had by train but that’s what I encountered on the famous Glacier Express. I sat at a table in the first class car when dinner was served. The meal was delicious but not outstanding. What was astounding though was the waitress stopping by with Schnapps (again!) and filling a tray of glasses in the middle of the train with a flourish, without spilling a drop! Looking up a few moments later into the face of a reindeer had me thinking I was drunk but it was just the gift cart dressed to impress.

The Philippines – Kalui Garden and Haim Chicken

After diving for several days in the Sula Sea, my guy, Dave, and I explored Puerto Princesa with two nights in a modest inn off the main road to the airport. One day we stepped off the dusty street into an artistically decorated restaurant, the Kalui Garden.

A tasty food adventure inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa

Inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa

Once instructed to leave our sandals by the door, we were led to seats next to the garden. Our first meal there was family style and plates of chili crabs, prawns and fish soon filled the little bamboo table. The fruit salads served in half coconut shells became our favorite lunch over the next few days.

Wood Worms, Tamilok, one of the traditional Filipino foods found in Puerto Princesa

The Wood Worm dish

One day we rode out of town for a short canoe ride into the Mangroves. Our guide pointed out tropical birds and lizards, then held up a bumpy stick and explained that monkeys like to eat the mangrove roots, especially when they find wood worms inside. The worms are also a local specialty for humans. You guessed it, I had to find them before leaving town. We checked several places before finding Haim Chicken where they dispatched a waiter to stand by to help us eat the long mollusks. Here’s a short video about the meal:

They were served raw and tasted something like oysters but when chewed the dark wood taste flavor escaped. It was a tasty food adventure I’d regret missing but they must be an acquired taste!

Appetizer in Drew Deckman's, El Mojor

Appetizer in Drew Deckman’s, El Mojor

Tasty food adventures in Mexico

Living in San Diego makes venturing into Baja a relatively easy day trip. I’ve been going back and forth for years and always enjoy discovering new places to eat. There are so many in Tijuana – Mission 19, the bullfighter’s hangout near the Grand Hotel, Talle with their menu of ‘pizzas.’ A bit further south and east is the Valle de Guadalupe, a rich vineyard region with high and low dining options. I confess to visiting more wineries than restaurants, so my favorites don’t come out of exhaustive research. However, I will never forget lunch at Drew Deckman’s outdoor cafe, El Mojor.

El Mojor, Chef Drew Deckman’s Valle de Guadalupe destination

Originally from Georgia, Drew spent years in Europe and was awarded a Michelin star in Germany for his culinary prowess. Lucky for us that he’s settled in the Valle. El Mojor is lovely and unassuming with tables set along shaded patios. Drew cooks at a traditional outdoor grill. A few lucky diners grab one of the few seats at the grill to watch the maestro more closely. I will return to savor more of Deckman’s magic.

La Cocina de Dona Esthela

Down a dirt road at the base of a hill in the Valle there’s a famous ranch house. A pair of stone columns mark the entrance to La Cocina de Dona Esthela. I had the honor to join a small group venturing from San Diego to present her award from Foodie Hub for the Best Breakfast in the World! Inside the house is a large patio and a living room set with small tables. A few years ago Telenovella stars, filming at the nearby Lomita winery, brought their friends and spread the word online about Dona Esthela’s cooking. The rest of us venture in for her delicious Sonoran Machaca, grilled meats, fresh cheese, and beans. Meats are cooked long in her famous spices and served in large portions. Scooping up the mixes in warm, fresh tortillas with a dollop of saucy beans and a spoonful of salsa remains high in my foodie memory.

Duckfoot Brewery Bar

Duckfoot Brewery Bar

San Diego: Duckfoot Brewery

San Diego has an ever-rotating palette of tasty food adventures for diners and drinkers. I could rhapsodize about the beers (Current favorite: Duckfoot Choco Nut Lust, their Chocolate Hazelnut Porter which, as with all their beers, happens to be gluten free.)

Pop up entrees: Opah meatballs, granola greens , white and red sangria.

Waste Not Pop Up Dinner: Opah meatballs, granola greens, white and red sangria.

The Red Door

The Waste-Not Pop-Up dinner at The Red Door restaurant was one of my year’s most notable and tasty events. Read my full review of it here. Joining a group of passionate, sustainably-minded diners was special in itself. Having Chef Miguel Valdez present a menu full of stem-to-root, nose-to-tail ingredients was a treat. I’m a fan of whatever he cooks and that night, eating to support the Food System Alliance was doubly delicious.

A bit of the Campfire experience in Carlsbad.

A bit of the Campfire experience in Carlsbad.

Campfire in Carlsbad

I’m not one for making a big deal out of my birthday. This year I picked a well-known restaurant in San Diego for a dinner with family and a few friends. It will remain nameless for the over-priced, hasty presentations and tiny portions. However, the evening before I experienced the new venue, Campfire in Carlsbad with a girlfriend and that is an experience I won’t forget. Launched recently by John Resnick, who’s behind many of downtown San Diego’s trendiest eateries, the large space has indoor and patio dining alongside a small campfire, of course for smores, and a full-sized teepee for the little ones. The dishes, each presented with care, overflow with smoky goodness from the oak flame grill overseen by chef Andrew Bachelier, of Addison and Cucina Enoteca fame. The cocktails nod to tradition, while anything but ordinary. My favorite dish was the grilled Kabocha Squash with its spiced yogurt sauce and mustard seed relish. Splendid. This is one tasty food adventure I look forward to repeating.

Nostalgia at Cliftons Cafeteria Los Angeles

The renewed storefront on the 600 block of Broadway, Los Angeles

Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles

Clifton’s Cafeteria reopened last year in Los Angeles Downtown district and it’s one of the most delightful, tasty food adventures I’ve had. It will be hard to top, especially now that the new speakeasy-style, Tiki-inspired, Paradise Lounge has opened. Get there early as they lift the rope to the upstairs entry to score a seat at the bamboo tables and just soak up that ambiance! There are historical and creative touches throughout, including an Italian Vaporetta speedboat jutting out from the bar. The cafeteria menu features new and retro dishes. All are simply prepared and very tasty.

Friends with Rick Bayless at Lena Brava

Friends with Rick Bayless at Lena Brava

Laminados dish at Lena Brava

Laminados dish at Lena Brava

Lena Brava – Chicago

It was a lark to make our way to the opening of Rick Bayless’ newest restaurant, Lena Brava, in Chicago. The restaurant pays homage to the culinary arts and sustainable seafood of Mexico. Experiencing Rick’s family and team’s take on fresh ingredients, wood grilling, and mescal cocktails is an experience worth visiting Chicago for. Bayless is committed to quality on every level and is admirably training young chefs to manage and run his venues. That’s evidence of wise expertise and grand heart. Go.

A tasty food adventure during a Lajitas stable ride

Lunch during our Texas trail ride

Tasty food from a saddlebag

Texas. Never thought I’d visit but all my preconceptions evaporated over the week I spent driving through the small towns and the vast spaces of the western region. The people were so generous and kind, and the natural beauty knocked me out, mainly because we drove through after the late summer rains when wildflowers pop and fresh green blankets expanses. The trip was heavy on experience and my favorite was a saddle-ride through the mesas and canyons of the Lajitas Resort lands. My sister and I rode for hours with our guide, Kelly, mosying through the range north of the Rio Grande. Lunch was a surprise as we stopped in a box canyon to rest the horses. A welcome spread of roasted chicken and corn salad, rolls and cookies appeared from Kelly’s saddle bags.

