Conde' Nast Contest

One of the more recent issues of Conde' Nast traveler recently announced their 20th anniversary $20,000 Dream Trip Contest.

Upload a memorable travel moment—a photograph you took on your travels and a brief explanation of what you're sharing—to our online contest gallery. Wow the editors and win a $20,000 DREAM TRIP TO ANYWHERE ON EARTH!
Other prizes like digital cameras and noise canceling headphones are awarded on a daily basis. I submitted one of my favorite photographs from our past trip to London. However, it wasn't until I submitted the photograph that I noticed "the small print". If you care about maintaining the rights to your photograph, know that the contest rules include the following clause (all caps is their doing, not mine):
Sponsor shall have the right to edit, adapt, and publish any or all of the Submissions, and may use them in any media without attribution or compensation to the contestant, his or her successors or assigns, or any other entity. ENTERING A SUBMISSION IN THIS CONTEST CONSTITUTES PARTICIPANT'S IRREVOCABLE ASSIGNMENT, CONVEYANCE, AND TRANSFERENCE TO SPONSOR OF ALL RIGHT, TITLE, AND INTEREST IN THE SUBMISSION, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, ALL COPYRIGHTS.
Of course, if you simply want to enjoy the submissions, don't miss out on the contest gallery. There are thousands upon thousands of pictures to browse - some stunning, some not so great.


Denver Trip Report

We just returned from a four day trip to Denver - having left on Friday the 23rd and returned on Monday the 26th.

It must be loooow season for business travelers in Denver. Our hotel, the Denver Marriott Tech Center was barren when we arrived on Friday. The 600+ room hotel had no more than 20 cars in the self-park lot when we checked in. Bellboys scrambled to help us with our minimal luggage as you could tell they were dying for something... anything to do. For the most part, the parking lot was barren until Sunday morning when some high school fashion show was taking place.

We visited Denver - Centennial to be exact - for a quick family trip. We chose the Denver Marriott Tech Center so we would have access to a fitness facility and we could earn some points during our stay. The hotel clearly catered to the business traveler and in particular those who may be taking part in a large company meeting or group convention. Adjacent to the hotel was a large convention center with scores of conference rooms and ballrooms. Our room appeared to have been recently renovated and had plenty of space, a typically comfortable Marriott bed, and a nice view of the Rockies.

Speaking of the Rockies, a storm rolled through Denver on our first night. Of course, the local news made it sounds like Armageddon was upon us but we really only received about 2" of snow. Apparently the plains fared much worse and the weather led to a massive pileup on I-70.

We mostly stayed in Centennial so we don't have too many stories to share. On Saturday, we drove south to the Outlets at Castle Rock to look for a few things. Thanks to last year's weight loss, I found that most of my dress shirts looked more like dresses so stocked up on 6 shirts. We also ran by our favorite outlet store - Fossil. If you like Fossil's products or even dig Diesel, DKNY, Emporio Armani or Zodiac Watches (yes, they're made by Fossil), then definitely visit one of their outlet stores.

Our Sunday jaunt was out to Red Rocks, just west of Morrison and Denver. No, there wasn't a concert taking place but a Sunday drive is worth the effort. Lying in the foothills of the Rockies, Red Rocks offers stunning geological formations. The park is open from 9:00 - 4:00 during the winter months and still offers access to a few hiking trails. A trading post and a visitor center offer a variety of information and assorted souvenirs. An overlook sits at the top of the theather so you can look down and see the concert view as well as a nice vista of Denver. For the most part, we just wanted to get out and get some fresh air so we enjoyed it. We later drove south along the foothills and saw scores of other hiking trails and some pretty massive homes.

Monday was mostly spent hanging out in the area. The weather was gorgeous so it was an ideal time to take a walk to some nearby shops. Otherwise, the day was pretty laid back. We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to hang out in the President's Club at DIA. For some reason, the President's Club closed at 5:30 - a ridiculously early time. Nonetheless, our flight was on schedule so everything went smoothly. However, can someone tell me who the genius was that designed the access to Terminal C baggage claim from Terminal E? Terrible terrible design. Really... someone needs to fix the baggage claim set-up for domestic flights landing at Terminal E.


