April 29, 2010

Family Travel - Shopping Day With My Sister

I recently spent a day shopping with my sister. She has a long list of what she can take on her trip in June. Since it is my brother making the list, he has made sure to impress upon her that she should not deviate at all or face his wrath. For reals, whatever. He is older than her by a year, what is he going to do? She can take him anyway, at least I'd bet on that.

Anyway this list has my sister in a tizzy and so we decided to get together and see what we can accomplish. This turned out to be a good thing because she easily got distracted and I tended to refocus her on sale items so she'd stay on budget. She has time and since she lives in a town that sells more Wrangler jeans than packable travel pants, I figured she should head to the big city of San Francisco.

We started at Costco but struck out except for a box of Handi-wipes that she can take instead of liquid Purell which thrilled her. She just learned the 3-1-1 concept from TSA. Then we moved on to REI where we found a great backpack! This is one of my favorite outdoor stores. They have equipment for skiing, hiking, cycling, kayaking, you name it!

Don't tell her I told you, but at the front of the store my sister saw these miniature tents on the walls. She thought they were for dogs! Seriously! I snorted I laughed so hard. These Barbie size tents were just displays, with tags that detailed the available dimensions, how many they could sleep etc. It was a pretty funny moment and a reminder that she is a travel newbie.

At REI we decided to go with the JanSport backpack that had great shoulder straps (with soft silicone gel inserts!) and deep deep pockets. In the main pocket she can fit a pair of shoes, pants and shirt plus her camera and other gear with no trouble at all. It also has three other pockets for spreading out her magazines, hand-wipes and snacks. She can also fit this pack under the seat in front of her on the plane.

Here is a pack similar to what she got:

We didn't find any clothes or shoes for her there but we definitely looked and tried on several for fit and feel. Actually trying on travel style clothes got her excited all over again. It was cute. She loved the idea and feel of the shirts that take little effort to wash and don't wrinkle. She tried on shoes but they only had the hiking shoes which she didn't need.

We moved on to our final destination Nordstrom. They are well known for starting out as a shoe store in Washington State. The service and merchandise is worth checking out. We hit the restroom there and got lucky when we walked out and into the department we were looking for! Encore has their larger sizes for all the major brands including Eileen Fisher. That was a good sign. She loved discovering the Foxcroft brand that include wrinkle free shirts. She got one of these:

My sister wanted to make sure she had comfortable and well fitting clothes if she was going spend the money. We were there two hours. After trying on several style shirts and pants, we hit the jackpot when we found a knit top that she loved on sale. It fit well and Nordstrom had the second neutral color of navy ordered from another store and sent to her house directly. Love that service! So with the Foxcroft shirt and two pants we were almost done.

Before we left for home, we stopped at the lower level to check out the walking shoes. My brother specifically said she cannot wear sneakers. The salesperson put my sister into a pair of Munro shoes, basic black with velcro to make it easy on her. I know she is going to be worn out! This is the pair we decided on:

Aren't they cute? She will test them at work before we decide on the second pair. Besides all the advice, my parting gifts to her included two guidebooks and a map. She is so excited about this trip that she was anxious to get guidebooks that had lots of pictures and tips. They would be her souvenirs and part of the trip planning buildup.

Laminated Streetwise London map (a basic that won't die in your bag or tear)

This 2010 Eyewitness London Guide (she is here the longest so this made sense)

Top 10 Paris Guide (she is here for only a few days, so why not just the highlights?!)

I could have peeled her off my ceiling when we got back to my house and she did a show and tell for my husband. It is hard to imagine that my first time abroad was [gasp!] 25 years ago while still in college.

April 26, 2010

Unexpected Roadtrip: Richmond VA to LA

My 25 year old niece drove herself along with her surprise passenger, from Richmond Virginia along the southern route of the US before dropping her passenger off in Los Angeles. Since this sort of cross country trip is something that I have always wanted to try, I asked her to document her drive.

Her surprise passenger was her brother. He surprised her and everyone else in the family when he took a few days off work and jumped on a plane to make the drive with her. It was sweet and we all were happy that he rode shotgun.

I'm not sure if it is because I grew up in a law enforcement household or what, but I never would have considered taking that drive on my own. However I can tell you many friends of mine from the East Coast and Midwest have driven across country multiple times without any problems.

One of these days though, my plan is to follow Route 66 at least from end to end and document it. Then I could stay at the WigWam Motel in Arizona! Our theme song could be Johnny Cash, I've been everywhere man.

Okay I digress, this post is for my amazing niece and her roadtrip back to California! The Golden State and all of the family welcomes her return! Too bad she is focused on her career in the restaurant industry, these photos aren't bad - take a look along with her comments...

My brother and I stopped at Marlowe's Ribs and Restaurant in Memphis. It's right down the street from Graceland, and had some awesome BBQ.

Crazy snow storm in New Mexico/Arizona! Who knew it snowed in New Mexico/Arizona?! I certainly didn't!