Tagging wild abalone.

Tagging wild abalone.

An Abalone Feast and Walnut Roll Indulgence

I just can’t omit two other tasty food adventures, although these came out of my home kitchen. We dug two, fat, wild Abalone out of the freezer for Christmas dinner. Dave caught them free-diving in the frigid waters north of Mendocino. Preparing them is a big job – digging the flesh out of the shell, slicing off the foot muscle, cutting the meat into oval steaks and pounding them into tender slices. Cooking is the easy part and if done carefully, in two minutes you have lightly encrusted buttery Abalone steaks.

Helen Serving Potica

Mother Helen, proud with her creation.

We finished with Potica for dessert, my mother’s traditional walnut roll, that I’ve finally mastered. After years of killing yeast in every loaf or pastry, I managed this year’s well enough. The dough rose, the filling of walnuts, dates, cinnamon, orange zest and honey was spread. My son helped me roll it up carefully and lift the bulky roll into the pan. The sweet treat has been enjoyed by many, sent across the country, and a few slices are preserved in the freezer for the next family gathering. It’s a much-loved and tasty food adventure from the Slovenian Women’s Union Cookbook that my mother brought west with her from Minnesota in the 1940’s. The pages are loose but I treasure it as a connection to that generation and the old country, my relative’s home in Croatia.

Quite a year!

All these tasty food adventures have definitely impacted my waistline but that’s a temporary setback I don’t regret. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tasty food adventures.

Where to find these tasty food adventures

Happy to share with these linkups full of fine travel tales!


Visiting Temecula wineries – Old world style and new world tastings

Mount Palomar Winery fountain one of the Temecula wineries worth visiting
Anabel Brut is a sparkling vintage at Europa Village amongst the Temecula wineries

Annabel Brut is named after the Europa Village owner’s effervescent mother, Annabel Stephenson

Those in the know go! It shouldn’t be a secret but in the rolling hills of Southern California, well east of the coast, Temecula wineries are making a scene. Private wine clubs, live music, restaurants, villas, spas and abundant tastings are uncorked throughout the growing region. I’ve visited several times over the past few years and always return home impressed and a bit buzzed by the beauty (and yes, the tippling.)

There are two Temecula wineries that stunned me recently – Mount Palomar and Europa Village. Over one slowly paced day, I joined a small group of foodies to sip and eat, walk and marvel at all that’s been created and is on the drawing boards.

Admiring the view inside the Anata Bistro and Bar

Admiring the view inside the Anata Bistro and Bar

Mount Palomar Winery

Since 1969 the Mount Palomar winery has been garnering awards. The public vineyards are full of trails. We sauntered through the gates, past stone fountains and flower beds to a large building open to views of the countryside. Inside Anata Bistro and Bar, an open and appealing space, the chef offers a rotating, seasonal menu. In late fall, two cocktails with ingredients from the garden as well as the vine made it to our tables. The Pomegranate Martini was slightly sweet above a flourish of the signature red seeds. The Ginger Crush was muddled with a basil garnish and vanilla bean simple syrup.

pomegranate and blood orange cocktails

An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro

An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro

Lunch was inspired by Meditteranean cuisine as we were feted with appetizer plates full of hummus, marinated olives, and crostini. Steak and fries, lamb and beef kebabs, salads and various flatbreads soon covered the table. No one was going hungry and I can’t wait to return with family.

Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room at Mount Palomar one of many award winning Temecula Wineries.

Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room

Prepping our tummies with food was a good strategy as we next stepped into the barrel room to meet the vintner, James Rutherford. He tapped tall, stainless casks with flair and then swept us out to the Solara where Sherry casks were aging in the open sun! The cream sherry process at Mount Palomar is based on Moroccan, then Spanish traditions before it was brought to California in the days of the Conquistadors. Stepped rows of wooden casks cook for five years in the sun before being bottled! It was a surprising set up for this wine fan!

Special Offer: Enjoy a Temecula winetasting at Mount Palomar winery

Download a coupon for 2 for 1 wine tasting coupon!

Europa Village

Inside the gates of the Europa Village Winery is a gracious world. Taking cues from Old World wineries, there are inviting gardens with shaded sitting areas, a comfortable patio, tasting room and gift store adjacent to a long Pergola, sheltering tables reserved for wine club members and events. Beyond all that grapevines flick their broad leaves in the sun.

The planned Europa Village Spainish, Italian and French-inspired wineries

The planned Europa Village Spanish, Italian and French-inspired wineries

Europa Village is becoming even more idyllic as the John Goldsmith, the General Manager, described the vineyard’s future. A grand villa is already open for guests but, over the coming years, a true village has been laid out. Soon luxury accommodations and three wineries featuring grapes and wine-making styles from France, Spain and Italy will be complete. Europa Village is a destination already but the future developments will have wine tasting fans flocking to the Temecula wineries to stay for days.

It takes a community

Over the last century, the region has had its challenges. Wineries have changed hands with the fluxuating economy. They’ve closed and then opened in new configurations. Infestations once decimatdecades-old vines. Today growers work together to alert each other of any signs of blight. Developers have attempted re-zoning the relatively affordable acerage. A passionate association of residents, winery owners, vineyard owners and affiliated businesses has grown to form the Protect Temecula Wine Country Association. They are actively working to preserve the wine making and rural atmosphere of the area for the future.

My day visiting Temecula wineries ended too swiftly but knowing how close to Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego the region is. It won’t be long before I’ll return with friends. How lovely it is to taste and meander amongst the relaxing and beautiful Temecula wineries.

If you go wine tasting at the Temecula wineries:
  • 2 for 1 Wine Tasting Coupon! Mount Palomar winery exclusive.
  • Taste the Palomar Mountain wines, have lunch, enjoy live music or dinner theater in the Mount Palomar, Anata Bistro and Bar.
  • Stroll through the gardens, attend performances, shop, and sip in Europa Village
  • Arrange tours, transportation and explore all there is to do in the Temecula wine country with help from the Visitor’s Center.

My wine tour and lunch were arranged and hosted through my membership the IFWTWA.

Visit Rosarito – Beach, hotel and fine dining in Baja Norte

Visit Rosarita Beach at sunset
Visit Rosarita Senorita Archway
Long before it was full of Spring Break beach clubs and taco stands, Rosarito was a glamorous hub. Hollywood stars and U.S. servicemen partied at the few great hotels along the strand. I remember it differently as a kid. We often camped near the beach. I loved playing in the warm water with my siblings, a few feet from my parent’s teardrop trailer. One afternoon my mother had a big pot boiling on the back kitchenette and pulled a steaming red alien from the waters. It was my first lobster, caught by my dad who tagged along with locals. Over the years, each time we would visit Rosarito, the city had new amenities and returning now still excites me.
The beach and tower Rosarita Hotel

The Hotel Rosarito tower from the beach.