Cuisine on Houston's Memorial Drive

Houston's Memorial Drive takes a winding serpentine path through some of Houston's most exclusive real estate and across the city's largest and most scenic parks. A vast majority of Memorial Drive is either residential or parkland. However, two stretches of Memorial feature several commercial areas that offer an array of shopping opportunities, like Town & Country Village, as well as some a nice blend of excellent restaurants.

Since this is our backyard, I thought it would be great to share some Memorial Drive restaurants. For the most part, I've stuck with restaurants that are located on Memorial. We'll be traveling east... starting towards the end of Memorial, near Addicks Dam, and making our way towards downtown Houston.

Cafe' Benedicte - 15455 Memorial Drive - A nice mix of Mediterranean dishes from France, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Africa. Their Wine Flight Program is a nice way to try some different wines with your food.

Hungry's Cafe' - 14714 Memorial Drive - After years at Kirkwood, the Memorial location (the other is in Rice Village) moved a bit further west. A great mix of sandwiches, pastas and healthy dishes. Entrees, when taken to go, usually last a couple of meals.

Liebman's - 14529 Memorial Drive - Yes... a great place for food but so much more. Wine, gifts, chocolates and Liebman's own private label items.

Bistro Provence - 13616 Memorial Drive - What a great little French bistro. The food is excellent and the French owners have given the restaurant a wonderful authentic atmosphere. We love sitting at the outdoor tables.

La Vista - 12665 Memorial Drive - The always busy Italian restaurant on Fountainview has a new location in the space formerly occupied by Indika. Be sure to get there early as seating can be hard to come by. Outdoor seats are usually less packed. Oh... it's BYOB.

Empire Turkish Grill - 12448 Memorial Drive - Arguably the best Turkish restaurant in town. Start with healthy appetizers such as shepherd salad or lebni before enjoying a plentiful kebab dish. Great lunch specials and BYOB, as well.

Azzarelli's - 12460 Memorial Drive - Just a few doors down from Empire, Azzarelli's is owned by the chef for the Houston Rockets and has a cozy atmosphere and hearty Italian dishes. Outdoor seats are tucked in a quiet corner of the center. Once again... BYOB.

The Lodge at Bayou Bend - One Birdsall (Just off of Memorial near Memorial Park) - The former Rainbow Lodge is now the Lodge at Bayou Bend. While we haven't been since the Rainbow Lodge room left, the ambiance is surely as enchanting as it was before. Prices are a bit rarefied.

Texadelphia - 5535 Memorial Drive - Yes, it's a local chain but how can you not mention a place that serves great cheesesteaks with mustard blend? Forget that cheese wiz garbage they serve in Philly - Texalphia wins hands down.

Otto's Hamburgers - 5502 Memorial - Haven't eaten anything there but burgers. Yes... it's divey but the burgers remind me of some of the divey places I would frequent in college. Barbeque is served in the back though I've never had it. Insert George Bush likes Otto's reference here.

Bossa - 610 Main Street - OK... this one is a stretch but it is located on the corner of Texas Avenue (Memorial becomes Texas when it hits downtown) and Main Street. I love their seared tuna and their mojitos are legendary.


Feb 25th Amazing Race Results

You can have the Oscars, I'll take the drama in Amazing Race. Rob and Amber continue to be a force. People either love them or hate them - I enjoy watching them play the game and seeing everyone else obsess over them. David and Mary need to stop being so "helpful" and need to focus on the game if they plan on sticking around.


Three Stops in Rome

Rome, as you probably know, is one of my favorite cities in the world. Very few places offer such a vast amount of sites. One would need a lifetime to see everything in this fascinating city. We all know the most famous sites - the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps. You don't need me to clue you in on the obvious. While all those places should be visited, there is so much more to see than the standard tourist stops.