April 22, 2010

Best brick I ever took on vacation

Trying to help my older sister decide what to pack on her first 3-week trip to Europe is tough. Her typical style of travel is getting in her Toyota Rav4 and driving somewhere.

She packs whatever her car will hold. Imagine a messy lumpy jumble - sort of Tetris and the wooden block stacking game Jenga.

I've seen her cram various sizes of tote bags, duffel bags and/or paper bags into the trunk and onto the floor of the car. For me, the worst part is her lack of planning and gasp, lack of a list.

Why do my sister's messy car trips matter? Because they show me where I am starting from with my sister and what she probably still needs to know about travel and packing light. Because you know she will need room for souvenirs. I predict we will have multiple conversations before June about electronics, specifically related to her camera and mobile phone.

My plan is to take her to people who I know can help with her questions. Since I've been a Mac and Apple person for years now, I have no idea what she needs to take for her electronics honestly. My middle brother is the PC geek and Microsoft C++ Programmer whatchamacallit "I stopped listening years ago to you when we were 11" guy.

What I know and care about today is this gem, pictured here. Technically this little square piece of equipment is labeled a power adapter, but everyone I know with any related Apple product that needs one calls it a brick or power brick.

What is magical about this brick is that it eliminates the need to pack a converter. On my last trip I took a small plug adapter for the Continent and for the UK. Both took up exactly three square inches of space in my luggage. Don't you love technology?

Wish me luck with my sister. She may call my brother for help, and that's okay. I plan to show her the benefits to owning an Apple iPhone anyway. She can think about it for her next overseas trip. I'm worried more about getting her to pack properly and to not take too many clothes.

April 20, 2010

Travel Tuesday - Sisterly Advice

My sister is coming to town tomorrow. We have decided to spend the day together trying to figure out what she needs to take with her on her trip to Europe in June, and what she should leave behind.

My sister is much more familiar with driving as the mode of travel for her vacations. She can drive hours and hours without complaining. I bet she loved that road trip Oprah did with Gayle.

My sister rarely flies and has never been out of the country before. On this trip she will be gone for more than two weeks.

She already is worried about what to use for carrying her gear and what the difference is between an adapter and a converter. Her style and needs are such that I bet stores like Sports Basement, REI and Orvis will be more her speed than the trendy Flight 001 in Hayes Valley.

Hopefully she will remember to bring her lists and her electronics. Unfortunately she is not an Apple person, which would make things easier for her but I am sure we can find the right converters and adapters for her camera and phone at Get Lost Travel Books Maps & Gear. They have knowledgeable staff who I know can help us.

It should be an interesting day together. I hope she doesn't get overwhelmed but I will try to inspire her about getting all this first time stuff out of the way. Once she knows what to take for this trip, the next trip will be that much easier.

And I hope she stays excited about the notion that this will be the first of many overseas trips for her. She loves traveling and I do not see why she can't do more world travel that is just for her and not because my brother planned it.

My sister really is smart and clever, she just doesn't always believe it, which is one reason why I plan to give her these resources for next time:

Women's Travel Club

Women Traveling Together

Women's Adventure Travel

I have never used them but groups like these can show her that she isn't alone. There are many like-minded women out there who she can travel with. My sister needs to get out and about. Her kids have grown and it is time she does more for her own enjoyment, and that is where I come in!

April 9, 2010

Missing in Sausalito

This time of year always makes me think of my long departed Aunt Dorothy. She lived across the San Francisco Bay in Sausalito since World War II until she passed away in the 1980s.

My Aunt Dorothy was a great lady who loved, absolutely loved, people. She owned a shop in the Village Mayfair near the Sausalito Harbor. Her tiny shop sold all sorts of items made by local craftsmen. Most of her customers were tourists.

Whenever I would visit with Aunt Dorothy, she loved to tell me about the people she met, where they were from and what they loved about her shop.

Her shop was called The Shoestring. She named it that because it literally was the size of a shoe string. It was very narrow. She also ran it on a shoestring budget. Her father was an shipping executive who got his ten kids and family successfully through the Depression by running a tight household. I think she paid attention and learned from him.

After I graduated college, she shared with me how much the building management had changed at the Village Mayfair. She explained the many changes in ownership and how the new owners cared more about revenue than the quality of merchandise being sold.

My Aunt Dorothy cared a lot about selling items that represented the Bay Area and its creative residents. She loved the notion of how she shared our beautiful landscape with people who didn't live here. I couldn't tell you how often I helped her wrap and send merchandise overseas because her customer couldn't take their purchase on the plane. She loved that part of the sale, as much as making the sale.

I wonder if she had been more mercenary, she would have lasted longer? She had her shop for more than 25 years. Every day you could find her 1955 White Ford T-Bird parked upstairs, covered with business cards of interested buyers. She didn't sell that car, which she had owned from the day she bought it, until the very end of her life.