Camping has moved much further out of town now but finally I had a chance to visit the historical, Rosarito Beach Hotel. My young parents couldn’t afford the luxury then, but today travelers have the benefit of a generous exchange rate. Whether one of the traditional beach rooms, a villa, a suite in the tower or a visit to the spa, the hotel has managed to retain its historical, Spanish Colonial style while upgrading with all the amenities a visitor could want.
Here’s a glimpse of a rest stop on the coast route to visit Rosarito:
Today, Rosarito is an easy getaway, less than two hours by car from my hometown of San Diego. It’s fairly simple to drive from the border but I prefer being a passenger and watching the changing landscape. The coastal route along the toll road is my favorite ride south. There’s also an interior road from Tijuana which, while more crowded, is actually shorter. Those not wanting to drive have the benefit of bus and van services too. I left the driving to others on the most recent trip while joining a few friends and enjoyed a pleasant, air conditioned Tiketon shuttle van from the border. Before I knew it, we were walking into the historical lobby of the Rosarito Beach Hotel.
Rosarita hotel lobby
We checked in quickly and walked from the historical side of the property to the newer tower. This is the part of the hotel that I’d often seen from the freeway on trips to Ensenada or La Bufadora. The tower lobby ceiling loomed over us and opened to a tempting, spacious pool and bar. I had to pass on a swim as we were meeting soon for Margaritas and a short tour of the spa.

Rosarita Hotel Margarita

Tower Bedroom Rosarita Hotel

Tower bedroom suite

The hotel is partly condos and members have their own pool – on the rooftop with the best views in the region. On one side is the ocean, on the other the hill country of Baja spreads to the horizon. Beaches stretch as far north and south as one can see. It’s a beautiful spot for a swim too!
The Rosarito Beach Hotel, members only, rooftop pool

The Rosarito Beach Hotel, members only, rooftop pool

Tower lower pool Rosarita Hotel

The view to the Tower pool from my room veranda

The original owner’s home has been converted into the Casa Playa Spa and a private dining space. Above the tiled entrance lobby, guest rooms are now service spaces for massages, facials, body wraps and other services. We learned that booking must be done in the spa itself and not to rely on the hotel desk.

Visit Rosarita Hotel Spa

The original home that now houses the spa and event space.

North of the hotel the beach area is spotted with big dance clubs that still roar to life on weekends but now there are more Mexicans partying than boozy, American college students. Weekends find families on the beach where tables can be rented by the hour, with or without umbrellas. Mariachis and food vendors come to you!
Susannas Restaurant
Dinner at Susanna’s
In the evening we went south from the hotel and stepped through a stone archway for dinner at Susanna’s. Susanne Stehr is a California girl who fell in love with the graceful beach style of Rosarito years ago. A natural interior designer, her restaurant is glowing with color and textures. Chairs are deeply upolstered, charger plates gleam as if in a home dining room and fresh creative dishes are served ‘California Style.’ Favorites include the Citrus Fruit and Sonoma Chicken Salad, Strawberry Salmon and Sonora Ribeye Steak entrees. Appetizers updated from local traditions like Jalapeno Cream Cheese Empanadas and Susanna’s Gourmet Tamales are moist and mild. The wine list overflows with vintages drawn from the famous Valle de Guadalupe wine region not 25 miles away.
You’d think we would never eat again but the next morning found us in the hotel main dining room for breakfast. So hard to choose from so much! Soon after being seated the table filled with platters of (shredded, roasted beef) machaca and eggs, fluffy omelets, home made sauces and delicious breads accompanied by fresh squeezed orange juice and mugs of aromatic coffee.
Rosarita Hotel Dining Room

Rosarita Hotel Dining Room

Luckily there was time for a walk before returning to the border and we sauntered along the main road, passing cafes and restaurants, night clubs and shops. Across the beach road, neighborhoods stretched up to the main highway. Kids in uniforms walked past quickly on their way to school. There were several churches and more cafes full of locals. Here the village life style still works side-by-side with tourism. It’s a big part of why I love Baja and to visit Rosarito.
A food truck on the main street of Rosarito

A food truck on the main street of Rosarito

When you visit Rosarito enjoy the boulevard full of cafes and shops
Watch the video and subscribe to my YouTube Channel!

If you plan to visit Rosarito:
  • Crossing the International border takes a bit of preparation but recent improvements are making it easier and wait times shorter. Here’s a post about what to expect. I update it often.
  • Transportation around the region from the U.S. – Contact Tiketon for van pick up and prices: 619-428-0011 / To and from the Tijuana airport: 683-8113
  • Rosarito Hotel:  Reservations and questions.
  • Visit the spa: Packages and services by reservation only.  Email:, Tel: 61-4-44-10, ext. 11364
  • Reservations at Susanna’s: 661-613-11-87 / Facebook: Suzsanne Stehr / Email: /

Thank you to our Binational Liason, Juan Arturo Saldaña Angulo with Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and tour organizer, Alexa Williams Meisler. The trip sponsors were the Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and Rosarito Beach Hotel with transportation provided by Ticketon and Turismo Express.

Visit Rosarito Beach Hotel

  weekend wanderlust April 2016

Baseball players, the writer and the road – Dan Schlossberg Interview

A life about the game and the baseball players
Baseball players, like Derek Jeder, are no stranger to Dan SchlossbergIt was 1957 and a young 9 year old was watching the world series with his father on their black and white TV. His dad turned the sound down and began explaining how the game was played and what was going on. The boy, Dan Schlossberg, soaked up every word and he’s been a fan ever since. The great American past time, baseball players and teams have shaped his life and led to publishing 36 books on the subject. Today he’s known as much for his travel writing, but baseball remains his passion. I caught up with Dan while he was in San Diego for the All Star Game and promoting his most recent book, When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags over Atlanta
The road to the diamond
Dan worked for newspapers in high school and later in college. His original goal was to cover the White House with his newspaper and political science liberal arts degrees. Discouraged with Richard Nixon in 1968, Dan decided that baseball was the better way to go. On his last day of college, he was offered the position of AP Sports Editor for New Jersey. Once his bureau chief found out how fast he could write and type, writing radio scripts on the hour was added to this tasks. Soon Dan was writing for broadcasts to 72 stations while covering sports at the same time.
Dan Schlossberg and his latest book.

Dan Schlossberg at the game with his latest book.