Next time you’re in Rome (whether your first trip or a return trip), try to squeeze in one these three stops while wandering around town. All are easily accessible and are best found by foot:

Piazza Fontanella Borghese – On the other side of the Via Del Corso and just a short walk from the famed shopping streets near the Spanish Steps is Piazza Fontanella Borghese. On the south side of the piazza are several stalls selling antique prints, reproductions, books and other various curiosities. Prints of famous local sights like Piazza Navona or St. Peter’s sell for a premium. For a good value, look for single pages pulled from 17th or 18th century books or other "less desired" prints. Many feature Biblical scenes or architectural drawings from French, Italian or German books. They are quite handsome when framed, inexpensive and make for a unique souvenir or gift. We have several Biblical scenes from the 17th century that we picked up for a song.

Santa Maria Della Concezione – Located on the famed Via Veneto, Santa Maria Della Concezione offers one of the creepiest experiences in Rome. The church itself is small but worth visiting. Yet, located in this capuchin church is a crypt dedicated to the four thousand or so friars who have served the church since the 16th century. Inside the ossuary are thousands upon thousands of bones arranged in arches, columns, ceiling designs and chandeliers. The experience is quite macabre but is truly unforgettable. Be sure to leave a donation with the friar by the door or you will get a dirty look (…and not much else since they’ve taken a vow of silence).

Piazza Margana – I love wandering around the old Jewish ghetto in Rome. The area still looks as it did hundreds of years ago and simply walking in the area will allow you to come across one discovery after another. One of those gems it Piazza Margana, at the end of Via Tor Margana. The piazza, located in the middle of the ghetto, offers a peaceful break from the cars and mopeds of nearby Piazza Venezia. A popular local restaurant, Vinando (called La Taverna Degli Amici the last time we ate there) , is located in the piazza. Call for reservations to reserve a coveted table in the piazza. The romantic setting is incomparable.


The Parking Garage Lied to Me

...and you, as well.

In fact, it turns out that the parking garages at IAH tend to lie all the time. My flight to Richmond was flying out of Terminal B in Houston. Whenever I park at Terminal B, I almost always find a parking spot within a row of the elevator - 8 out of 10 times, that is the case. When I pulled up to the parking garage, the big sign that posts availability said level 2 (the first open level) was full. Knowing those signs tend to "fib", I drove up to level 2 and headed straight towards the first row.

What did I find?

Cut through the grainy and terrible picture and you can spot my car on the left and the elevator about a dozen paces away.

I can't speak for your airport but IAH's signs are notoriously wrong. Don't always believe that the parking levels are full. Whatever system they use is imperfect, to be sure. In fact, one time, attendants were blocking the entrances to the Termical C garage claiming the spots were all taken. I found an open back entrance and, lo and behold, I found several spots open on the first level I tried.


Heading to Richmond, VA

It's 6:08 and I'm passing time at a Continental President's Club while I wait for my flight from Houston to Richmond, VA. One of my most valued clients is in Richmond and I always enjoy going there. Of course, the main reason is because I truly enjoy meeting with this client. Second, there are a couple of things that make traveling into Richmond easier than some other cities.

1. There is a local taxi company named Groome Transportation that has a great set-up with about 30 local hotels in Richmond. Namely, you can take a taxi to your hotel and, rather than scrambling for cash to pay for the taxi, they will place your fare on the hotel bill. That's a smart partnership and the reason I choose them over another company.

2. Richmond International airport has free wireless. Unlike airports like Atlanta Hartsfield and Boston Logan where you can use wireless... for a fee, Richmond makes it available to anyone. Since Richmond doesn't have a President's Club, this makes it easy to get online before flying home

So... that's the upside. I'm going to wrap up as I have a flight to catch. Happy travels!

Amazing Race is Back!

Travel/TV addicts rejoice... Amazing Race is back with Amazing Race All-Stars. If you missed last night's episode or suffered the cruel fate of the 30 minute delay on TiVO or DVR, an episode and video recap is online.