After her shop was sold, my Aunt Dorothy slowed down. She knew she couldn't drive anymore, so she sold her pride and joy soon after she moved into assisted living. This time of year makes me think of my Aunt Dorothy because this is when I used to visit her.

In April the sun finally comes out more. The temperatures in Sausalito would be climbing so that we could sit outside on a bench together without freezing our legs off. The bay sparkles on sunny days, like it is filled with diamonds. We could sit for long periods of time and just stare at the bay and across the water towards San Francisco. Like most of her sisters, my Aunt Dorothy loved the water.

I love and miss my Aunt Dorothy. She was an independent woman until the end. After her second husband passed away in the 1960s she took care of herself. I admired her. She showed me you could travel, live a good life and be happy without being married. As a teenager and then in college, it comforted me to see her example in action.

Here's to Aunt Dorothy! I still remember her cute Hershey Kiss silver pendant that she loved to wear because of how fun it was, and a conversation piece for customers.

After her passing, my mother asked me if I wanted anything from Aunt Dorothy's belongings. I didn't think of the pendant but it was her sweet sophisticated Mademoiselle doll. The one who kept her company all those years in the store is the only gem I really cared about.


April 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Majesty

Photo: Sharon Castellanos

April 4, 2010

Travel First - Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean

I've been telling you recently that I have a sister and mother who will be leaving the country for the first time and that their trip involves their first passport.

My sister will be buying her first suitcase with wheels, her first TSA lock and she will exchange money for the first time. She will probably eat her real fish and chips and shepherd's pie, maybe even drink her first Guinness.

My mother will be hearing French spoken around her for the first time. She will use a lift for the first time and hear a real Scottish Brogue, maybe even hear a lilt in someone's voice for the first time. I expect she might also have her first real fish and chips as well.

Well since we are family, and I have been sharing their secrets I will contribute my own recent first. Back in November 2009, during a trip to Southern Spain not only did I go to the Rock of Gibraltar and Morocco, North Africa for the first time, I put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

I have been to Spain before but during that visit, even though we stayed at a well-known Barcelona hotel along the harbor, and ate seafood paella at the Marina - I never touched the sea. The other visit included driving through the Pyrénées mountains outside of Barcelona. Not very dramatic travel confessions but I wanted to come clean.

My time in Barcelona was spent focused on all things Antoni Gaudi and Picasso, besides eating my weight in tapas and Serrano ham. The Museu de Picasso in the old city was totally worth my morning. Being music lovers besides loving Gaudi, we toured Palau de la Musica. I spent more than half a day just walking and sitting (it was a hot day) through the famous Park Guell.

Another half day was climbing up/down the stairs of Casa Batlló, with its incredible façade that looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. So I hope you can see why I may have missed thinking about the ocean. Le pido perdón.

April 2, 2010

5 Cheap Souvenirs My Sister Should Consider

My poor sister. I can feel her excitement and exhaustion already. She is going on her first big trip outside of the country soon. Her need to bring back every goofy gift and soon to be covered in dust memento - is palpable. How can I help her? Should I help her?

She is my older sister so she will do what she wants after all is said and done. However, we have had our moments, when she gets that sweet look on her face and she realizes that I, her younger sister, actually knows something important and useful. And is willing to share it, for free. Unlike our childhood when I would have demand money or at least some sort of labor like making me some cookies.

However I am thinking about my sister, like many other folks out there who love bargains, love to shop and love to bring home stuff wherever they visit. How many ballcaps can one person wear? For my travel newbie sister and her two weeks in London, Normandy and Paris, I suggest she look for souvenirs like these:

  1. Dish towel – so often you can find bar towels and other pretty cotton dish towels that are functional besides being a cute keepsake.
  2. Photos – she needs to take tons of all sorts of photos and then there are inexpensive ways to print once she gets home (Costco and Walgreens have lots of bargains)
  3. Baby Shirts – if she must buy a shirt, make it appropriate for one of her two granddaughters. These are tiny clothes that are cute and more affordable, besides being tiny for her suitcase.
  4. Soaps – I know she loves nice smelling soaps for her bathrooms. Easy to find and easy to pack!
  5. Candles – Just like the soap, good smelling candles are easy for her to choose and pack home. Bonus – they will make her suitcase smell good too!
Hopefully she will listen to some of my advice. I don't think she needs another "collectible" doll. The yellowed Princess Diana Barbie from the 80's, stands next to the Spanish Barbie our dad brought home more than a decade ago. I don't think she really needs another t-shirt either considering how many Disney shirts she has where the Tazmanian Devil is climbing out of her chest pocket...but I am only her baby sister, so we'll see once she gets back.

In the meantime, I plan to send her a list of these neat flea and open street markets that she can try and convince my mom, brother and the rest to stop at:

Portobello Market
Camden Markets

Paris, France
Rue Cler
Les Puces (The Fleas)
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