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Cross Country Travel in China

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Big Red, the Blue Backpack and the Little Lady

What’s big, red and a pain in the neck to lug around an airport? My new suitcase packed to overflowing and full of items that I never used on my first visit to China. For some reason I hadn’t heard the news that China had modernized and that I didn’t need all the medical supplies and food that I had packed, along with other useless and sundry items.

To say that Big Red was an albatross would be a vast understatement. It not only caused me to get lost at airports all the way from Boston to Beijing and beyond, it also cost a bundle in overweight baggage charges. And “Big Red” as I affectionately named it, wasn’t even my only suitcase-I had two or three other, smaller bags, too- which added to my “airport” stress.

THE SAGA OF THE LOST LUGGAGE

My first airport/luggage mishap surprisingly didn’t involve Big Red. Upon arrival in Beijing after a 12-hour flight from San Francisco, I discovered that my blue backpack was not among my travel group’s assorted suitcases, backpacks and duffel bags that had been dumped out onto the baggage carousel. After a lot of hand waving and wrangling with airports officials, I filled out a lost luggage form and expected that would l never see my backpack again. Well, I thought, I still have Big Red.

A few nights later the doorbell on my hotel room door (yes, doorbell) rang at 2AM. My roommate and I both popped up out of a sound sleep.

“Who could that be, ” she said, warily, not too pleased.
“Dunno. I’ll go see.” I replied, without a thought about my blue backpack.

I went to the door and peered out of the peephole. Standing there with a scowl on his face was a fierce looking man who appeared to be demanding, in Chinese, for me to let him in. After relaying the news to my roommate she advised me to tell him to go away, in Chinese.

“Boo Yao”, she grumbled. “Boo Yao, just tell him that.”
Well, Boo Yao (literal translation, “don’t want”) didn’t do the trick so I called our Chinese guide and woke him out of a sound sleep.

“Call the hotel waitress,” he advised. I found this rather puzzling, as I didn’t know how a waitress could help or even how to find one at 2AM. Meanwhile, the man at the door was becoming more insistent. Just as I was about to yell “Boo Yao” for the tenth time, I spied my blue backpack at his feet. So, I opened the door a crack and he shoved it in. Strange how airlines deliver lost luggage these days, I thought.

CURBSIDE CHECK IN

Alas, is was only one of many “baggage blunders.” One of the worst attributes of being the owner of Big Red was the fact that it made me virtually persona non grata to the “Baggage committee” on my month long group tour. I can’t blame my fellow travelers for grimacing when they saw us coming, my bag and me slowly rolling along, lagging behind the group.

The fact that I had to be called out of every ticket line at every airport in China to pay fees for the extra weight didn’t help much either. Talk about carrying extra baggage. The metaphor was a great fit in this (suit) case.

Heaving my bag on and off various tour buses and dragging it around airports across China was also quite a work out. In some airports, I got lucky and one of the men in our group would take pity on me and lend a hand. But at one particular airport in a western province about halfway through our journey, I stood alone, struggling to pull Big Red from the street onto the sidewalk. Big Red was having none of this and wasn’t cooperating at all.

It was a very hot day and sweat was pouring off my face as I saw my group rushing through the airport doors and into the huge crowd within. If they left me behind it wouldn’t have been the first time. Just as I squared my shoulders and began to try to yank Big Red over the curb, a little lady, who looked as if she was at least 80, emerged from the crowd. She was tiny, under five feet tall and less than half my size. But she reached out wordlessly and in one swift move, lifted Big Red over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Before I could thank here, she had disappeared back into the crowd.

A New Trend of Travel in Europe

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Mixing the Known with the Unknown

According to the United States Commerce Department’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, almost thirteen million Americans visited Europe in the last year. This was an increase of four percent from the year before.

However, there is a trend of European travel that is becoming more popular these days. You may start your European trip by visiting well-known landmarks in a certain city, but you will then end your trip by staying somewhere in the countryside.

More and more travelers still appreciate all the aspects of larger cities, but some would really like to see the real, or authentic parts of Europe.

For example, in Italy, there is a program called “agritourismo,” designed so that travelers can stay in a farmhouse already set up for them, as they can become involved in the daily life of making a product such as cheese or wine.

Another example of mixing the known with the unknown is to cross the Amstel River in Amsterdam by ferry and rent a bike. After you have ridden on your bike for about ten minutes you will find yourself in the seventeenth and eighteenth century villages.

More Americans are seeking vacations that will allow them to “experience” more than just view. Some of the more recent and unique treks have been activities like wind surfing in Croatia, hiking the pilgrim’s trail in Spain to see Santiago de Compostela, or even taking a cooking class in Italy.

Even though more United States travelers head to the United Kingdom and France, it seems that Italy is the one country that Americans are wanting to “experience” and learn more about Italy.

In the last year, travel agents booked more trips to Italy than any other Western European destination. More Italian travel guidebooks have been published because of this increase of interest of this country. One such author is Pauline Frommer. She has written a travel guide book titled, “Essential Italy; Rome, Florence, Venice & the Top Spots in Between.”

For those travelers who have already seen and done France, Italy, and Spain, there is Eastern Europe to explore. For example, the number of travelers to Croatia has been on the rise in the past few years. Frommer has also written a travel guidebook for Eastern Europe title, “Eastern Europe.”

The United States dollar will go further in Eastern Europe as compared to Western Europe. However, for those who wish to stay in upscale hotels, there are plenty to accommodate you. Travelers heading east in Europe are calling Eastern Europe “unspoiled.” “A beautiful area with great beaches and great food.”

Travelling Parquet Guell, Palacio Guell and Casa Mila

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International Art Nouveau, emerging from that crossroads of civilizations formed at the close of the 19th century when a modern mentality commenced its opposition to one of the most decisive mutations to human history, had, it goes without saying, its Catalonian version, and there, to develop it to the limit of its lavishness, was the strong and admirably creative personality of Antonio Gaudi.

Antonio Gaudi, born in 1852, soon reigned supreme in this cultural reinaixencia that Catalonia lived at the turn of the century. However what singles the great Catalan artist out among others is not so much the idea that he spearheaded with force and decisions the new tendencies but how he accomplished them. Because with in the new aesthetic canons. That revolutionized the Neo-Classical structures, Gaudi was the preeminent innovator and the most surprising and spectacular guidelines. Although he used unorthodox language and independent from, he achieved the interior goals of Art Nouveau.

Gaudi, the ultimate builder of cathedrals is, in one way, a craftsman of stone which he pulverized, manipulated and twisted to obtain the desirable decorative effects, always ignoring the technical elements of the new industry. Let us not forget that Gaudi-style revolution took place parallel to the industrial revolution which built the interminable black ironwork of the Tower Eiffel that soared upward into the sky of Paris.

Gaudi’s sensitivity and imaginative capacity not only disconnected him from the declining Neo-Classical moulds, but also introduced him into that world of fantastic rationality which he dominated like no one else; he was lord and master of a uniquely personal and unquestionable style.

Besides his studies in philosophy literature and the theory of art history (at that time he was a student of Mila I Fontanals), he also took a great interest in animal and vegetable forms, from which he extracted a great many of his guidelines for symbolism and fantasy.

Although we must look for the most spectacular expression of Gaudi in the high spires crowning the universal temple of the Sangrada Familia, begun in 1883, conforming to the Neo-Gothic lines projected by F. de Villar, the Palacio Guell, the parquet Guell and the Casa Mila are the three architectural examples chosen in 1984 by the UNESCO to best represent Antonio Gaudi’s works on list of National Heritage of Humanity.

The palacio Guell was initiated in 1886. It is a palatial building commissioned by the Guell family. As in all of his works, this assignment by the rich patron of the arts, the industrialist Eusebio Guell, shows the unmistakable mark which entails the intimate hybridization of the architect Gaudi, the engineer Gaudi and the infinite conception of his artistic itineraries. Gaudi would add to his innumerable structural solutions a series of artistic and beautiful details. The great cupola in the central hall of the Palacio Guell, for example, contains circular apertures through which a zenithal and filtered light passes. From the skillful combination of marble and wood delicate chromatic contrasts emerge, fruit of the opaqueness of the stone and the sensation of warmth of the costly woods. And facing it, we see the strength and potency of the iron beams or the fantastic lattice work on the upper storey.

The Parque Guell, or Guell Estate, owing to its extension, its possible heterogeneity, and to its wide open spaces, offered Gaudi an excellent opportunity, for using his vast imagination and expressive liberty. Here the architect, the engineer and the ever supreme artist proliferate in infinity of forms and resources.

For the thirteen years the work lasted (1901-1914), Gaudi displayed this unlimited creative capacity, which, commencing with the aesthetic exaltation of the prosaic was capable of soaring to the highest summits of the imagination and fantasy. Here in full liberty, forms and volumes never find a limit to their exuberance or tire in their dynamic evolution: the dragon on the central staircase, preceding the great Doric peri style supporting the overhead terrace: the college of ceramic pieces that decorate a vast surface of benches and hemicycles with an infinite quantity of colors; the oval pavilions with irregular windows; the cupolas surrounded by battlements set with mosaics; the grandiose Doric temple with 84 columns of fluted shafts and its central polychrome soffit; the veined piers of imbricated stone that support the paths or line them as rosettes. The entire Parque Guell is brilliant synthesis where color, light and a delirious proliferation of form and beauty run riot in the most representative example of Gaudi’s architecture and sculpture.

The Casa Mila, popularly known as the pedrera, is one of the four structures that Gaudi built along Barcelona’s Paseo de Gracia. It was constructed between1906-1910, and is an apartment building. As a whole, the building displays a great number of features characteristic of contemporary architecture; Gaudi was ahead of his time back at the turn of the century.

The building’s exterior vertical projection introduces, with its columnar supports and metal framework, one of the vertebrating elements of contemporary architecture.

The rooftops of the Casa Mila are not merely limited to protecting the building. The chimneys and ventilators, clustered together aesthetically, as if they were strange and fantastic mushrooms, phalli or vegetables, form, in gorgeous and daring surrealistic expressions, a fanciful park where the unrestrained imagination of the Catalan genius seems alive and still going strong.