No surprise... Rob and Amber came in first at the Quito, Ecuador pit stop. The leader board is now as follows:


Sunday Travel Round Up

The weather is gorgeous outside and there's a hammock with my name waiting for me. So, this will be a quick post. Here is a quick round-up of travel articles

For the Young of Wallet, There are Hostels - Houston Chronicle - If traveling on a tight budget is your thing, hostels are often a great way to go.

The Fragile Paradise That Tahiti Used to Be - New York Times - There's more to French Polynesia than Tahiti...

Travel Websites Clamp Down on Bogus Reviews - Sydney Morning Herald - Tracking down fake online consumer reviews.

Shanghai Raises the Bar - Sydney Morning Herald - Uncovering the glittering side of Shanghai

We Just Can't Seem to Break Up with Our Flier Programs - The Los Angeles Times - Redeeming miles is not as easy as it used to be

High on Lava Trails - London Telegraph - Trekking through volcanic islands near Sicily

A Mass in the Mosque - London Telegraph - A visit to the fascinating Spanish city of Cordoba

The Sizzle of B.A. - Chicago Tribune - The article begins with, "There's something about this place"... truer words have never been spoken.

Act Fast to Snare a Summer Bargain - Dallas Morning News - Looks like summer travel is on sale

By the way, I started this inside but, you know, I do have a laptop for a reason... so I'm not inside anymore. Maybe the hammock wasn't on my mind when I bought the laptop but the two sure seem to work well together.


Easy Costa Rican Souvenir

In December of 2006, we found ourselves "stranded" (not as drastic as it sounds) at Las Tortugas Hotel on Playa Grande in Costa Rica. It's a long story - one better suited for a completely different blog entry. Suffice it to say that the hotel and its restaurant were a Godsend. Anyway, for lunch I ordered a traditional casado. The dish is typically made up of meat (chicken, beef or fish), rice, black beans, veggies/salad, a local soft cheese and a fried plantain or two. The name, casado or "married", is somewhat of an inside joke as Ticos will tell you that what you see before you is what your wife will cook you for the rest of your married life.

When the waitress brought out our dishes, she handed me a small jar of a greenish brown sauce. I asked her about it and she told me it was Salsa Lizano and that I could put it on the beans. Not one to pass up a new flavor, I put some on the beans and... wow... it was fantastic! How do I describe the flavor? Hmmm... not sure but it's good. In fact, once we got back to Tamarindo, I picked up a couple of bottles at the little market across the street from our hotel. I've since used it at home on broccoli (a vegetable I normally avoid), sauteed veggies and, of course, black beans.

The next time (or the first time) you visit Costa Rica, run by a local market and pick up a couple of bottles - one for yourself and one for a friend. They're inexpensive and a nice reminder of your vacation. Hint: If you don't have any plans to visit CR, you can find them on Amazon.com in all kinds of sizes. I used some this past week on some sauteed veggies - tasted great!


Romance on the Mind

This entry was actually written on February 8th while sitting on a Philadelphia-bound flight. Below, you’ll see why I waited until February 14th to post it online.

I will readily admit that I have much to learn about women and what makes them tick. As any man (and woman) can tell you, discovering what the love of your life considers romantic is a lifelong process. I’m still exploring and discovering but hoping to make inroads in what I consider to be an exciting adventure.

Though I have no evidence to back it up, I believe that gestures that demonstrate that your loved one is on your mind while on a business trip are very romantic. You don’t have to get fancy – just creative. Something as simple as a postcard with a love note mailed from the airport will do (keep stamps in your “travel stash”). Of course, you can pick something up that speaks of the place you just visited. Why not pick up a little memento like a special bottle of wine in San Francisco or a salsa CD in Miami? Sure, you can find those items back at home but do they express the same emotion?