The grueling pace took its toll and when newly married, he started looking for new work. He was hired by Motor Club of America, similar to the AAA, as editor of their tabloid newspaper with three regional divisions. As the paper had a travel agency, Dan was asked to start promoting the trips and destinations they offered. He began freelancing and traveling extensively after attending Press Clubs and conferences where he met travel editors.
Dan’s first and most recent books are about the Atlanta Braves. The first is called the Hammerin’ Hank, about Hank Aaron just before he broke Babe Ruth’s record in 1974. The new book,When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags over Atlanta, is about the fourteen division titles they won consecutively.
How a travel writer pumps out 36 books about baseball players
Dan likes to write early in the morning or late at night. During the day there’s too many interruptions – the dog has to be walked, the phone rings, etc. Often he’ll wake in the morning with a script or chapter written out in his head. Typing 150 words a minute helps too.
The structure is important and he has to keep it up even when he’s traveling. Every week he has a travel and a baseball podcast. He’s the travel editor of the Maggie Linton show on Sirius XM; travel editor of New Jersey Lifestyle Magazine plus travel editor of Latino Sports. Oh, of course there’s another baseball book in the works too
The road keeps him following baseball players and teams. He was in San Diego for the All Star Game Festivities, including Fan Fest (mostly for kids,) for the All Star Futures Game, played by minor league stars; a celebrity game, this year included Jennie Finch, Olympic softball star and Jamie Foxx. Dan’s got lots of company. “There’s about a thousand journalists here and I know about 900 of them at least.”
From the Clubhouse to the Reserves
Of all Dan’s stories about baseball players, his surprising favorites involve other encounters. In 1972, he was covering the last game of the National League Championship Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Atlanta Braves. His UPI editor said, “Go cover the Braves clubhouse, win or lose.” Dan continues,”I thought that I was going to be covering a morgue because if they didn’t score in the Ninth Inning, they were going home for the winter. They did win with three runs in the bottom of the ninth. I was standing right outside the clubhouse when it happened and went in. There was only one person in the room, Jane Fonda! (Two time Academy Award winning actress.) I said, ‘OK, Jane, what are you doing here?’ She replied, ‘Well, Ted (Ted Turner, her husband at the time and the team owner) is out on the field congratulating his players. I didn’t want to end up on the bottom of the pile!’
Following the Funnyman
Another of Dan’s favorite tales happened while he was stationed with the Army Reserves near the grand, Broadmoor Hotel at Fort Carson, Colorado. Comedian Jack Benny was performing at there. Being a huge fan, Dan suggested to his Commanding Officer, “Let me go spend the day with Benny and a microphone.” After writing three spots for the company station, Dan grabbed his tape recorder and trailed the star. The scripts were recorded but the call letters, KRSN, were mixed up on the last spot. Benny blurted, “I did that lousy didn’t I?” It was so funny that the station aired the spot, blooper and all.
Dan Schlossberg on the job covering baseball teams

Dan Schlossberg on the job

Onto the Baseball Hall of Fame
After San Diego, Dan brings his books to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s been invited to their Author’s Series to sign his latest over a week-long visit. Of course, Dan’s been there often. The company, Sports Travel and Tours, official tour company of the Baseball Hall of Fame, has hired him to host guests riding the bus to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Dan’s looking forward to having an hour and a half to “badger the riders!”
For more about Dan’s life, baseball players and his travel writing, go to Visit here:When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags over Atlanta.
Like Podcasts? Listen to my interview with Dan Schlossberg on the NPR podcast, Journeys of Discovery! LISTEN HERE
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links that don’t affect prices, offer me a small commission helping to underwrite this blog, and support the author, Dan Schlossberg. 
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 Baseball players, the road and the writer - an interview with Dan Schlossberg Baseball Players, the writer and the road - an interview with sports writer, Dan Schlossberg

Perk up your travel style – Maggies Review

Maggies magnets a travel secret to extend your wardrobe
Perking up my travel style with Maggies Magnets

See the little silver ball? Maggies travel style at work

Scarves, shawls and wraps are some of the best friends that a traveling gal can have. They’re lightweight, keep you warm on cold flights, can perk up an outfit, eliminating the need to pack and protect jewelry. They make you feel feminine when you just want to put the backpack down and dress up your travel style.

Maggies Magnets variations for your travel style

I have trouble with knotting long scarves. They wrap to keep me warm but can get tangled, lopsided, twisted and generally keep me fidgeting to set them right. Scarves can be pinned into place but then there are holes in fabrics and pins bend, break or stab. When I heard about Maggies fashion magnets, I thought it was worth trying out. Now I’m adding more scarves and sarongs to my summer suitcase and Maggies will help extend winter travel wardrobes.

Maggie's magnets ball and ring design to perk up your travel style

Maggies Magnets ball and ring in action

Enhance your travel style simply

The design is ingeniously simple. There’s a ring and a powerful ball magnet that fits inside.The ring sits in the front of the fabric and several layers can be secured together by setting the ball of the back with the layers between. What most surprised me is how strong that little magnet is. It’s not going anywhere unless you want it to.

Maggies magnets a travel secret to extend your wardrobe

I brought a couple of different sized Maggies on a trip to the tropics. One night I added a very light scarf to the top of a sleeveless shell. The magnet was hidden in folds of fabric, so the scarf floated around my neckline. Accessorized with a nice set of earrings, I didn’t need a necklace and felt perfectly elegant.

Maggies worked well on a cold evening out with a heavier shawl too. I used the larger button style. There are at least two sets in each box, and in this instance the silver button added a dash of extra bling. I was able to drape my scarf in a new way once and didn’t need to touch it until I took it off at home.

There’s only one thing I noticed about Maggies. When you pull them apart it takes a bit of a tug and the little ball can fly. That only happened on my first foray and now I know. Also Maggies should not be used by children. In case of ingestion, seek immediate medical attention. They are not advised for pacemaker wearers.

I’m really looking forward to experimenting more with Maggies, gathering, pleating and tucking different outfits together to enhance my travel style whether I’m traveling or on the town near home.

Find out more and see videos of how to use Maggies. 

Disclosure: I was sent a complementary set of Maggies magnets but not compensated. All opinions are mine, as always. 

Your neck will thank you – Znzi Travel Pillow

znzi travel pillow on the go
znzi travel pillow at the airport
The Znzi travel pillow
It’s a sad fact that most of us spend hours each day peering down. In the kitchen we look down at the chopping board or into the sink. We look down to read magazines and books. Most of us stare into little screens, crane our necks with keyboard tasks and tap, comment, email, work or play on computers and cell phones. After hours torqued forward tech neck takes its toll. If you’ve unfortunately been in a car accident chances are your neck suffered. Mine did when I was a teen and the impact remains with me decades later. Luckily I’ve found a travel pillow that makes my neck happier.
znzi travel pillow is plush and easy to manipulate
Over time compromised vertebrae can start complaining. In my case neck pain is a steady, chronic hum. Managing that physical condition involves a grab bag of techniques and treatments. Yoga helps – regular, consistent, necessary. My chiropractor knows me well. Acupuncture is a godsend. Travel adds another layer of concern. I’ve written before about travel pillows but there’s one that I use it at home and I don’t travel without it – the Znzi travel pillow.

At first I thought the Znzi travel pillow was a bit big but discovered that the memory foam compresses and contorts. It rolls, folds and twists easily. There are 6 embedded magnets to help it keep whatever shape I choose. Usually I roll it up. The padding is slimmer in the middle, the better to cradle my head while lying on my back. The roll fits under the crook of my neck and passively stretches it, lightly countering the tech neck problem. Lying on my side, the roll supports my neck while relieving head weight pressure. At home I find it soothing, on a flight it’s essential.

A pair of suction cups are embedded in the plush fabric. I haven’t explored every way to use them but once, on a flight in a window seat, I was able to attach the pillow to the window and lean in. Otherwise it has a tendency to slip out of place. That’s my one negative. The pillow works well except when I need consistent support for my head while sleeping on a flight. The Znzi slides a bit but rather than carry two bulky travel pillows, I’ve learned how to work with it. One day I’ll add a cord on either end to tie and keep it in place. I hope the makers consider that.