Colorado: Attractions, Travel and Tourism

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Fun Places to See

The western state of Colorado offers a vast array of things to do and see. Many visit Colorado to go skiing, while others enjoy travelling this beautiful state’s parks and other forms of recreation. There are museums to see, hikes to take, cities to shop and much more. Whatever you choose to do, there is something to do and see for everyone in the state of Colorado.

Visiting Denver

The city of Denver and it’s surrounding areas offer a multitude of attractions and things to see and do. There are a variety of museums which include the Denver Children’s Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Denver zoo is exceptional with a beautiful walking area There are many restaurants which are situated throughout the town with anything from fast food to fine dining.

One place not to miss is the Santa Fe Art District, which features walking areas with fine arts that are displayed throughout the duration of the year. This occurs the first Friday of every month. Visitors can walk around and look at the many galleries while having refreshments and cocktails. The Denver Aquarium is a good choice for a place to see in Denver as well and is fun for adults and children alike. If you are in Denver during the spring or summer, be sure to catch a baseball game at the mile-high city’s Coors Field.

Vail

Vail is one of the most popular places for world class skiing, frequented by people of all ages. The reason for this is that the Vail ski resorts have accommodations for beginners as well as the more advanced skier. Ski instructions are offered for those who are interested in learning or improving their skills.

Vail features a city-wide farmers market in the summer months, where local farmers sell their produce and other products, arts and crafts and even a few thrill rides at fantastic prices. When you visit the area, be sure to take a look around at the vendors to see if there is something that may interest you.

Telluride

Be sure to stop in Telluride as you travel through the state of Colorado. Telluride is a picturesque town, surrounded by mountains with an array of things to do. Check out the Sheridan Opera House which includes the Young People’s Theatre. Take the free gondola from Telluride up to the top of the mountain, take a scenic hike and visit the nature center and gift shop. Afterwards, take the gondola down the other side of the mountain to visit Mountain Village and visit the quaint shops. If you fancy visiting during ski season, go for a run down the slopes.

National Parks

If you have enough time, do a tour of the national parks of Colorado. These include the Rocky Mountains National Park just north of Boulder, the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park in the southwest of Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in south central Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest, and a variety of national sites and landmarks.

Traveling to New York City for the Holidays

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As the holiday season quickly approaches, people across the United States are contemplating how to spend their free time. The most common choice? To go on vacation; to travel far away–escaping whatever responsibilities one might have–and relieving oneself, at least temporarily, of all the stress caused by work.

There are many places for Americans to consider traveling to for vacation. Some choose to tour Europe; tasting the fine wines of Italy and patronizing the luxury shops along the Champs-Élysées in France. Others enjoy lazying the day away digging their toes in warm Hawaiian sands or scuba-diving in the crystal clear waters of Cozumel.

Traveling overseas, however, is hardly the only way Americans choose to vacation. In fact, many Americans like to travel the United States, familiarizing themselves with the states that they have never visited. “Americans like to travel in their own country…we’re like a country of countries. We don’t need to go anywhere,” says Suzanne Cook, Senior vice president of The Travel Industry Association of America. And if there is any U.S. location that is a worthy candidate to provide Americans with the same rich and memorable experiences that overseas locations do, New York City is one of them.

New York City offers an impressive array of entertaining activities. A city decorated with soaring skyscrapers and expressive architecture, sightseeing is an activity that one can spend all day doing, with the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building being popular landmarks to visit. Also, as one of the four traditional fashion capitals of the world, shopping is another activity that visitors can enjoy, coming across many of the same high-end shops that are stretched across the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France.

For those who prefer more relaxed activities, New York City offers those, too. Visiting museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and watching Broadway plays are activities one might consider partaking in while on vacation. A city comprised of various ethnic backgrounds, a person considering vacationing in New York City should also look into the diverse selection of restaurants to dine at, each offering an exotic selection of food that is guaranteed to satisfy one’s palette. If free and laid-back activity is something you seek, strolling along the paths of Central Park is another option offered to those interested.

Despite New York City’s enticing attributes, there are also drawbacks for a vacationist to consider before finalizing plans to visit. New York City is not a tiny city by any stretch of the imagination. According to the United States Census Bureau, New York City has a population of over eight million people, and for a person that is not accustomed to such a populous area, New York City can be a bit overwhelming. Likewise, the hustle and bustle of this fast-paced city might be the exact antithesis of what someone trying to escape work considers relaxing.

An estimate of how much money you would like to spend is also a major factor to consider when traveling to New York. While New York City offers plenty of free activities to participate in, the ones most appealing to vacationists are likely the most expensive ones, too. If spending a significant amount of money (aside from your airfare) is something that you do not wish to do, New York City might not be your ideal vacation spot.

Some other things to consider when traveling to New York during the winter-time, in particular:

Pros

– Outdoor ice skating rinks are open.
– The famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree will be available for viewing.
– Many celebrities appear for Christmas shows and concerts.

Cons

– The average temperature in New York City in December, on average, falls around 32°F or lower.
– Hotel prices are at their peak during the winter holiday.
– Many shops and restaurants will be closed on or around Christmas Day.

New York City is only one U.S. location to consider visiting. Regardless of whether you choose to go to Europe, an exotic island, New York City or as far as your backyard for vacation, do enjoy your free time and leave your responsibilities, at least temporarily, far behind.

Travel Guide to Three of the Best American Cities for Foodies

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The best cities in the United States for food have unique local cuisine, fresh organic produce, access to great local wines, a wide variety of breweries, and of course outstanding food artisans.

There are, of course, many more great food cities than the three I’ve listed. These are my favorite, based on my preferences, and also due to the fact that I’m a West Coast girl.

I’ve traveled throughout the country, but my tastes tend to fall more along the lines of western and coastal styles more than that of the east, southeast, or middle areas of the country. And, of course, I’ve spent more time in the major west coast cities than anywhere else.

San Francisco

Most lists of the best foodie cities include San Francisco, and it’s no wonder. The city by the bay really cannot be beaten for the most exceptional food anywhere in the world, let alone America.

If you’re traveling to San Francisco, one of the best places you can stay for the money is The Edwardian Hotel. It’s a beautiful hotel with a bed-and-breakfast feel and decorated in Victorian period furnishings. It’s also immaculately clean, and centrally located. Rates start as low as $119 per night, and if you’re familiar with most major city’s lodging costs, you know that this is a bargain.

San Francisco is known for a variety of culturally diverse food. The Slow Food movement was founded here, and, of course, it’s famous for wonderfully fresh seafood; dungeness crab in particular. It is also known for all types of Asian cuisine, and even some amazing Italian restaurants. Sourdough bread is also a San Francisco product.

If you’re craving seafood and sourdough, head to Swan Oyster Depot. Here you can dine on the best crab, oysters, and sourdough. This is the best luncheon diner in the city. If you’re looking for a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, head to The Cliff House. The restaurant offers great seafood and a delicious Sunday brunch with heavenly popovers.

For an eclectic taste of modern Asian, visit Namu in the Richmond district, and for an extravagant Italian meal, Acquerello is impeccable.

My tastes buds are watering. I’m from the San Francisco area, and my Great Grandfather built his first home here in the Richmond district in 1905, just a year before the earthquake. It’s still standing. I think the city is not only in my heart, but it’s in my blood.

Portland

Portland, Oregon is known for the saying, “Keep Portland Weird”, and I’m glad that it is. I live just a little over an hour away from this spectacular city. Part of what is weird, is the insane food culture. Here you can find lots of vegan and vegetarian cuisine, local and organic produce, and a full spectrum of everything else, and I mean everything.

On one side you have the super health-nut cuisine, and on the other end you have Voo Doo Doughnuts. Here you can eat a maple bar, with a strip of real bacon on the top, a cocoa puffs or fruit loop doughnut, or the jelly-filled voo doo doll. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there’s always a line.

What I love about Portland is that you can find anything here. Restaurants include the Screen Door, offering southern cuisine with local and organic produce, and Genoa restaurant, focusing on fine Italian cuisine. LePigeon offers exceptional French cuisine, and if you’d prefer a local brewery, there are 97 of them.

Portland has a large number of its residents who offer a free couch or room via Couchsurfing, but if you’d prefer a motel room, the Hilton Double Tree or Embassy Suites are nice upscale choices.

Seattle

I love Seattle. How many cities in the world can you say have spectacular mountains and dazzling water that surrounds the city on almost every side? When the sun comes out in Seattle, it’s as if it was painted in with a brush. Paradise.

The Emerald City is also home to some of the best food in the world. Though it’s always fun to watch the fish-throw at Pikes Place Market, locals know the best place to buy it is right off the boat at the Fisherman’s Terminal. Seattle is also famous as the home of the original Starbuck’s, and nearly 100 wine shops and almost as many breweries.

My favorite restaurant is at Lake Union, Chandler’s Crabhouse, and a restaurant specializing in Pasta Porn is the new Spinasse in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. Seattle also has a good size Polish population, and there are several very good deli’s specializing in Polish sausage. Try George’s Sausage & Deli on First Hill.

Chez Shea is a French restaurant specializing in local Northwest ingredients, and Salumi is a very popular deli in Pioneer Square specializing in artisan cured meats. Seattle is more than just a beautiful view, it’s a great city for foodies.

If you’re looking for a clean, upscale hotel with good value, the Silver Cloud Inn on Lake Union fits the bill like nothing else. For about $110 you can get a room with a view of the Space Needle and the lake, and spend the night on one of the most comfortable beds you’ll ever sleep on.

How to Save Money Traveling to New York City

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Save Money on Hotel and Airfare, Getting Around While There, Food

I just returned from New York City and I saw so much and spent less money than the last time I was there. .

My friend and I had a definite strategy when we planned the trip. First we wanted inexpensive air fares. We plugged in our departure and destination into Hotwire and waited for alerts. Slight flexibility in travel dates and times are of course required. We chose to plan our entire trip during the week instead of weekends. We were able to depart from our local Florida airport instead of a busy hub an hour away. We left early Tuesday morning and arrived at Kennedy airport in NYC by 10:30.. An early departure time allows you to utilize more of the day by arriving early. We were in Manhattan in time for lunch!

Actually getting into Manhattan can be expensive if you take a car service or cab. We chose a city tour bus and the cost was 27.00 ROUND TRIP. Negatives about this mode of transportation include longer wait times and slight hassle getting to and from the bus station at Grand Central. In my opinion it was well worth it and we saved boucoup money by using the bus.