A couple of other ideas…
  • Take a look around while passing through the airport. You might run across some new shops or even some that might fill a last minute gift need. Case in point: Having nearly finished shopping for my wife for Valentine’s Day, there was one more gift I wanted to get her – a specific ring from Swatch’s Bijoux line called “Love Explosion”. I tried to order a red one online but could only find it in a size 5. Having previously seen a Swatch store in Terminal E at Intercontinental Airport, I checked in early for my flight and then walked from Terminal C to the store. Within 3 minutes of entering, I left with a size 7 “Love Explosion” ring in my carry-on.
  • Make your loved one a romantic playlist that they can listen to on their mp3 player while you’re out of town. Napster, iTunes and other downloading services all allow you to put together the mix that expresses your own thoughts and feelings. The list that makes me think of my wife includes songs like With These Hands by Les McCann, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To by Helen Merrill and Clifford Brown and I’ve Got a Crush on You by Bill Gordon and Oscar Peterson.
Why not share some of your own ideas on this Valentine’s Day?


Step into a Hot Buenos Aires Shop

I hate to spill the beans on a secret shop but, well, Conde Naste let the cat out of the bag in 2005 so here goes...

My wife loves to shop and she adores shoes. That's why a fashionista like her finds a place like Josefina Ferroni, located in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires, to be a dream come true. Josefina Ferroni is a shoe designer who does something a bit different. Rather than mass-producing shoes, Ferroni designs a shoe and then only produces 15 pairs. That's right, a total of 15 pairs. Once they're gone, they're gone. Ferroni keeps getting press as she was once again in Conde Naste in a February 2007 article on Buenos Aires.

We're on their e-mail list since we visited the store at Armenia 1471. Apparently Ferroni is having a sale from February 14-17. On the off chance you won't be in Buenos Aires (don't we all wish we could be), send them an e-mail or visit their web page. Exclusive shoes can be had for around $100.00 a pair.

Three Great Travel Sites

One of my customers, Jason Lee, is a road warrior... if he's not in his office, he's probably flying cross-country, training team members to be better at what they do. He shared a couple of web pages with me that I thought were terrific.

The first site, Seat Guru, is one that I've used before and definitely recommend. I've found that this site is particularly useful when you're planning a long-haul flight or dealing with an "unknown" carrier... let's say someone like Asiana. We used it last year when planning our second trip to Buenos Aires. Given the ten hour flight, we wanted to score some good seats. In essence, the page provides diagrams of plane layouts and offers detailed information, by airline, of the best and worst seats. Seat Guru can help you avoid the dreaded 29E.

The second site is FlightAware. I'm still getting my arms around this site but it looks like it offers real-time insight into true flight status. Gate agents will often tell you that a flight is "scheduled" to be on time. This site offers the most detailed flight status information you can find. It's actually really cool and has some great illustrations on flights, airports, etc. It also includes trip alerts and other tools. It might take a while to get used to it but I suspect I'll need to use it on a future business trip.

On a related note, we had a great experience working with Travel Ideas the last time we went to Argentina. Our local agent, Hernan Federella set us up with a great package from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. We ended up staying for three nights at the Design Suites in Bariloche. I'll have to post more about the hotel later. The agency can help with tours all over Argentina to places like Mendoza, Bariloche, El Calafate, Ushuaia or Igauazu. Of course, you can call Hernan at (54) 2944 424659.


La Dolce Vita in Houston

One of the best things about travel (and perhaps the worst, depending on your eating habits and choices) is the food. Just a little effort can allow you to come across some wonderful restaurants in your travels. Over time, I hope to share a few with you that we’ve enjoyed and, with this entry, I’ll share one in our own backyard - Houston.

That restaurant is Dolce Vita, located in a two-story house at 500 Westheimer. This “pizzeria” is anything but a fast food joint but more of a typical pizzeria you might find in Italy. No overloaded pizza with pineapples or canadian bacon. Rather, pizzas made in wood-burning ovens that are deliciously thin and crisp. Options include standards like margherita, quattro staggioni or even a Taleggio pizza drizzled with truffle oil. You’ll recognize the truffle’s intoxicating aroma when it is being served nearby - either you'll love it or hate it. Of course, the menu features more than just pizza but I couldn’t tell you a thing about their other dishes – we’ve only had the pizza and some tasty suppli like the ones found in a neighborhood tavola calda. My grandmother would make suppli but hers were with mortadella and without sauce.

