March 31, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Horizons

Photo: Sharon Castellanos

March 28, 2010

Family Travel: Teaching my older sister the ABC's of packing

In a couple of months of my sister will be leaving the country for the first time. I'm excited for her and nervous for everyone else she comes in contact with. Don't get me wrong, I love my sister but she can say and do things that make me squirm.

My sister is a funny one. She loves to travel but won't go hardly anywhere without a companion. She will drive hundreds of miles to visit our mother or go to Hot August Nights vintage car shows in Nevada, but would never consider getting on a plane by herself even for a weekend in Vancouver, BC.

Since her divorce I think she would be perfect for solo travel clubs and excursions for lone female travelers. She could be the next Travel Betty! She is funny and personable, people love her down-home style. Our nieces laugh at her jokes.

My thinking is that her inability to pack or have the right travel gear is keeping her stuck on the ground. Something us regular travelers take for granted, a good basic suitcase and a simple packing list based on where you are going and how long you are away are both new concepts for her to really put some energy into.

Since I love her, I will do my best to help her, to teach her the ABC's of packing and give her simple travel tips to help her first experience in Europe be so good she wants to go back -- and because: (A) She will love seeing the sights (B) She will take pictures of everything, including her food (C) She will forget that she is in another country that might not speak English, but that won't stop her from looking at them as if they are crazy. Selfishly that means the family will have a goldmine of funny things to talk about at Thanksgiving and Christmas for years to come!

Here is what I will suggest to her:
  • 22” suitcase – because she can stuff the hell out of it on her way back and probably not go over her weight limit.
  • Zipper Tote – to carry on the plane for her magazines, snacks and neck pillow. Maybe a Sherpani...
  • Three pairs of pants – because that is her style, no sense changing it now
  • T-Shirts - long and short sleeves, maybe two of each
  • Windbreaker/Jacket - medium weight because she doesn't get that cold
  • Two pairs of shoes - so she can alternate and air them out after walking a lot
  • Underwear - enough for half the number of days on her trip since they will have a washer and dryer in London
  • Favorite toiletries
And that is it. She will want to buy t-shirts along the way and her style is casual so why pack something that isn't you? And besides, until she leaves she will be worrying about how to charge her camera battery...

March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Beaches

Photo: Sharon Castellanos

March 21, 2010

Father's Day: Now for something completely different

Okay so it is a little early for talking about Father's Day but since I was just speaking about my mother, it is only fair to consider the flip side. My father.

My father lives on the Monterey Peninsula in California, a scenic gorgeous area on the coast. This photo of the wharf area was taken on one of our early morning (note: more like crack of dawn) walks together. He is a wonderful man who took his blue collar roots and added a flair that I admire.

He has had the travel bug since I can remember and probably passed it on to me. He certainly passed on to me his love of traveling in style. He has more photos of him wearing his white dinner jacket, with hand-tied bow tie, sitting at the captain's table than anyone else I know. He proudly showed me his traveling min-bar once. It is a beautiful leather carryall that holds a shaker, a jigger, all the necessary bar utensils and two glasses.

He savors traveling in comfort and seeing new places and meeting new people. I know he is really happy for my mom about her upcoming adventure. I'm sure part of him wishes he had done this with her back when they were happy and married. We are headed down to see him this week to celebrate my husband's birthday and celebrate my father's health. He doesn't get to travel the way he used to anymore. Today at 78, he travels more in his memories and through the pages of his books and photo albums.

My father reminds me that life is too short to endure a mediocre trip. Travel with flair. Enjoy the world out there and its diversity. His love for getting out and about is a counter balance to my mother's reserved demeanor and hesitations. I can appreciate that now whenever I travel with my husband. He likes to tease me about having one foot on the gas and one on the brake - at the same time. As if that is a bad thing....

March 18, 2010

Family Travel Firsts - My Mother Heads to Europe

This is how I see my mom at San Francisco International terminal soon. She will be using her passport for the first time and flying with my brother to Normandy, Paris, London and Edinburgh. Given her advanced years, late 70s, I am both excited for her and worried.