Our second plan was to steer clear of the tourist areas. We decided to look for something in So Ho or Greenwich village which is an area we had explored on our last visit. We settled with a great rate from a business class hotel on William Street which is right off of Wall. We were super impressed with our hotel. The room was quite large with 2 single beds. The linens were of high quality with comfy duvets and our room was immaculate. The staff was professional and the lobby was stocked with gourmet teas, coffees, newspapers and fruit. We drank our coffee there each morning instead of purchasing it while out in the city. Each floor of our hotel had a “watering station” with empty water bottles available to be filled and refilled with ice cold water. We took a few with us each day when we headed out. The bar offered a 2 for 1 happy hour and since we are moderate drinkers, we split a beer and shared an appetizer.

Our day began with a visit to the lobby for our coffee. We packed a to-go insulated cup with top and off we went. Our next stop was the local market for a bagel or custom ordered egg sandwich. Many markets offer breakfast buffets and I found the price to be very reasonable. Drinks such as orange juice or iced tea can be somewhat high. If you can avoid ordering a drink and carry a water bottle you will save money there as well. During the day we saved the most money by avoiding sit down restaurants. The city is teeming with delis and markets with pre-packaged food, fruit, sandwiches, etc. It is fun to buy lunch and then go out and sit somewhere and people watch. Examples of our meals would include take out salad from the salad bar, paninni sandwiches, fruit, soup,
etc. We literally saved 2-3 times the money per meal. It adds up, believe me! There are always tons of places to sit like benches , chairs and random tables. It is less expensive and more fun.

Well of course Manhattan is a huge city and you can’t walk EVERYWHERE in a short amount of time. We chose the subway which we had started to use on our last visit. We purchased a week long unlimited fare ticket for $27.00. It is an unbelievably good deal. We went everywhere including a visit over the river to Brooklyn. If we had paid 2.00 for each individual round trip fare we would have gone broke. You don’t need to use a taxi in New York. The subways are clean and efficient. I will tell you the truth: we haven’t mastered how to read a subway map but we did get where we wanted to go each time; sometimes with an untended side trip; still it is COMPLETELY the only way to maneuver the city.

In summary, our trip was short but packed with activity and I felt like we did not get ripped off. I am well practiced for my next trip to the Big Apple.

How to Eat Great Food on a Budget When Traveling in Mexico

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The country of Mexico has a variety of wonderful foods that may not be well known to those living far from the border. Growing up in Ohio, my family’s knowledge of Mexican food was limited to going to local restaurants and ordering tacos. While spending two years living in the Yucatan region of Mexico, my knowledge of the real food of Mexico grew tremendously. It isn’t necessary to go to five star restaurants to get a great meal because there are amazing cooks just about everywhere. Food was plentiful and cheap, especially if you knew where to look. Here are tips on eating well on a budget, and trying lesser known foods that are definitely worth trying.

Fruit and vegetables

When in Mexico, look for stores labeled, “Fruteria” (fruit store). Here, you will find an impressive selection of produce. A really good fruit that isn’t seen much away from the tropics is called Sapote. To me, this unassuming brown fruit tastes like a combination of peaches and apples. It is sweet and addictive. Sapotes are offered in different sizes, but all are sweet and very nutritious. Also, make sure to have pineapple in Mexico, which is so wonderfully sweet and fresh there. Avocados are delicious just smeared on bread with a little salt. I saw avocados the size of footballs there, and they were fleshy and wonderful in salad.

Tamales, Empanadas and Enchiladas

These favorites are usually easy to find around most towns. In Cancun and Playa del Carmen, there were stands selling them wherever tourists and locals were. Look for stainless steel kettles with lids, with the vendor on a three wheeled cart. You are offered a choice, usually, of different flavors. Different regions may offer a different selection, for example, coastal towns may offer seafood fillings, where inland offerings may be chicken or pork. Allow yourself to be adventurous and try a few kinds, as the food is very cheap this way. My favorite tamales were chicken or mole, beef empanadas and pork enchiladas. The smell of the cooking food is intoxicating, as is the taste. Sauces are offered, such as fresh salsa (made with tomatoes and red ), salsa verde (made with tomatillos, green and hot), and guacamole (made with avocados and lighter green). The cooks work hard to bring you this food. I lived near one, who was up before dawn, working hard in her hut, making the most amazing pastries, then selling them to workers early in the morning. She would set her cart under a big Ceiba tree, and offer fresh squeezed orange juice in baggies, empanadas and enchiladas for only a few pesos each. By mid-morning, after all her offerings were sold she’d drive her cart home and begin chopping mountains of vegetables to prepare food for the next day. Everything was spotlessly clean and fresh. This was the best food, ever.

Mole

Mole is a sauce, comprised of many different ingredients including dark chocolate, plantains, peanuts, sesame seeds, spices and peppers among others. Everything is ground into a rich and amazing concoction that is not sweet as you may expect but savory with a slight hint of sweetness. Mole is served at weddings and special occasions all over Mexico, and there may be regional differences depending on what part of the country you are in. It is usually served over turkey or chicken enchiladas. If you’re lucky, there may be a vendor who sells chicken mole tamales. This special dish is worth trying, and is also good in flour tortillas with queso fresco (a mild, crumbly cheese).

The foods of Mexico are much more diverse than the Tex-Mex you find at fast food chains. Allow yourself to be adventurous while in Mexico, and try some of the local flavors from vendors. We all worry about getting sick from eating unsanitary food, so just make sure the stands you choose to eat from are well maintained and the food is covered. I ate from vendors daily while living in Mexico, saving the fancy restaurants for special occasions. They are wonderful too, but eating at those adds up quickly, if you’re on a budget. Let the locals show you the good stands, ask and they will be happy to tell you of their favorites. It’s a wonderful country so forego the chili and American cheese, and go for the real Mexican fare. You will be amazed at how fresh and wonderful it truly is.

Travel Destination: Goa

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There are many beautiful places with beautiful beaches, but only a few conjures a living image of a distant past as Goa. Situated on the west coast of India, Goa is a melting pot, a place where east marries west, and where two cultures wonderfully emerge as one.

For nearly half a century, Goa was a colony of Portugal. It was only in 1961 that Goa won its independence. The architectures, religion, practices, beliefs and arts the Portuguese are intertwined with Indian culture. You can’t say “Goan” and think only of Hindu culture.

If you look at the map of India, it is shaped like a mountain or a hill with peak at off angle. On the western coast, you will find Goa. It is isolated from the rest of India by the Deccan Plateau and by mountains, cliffs and thick forests. As it was not colonized by Britain, Goa has a different ambiance and cultural reality than the rest of India. In Goa, it’s not unusual to find statues of Catholic saints with posters of Indian gods or goddesses. Catholic faith is still practiced, and you will see many old (often in state of disrepair) Catholic buildings. Goa has a laidback, syrupy ambience especially in the afternoon when people go to their siesta. If the rest of India feels crowded, hop on a train to Goa. There you will find quiet, unrushed atmosphere.

Goa is famous for being a campground of hippies in the 1960s. Hippies with their dreadlocks and their trinkets are still seen in Goa, but not in great number as in the past. Even so, there are still places like Vagator where hippy culture is very much alive. At night, Goa transforms into a different atmosphere as carnivals open. Clubs are alive with revelry and music and dancing. At MS Caravela, visitors play craps, roulette, poker and other casino gambling fun aboard this luxurious cruise ship. It’s not for nothing that Goa has been dubbed “the holiday capital of Asia.”

Another lure of Goa is its coastline. Beaches, particular those in the village of Anjuna, are beautiful. Anjuna was the “hippie capital of Goa” in the 60s ad the 70s. It is also the recognized birthplace of electronic dance music and trance music. Beaches in Goa may not be as breathtaking as beaches say in Hawaii or Thailand. Yet the millions of travelers who make their trip to Goa each year love the ambience — that Old European feeling mixed with exoticism of the east. It is a place where you can truly relax and watch kingfishers at sunset.

Other than beaches, Goa is host to a multitude of cultural and artistic attractions. If you want souvenirs or enjoy haggling for local wares, you can go to Mapusa Market or Anjuna Flea Market. While there, you might even catch snake charmers and band of musicians performing there.

Stroll around Panaji, the state capital, by foot. Panaji became Goa’s capital only in 1843. Before then, the state capital was a place now called Old Goa. In Panaji, you will see Portuguese legacy in the colonial-style villas, pubs and cobbled streets. Some buildings predate colonization. Stop by the Immaculate Conception church, a one-of-a-kind 16th century Baroque church.

Find your way to Old Goa, the trip will be worth it. Old Goa was the state capital until 1843, before the river silted up and the inhabitants driven out by disease. Old Goa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it features grandiosely designed churches and convents. Old Goa is a major draw particularly for Christians. India’s largest church, the St. Catherine Cathedral, Arch of the Viceroys and the Tomb of St. Francis Xavier are some of the most visited spots here.

Travel is not complete without experiencing local cuisine. Goan cuisine is something you won’t find elsewhere. It uniquely combines Hindu cuisine (characterized particularly by love for intense flavors and spices) with Portuguese culinary influences. Being a coastal community, seafood is a staple of Goan cuisine. In any case, you should try their coconut “feni.” This drink has strong aroma and taste. A word of caution: if you are faint of stomach, then try something else instead.

Silverleaf Resorts: Vacation and Travel Option for America’s Middle Class

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Family Fun in a Complete, Affordable Package… With a Few Little Challenges

I hate schmooze. It’s the main reason I hate shopping for cars and avoid those “win a free trip with a visit to Too-Good-To-Be-True Overblown Resorts. I was, therefore, highly reluctant and totally skeptical about the phone call I got and the Silverleaf letter that came in the mail one day a year or so ago. “Free cruise,” it said. “Free vacation in Hawaii or other exotic locations.” Right, I get it.

I’ve been there before. Drive half a day to hear some fast talking salesman in a suit with a sweaty brow throw as much crap about the wonders of a particular place/scheme/offer as he can. Overwhelm you with sweet words and an overblown courtesy that turns the stomach. No thanks.

So what was it that led me to take the family to Silverleaf? We went for nothing more than a reason to get out of the house. I had no illusions about free trips or ridiculous offers. We’d go, we’d smile, we’d say no thank you and then do something the kids enjoyed for the rest of the day. Who would have thought we’d wind up leaving as members?