They’ve considered so much already. I’ve lost numerous travel pillows or they’ve been too bulky to fit inside luggage. The Znzi comes in a lightweight, nylon bag. Stuff the pillow inside, cinch the cord, tie it lightly and then the simple, attached clip attaches the travel pillow to my rolling suitcase or the handle of my travel bag. I’ve carried it across Switzerland, climbing in and out of trains, buses and boats. It should have its own frequent flier mileage accounts! I’ve lost several travel pillows. Loyalty is a virtue and who could’ve guessed a travel pillow had that!

Our heads are heavy; ten or so pounds for most adults. It’s a lot to carry. With decades ahead of us, a strong, healthy neck is a necessity. The support of a well designed, flexible travel pillow, should make that easier to accomplish.
Tech neck techniques and other products
  • A Naturopathic doctor recommended this daily technique: For five minutes lie on your back with your head dangling backwards over the edge of the bed. Support with a flat pillow if necessary.
  • While dangling your head slowly turn your chin, your head to the right. Slowly turn to the left. Repeat about 25 times.
  • Another chiropractic addition is the Denneroll. It’s a fairly stiff foam that is shaped to fit into the crook of your neck adding pressure to the vertebrae. I use it at least once a day for 3 – 5 minutes max. It works best while lying on the floor which offers better resistance than lying on a bed.
  • One stretch I repeat and repeat is profound yet simple. Standing firmly with feet slightly apart lift your shoulders and roll them back. Clasp your hands behind you and pull down, opening up the clavicle region, your chest. Look up, stretching your neck.
  • Take the standing stretch a little further and tilt your chin towards your chest. Hold for 10 – 20 seconds. Repeat looking up and then down. SLOWLY

Find a good travel pillow, that works for your body and conditions and don’t travel without it!


The Znzi travel pillow was shipped to me for review but no other compensation was received. I’ve used it for a few months now and the review is based solely on my experience.

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Save your neck with the Znzi travel pillow


  weekend wanderlust April 2016

Hotel de la Cigogne – A romantic getaway in Geneva

Hotel de la Cigogne from the street
The gilded stork guards your getaway
The getaway begins
Once storks migrated through the lake country where the renowned city of Geneva now stands. That past is given a nod in the golden stork that reigns over the entry of the Hotel de la Cigogne. The luxurious hotel is a gem set between buildings and narrow streets. It stands on the plain that sweeps up from the waterfront and into the historic district. While an international business and political hub, the Geneva district is the renowned also for shopping, culinary traditions, historic sites and makes a perfect setting for a romantic getaway.
Lake Geneva getaway

Lake Leman with a glimpse of the historic city in the upper left.

After flying in from London, I arrived at the main train station within a half hour. The sky had darkened and a misty rain was falling, softening lights and window displays. As I walked a patchwork of dark and bright cobblestones in Place du Molard caught my eye. At night the wide street is illuminated. Many of the glass ‘stones’ were lit from from beneath and imprinted with a greeting in several languages from around the world. It made this travel weary tourist feel welcome and was less than a block from my hotel rendezvous.
Place du Molar with its illuminated stones
From the moment the hotel doors opened, luxurious textures, light and color from stone, deep rugs, stained glass, glittering chandeliers and hand troweled plaster acted as antidotes to the outside world of rush and hard modernity. It is partly illusion, carefully created, from the renovation of the 1901 building after it’s purchase by local architect, Mr. Rene Favre. He preserved the facade only, raising the interior and added a metal superstructure. Clever technical touches are embedded. The elevator runs whisper quiet and swift, lighting is placed to illuminate but never intrude. A discreet warmth flows from fireplaces, staged for comforting efficiency. Seasoned flagstones are set strategically.
Hotel de la Cigogne rooms are perfect for business or leisure getaways
This American felt out of her league but that faded fast. The staff were so friendly and made me feel most welcome. The Manager helped me to my room, a junior suite that was perfectly set for a romantic rendezvous. A curling stair led into the suite sitting area and I imagined descending to my sweetheart who would be waiting with a glass of champagne. However this was a solo trip  and the waiting tray of fruit, nutmeats and chocolates were mine alone.
Live like royalty in a suite at Hotel de la Cigogne

Live like royalty in a suite at Hotel de la Cigogne

I freshened up and began a short tour of the other suites. Each was more beautiful than the next. Designer/owner, Mr. Favre was an antiquities connoisseur, who collected furniture from secondhand trades for years. Restored bureaus, sconces and much more were placed in suites and along hallways as if he were decorating a private estate.
His piece de resistance was in selecting fabrics for the hotel. Daring deep, jewel tones flowed from walls into complementary tapestries and brocades upolstering settees and lounges. Polished desks beckoned. The bathrooms were completely renovated and, while not large, featured smooth stone work, designer fixtures, glass shower doors, deep tubs (not in every room) and many had bidets.
Hotel de la Cigogne lobby

Details in the Hotel de la Cigogne lobby

I longed to sit in the lobby drawing room, to sink into an armchair observing the European clientèle, with a book on my lap and a glass of wine beside me. However it had been a long journey from Los Angeles to Geneva and I had a deep bathtub to soak in before resting up for my city tour the next morning. Had I known about this luxury beforehand I’d have extended my visit.
The Hotel de la Cigogne bathrooms are inviting.
A secret about Geneva
Hotel de la Cigogne is often full of business visitors but weekends in the historic district are usually quiet and spared the crowds overflowing other parts of Switzerland. Rooms are more affordable on those days. If planning a tour of the graces of Geneva, I hope you consider a romantic getaway in the hotel guarded by a golden stork.
Set up your romantic getaway
  • More about Hotel de la Cigogne, member of Relais and Chateaux properties and winner of the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.
  • This trip was made possible by Swiss Travel System. Itineraries, train/boat/bus schedules are available. Over 300 Museums are included in the pass as well.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the hotel but as always impressions and opinions are my own.
Romantic Getaway pin for sharing


A romantic get away at the Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad

cape rey beach sunset is perfect for a get away
Cape Rey resort has fire pits to enjoy on your get away

Cape Rey Resort fire pits make a get away warm and cozy.

It was a guilty pleasure to spend a night away from home in the middle of the week. So close and yet so far away! I drove north from downtown San Diego for meetings and pulled into the Carlsbad Cape Rey resort before returning. What made it doubly sweet was that my beloved joined me for dinner and a romantic evening. Mixing up the schedule can be such fun and this mid-week get away had us smiling.
Cape Rey get away is across from the Carlsbad State Beach
The Cape Rey is set across from the beach on Pacific Highway 101 in Carlsbad but south of the busy downtown business district. From our room, I watched the sun set over the ocean and woke the next morning to admire a peachy sky as dawn broke. The resort is laid out to take advantage of the views and most rooms face the waves.
Beach view on a Carlsbad Cape Rey get away

A room with a view.