I like to see my mother as this statue is, arms strongly raised and in a posture of leaping into the unknown without fear. However since she has never traveled internationally and maybe because I want her first time to be memorable, I am a little worried.

My mother is very down to earth and practical. However she has a tendency to follow rules so closely that her experience of something new can be very narrow. She is not spontaneous and her sense of humor is often missing, especially in times of stress. Traveling with my brother, sister, and two sister in laws and father in law could turn into a tough time for her.

This group of six all have very different personalities. Also, only my mother and my sister have never traveled outside the country before. My hope is that they are patient with her so that she experiences these new places and all that they have to offer, in a wide open and multicolor way.

Until June arrives, I will keep visualizing my mother as this statue from the Hoover Dam, and have mini-conversations with her with the hope of priming her for a better than average first time abroad. I am hopeful she will have a good time since after two months she is still excited, she knows the value of Ziplock bags in your suitcase and she just told me about her trick of taking a sheet of labels already printed with all the names and addresses of friends and family she wants to send postcards to.

So I don’t think I am too far off base in my assumption of picturing my 70-something mother as this strongly built figure. She has been strong at various times of her life and I will do what I can do help her be that way in June.

March 12, 2010

Travel Photo: Spring in San Francisco

Yesterday was the second of two gorgeous sunny days here in San Francisco. Today is a different story. However let's focus on yesterday since it clearly is more beautiful and a wonderful reminder of why San Francisco is a destination city.

I was out taking my dog for a walk up and down our hills when I found this landscape. Isn't it out of this world? How does someone make an urban sidewalk feel like I'm in the middle of Avatar?

This is 3-D with only sunglasses!

What makes this special too is that anyone is free to enjoy it. Just walk to Castro and Liberty Streets.

These plants look indigenous to the Bay Area but I don't know for sure. However some looked like I had seen them at the florist shop or in a large vase in the lobby of an office building.

I'm just so impressed and appreciative that we have San Francisco residents who decide to landscape around their home in a way that brings beauty to the public sidewalk, not just their own backyard.

And you want to know the best part? I took this photo with my iPhone (the 3G but not the 3G S). Thanks Apple. When we are out and about I appreciate it when I can capture the moment rather than kick myself for forgetting my camera. It happens sometimes when I am too focused on counting out enough poop bags to bring. Yes, I'm talking about Cleo...

March 9, 2010

Rue Cler 75007 Paris, France

My second visit to Paris was better than my first. You want to know why? My second visit included my future husband, though we were keeping that a secret at the time. But the secret ingredient to this trip being better was his presence. He adds color to everything.

It was his first visit to Paris which made me the instant "expert". I immediately felt smarter than the last time. Also though my high school French wasn't any more polished, my vocabulary was still better than his which added to my good feelings. Five years before, on my first visit, I was too intimidated to walk into a cafe alone. This trip, he walked into all sorts of shops and cafes without a second thought. I loved it and happily followed.

Eiffel Tower Photo by Eustaquio

Last time, I stayed with acquaintances of my father which were at best, awkward. This time we booked a room at a small hotel on the Rue Cler, near the Eiffel Tower. This street is famous, made more so by Rick Steves and his guidebooks. The central location is perfect for walking and sightseeing. Rue Cler is a pedestrian street filled with shops, an open market and various stalls selling all sorts of items.

The hotel room we discovered we had booked was a let down. This is before the Internet, so the booking had been done over a fax machine and long distance phone calls from my office. We had no photos only descriptions and only our fingers crossed that any of it was accurate. When we arrived that evening, after an exciting day taking the Eurostar from London for the first time, our room was a big fat disappointment.