The restaurant is terribly popular so plan accordingly. We've sat upstairs in the house as well as outside on a beautiful night. If you can, nab a spot on the patio. Since space is very limited, the restaurant offers complimentary valet parking. Otherwise, you’ll have to find a spot on a nearby street (not recommended). To the left of Dolce Vita is the recently-built Indika, a wonderful fusion Indian restaurant that once was walking distance from our house (our loss is the Montrose area’s gain).

On an completely unrelated note...

While flying back from Philadelphia on Friday, I spotted an article in USA Today called Valentine's Day:50 Dates in 50 States. See if you can use it to get some fresh ideas. Admittedly, their idea of taking a surfing lesson together at Waimea bay kind of cracked me up. Ever seen the waves at Waimea? Try getting past the shorebreak... (total tangent)


"Chilling" out in PA

The landscape for much of today’s flight looked like an endless swath of crinkled paper – low hills dusted with sugary snow. Was I about to encounter snow on my trip? Perhaps a bit of ice ? Yet, it was sunny outside my plane’s window? Indeed, the view didn't look too bad particularly since I'd finally been upgraded to first class for the first time in so long. I don't "taste" first class as much as I used to when I was Platinum Elite. Well, the weather isn't too bad although the wind has been pretty steady. It made for a very nerve-wracking landing... that's for sure. One ground crew worker at PHL was dancing around like he was auditioning for the cast of Riverdance.

Earlier today I met with two clients in Philadelphia before heading up 476 to Lehigh Valley. Unlike my previous business trip, I took a reasonably timed flight that left Houston at 8:40 AM and arrived in Philly at 1:00 PM. I didn’t have time to go to the President’s Club as there was something I needed to pick up in Terminal E (more on that in one week). The snow has been a non-factor... mostly a dusting here and there with perhaps a bit more as I drove north.

Today's meetings were in Blue Bell (apparently Money Magazine's #14 on the 100 Best Places to Live in the U.S.) and Lansdale, PA. Driving through the area reminded me how much the area is literally brimming with history. The Blue Bell Inn, for example, passed on Skippack Road as I headed towards Lansdale from Blue Bell , predated the Revolutionary War. Rolling hills flanked 476 on the way to my hotel. The area, admittedly, is relatively unknown to me. I'd like to eventually explore the northeast and see some of the towns and historical sites that forged this country.

So, now I'm at my hotel Breiningsville, just north of Trexlertown (due east of Allentown). Outside, the temperature is a balmy 16 degrees. I had dinner at a nearby chain, Damon's Grill where the food was just OK - I'll leave it at that. If anything, I finally put something in my stomach after a day when meals mostly fell by the wayside. Most of my day's nutrition came from two South Beach meal repalcement bars, wisely stuck in my briefcase in case my schedule was tight. After dinner, I hit the fitness center (frigid) for some time on the EFX before running the stairs.

Tomorrow I have two more meetings and expect to be back on the road to Philadelphia by 11:15. Boarding pass in hand, I should be able to make my flight with plenty of time to spare.


Reviewing City Walks: London

My wife gave me a box of the City Walks: London cards this past Christmas as we had planned a New Year’s Eve trip to London. Rather than constantly carrying around a guide everywhere we went, we opted to occasionally try out some of the cards as I'd heard they offered some good insight into different areas of town. The cards are packaged in a handy little box that includes 50 cards and a fold-out map with a broader idea of each walk's location. They're conveniently sized and easily fit in a coat pocket or, if you don't mind if they get messed up, in the back pocket of your pants.