If I’d arrived earlier the kitchen would have gladly packed a picnic lunch and pointed out the best beach spot to enjoy it. What a beach it is too! When conditions are favorable surfers skim the waves. A State campground butts up to the strand and before leaving I watched dolphins surfing but they were camera shy.
Lobby alcoves for your Cape Rey get away
For those of us needing more luxury than camping offers, the Cape Rey has lots to offer. The wide entry is set with soft lighting and comfortable alcoves. Several bikes wait for riders near the front door. The large pool is poised for perfect afternoon sun-bathing. There are terraces to lounge on and several fire pits perfect for cozy conversations.
Morning set up inside Chandlers for your get away dining
Ferdinand inside Chandlers helped me get away

Ferdinando inside Chandlers

I especially enjoyed Chandler’s restaurant and bar. The decor is warm but not in the over-crowded style of many bar/restaurants. At dinner, we sat side-by-side in a cozy corner booth where we could people watch. There were locals and business clients in conversational clutches at tables and counters. The staff was cordial and genuinely seemed to like their jobs. I was able watch them interacting. How well everyone gets along speaks volumes about the management.

Starry night cocktail is perfect for a get away

The shimmering Starry Night Cocktail

I ordered a cocktail that actually shimmered. The ‘Starry Night’ is a blend of Absolut Mandarin Vodka, Viniq Liquer, Lemonade and Proseco. It was a mellow Martini, filled with a dancing Viniq mist that swirled in the Proseco bubbles.
Delicious bites for a get away

Breakfast, welcome gift and dinner bites at the Cape Rey Resort & Chandler’s Restaurant

Next we shared a plate of fresh Burrata Mozzarella with vine ripened Heirloom Tomatoes. It was artfully plated with arugula, grilled vegetables and asparagus spears.  A side of herb bread and cheese crusted cracker triangles made it almost a meal in itself. But we managed to finish that along with a Spinach Quinoa salad before our Wild Mushroom Pizza arrived. I have a weakness for wild mushrooms (see my previous post about hunting them locally) and this was a slice (well, three) of bliss. Just enough garlic Alfredo sauce was dotted with smoked Gouda, Beechwood and Oyster Mushrooms. I’ll exercise it off tomorrow, I told myself!
Morning came too soon and while I elected to work out in the gym and tour the Spa, my beloved soon headed out to his office. For breakfast we found that Teri, the Cape Rey chef, had filled the slim menu with traditional options alongside creative, light and healthy choices. We sipped a Healer Smoothie full of peaches, ginger, turmeric and pea protein (one of eight to choose from!) and shared the Farmer’s Sunrise Biscuit plate.
 Daylight shadows for my Cape Rey get awayThe sun was overhead before I pried myself away from the Cape Rey. On the ride home it was easy to smile. Romance, beauty, great food and drink – What’s not to love in a get away?
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Cape Rey Hilton Resort for my room and breakfast but as always opinions are my own.

Get away links:

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More than a feast, it’s a cause – Collaboration Kitchen

Collaboration Kitchen in full swing at Catalina OP

Collaboration Kitchen in full swing with Carnitas Snack Shack chef and founder, Hanis Cavin

It’s a meal transported to another realm. In fact you sit inside a fish processing plant on folding chairs and eat from paper plates – but you’ll be giddy about it. Perhaps it’s the hilarious barbs traded between the fishmongers, Tommy Gomes and Dan Nattrass. More likely it’s the chance to be part of a cooking show, to see how some of the region’s best chefs work their magic, while eating insanely well. Some nights local vintners bring samples and if you’re lucky Andrea’s Truffles or Robin of Cupcakes Squared will be offering their best as well. No one goes home hungry.

Tommy Gomes, Dave Rudie and Rebecca Gardon smiling at Collaboration Kitchen

Part of the team: Collaboration Kitchen founder, Tommy Gomes, Catalina OP Owner Dave Rudie and Marketing Wizard, Rebecca Gardon

Held about ten times annually, there’s always a cause behind each chew. Collaboration Kitchen began seven years ago as an idea that Tommy Gomes, a fishmonger working at Catalina Offshore Products, took to his boss, Dave Rudie. It was a way to give back and offer great food while raising money for deserving causes. Monarch School, Just Volunteers and most recently Tim Johnson, local sushi chef suddenly in need of a kidney transplant, have been recipients. Tim discovered he needs a new kidney just days before Christmas. Here’s the link to his Go Fund Me campaign set up to help with medical expenses.

collaboration kitchen prep

With Tommy as emcee, laughter’s on the menu. You’ll meet fellow fans of great local food and be introduced to new menu ideas. Most importantly though is the chance to be part of something truly good. There are many foodie events throughout San Diego but Collaboration Kitchen is one unique sensation. Get on the Facebook notice list and reply quickly if you want to attend.

Dan Natrass talking about the Hiramasa starring at Collaboration Kitchen

Dan Nattrass talking about sustainable, farm-raised, Baja Seas’ Hiramasa 

Chef Anthony Pasquale of Saiko Sushi created this beauty for Collaboration Kitchen

Chef Anthony Pascale of Saiko Sushi created this beauty.

Su Mei grinds coconut at Collaboration Kitchen

Su-Mei Yu, of Saffron and PBS’ Savor San Diego, shows how the Thai grind coconut

Tommy and TV star, Sam the Cooking Guy

Tommy Gomes and one of the guest chefs, TV star, Sam the Cooking Guy

If you miss the tickets or don’t have the dough, but do have hard-working kitchen skills, there’s occasionally room on the volunteer team. Working all day behind the scenes, volunteers step into the limelight to be applauded along with the chefs at the end of each event.

Chef Logan at the grill inside the Catalina OP Fish Market

Chef Logan at the grill inside the Catalina OP Fish Market

About Collaboration Kitchen

Disclosure: I’ve been comped to Collaboration Kitchen for years as the Catalina OP owner is my guy, but all opinions, as always are my own.

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Dan Nattrass holds a crab at Collaboration Kitchen

Keiko preps at Collaboration Kitchen


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Fort Lauderdale beach hotel – Lux at the Atlantic

Deck pool at the Atlantic Hotl Fort Lauderdale

Deck pool Fort Lauderdale across from the beachBeach, sand, balmy breezes – all present and expected when visiting a Fort Lauderdale beach hotel. What I hadn’t counted on was the luxury and sensory pleasures I’d discover at the Atlantic Hotel & Spa.

lobby at the Atlantic Hotel, Fort LauderdaleThe joy of any visit to Florida rests on where you lay your head. Mine was luxuriously treated to featherweight comfort at the Atlantic Hotel, just steps from the waves on the waterfront. Notorious Fort Lauderdale spring break crowds have long since moved on and the city has stepped quietly in to establish a fine food culture, support an arts district, a science and arts center to linger in and encouraged construction of gorgeous hotels that take advantage of the long, sandy beaches. The canals host luxury yachts. There are restaurants and bars to please all manner of visitors and budgets. I was fortunate to check in at the Atlantic Hotel as part of the TBEX Food FAM Trip and couldn’t have been happier.

Audrey Hepburn multi-media artwork in the lobby at the Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Audrey Hepburn stars in multi-media artwork in the lobby at the Atlantic Hotel

While waiting for my room, there was abundant WiFi and cooling fruit water to be enjoyed in the lobby. Color surrounded me from the rotating gallery of paintings by local artists to textures from wood grain to gilded mirrors.