What could be so bad? It wasn't the thin flat pillows on our beds. Nor was it the sad little apple and black coffee set out as the "continental breakfast" for the next morning. The shock of having an internal air shaft as our "window" was the first blow. Having two, almost on the floor, twin beds that showed their back pain inducing coils through the bedsheets was the second blow. The knock out punch and third strike, was that the room next door had the same space but a killer view of the Rue Cler and though it was empty, the management would not switch us.

However, instead of sucking it up like I would have last time, being there together pushed me to find another place. STAT. I didn't let my poor language skills get in the way. Instead we took it to the streets and literally just walked around until we soon struck gold. Gold!

We discovered around the corner a small hotel that was across the way from some construction work. This is France, we knew that if they worked during the day out there, we would never be in our room to hear it, we would be out having a cafe au lait and a baguette. We also figured the workers would not start at the crack of dawn like in San Francisco.

After walking in and asking about rooms, we were taken to a small room for the same price of our current hotel room but with an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower!! Similar to the photo. Every night of our stay, we saw the lights go on the Eiffel Tower. It was magical and straight out of the Woody Allen movie, Everyone Says I Love You.

My second visit to the City of Lights was so much more colorful thanks to being there with someone who expected more. It was so much more fun to not settle for less, especially when you are visiting somewhere special like Paris. This trip taught me to problem solve my way out of a situation even when I wasn't remotely fluent in the local language. We save our money to explore new places and see new sights, I learned then to appreciate that effort and not to settle for anything less than a memorable experience.

Editorial note: For my third visit, I will appreciate the "interweb" and likely check out one of these hotels...

March 1, 2010

5 Things To Do in Boston in Winter

Boston "Bah-stan" More Than Chow-dah: I just came back from a cold and snowy week in Boston. There were wonderful highlights and surprises but we also had some disappointments. If I was to give advice to anyone who wants to visit Boston during the winter, it would be these five tips:

  1. Walk through Beacon Hill
  2. Ice Skate on Frog Pond
  3. Skip going into Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market
  4. Grab a drink at Top of the Hub
  5. Take a camera on the 2.5 mile trek along the Freedom Trail

Boston is the sister city to San Francisco which makes me happy but it suffers from similar issues. Faneuil Hall (pronounced "Fan-yule") and Quincy Market on paper are important in history, however today they are full of tourist trinkets made in China and poor food choices. You are better off either ignoring them or just taking a photo of the exterior buildings. Treat yourself with an extra photo next to the giant statue of Revolutionary Patriot Sam Adams, and famous brewmaster.

With the frozen waters around Boston comes the fun activity of outdoor ice skating! Living on the west coast we only see this on occasion, when we have the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. This temporary rink comes from corporate sponsorship. It is a different story in Boston. The Frog Pond at Boston Common, bordering Beacon Street and the Cheers bar, has an ice rink open from November to mid-March. It is only $4 to skate for adults and $8 for skate rentals. You are in America's oldest public park and surrounded by beautiful landscape.

All along Charles Street on Beacon Hill there are great shops and historic architecture. This is the oldest neighborhood in Boston. We found lots of antique shops and cool businesses selling period furniture and fixtures. Gas lamps are still being used, and many townhouses still have iron boot scrappers on the front entryway. It is easy to walk this area without fear of getting lost, most streets lead eventually to a famous landmark it seems. We wound our way through the streets until we came to the State House and its golden dome.

Walking the Freedom Trail in winter can be daunting, between the cold wind and icy temperatures even if you don't have snow falling. You are rewarded by seeing American history up close and personal. Making the 2.5 miles along the red brick trail can be done in winter if you bundle up and plan to stop along the way for something warm to drink.

Finally as a well deserved treat and unique perspective, getting a night cap at the Top of the Hub in the Prudential Center building is a great idea. The food is fine but again reminds me of some of the more dated restaurants in San Francisco that is more hype than substance. You are better off having a drink and soaking up the grand views from every window! You can walk around the entire floor and see the city skyline from end to end. Even in the dark we could see snow covered Fenway Park, just waiting for spring a Red Sox game!

All photos by Sharon Castellanos
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