The hardest part to take with Silverleaf is, still, the schmooze. Salesmen drip happy. Ours bragged about his wonderful and exciting background, making lots of money and working for a major restaurant. I think he was Mafioso out to pasture for something. He was certainly Italian. Even so he was nice enough and what he showed us and said about Silverleaf started to make sense in spite of my skeptical attitude-which I made clear up front.

“Buy a condo,” he said, “and you have access to all this, all the resorts, at any time of the year for day use. You then get a week without charge for a condo in addition to bonus weekends and the option to pay at other times.” Hmm. It was a really nice resort. We got our pitch at The Villages, one of the largest of their resorts. It is spread out over a couple of square miles of property next to Lake Palestine, a reservoir a dozen miles south of Tyler, Texas. The Villages offers more than most resorts including The Waterpark, a massive indoor water recreation facility exclusive to this resort. There are several open pools too and an assortment of outdoor recreation offerings from shuffleboard to playgrounds. I started to like what I saw. The kids were, of course, sold right away.

By the time we made it to the last stage of the pitch, where all the schmoozees and schmoozers gather in a big room with a Let’s Make a Deal atmosphere, I had decided maybe we would see what we could do. The big difference with Silverleaf is that members actually purchase a condo rather than a mere bit of space a few times a year. The deed transfers to children or could be sold. Moreover, ownership meant not only a condo during a particular period (depending upon the purchase) but access to the facilities for day use any time, as I said already. RV spots at resorts that have them, including electric and water, can be used for no additional charge. Finally, owners could exchange a week’s stay at Silverleaf for some other resort most anywhere in the world because of a partnership Silverleaf has with an international resort company.

Having three children, we thought the day use availability was the most attractive part of the deal. There are three resorts within a couple hours of our home. Weekend trips to one or the other could be fun summer alternatives that cost a lot less over all. I liked the RV and camping options, too. So, we let them schooze us.

I noted the type of people at tables nearby. Dress and demeanor definitely spoke of middle class. Though these resorts are billed as exclusive and fancy the company clearly targets people with our income or even lower. Our salesman began to throw figures at us. He told us of the price, the down payment, on and on. It looked good, really, but in the end the offer simply would not fit our budget. We were close to taking our useless vacation papers and leaving-disappointed I might add-when supervisors came to our table to do a bit of gentle arm-twisting. I wasn’t too happy about that. Even so, they scribbled around on paper until at last they offered us an introductory membership. It was not a condo and it was not cheap but it was not too bad of a deal. When we understood the cost of a temporary membership could be applied to a purchase later on, I gave in (and talked my wife into it).

Once we got past the sales pitches and goofy grins and actually showed up as a member at a resort we began to appreciate what our costly membership was worth. We visited The Villages and another resort on Lake Palestine, Lake O’ the Woods (from where I sit writing in an RV slot), two very different places. The Villages is wall to wall people, lots of stuff, and that waterpark (an attraction that members still have to pay a pretty penny for) which draws folks from all over. Lake O’ the Woods is much smaller, much quieter, but much more my style. Like most other resorts it has a playground, pool, mini-golf, and makes board games and other fun stuff available to check out-all included with membership.

We decided to make the day use option pay by traveling around and dropping in during the day but staying in motels at night. This way we get to travel, have fun, and optimize our usage. We took the family to San Antonio, visited the Alamo, then spent the next day at Hill Country Resort on Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. From there we traveled to Houston, stayed in a motel, then spent the next day at Piney Shores on Lake Conroe. The kids had as much fun as they would have had at expensive theme park alternatives in San Antonio and Houston.

Silverleaf has resorts in seven states. Besides six locations in Texas there’s three in Missouri and one each in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maine. Our membership provides us with a week’s stay and bonus weekends besides the day use at the resort we choose. We’re planning on making a trip north to check out Missouri or maybe Illinois resorts. We have already spent a long weekend at Seaside Resort in Galveston. We will be going back there.

Seaside Resort is a very nice place, well kept, with a prominent and very challenging mini-golf course. Mini-golf is not the popular pastime it once was but Silverleaf’s effort to build them is a nice touch. The course at Seaside is pretty amazing. Other than the mini-golf, Seaside was typical of the other resorts. There’s a game room, gift shop with tourist trinkets, shirts and cups, a video arcade, pool, etc.. We checked out some board games and played in the member center. Seaside offers one thing few resorts can: a beach across the street. The resort itself is not beach-side but Silverleaf has a little piece of Galveston beach fixed up for guests with a boardwalk over the dunes and deck recliners scattered about in the sand. The weather was too cold for much water fun, pool or beach, but still we enjoyed our stay.

I haven’t mentioned the condos themselves yet. This is because the condos are not exactly what make the purchase worth it. Even though they are very nice I would feel over-charged if it wasn’t for everything else Silverleaf does to make their resorts family destinations. Still, the condos are extremely nice. All of them are two bedrooms, completely furnished, ready for occupancy. Fully furnished means fully, right down to the dishes in the kitchen. Our stay in Galveston was far less than it would have been if we’d paid for a place near the beach in town. Galveston is, in my opinion, an over-blown and over-priced destination. With Silverleaf, however, a few bags of groceries and sunscreen is about all one has to buy to have several days of fun and sun. We fixed our own meals wanting for nothing in the kitchen and we stayed at the resort. It was one of the best times we’ve ever had in Galveston.

The big difference we noticed with Silverleaf and exclusive hotels we’ve stayed in is that everything is wonderfully provided but not wonderfully plush. Beds were not four-star quality and disposables were also of the same type and quality one might find in a one or two star motel. Those are, of course, minor details. I note them only to emphasize, again, that Silverleaf is focused on middle class comfort, not high-end plush. No doubt their exclusive Ambassador and Chairman offerings are more upscale. Those come with HDTV’s and more expensive furnishings. I rather doubt we’ll be buying into one of them any time soon, however.

From the rustic to the fancy, Silverleaf covers a pretty wide swath of resort offerings. For families like us who love getting out of the house a membership and ownership is worth the cost. This is more true in Central or East Texas than it might be elsewhere unless someone lives right near one of the other resorts. With the cost of gas these days even a trip of a few hundred miles can break a budget, limiting the number of times a resort can be visited and diminishing its value. Still, for those who have kids and like to play, and who are near enough to take regular advantage of a resort, there’s probably a deal to be had.

A few other things about Silverleaf Resorts re worth noting. The folks who work there have always been very courteous. We get quick and helpful responses when we call. The resorts are well maintained, mostly, though some of the recreation facilities could use a bit of work. Every resort has Wi-Fi for free in the lodge or member center. Some of the resorts are remote, however, and cell phones might not work.

I am not a salesman for Silverleaf. In fact, not everything about them is all that grand. One very annoying thing they did was try repeatedly to get us to refer other people to them. Silverleaf offers a cash incentive for getting other people to buy into the resort. I do not, however, believe friends and family should be used for profit. We did not give them a list of people for them to call. They made several calls to the one relative we gave as a reference-whom we said would NOT be interested-before I was able to convince them to knock it off. I understand some people go out as unofficial ambassadors for the resorts and make some nice cash by sending people there. We have not done that. (But hey, if you want a referral I’ll give it, send me an email! Help a fellow out!)

Another thing with the resorts is that lots of people visit them. This will sound somewhat condescending but I must say that some of the folks who buy into the resort or are guests of members are not quite the kind one would want as neighbors. We were hassled on the mini-course by some kids who were there merely to annoy others, or at least that’s what it seemed like. Also, while in Galveston our condo was on the first floor of a three-story building. The family above us had children. The children jumped and stomped, uncontrolled by adults, forcing us to endure their thundering noise. I was forthright enough to complain but they still banged around-though less so than before our call. These are, of course, problems not exclusive to Silverleaf but the high numbers of people at the resorts sometimes and the economic strata Silverleaf targets will lead to such inconveniences on occasion.

Silverleaf Resorts are not very handicap accessible. Some have lots of steps or stairs that are difficult for folks with bum legs or who are in wheel chairs. I would have loved a top floor at Seaside but four flights of stairs was out of the question. My favorite haunt, Lake O’ the Woods, has lots of steps to navigate.

We’ve paid off our membership and intend to use it a great deal this year. I put the RV and camping options to good use as places I escape to and write without the noise and distractions of being at home. There’s fishing opportunities, too, which I enjoy. Lake O’ the Woods has a nice fishing dock. Our four nights in Galveston has paid for a large percentage of our membership since an equivalent stay would have cost near a thousand dollars at anything close to comparable on the island. With any luck we’ll get a deal and buy into a condo when our introductory membership runs out. Whether or not we do, depending on what’s available and our budget, we’ll still be say that Silverleaf is one of the best vacation and recreational options money can buy.

Oh, by the way, the “free cruise” and “free vacation” were just exactly what we’d expected. The cruise was for two and we have five in our family. Nobody could tell us what adding three kids would cost. It required payment of fees we could not squeeze from our budget in time to make the offer work. The “vacation” was a few nights at a resort (of course) in exotic places but travel to them was at our expense. Even though Silverleaf turned out to be a nice surprise after all my summation of their sales pitch and “wonderful offers” was right on! I really did have my gloating cake and get to eat at the resort, too!

My Travels to Grayton Beach, FL

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Best Florida Panhandle Destination

I have been going to Grayton Beach for years. Most people don’t really know about it except people who are very familiar with the Destin, FL panhandle area. Even then, some just pass it by because it is not on the main beach road, Highway 98. But that’s why I like it. Grayton’s an older town as Gulf coast towns go. It’s not as old as Pensacola or Panama City, but it is not in the same category either. Those towns, now cities, had commerce and business centers. Grayton was begun as a small community right on the Gulf of Mexico, about 30 miles east of Destin, Florida. It was and has always been a community of homes and residents and there is no commerce except for Rivard Rentals and maybe one other Real Estate business. Other than the few shops and a couple of restaurants, Grayton is a place to go rent a home, and to relax.