Double room at the Atlantic, Fort Lauderdale

Double room at the Atlantic, Fort Lauderdale


Atlantic Hotel amenities, Fort Lauderdale

Atlantic Hotel amenities, Fort Lauderdale

Room view, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Room view, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Bathroom Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Bathroom Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

The room was opened onto a small veranda where I was treated to a light show every morning as the sun rose over the waves and as it happened, to the full moon rise on my last night. The bathroom was spacious with two sinks, a full bathtub and separate shower plus water closet.

Sunrise from the Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Sunrise from the Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

But the real surprise was the hotel restaurant, Beauty and the Feast. On the Sunday I checked in a buffet overflowed with brunch treats and a crowd filled tables inside and out. That evening as the bar sprang to life, I met my group of foodies. We sat in a private area as a series of small plates and one large platter rotated around the table.

A few plates from our dinner at Beauty and the Feast, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

A few plates from our dinner at Beauty and the Feast, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

TBEX foodies taking pictures at the Atlantic Hotel

No one eats till each dish is documented! With apologies to my TBEX foodie friends.

From sunrise to sunset, a winning location and attention to detail, the Atlantic is one Fort Lauderdale beach hotel I’d happily return to.

Street view Atlantic Hotel, Fort LauderdaleMy stay in Fort Lauderdale was partially underwritten by the Fort Lauderdale Visitors Center and part of the TBEX Food FAM trip. Regardless, the opinions shared are all my own.

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A Fort Lauderdale, Atlantic Hotel view

Waking up in New Orleans – Whitney Hotel Review

Whitney hotel dining room
Hotel room at the Whitney

Our spacious, two-bed Hotel room at the Whitney

The first light slipped through a crack in the thick, panel curtains. Before going to sleep I’d considered closing them completely but jet lag would’ve had me missing half the next morning and I didn’t want to squander a minute of the trip.

There were a few new sounds from the street below. Listening closely I could make out the faint warning of a cross-walk audio but it was nested in a murmuring bustle that was new to this suburban, California gal. It was my first time waking up in New Orleans.

That excitement alone would’ve had me bounding out of bed and getting ready for the day but our room at the Whitney was so comfortable. My sister and I had requested two beds and were given two rooms separated by a double door. It was just a part of the discrete and luxurious service we experienced during our two nights at the hotel.

The Whitney is a Beaux Arts beauty listed on the National Historic Registry. The building was originally the Metropolitan Bank and designed by one of the most prestigious architectural firms of the post-Civil War era. Today if you peer into the dining room past the marble columns and its huge mural, there’s a mystery.

whitney hotel dining room

The Whitney Hotel dining room with the bank beyond.

A room beyond is brightly illuminated and separated by a vault door but the two spaces share marble columns and a tall, embellished ceiling. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of what’s beyond. It’s actually a branch of the Whitney Bank and still in full service.

Valet entrance, the Whitney Hotel

Valet entrance, the Whitney Hotel

When we arrived by cab from the airport (about a 20 minutes ride,) he dropped us off at a formal, side entrance and a valet brought our luggage inside. We signed in at an old tellers desk and on the way to the elevator passed the bank vault, now a banquet room.

The Whitney Hotel vault banquet room.

The Whitney Hotel vault banquet room.

As part of the New Orleans Collection of historic hotels, the Whitney is well situated for exploring the French Quarter but just far away enough to be quietly accessible. Around the corner, there’s a St. Charles Line Trolley stop. That couldn’t be more convenient. It goes out through the Garden district and to the Audubon Park and loops back to Canal Street before returning. It was perfect for our walking vacation.

One night we ventured to Frenchman Street, on the far side of the French Quarter, for music and dinner. Returning to the Whitney was simple. Ready for a stroll, we slowly walked to the hotel. Taxis were everywhere but even at the late hour there were so many people out on the street we felt relaxed about taking our time and walking, two gals enjoying a late, fall evening.

Whitney Hotel Reception

Whitney Hotel Reception

The Whitney exudes its historic background but isn’t stuffy – the amenities are up to date and always being upgraded. We enjoyed coffee in our room, the bathroom was generous enough for two gals to spread out and we each had our own TV. I loved having fast, complementary WiFi. The only thing missing was a place to sit and discuss our plans for the day – One of us sat in an armchair, the other on a bed bench. It was a minor rub.

Federal Treasury Museum

Inside the Trade Finance Museum

Being on the edge of New Orleans’ Financial District explained the neighborhood hush the weekend we were there. Offices were closed and workers were home. A park is around the corner next to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta which houses the Museum of Trade Finance on the first floor. Getting in required a security clearance as stringent as any airport but little museum was charming and interesting. Little bags of shredded bills came home as souvenirs.

In the Museum of Trade Finance a label reads: “The shreds in this bag are of unfit currency.” Now we know where old dollars go to die.

New Orleans is overflowing with charm and discoveries. I look forward to returning to find more and resting my head on those perfect pillows at the Whitney Hotel.

Our stay was partially underwritten by the New Orleans Collection of hotels, but the opinions are my own.

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Seeing America through other’s eyes

Flag Cow Skull Yellowstone

Flag Cow Skull Yellowstone

Travel books find their way to my desk regularly. If only there were time to savor them all. Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the world sees America, by Norwegian Rene Zografos has been with me for only a few months but I’ll be seeing America differently for years.

Rene spent seven years traveling the world asking what there is to like and to dislike about America. He visited every continent, documenting very negative and very positive opinions then wrapped the statements into a slim book. The results are telling. Is there any one surprising conclusion? No, there are many.

Anecdotes are bundled together, both Rene’s and others. I can only imagine how much work went into transcribing and editing this into a volume. That said it is not without flaws. It is a self-published work and while Rene is an accomplished journalist in Norway, I wish he’d worked with an editor who could have helped shape the read better. The material is too good to be lost in meandering structure. Like a great indie film, once you’re in the theater, enjoy the zingers but stay for the ending.

Chapters are finished with statements from different countries and relative facts like: “Did you know the number of American passport holders is increasing intensely? In 2000 about 48 million Americans had passports, but in 2013 the number was more than 110 million.”1.

How members of each country perceive Americans is often more telling about their cultural situation than the U.S. In the chapter, Moods from the Sahara, for example there’s a discussion about the three types of Americans, 1. The quiet one, 2. the outgoing one, 3. the crazy one and why. The tour operator generally sees Americans as becoming more confident after a few days on a trip and then treat their guides as friends while starting to spend a lot of money. Without knowing how other nationalities measure up in comparison it’s hard to think this is anything more than human nature than particularly American (and I may be too American to know better!)

There’s a lot of humor in these pages as well. The chapter, The Jailhouse Blues, talks about some of the weird laws on the books in America. I have no doubt they exist but its a reflection of America’s political system where election fundraising depends on ambition. It’s more sexy to get things done, sponsor and push through legislation – rather than enforcing, and raising funds to enforce, laws already on the books, let alone get rid of irrelevant ones. Kudos to Rene for illuminating how much antiquated rhetoric pads the system. It’s entertaining (or could be terrifying) if a policeman or woman arrested you because:

  • You are a woman in Tuscon illegally wearing pants
  • In Illinois you go fishing in pajamas
  • You are apprehended for falling asleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota

The book dives in deeper after that. Rene was in New York shortly after 9/11 to pay his respects. It was a dividing line and in the chapter, The America I Knew, he mourns for a country that has shifted.