Grayton Beach is a public beach. Anyone can drive into the town and down to the public beach and swim to their heart’s content. You get to this town by travelling east or west down Highway 98 and going south from there on state road 337. When it reaches highway 30A, in about 4 miles, you’ll be at the entrance to the town. Rivard Realty is just on the right past the crossroads. Driving down the narrow roads takes you into Florida somewhat as it used to be, with many of the simple one and two-story cottages from 50 years ago, still there. There has been development. Where in Florida isn’t there any? The last time I was there it hadn’t gotten bad, though. Grayton has some restrictions built into its covenants and they prevent any high-rises. What you see, though, is some houses of three and even four stories that are strictly for rental.

The architecture of even the new taller buildings is very tasteful. I would call it typical Florida style condos–some of it has a Mediterranean touch, but most is very understated and tasteful. All the homes and buildings are painted pale grays or beige and balconies encase almost every one. It’s an overall peaceful, unobtrusive landscape. If there’s a center of town it would have to be the last road that parallels the beach. There you’ll see two restaurants, a few shops under the overhang of balconies, and that’s about it.

http://graytonbeach.com/redbar.html
One of the restaurants everyone goes to is the legendary Red Bar. You can possibly see Cheryl Crow there, or maybe even Jim Carrey. Cheryl owns a home on the west side of town. Their food is really delicious, but what people come for from Destin and all up and down the coast is the wonderful crab cakes. They’re only served on Wednesdays, if that hasn’t changed, but check it out. The crawfish with pasta and the stuffed eggplant are wonderful, but do try to get there when they serve the crab cakes. Take a look at the web site. There are lots of photos to give you an idea of the atmosphere of this place.

People should definitely go to the website for porch-front tours and click on any number of them to get an idea of just what this place looks like and how it may be a lot more appealing than many of the younger communities that truly are commercial.
http://www.emeraldcoasttours.com/grayton-porches.html

Western Lake is on the east edge of Grayton and it’s a saltwater lake with a deep shady overhang of Spanish moss, pine trees and palmettos. Tall grasses line the muddy edge of the lake. It is the place I would most like to live. The tall pines and deep shade along the unpaved road make it seem as if this place is from another century. Even the large homes that have been built along the lake are understated and seem to blend into the foliage and landscape. They mostly have larger lots, too, with a lot of plantings at the edge of the road. This is a wonderful place to walk in the afternoon.

Rental links can be ford on the main web site. We have always liked to rent in late April, before the crowds get to Destin and flood the Highway. This time or in October, rates are less expensive, so I’d try to make reservations in either of these two months. I’d expect a two bedroom cottage or condo to rent for around $900, but it may have gone up in the past two years. Grayton is a good place to get away from crowds, generally, but there will be heavy traffic going to and from other places on the highway in the late spring and summer.

Uniquely Austin, Texas – Travel Destinations Outside the Box!

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Turn Your Austin, Texas Vacation into an Unforgettable Vacation!

Austin is the capital of the Great Lone State, Texas. I had found that the people of Texas are very patriotic about being Texans and had never come across any group of people as greatly proud to being a resident of the state in which they reside. With that said, there are many great and fun things to do that one wouldn’t find themselves doing in other states.

  1. It is a staple in the agenda to go and see the Texas State Capital. You’ll find yourself looking at the marvelous structure longer than you think! The architecture alone is a wonderful site. It is said that when it was being constructed the 15th century Italian Renaissance architecture had a large influence of it being built. Here’s a neat tidbit! The statue on top of the Capital State building of Texas is over 300 feet tall! Also, it is the largest capital in all of the United States. There are free daily tours offered to see the sights to behold within the magnificent piece of work ever erected in the United States.
  2. If you’re ever in Austin, Texas, during the winter holiday season you’ll be in for a wonderful surprise! Everyone loves looking at Christmas lights, but I guarantee that Austin’s ‘˜Trail Of Lights’ will be the best around. Zilker Park is where the Trail Of Lights Festival is held every year. Each year is different so the feeling of a repeat is never present.

One of the amazing pieces of the Trail of Lights is its large Christmas tree of lights. It is constructed of lights wound in such a way that when you’re standing inside the tree and you look up and twirl around it gives the affect of an eye trick. A great man made kaleidoscope of some sort. It is tradition that when sweethearts go there together they are to face each other clasping hands, look up the tree and spin around seven times. After their seven spins they are to make a wish and kiss. There are all year around attractions at Zilker Park but the Trail of Lights, by far, has been my most adored. Go to www.ci.austin.tx.us/zilker to see what is happening when during your vacation time.

  1. An extremely bizarre tourist attraction is the bats. Under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin people will watch from a distance the bats that emerge from under the structure at sunset. They cover the sky and fly around the top of the bridge until every bat member of the family has emerged before they take off to go catch dinner. Different times of the year varies so go here to see the bats schedule: www.austin360.com.
  2. Close to Austin but located west of New Braunfels, Texas is something that is a rarity. There is a place called Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. What’s more, this is no typical ranch, not the typical picture that can be drawn up of cowboys and horses and cattle. In fact, this ranch has over 50 species of animals from around the world. In order to get this unique around-the-world wildlife experience you can take a safari ride in jeeps. It’s the closest thing to a real African safari contained right in the United States. And what better place to capture a taste of the African heat than the heat of Texas? See more and purchase admittance fees at: www.wildliferanchtexas.com.
  3. Looking to kick back in an adult environment with a bit of a classy feeling and surrounded by nature? Try going to a vineyard. There are plenty of them around Austin. Many of the vineyards are within a 90 mile radius of Austin. The Texas Hill Country Vineyards are beautiful wineries that offer tours and wine tasting along with entertainment and eating. At www.texaswinetrail.com you’ll be able to look up a vineyards that best suits your individual wants and needs.
  4. There is something available called Texpert Tours! These people know all the ins and outs and all the facts and oddities of the Austin, Texas area. There are also many other companies that offer such expertise on Texas. You’ll get crazy facts, spooky site tours, and a marvelous history buff on all there is to know. See what is being offered at this site: www.texperttours.com. You won’t be sorry going this route to stir things up and step out of the ordinary.
  5. Right in the heart of Austin is what is well known as 6th Street. 6th Street is a whole slew of nothing but bars and clubs from beginning to end. For those looking to go all out and have that sort of ‘˜partying’ kind of fun then visit 6th Street. Every bar and every club is different. There’s no disappointment. From the basic DJ to starving musicians, stand-up comedians and hopeful bands – this is the place that will never bring disappointment for anyone. Please look at: www.6thstreet.com to find what accommodating entertainment and special offers will be happening on your time of visit!
  6. It may happen that avoiding the hustle and bustle of city life a key factor. If that is the case, then Windy Point Park and Oasis is a must-never-pass-up opportunity. The sunrises and sunsets are always beautiful. It’s an oasis that seems untouched. Windy Point Park and Oasis is based around Lake Travis. It has wonderful hiking trails, wonderful wildlife experiences, and picnic areas. The picnic areas are equipped with picnic tables and grills. This place also offers camping. They have campsites available and are open all year! What’s best, is that unlike usual camping spots – even the usual camping spots by lakes – Windy Point Park and Oasis offer JET SKI rentals and SCUBA DIVING! Take a closer look at: www.windypointpark.com.
  7. Keeping a summer theme could be more ideal depending on what you’re looking for. Well then, how about trying a trip to Hamilton Pool? It is well worth the 30 minute drive just outside of Austin. Hamilton Pool is a massive water hole that had been naturally created through decades and centuries of erosion. It is well hidden by rocky trails and tall trees and lush foliage. It’s whispered well among Texans it’s that it is their best kept secret. The water is sparkling and emerald. An extremely romantic attraction to Hamilton Pool is it’s soft and gorgeous 50 foot drop waterfall. This is definitely a place to fall in love with. Learn more at: www.co.travis.tx.us
  8. Lastly, just drive around! Depending on who you are and what your tastes are there is always something unique that will strike your fancy. There will always be places and hole-in-the-wall attractions and restaurants that will compel you to make a pit stop and take in the experience.

There are always new things to experience in Austin, Texas. It is a diverse place with lots of friendly people. The best explanation of Texas I can ever come up with is how hospitable it is including its residence. I have never had a disappointment yet.

Times Square Hotels Reviews

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Times Square Hotels

Times Square is located at the junction of Seventh Avenue and Broadway, stretching from west 42nd to 47th streets and is a major commercial intersection and neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan in New York City.

It is sometimes referred to as “The Great White Way” or the “Heart of the World”. It is a major center of world’s entertainment industry and a hub of Broadway Theatre. It is known as one of the most visited tourist attractions with over 50 million visitors swarming the pedestrians annually.

If you are planning to visit this magnificent place, here are some of the great hotels where you can stay.

DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel

This is the most top rated placed to stay and is located in the heart of Times Square. All the tourist attraction are literally a few steps away from this hotel. A couple of steps from two subway train stations, and walking distance from McDonalds and Starbucks, this hotel has the best location.

The staff is polite and very hospitable and the rooms are quite comfortable and spacious. They strive to provide top-notch convenience and service to their guests.

New York Marriott Marquis

With incredibly perfect location, comfortable rooms, wonderful staff, an unbelievable gym, a magnificent rooftop bar and restaurant, New York Marriott Marquis is a first-class place to stay with the best food quality and room service.

Moreover, the view from the rooms is breathtakingly beautiful. The staff is welcoming and very cooperative.

Crowne Plaza

Crowne Plaza is the top choice among Times Square hotels. The reception staff is extremely polite and helping. You can literally walk in and get a great room at a very reasonable price in no time.

It is a calm oasis in the heart of New York City’s most vibrant area. All rooms and suites offer a great birds-eye view of the New York City. The hotel’s location is near the major public transportation hubs of Times Square making it very conveniently accessible.

Hotel Edison

With 1930s architecture, newly renovated Hotel Edison is just awesome. Located amidst the energy and excitement of the latest in Broadway Theatres, nightlife, fine dining and shopping, Hotel Edison is within steps of Midtown Manhattan’s premier business and leisure destinations.

It is a very safe and secure hotel with clean, welcoming and well-equipped rooms.

The Pearl Hotel

With helpful and accommodating staff, modern rooms and most adequate services for your perfect stay, The Pearl is a great choice.

The hotel’s location is central to all the places you want to visit and easily accessible on foot.

The Dummies’ Guide to Hotels in Manhattan

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Hotels in Manhattan

“I’ll go back to Manhattan…,” crooned Norah Jones not without a reason because there is no place like Manhattan in the entire world – a city that never seems to sleep. Anyone who travels to the US will not miss a chance to visit Manhattan.

It is the cultural and financial capital of the entire world; home to several conglomerates and media moguls. The real estate here is one of the most expensive in the world. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, Times Square and Central Park are attractions that draw millions of people each year. If you are one of them then you need to know about the top hotels in Manhattan. While in the city where Carrie Bradshaw lived and loved, live like her for a few days – indulgently and with no compromise for the finer things!

1. Four Seasons Hotel New York

This is a sleek, ultra chic five star hotel that offers spectacular views of the Hudson River especially from the top floors. Built in 1993 this 52 storied 208 meters building is nestled between the shopping and business district of Park and Madison Avenue; staying at Four Seasons is an experience by itself.

Towering ceilings, pristine marble flooring and mammoth pillars do not take away the warmth and intimate feeling of the place.

It feels good when the doorman seems to know your name. The hotel offers excellent service and amenities to match, a double room costs around $ 600 sans the taxes and breakfast. There is a complimentary Wi-Fi for two devices which can be topped for additional cost. It is family friendly and has access for disabled guests.

The in-house restaurants offer Asian as well as American cuisine in Ty Lounge and The Garden Restaurant respectively.

To know more about the Four Seasons Hotel here

2. Crosby Street Hotel

Located in Soho this hotel with its brick and glass facade belies the elegant interiors in grey and mauve and wooden floors that gleam. Each of the 86 rooms are one-of-a-kind; the upper floor suites are luxurious and offer spectacular views of the New York Skyline – a sight to remember for eternity.

In addition to the decor, friendly and attentive staff make your stay comfortable; it makes you feel special when the staff greet you by name (is it a New York thing? I don’t know; but loved the feel). When not outdoors you can hot the well equipped gym or snatch a quick movie in the impressive 99 seat cinema.

Be it the perfect English breakfast in the morning, tea in the evening it’s all available here; The Crosby bar in fact serves some of the best cocktails and burgers to quench any hunger pangs that might surface.

Standard double room costs a little over $600; it is pricey but well worth the service and the location. Breakfast is not included.

For bookings click here

3. The Refinery

To experience the gothic charm, one must check out the Refinery which has retained its high ceilings and wooden floors. Vintage furniture and interesting artwork is on display. If you can afford it do not miss staying in a room with a view of the Empire state building.

Located conveniently close to the Grand Station, Times Square and Empire State Building you are well connected with the rest of the city. Museum of Modern art, Rockefeller Center and Observation Deck are also easily accessible.

This 197 room twelve storied hotel exudes charm quite unique to itself; dark hardwood floors, 12 feet ceiling, mosaic tile bathrooms all tell a story of yester years. Though the look is retro all rooms are well equipped with a mini bar, flat screen TVs and iPod docks. 24/7 room service is available too.

The staff is friendly and efficient; the bartenders polite and the front desk has multilingual staff. There is valet parking too though at a fee.
The hotel is disable friendly but might not be too suitable for families with young kids because each evening the lobby quite literally transforms into a party scene.

Book your room now.

4. The Greenwich Hotel

Now this is one of my favorites because it has a mix of the Orient, Morocco and Europe; reminds me that I will always remain a citizen of the world. Owned by the Famed Robert De Niro there is a seamless blending of culture; the carpeted drawing room with a hidden garden, a reminder of Marrakech.

I love the location of this wonderfully welcoming hotel set on Greenwich Street just a walk away from the Hudson River; you can also walk to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum – a stark reality of what our world has come too.

This boutique hotel has bedrooms that are different from each other and unique in their own way. Tibetan silk rugs, morocco tiles, English settees have all been used stylishly to add to the charm of the place. Some rooms come with a private sauna even; high floored rooms have a view of the Hudson River.

The rooms are fitted with WiFi mini bars, flat screen TV and IPhone stations. Some even have a cozy fireplace, reminiscent of good old days.

The highlight of the hotel is the Japanese Spa where you can relax and let all your worries melt away.

Finally, taste Chef Andrew Carmellini’s special Italian dishes like ink linguini with Clams, Pomegranate glazed duck and fire roasted garlic chicken. Their kid friendly brunches are quite popular with the local crowd.

This is an upscale Manhattan hotel and the price reflects it. A double bed costs around $550. For more details click here

5. Andaz Wall Street

This Chic and modern hotel is for those who want some quiet at night and if a pinch of history is added to their stay then it is welcome. Ideally located, the Andaz is close ti all the major attractions in NY – Brooklyn Bridge, ferries to Staten Island and Ellis Island, Central Park, SoHo are all walking distance.

The rooms are spacious and well ventilated with great views. Complementary free local calls, Wi Fi, snacks and non alcoholic beverages are all tiny extras which makes you feel at home. This Lower Manhattan hotel is fashionable with staff wearing designer uniforms and checking you in with an iPad in the lobby itself; truly ultra chic.

The actual show stopper here is the Andaz Spa where guest can get massages, facials and aromatherapy; you can either go the spa or schedule a therapy in your room itself. There is a well equipped fitness centre too where you can work off all your indulgences at the Dina Rata restaurant cum bar. Local craft beer, German brews, mushroom burgers and cocktails galore make this place a local favorite.

For the service, the extra perks and location a double which costs $ 375 is definitely worth; check it out.

6. The NoMad Hotel

Situated in the middle of Broadway in the Flatiron District, this retro style hotel boasts of a 200 year old fireplace, mahogany desks of by gone days and faded Persian rugs that add character to the place. You are close to subways and Madison Square Park is walking distance.

The top floors of this 168 room hotel have great views of the city’s skyline. The tapestry, tiled floors and white walls bring alive European Elegance in this very American hotel.

The staff is friendly and attentive. As regards the food, you can try their knick knacks in the library and the Nomad Bar characterized by a 24 ft long mahogany counter. And when there do not miss the suckling pig apricots arugula and bacon marmalade; absolutely lip-smacking.

Like all hotels in this region a double is price a little over $300. Find out more.

7. The Conrad New York

Finally the best of all, the Conrad with a view of nature amidst this concrete jungle, and that is not the sole reason for its popularity. The art fiend will admire the painting called Loopy Doopy of Sol LeWitt adorning the lobby atrium; the young geek will be glad to use the hotel app and be done with the formality of check in without having to interact with the front desk( why are the present gen so socio-shy?); in fact the app can be used even for room service and wakeup call – I love technology that makes life so simple!

The hotel gets full marks for its location. Planked on one side by the Central Park and the Hudson River it also overlooks the true strength and charm of Manhattan – the skyscrapers that define the New York Skyline. The subway is five minute walk from the Conrad; the 9/11 just is also close by; further down are the ferries to the Staten Island where you can go for a picture with the iconic lady – The Statue of Liberty.

On the style quotient the lobby can be a little cold and lonely especially during day time; though by evening it comes alive. The staff is friendly and quick to respond.

The rooms are spacious but have a business look with the beige carpets, work desk and separate seating area.

The restaurant Atrio is where all the action is; right from 6.30 in the morning to well past midnight you can enjoy the warm ambience and dishes that appeal to your sense of taste and smell. Though the restaurant is Mediterranean, you can enjoy your pizza and steak too.

The price is reasonable for the view and the location at $239. The hotel and all its services are disable-friendly; in fact the hotel also provides assistive listen devices to needy guests. A family friendly hotel which in fact has a package for two adults and two kids which includes breakfast and tickets to the water taxi tour and the Children’s museum for arts; check out all the latest deals here.

Travel Review of John McCarthy’s Lahinch Surf School

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Take a Break from the Pubs and Castles with a Newbie-friendly Surfing Experience on Ireland’s West Coast

If you’re planning a travel route through Ireland, you’ve probably already figured out a lot of the must-visit destinations: you’ll gape in awe at the Cliffs of Moher, try your hand at kissing the Blarney stone and spend hours getting lost in the streets in cities such as Galway, Cork, and Dublin. But you can’t forget the other, less-obvious choices. Take surfing, for instance. With Ireland’s reputation as a rainy, rainy country, you may bulk at the prospect of spending a few hours in its chilly waters, but rest assured that the tiny coast town of Lahinch offers a brilliant surfing experience for seasoned surfers and newcomers alike.

Ireland summers can actually be quite nice, and we were lucky to have a warm (if slightly overcast) day on the morning we headed out for the wave-splashed beach at Lahinch. A number of surf schools and board rental companies operate from the car park along the esplanade, but John McCarthy’s Lahinch Surf School has an inviting, permanent booth with bold red flags marking its location.

I’d never surfed before, shudder at the thought of even standing on a skateboard, and at times even feel wobbly on a bike-still, the cheerful instructors assured me I’d do fine, so I squeezed into a wetsuit, grabbed a board (they use foam boards for safety), and joined the other five in my group to follow the instructor down to the beach (Lahinch Surf School operates with a maximum instructor to student ratio of 8:1).

Before going into the water, the instructor taught us how to properly mount the surfboard, paddle and, when the time is right, get up onto the board-all of which we had to goofily pantomime on the sand. After a few quick safety pointers, we sloshed out into the waist-deep water, slid onto our boards, and started trying-some with more success than others-to catch a wave.

To spare my dignity I won’t go into the exact details of my success to failure ratio, but I will say that I was able, even with my complete lack of coordination, to make it onto the board and ride a wave all the way to shore. The instructor exhibited great patience throughout, at one point even holding my arms as I stood on the board to give me an easier start (“This is a little awkward. I don’t usually do this for guys,” he quipped in his cheerful lilt).

The hour and a half went by all too quickly and I was sad to hear the instructor announce when it was time to catch one last wave. Lahinch Surf School does offer other options if you’re on a longer tour of Ireland and would like a fuller surfing experience, such as weekend classes.

If you’ve ever had even the tiniest inkling of wanting to have a go at surfing and you’re going to be in the area, be sure to stop by Lahinch and visit the Lahinch Surf School-it’s only about 10 minutes from the iconic Cliffs of Moher and the waves are always rolling in.

Hotels in Mahabaleshwar

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Hotels in Mahabaleshwar

Saj Resort

This is a good option for vegetarian people finicky about their food, as it’s a complete Gujarati property.