“The America I knew was a place for outsiders in the world who dared to be different, where the Jew, the Muslim and the Christian sat together to have a cup of coffee and a talk. The America I knew would accept each every (sic) person exactly as they were. The America I knew has changed.”

What he sees since is a “continuous increase of blind religious hate…and an aggression toward everything that seems to be different to what they are used to…”3.

His perspective is supported in a chapter by an Australian traveler, Christine, and also by entrepreneur and American expat, Mark Manson, who feels that the country is like a drunken brother he loves and doesn’t.

Rene finishes Attractive Unattractive Americans with Carpe Diem. His passion for America shines through. But he also sees a huge challenge in the national obsession with gadgets and with fear that is leading to an abiding, emotional numbness. It has blanketed America with disaffection, ambivalence, and disconnection. “There has been a change modern America, a change that is keeping many people away from daily social life and employment…and it’s absolutely necessary for keeping a mentally-healthy America.”4. He calls for honesty, for more than lip service and risk taking to choose the direction your inner voice tells you to and follow the road of the life you want to live.”

Rene’s perspective is echoed in the work of London-based designer, Yanko Tsvetkov in his book, The Atlas of Prejudice. Across the world, “We need more idealism. Not the naive, distracted kind; we have plenty of it on Facebook, Twitter, or any other place where slacktivism reigns supreme. We need the kind of idealism that is informed and able to reach beyond the day after tomorrow.

But most of all, we need to learn how to laugh at ourselves, and to give up the habit of frowning all the time.”

I’ll, seriously (wink) keep working on that while seeing America through others’ eyes.

The book, The Atlas of Prejudice, the complete stereotype map collection is available in many languages as well as English. References from Attractive Unattractive Americans: 1. p.42, 2. p. 139, 3.146, 4.223

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Seeing America

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Tribal connections – The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

Elaine Japan Tree Pose

Elaine Japan Tree Pose

Don’t you love it when you find your tribe? When I started admitting, publicly, that I was a travel-writer and met others who confessed the same, I’d found my peeps. So it is a tickle and honor to have been nominated to the Sisterhood of World Bloggers by three different women writers, first Doreen Pendracs of Chocolatour,  Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque, and We Travel Together. Thank you, each so much.

The aphorism goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” May we sail on to further shores and adventures together.

sisterhood of the world bloggers

More boats!

The rules for the award are to mention the blogger who nominated you, answer 10 questions of the bloggers choice, nominate 10 more bloggers, and make up new questions for your nominees to answer.

balloon teotihuacan mexico

My answers:

1. Is there a single moment in your travels that you feel has been your most transformative for you?

A pilgrimage turned my world inside out. I had spent four days in ritual and play among the powerful ruins and pyramids of Teotihuacan, Mexico.  The Toltec/Nagual teacher, Victoria Allen, who spent years studying with Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the Four Agreements, was my guide. Those simple tenets continue to transform my days.

2. Has there been a singular action that you have taken that has taken your blog to the next level?

After blogging for years with an “if you build it they will come” approach I was drowning in neglect! What turned things around was getting involved daily with social media. Over the last year my reach has jumped exponentially and I’ve found that online communities are powerful.

3. What has been the most effective tool that you have used to grow the readership of your blog?

I’d have to say it’s using Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and StumbleUpon, then Instagram and Linked In. Joining and participating in groups and chats has been very helpful, interesting. I love discovering great travel writing and pictures.

4. What is your primary travel goal for the next year?

I’ve been working to increase my reach so I can offer the off-the-radar destinations, lodging, and experiences more visibility. As a firm believer in travel for good, I’m hoping to visit Sri Lanka and India before long.

5. Do you have a favorite place that you just can’t seem to get enough of?

I love Asia and the teeming waters there. As a diver, I can’t get enough of watching and interacting with the underwater world and its endearingly alien creatures. Give me warm water, a healthy reef and a full tank. To pick one in particular would be Indonesia – so many islands, so little time.

6. What is your favorite thing to do when you visit a new place?

Open my senses once I step out of the airport, off the train or out of the car. I remember the smell of dirt and the calls of parrots when I first visited Fiji. It was a long, long flight and I was stretching my legs as the group organized luggage.

7. Do you have a favorite travel blog?

Legal Nomads and Jodi Ettenberg is my go-to for inspiration. She’s the real deal – a dedicated traveler, astounding writer and successful speaker. I’d follow in her footsteps – expat living in Asia – if I could!

8. If you could go absolutely anywhere in the world in the next 6 months, where would it be?

It’s not exotic to most but I haven’t spent enough time in Europe. I have a few relatives in Croatia to visit and long to wander through that region.

9. Who is the most memorable person you have encountered in your travels?

We’d rented bikes to tour a jungle temple complex in Sri Lanka. It was steamy but flat, and great for riding. Our only witnesses as we stopped at Stupas and studied carvings were monkeys and birds. Suddenly I spied a long man on a small bike speed down the lane towards us. He stopped quickly and with a proper English accent, gushed apologies. His employee had over-charged us for the bikes and he wanted to make it up to us. We, backpacking Americans, were clueless but accepted his company. The rest of the afternoon we spent touring his village. He insisted on buying us pastries and taking our picture in a photo studio. That generosity of spirit on the other side of the world still warms me whenever I feel like an outsider. There are good people everywhere.

10. What is one place you wish you’d never have gone, and why?

As a teen driving through Mexico with my family we camped on a beach near Acapulco. Rebelliously, I insisted on sleeping outside of the tent and woke up with my face swollen. Sand fleas had feasted and I woke up a lumpy, itchy mess. I spent the next few days livid, embarrassed as only a young teen girl can be, and generally a pill to the rest of my family. I wouldn’t repeat that for anything but still harbor a continuing love for Mexico.

what's your story, tribal connections

Tribal Connections: Nominations

1. Carla King – Carla

2. Alexa Meisler –

3. Kristin Henning – Travel Past 50

4. Elizabeth Hansen – Authentic Luxury Travelers

5. Billie Frank – Santa Fe Travelers

6. Veronica Stewart James – Gypsy Nesters

7. Karen McCann – Enjoy Living Abroad

8. Lenore Greiner – Lenore

9. Mary Gilbert – The Roads Traveled

10. Katherine Belarmino – Travel the World


Questions for the Sisterhood:

1. What drew you to become a travel writer and why?

2. How do you define success as a travel writer?

3. What is the most challenging aspect of travel blogging for you?

4. If money and time were no object what would your dream trip be?

5. If you could travel in time, where would you most like to visit?

6. What has been your most challenging travel experience?

7. What’s one thing you would say to encourage someone to travel?

8. Who is your favorite travel writer?

9. When preparing to visit a new country what is one thing you always do?

10. Do you speak more than one language and how has it impacted your travels?

Thank you dear sisters, I hope our paths cross often.



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