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Famous Gujarati thali

This resort first earned its reputation for its famous Gujarati thali that’s famous throughout Mahabaleshwar. Even if you don’t stay here, this thali is a must try.

Good transport network

While a little ways away from the main town of Mahabaleshwar, there’s a bus top right outside the main gate which is very convenient.

Hotels in Mahabaleshwar - Saj Resort
Hotels in Mahabaleshwar – Saj Resort

Other features

Puppet show for kids

Room service

Free wifi

Laundry

Restaurant

LCD TV in all rooms

Gym

Customer reviews and scores

409 reviews on TripAdvisor, and a very good score of 4.5 stars. The staff are very courteous and helpful, and will do their best to look after your every need.

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Conclusion

A very reliable option among all hotels in Mahabaleshwar, with a good reputation locally and with regulars. Go there for the Gujarati thali if nothing else.

Citrus Chambers

Hotels in Mahabaleshwar - Citrus Chambers
Hotels in Mahabaleshwar – Citrus Chambers

If looking for a luxury stay but at a more reasonable price, then this is the place for you.

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Convenient location

Very close to Mahabaleshwar market, it’s a five minute walk to the market and a very enjoyable stroll too.

Rides for kids

All the swings and rides are in good condition and very safe for kids to climb. A very family-friendly property.

Other features

Pool

Room service

Free parking

Restaurant

Spa

Laundry

Conference room

Babysitting

Hot tub

Customer reviews and scores

491 reviews on TripAdvisor give a very good score of 4.5 stars. Not prohibitively expensive, and very good value for money.

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Conclusion

A good bargain for luxury hotels in Mahabaleshwar, don’t think twice about taking it up!

Le Meridien Resort & Spa

Hotels in Mahabaleshwar - Le-Méridien-Mahabaleshwar-Resort
Hotels in Mahabaleshwar – Le-Méridien-Mahabaleshwar-Resort

An evidently luxury accommodation, be ready to feel pampered and spoiled during your stay here.

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A heated infinity pool

The greatest asset of this hotel is their beautiful infinity pool that is heated every day. Be sure to bring your swimming costumes with you as you are guaranteed to be spending quite a few hours in there!

Good service

They have kept the original forest area intact, making this a very green resort. The food is universally acknowledged to be quite delicious, and the staff go out of their way to be helpful and courteous.

Other features

Heated infinity pool

Room service

Free parking

Restaurant

Bar

Spa

Free wifi

Gym

Laundry and dry cleaning

Conference room

Customer reviews and scores

170 reviews on TripAdvisor, and an average rating of 4.5 stars. Believe us, every one of the stars is well earned! One negative is the bad cellphone reception, but you can use that time away from your phone bonding with your child in the well endowed kids’ recreation centre!

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Conclusion

A luxury hotel in the truest sense of the word for a pampered experience.

Evershine Keys Resort

Hotels in Mahabaleshwar - Evershine Keys Resort
Hotels in Mahabaleshwar – Evershine Keys Resort

Another good bet in Mahabaleshwar is this resort located very close to the heart of town.

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Convenient location

If you would like to enjoy some serenity but also be able to see the lights and sounds of the marketplace, then Evershine is very convenient for that. It is approximately 1 km from the market, and the drive is easy.

Many activities

They have daily live entertainment organized in the evenings for the benefit of the guests. There’s also a games room with facilities to play badminton, carom, ludo etc.

Other features

Pool

Gym

Room service

Free parking

Restaurant

Bar

Free wifi

Wheelchair access

Spa

Customer reviews and scores

An impressive 728 reviews on TripAdvisor have given this place an average rating of 4.5 stars. Only gripe is that the swimming pool is not temperature controlled, rendering it sort of pointless in a hill station. An insider’s tip is to book a room with a view of the pool for the best views of the sunrise in the morning. Be warned that the monkeys from the surrounding forests can sometimes be a menace. But that’s true for almost all hotels in Mahabaleshwar.

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Conclusion

A clean, comfortable resort, with very high rates of satisfaction reported from the guests. Recommended.

Bella Vista Resort

Hotels in Mahabaleshwar - Bella Vista Resort
Hotels in Mahabaleshwar – Bella Vista Resort

This is the top rated hotel to stay in Mahabaleshwar, and not without reason! A family friendly resort, it’s a perfect place for a self-sufficient weekend getaway.

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Location

Set perched on top of a cliff, this resort guarantees the ambience of a hill station holiday throughout your stay. You can enjoy incredible views of the mountains and the sunset from the front gardens

Nice gestures included in your stay

Dinner every night is promised to be a romantic candle lit fare under a tent and the open night sky. The hotel also organizes day long tours to nearby places of sightseeing. Dinner has live music every night and karaoke sometimes, reported to be wildly entertaining. Overall, an enjoyable experience.

Other features

Free internet

Pool

Room service

Spa

Gym

Free breakfast

Playroom for children

Conference room

Customer reviews and scores

384 reviews on TripAdvisor give the resort an average 4.5 stars. The fact that it’s an alcohol free resort is appreciated by some but not to worry! You can bring your own ammo and enjoy it in your own room. Be warned this resort does not have wheelchair access—an important consideration when travelling with the elderly.

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Conclusion

A very safe option for a beautiful, comfortable stay at Mahabaleshwar. Highly recommended.

Catalonia Reina Victoria Wellness & Spa

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Cheap Hotels Spain - Rusa
Cheap Hotels Spain - Rusa

Overlooking Ronda’s spectacular Tajo Gorge, the renovated Catalonia Reina Victoria Wellness & Spa offers an outdoor pool, a spa, extensive gardens and an à la carte restaurant with panoramic views. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout.

The Victorian-style Catalonia Reina Victoria Wellness & Spa was built in 1906 and fully renovated in summer 2012. It was once the home of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Decorated in a sleek contemporary style, the air-conditioned rooms feature an LCD satellite TV with Canal+, a minibar, safe and modern bathroom with a hairdryer and toiletries. Many rooms have a terrace with views of the gorge.

Available at an extra cost, the spa includes a hydrotherapy pool, a Turkish bath and hydromassage showers. There is also a gym and a relaxation terrace with panoramic views. A range of health and beauty treatments are available.

The Azahar restaurant serves Andalusian and Mediterranean cuisine and offers stunning views of the surroundings. The hotel also features a breakfast room and a café-bar.

The Reina Victoria & Spa is just 500 m from Puente Nuevo Bridge and Ronda Bullring, the oldest in Spain. Ronda Train Station is a 10-minute walk away.

Travel to Orlando on a Budget This Summer

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hotels near Universal Studios, Orlando

A Money-Saving Travel Guide for Orlando

As an Orlando Resident, I know all the ins and outs of the area. I also know what is worth seeing, and what is not. Before heading to Orlando, there are various factors you’ll need to consider. Here is my summer Travel Guide for Orlando:

RESEARCH:

One of the first things that travelers to Orlando should do is research the area and attractions. What you will enjoy seeing and doing will be different from person to person or from family to family.

It depends on the age of the travelers, the exact budget you have in mind, but above all you need to consider your interests and what will be the best investment of your time. There are many touristy type attractions, but there are also a lot of places that locals frequent, places that are inexpensive, fun and memorable.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

There are various options for accommodations in Orlando and the surrounding area. The first is the most obvious-a hotel. Here you have your room cleaned daily and can generally get the closest to the theme parks and specific attractions. Check out the cost per night. Chain hotels will likely be your best option, and you’ll know what to expect.

It’s best to find hotels near Universal Studios, OrlandoMy best suggestion is to use www.hotels.com. The reason they can offer rock-bottom pricing is that they have a pool of all of the hotels with extra rooms available, their job is to fill them, as some money is better than no money for the hotels, so you’ll get a great rate in a known hotel.

You’ll get a list with the pricing, and ratings from previous travelers as well as testimonials. This is great for a single person, a couple or a smaller family. You’ll often get shuttles straight from the hotel to the attraction(s) of your choice.

Option 2 is best for larger families. It is a rental vacation home, typically its best if you are staying for 1 week or more to get the best value. This is a large home with a screened in pool, several spacious bedrooms, large living spaces, with a full kitchen, often game rooms in most of these homes, as well as the overall feel of home.

You park your car in the driveway and walk right in. This really lets the kids be themselves, go wild, and if you are sharing with another family, the cost savings can be huge! These homes are made for up to 2-family sharing. Doing the math on an average cost rental home with 5-6 bedrooms is about $1500. Divide by 7 days and then by the two families. That equals roughly $107 per night per family. This can be much cheaper than a hotel and you have so much more space, can cook your own meals, which saves you money on restaurants and have your very own pool and backyard.

Most of these homes also offer free WiFi internet access, large flat screen TV’s, DVD player for movies, often times offer games like Playstation etc. These are all separate things that you would be paying for in a hotel. The only thing to consider is that someone will not be cleaning your room daily, only upon your departure.

There are also Vacation Rental condos for couples or individuals that want a home-feel but don’t need all the space. Great websites to check out are: http://www.villadirect.com/and http://www.orlandovacation.com and www.VRBO.com which is the Vacation Rentals by Owner website, this is for Orlando but can be used throughout the world too!

RENTAL CARS:

Many people rent cars simply by calling their favorite company and booking that way. That is probably one of the most costly ways of renting a car. I live in Orlando and actually rent cars here all the time. I’ve tried every single rental car company and various sized cars at each one.

I happen to know that thrifty provides the all-around best service and if you ever have a problem, tell them and they will credit your account. Their cars are great models, many mid-size are leather upgrades with all the features. As a matter of fact, it was through renting and comparing their two 2009 Hyundai Sonata models that we were finally convinced to just buy one!

My favorite website though, happens to be the cheapest, but at the time of booking you do not know which company it will be. The company is called www.hotwire.com. They offer very cheap daily and weekly as well as monthly rates. The only catch is you cannot cancel your rental car and get your money back. Once you book it, you cannot get your money back. I have never had to cancel and the service is great!

Always use your own insurance vs. the rental companies’ insurance to save cost, just be sure yours has what theirs offers. There are other options like www.expedia.com which will also give you deals on flights as well. Any of these will allow you to book and then if you like, upgrade later for a small daily rate. I have found that when I book an economy or compact car, they are often out of them, and they usually give me an SUV or mid-size car instead.

If you have a large family with a lot of luggage, that may not be worth the gamble, but you can always upgrade later at the current rate. I would stay away from Enterprise, U-Save and E-Z Rent a car. Their cars are not always in the best shape and they are located a ways from the airport, requiring their complimentary shuttle to get there. Hertz and Thrifty are also off-site.

DINING:

There are many dining options in Orlando, for budgets of all kind. If you are going to splurge, just remember that lunches are always cheaper than dinner. If you can get away with it, go to a buffet late morning, like Golden Corral, or a Denny’s. The pricing is very reasonable with a variety of options for adults and kids alike and if you fill up there during the late morning, it can often carry you throughout the majority of the day, provided you have snacks packed too.

The coupons on-site at the restaurant will give you 10% off. Also, plan to eat at places where kids eat free! This will save you money as well on your total dining. Some great places are listed at these websites:

http://www.orlandoinfo.com/articles/kids-eat-free.cfm

http://www.orlandofuntickets.com/Kids-Eat-Free/

Search online as well for free coupons like buy one, get one free entrees by doing a google search for Orlando restaurant coupons. Cheesecake Factory has large portions and is reasonably priced for the family. If you are eating at a Disney Theme Park, you might be able to get away with sharing one entrée between two people.

The portion sizes are very large and often kid’s meals come with a snack that you can put in your bag and save for them, for later. Try to bring you own drinks at all times, like bottled juice and water. This will save a tremendous amount in restaurants. Buy a case of water from a local grocery store like Publix, or use reusable containers and just refill.

For Dinner, if you want to try something different, dinner shows can be quite affordable. They are a fun show along side of a dinner so you’re getting entertainment too. Here are a couple with special offers like 50% off. At just $24.95 per person visit http://www.alcapones.com/ for their coupon.

Visit http://www.greatorlandodiscounts.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=23_85 for the Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner coupons.

If you are staying at a vacation rental with a kitchen, make use of it as much as you can. This should be the go-to place for breakfast. Use cereal, fruit salads, pancakes, eggs etc.

Fill up on that before heading out for the day. Try to prepare and take your own snacks, stored in Ziploc bags. A little planning at the rental house will save you a lot of money in the end!

ATTRACTIONS:

There are so many wonderful attractions here in Orlando. Obviously Disney, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld are obvious and come to mind. Apart from those, there are many others that are budget-friendly. The beach is always free. If you’re visiting anytime from spring to fall, the beach is a great place to head.

There are several local beaches like Cocoa Beach near Cape Canaveral. Also, St. Augustine (the Nation’s Oldest City) has a great beach and wonderful architecture, like the local shops, the University; it’s just a wonderful place to spend the day. The beaches there are one of my favorites.

Others include New Smyrna beach and Clearwater. Apart from towels, and a cooler of food and some sunscreen, you’re set for a day on the cheap.

Another great thing to do on your Orlando Vacation is to check the NASA site at http://www.nasa.gov/missions/highlights/schedule.html for a schedule of their shuttle and rocket launches. A recommended area to view these is Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral area. The park is clean, has great beach facilities, offers fast food, and has a wonderful view (the best in my opinion) of the launches, and the best part is it’s free!

The park itself has a $7 fee to park and use the facilities, but that very minimal considering some theme park parking is $15 alone! Enjoy a beach day and watch the launch! You can also head over to Kennedy Space Center any day of the week and check out space shuttles first hand. They have a variety of information and activities for kids.

Some fun things to do other than the usual theme parks are head to International Drive and spend the afternoon in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. If you have kids that enjoying skateboarding, they can head to Vans Skate Park which is indoors and they provide all of the equipment for a reasonable fee.

If you are looking for great shopping, Orlando has some nice malls like Mall of Millenia or Festival Bay Mall, but the best place for deals is to go to the Outlets. The three best are: Orlando Premium Outlets, Prime Outlets International, and Pointe Orlando.

For details visit: http://www.internationaldriveorlando.com/thingsToDo/shopping.asp

Visit Lego Land Imagination Center in Buena Vista where kids can not only view large Lego sculptures, but create their own as well. Check it out: http://stores.lego.com/en-us/Orlando/LandingPage.aspx

Orlando has many great golf courses as well. Because it gets so hot, you’ll want to book an early morning tee-time and wear plenty of sunscreen. Instead of listing them all, view this website for more info on public courses: http://www.1stopforgolf.com/golf-courses/usa/florida-golf-courses/orlando-golf-courses/index.htm

Many other ideas include heading to Lake Eola park downtown Orlando and taking a swan ride on the lake, visiting the downtown local shops, vintage and antique stores, and catching a game at the Citrus bowl. You can dine at Cerviche and see free live flamenco dancing Thurs-Sat at 10pm. You can also do a little mini putt at night or head to the Wet ‘n Wild Water Park to keep cool.

Here is one final budget-friendly website, appropriately named Orlando Attractions for any info you may want to peruse: http://www.orlandoattractions.com

Enjoy your Visit to Orlando on a budget this summer!

Five hotels with kitchen gardens

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Five hotels with kitchen gardens. No danger of luminous orange supermarket carrots in these salads.

 

BORGO SANTO PIETRO

NEAR SIENNA, TUSCANY

This renovated 13th-century villa lies in 5ha of grounds, and serves up its own herbs, vegetables, fruit, olives and honey on its restaurant’s seasonal menu. Once a rest stop for pilgrims en route to Rome, today you can pamper yourself at the gorgeous pool and spa.

DOUBLES FROM €335. TEL:+39 0577 751222, WWW.BORGOSANTOPIETRO.COM

BARNSLEY HOUSE

THE COTSWOLDS, ENGLAND

One of Britain’s best spa hotels, Barnsley House is surrounded by beautiful gardens designed by the renowned Rosemary Verey. Among features such as a laburnum walk and lily pond are a potager and substantial kitchen garden, helping chefs prepare an incredible seasonal menu. Look out for events like watercolour painting, and herbal remedy workshops.

DOUBLES FROM £275 (€311), TEL: +44 (0)1285 740000, WWW.BARNSLEYHOUSE.COM

HOTEL HURRICANE

TARIFA, SPAIN

In the event that you are not windsurfing, kayaking, horse riding or mountain biking, then Hotel Hurricane has subtropical gardens that lead right down to the beach through palms and lemon groves. The restaurant uses its own fresh herbs and salad leaves, and staff are even encouraged to grow and bring in their own produce. Now that’s teamwork!

DOUBLES FROM €111. TEL: +34 956 684919, WWW.HOTELHURRICANE.COM

KASBAH AGAFAY

MARRAKESH, MOROCCO

Book a stay at this foodie retreat, set against a backdrop of the Atlas Mountains just 20 minutes from the centre of Marrakesh. The vast grounds are crowned with a cookery school, set in the middle of an organic herb and vegetable garden. Here you can learn how to cook dishes like chicken tagine with local chefs, using ingredients picked straight from the garden.

DOUBLES FROM €480, TEL: +212 (0)524 368600, WWW.KASBAHAGAFAY.COM

CA N’ARABÍ

IBIZA, SPAIN

Agroturismo is the buzzword on the White Island right now, with hotels that respect the environment, and feed your belly as well as your soul. Ca n’Arabí, a former dairy, is one such idyll, surrounded by orange trees that supply your morning glass of juice. Food produced here is organic, and the lush breakfast includes a feast of delicious products from around the estate.

DOUBLES FROM €170, TEL: +34 971 313505, WWW.CANARABI.COM

Five hotels with kitchen gardens

How To Choose The Best Place To Stay In Singapore

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The Best Place To Stay In Singapore

The Best Place To Stay In Singapore

 

Singapore is a tropical island and a major tourist destination in South East Asia. Tourism is a major contributor to the economy of the city-state. There is a plethora of options available for sight-seeing and stay in Singapore which make it a global tourism hotspot. Considering all the options available, finding the best place to stay in Singapore is tough.

Whatever the kind of travel experience you want to have from Singapore, it is very essential to pay importance to the kind of accommodation you are looking at. Also, it is very convenient to have a lowdown of where to stay in Singapore with the mind-boggling options available. Every tourist to Singapore needs to answer a few important questions like

  • What is the holiday budget for accommodation?
  • Which is the most convenient place to stay?
  • What are the amenities like bed and breakfast or pickup and drop from MRTs and airports that are available?
  • What are the other deals that are available with the package?

The holiday budget can of course be decided only by you. The convenient place and area to stay also depends on the tourist attractions that are in your priority list. As for the best deals and amenities on offer, authentic online information can be availed of.

There are plenty of options available from cheap hostel rooms to decent midrange hotels that are more about location than quality and service apartments and luxury digs which spell comfort and convenience. There is no one size that fits all and choices that are suitable for most of your stay requirements are available.

  • Sentosa: The Sentosa island resort is an exciting place to visit and several hotel options are available in and near this island resort. It is a good option to look at if you have children and are willing to loosen your purse strings. The Sentosa island with a lot of attractions like marine world, Universal, Merlion and cable car ride is a good and convenient place to stay what with several hotel options that is a convenient base to luxury pads that exude contemporary elegance. However, the flipside is that getting to the “mainland” from your hotel in Sentosa and vice-versa for a short break from sightseeing can be a real bother unless one is willing to pay for cab rides.
  • Marina Bay: Hotels in this area spell luxury and big money. They include star hotels that reek extravagance and comfort. The infinity pool in Marina Bay Sands just cannot be missed.
  • Orchard Road: Premium hotel options are available in Orchard road shopping area. The stores have so many branches at other parts of the city, only the sheer class, boutique comfort and elegance that many hotels here offer give them a marginal edge over others.
  • Little India, Arab street, China town and Lavender street: These are the places to scout for a budget accommodation. Many places here are more convenient in terms of location and commute rather than comfort and opulence. Budget to boutique accommodations and hostels for flash packers are available in different price ranges and various amenities that they may provide. These areas offer a selection of guesthouses and a good number of upmarket and boutique hotels as well.

There are a few stay options available in the Colonial District and Boat Quay as well.

Choosing the right accommodation in a convenient locality will make exploring Singapore a comfortable and fun experience. Hence, it is best to choose a neighbourhood from where commuting is easy and alsoone that is suitable for your budget.