We had much on our plate and only so many days in London so we only had a chance to use two of these cards – one was walk #38 through Notting Hill to Holland Park and the other was walk #39 to Portobello Market (the two cards you see me holding above). We used both back-to-back as one big walk, first touring Portobello Road and then Holland Park. The Portobello Road walk provided some insight on some of the shops and houses that we were passing. That particular walk would have been more pleasurable had the crowd been less overwhelming. Apparently, it’s usually quite busy on Saturday mornings - no surprise there so maybe its shame on us. The second walk was a real treat. It took us through some lovely neighborhoods (I particularly enjoyed our stroll from Hillsleigh Road up to Aubrey Walk) and to Holland Park, the former grounds of Lord Holland.

The cards were convenient and included small maps on one side and details on the other. While the maps were relatively accurate, I found that using a secondary map made it easier to walk around as not all the streets were marked. Personally, I used The London Mapguide by Michael Middleditch. I referred to it countless times during our London stay. While not the most portable size, it offers an outstanding level of detail and markings for restaurants, pubs, hotels, shops and other points of interest.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend using the London Walks cards on your next trip. Of course, they also come in other "flavors" such as Rome, Paris, New York, Boston and Amsterdam. We have the Paris set but have yet to put them to use. In good time...


Our Visit to the Frey House in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is known for having an unbelievable amount of great architecture in a small, concentrated area. This desert hideaway, once known as a second playground for the stars, has undergone a remarkable resurgence. Architecture and design aficionados have descended on the Coachella Valley to restore scores of amazing houses and commercial buildings. Those enamored with nature find the time to visit jewels like Joshua Tree National Park or the nearby Indian Canyons. Architecturally, among the area's highlights are the Richard Neutra's iconic Kaufmann House (restored by Marmol Radziner), hundreds of Alexander Homes, Earle Webster and Adrian Wilson's Ship of the Desert and John Lautner's Desert Hot Springs Motel.

Yet, perhaps the architect most frequently associated with Palm Springs is Albert Frey, a Swiss architect who moved to Palm Springs in 1939. Frey's masterpieces can be found all over town - the Palm Springs City Hall, the unmistakable Tramway Gas Station (now converted to a visitor's center), the Raymond Loewy House, the Movie Colony Hotel, the abandoned North Shore Yacht Club (on the Salton Sea) and, of course, his own house. His first house, often referred to as Frey I, is long gone. However, Frey II still stands proudly in a privileged spot on Tahquitz Canyon Way - a lone sentinel overlooking the town of Palm Springs and the sprawling Coachella Valley.

Small by "modern standards" the house stood as Frey's second residence until his death in 1998. The house was left by Frey to the Palm Springs Art Museum and is closed to the public. As one of the co-founders of Houston Mod, an organization dedicated to preserving mid-century modern architecture in Houston, my wife and I were able to take a private tour of the fascinating little house during a 2004 return trip to Palm Springs.

After paying for our admission fee to the museum, we met up with a local docent. We followed his car past a security gate at the entrance to Tahquitz Canyon Way and up to the very end of the road and the house. To the untrained eye, the house may not look like much from the outside but it truly is a little work of art. Touring really gave us some insight into architecture that was a) functional for the desert and b) compact but efficient. The exterior of the house is a blend of concrete, corrugated metal. cinder block and glass. Noticeable even when seen from the valley floor is how the house literally hugs the side of the mountain. Frey really made it a point to use the surroundings when building the house as it is well known for a large boulder that is integrated into the house. This boulder protrudes inside the residence and actually looms over the house's lone bed.

The house itself is very functional and, in may ways, quite spartan. You can tell that it was built to suit Frey's needs - it had everything he required to live a comfortable life in the desert (excluding air conditioning). Vast expanses of glass walls allow mostly uninterrupted views of the outdoor pool and the valley below. One can just imagine what it must have been like to sit outside and stare at the twinkling lights in both above and below. Built-in furniture tends to be angular and functionally blends from one piece to the other - two sofas back up to the bed and serve as the headboard while a split-level counter rises above the larger sofa. The house also includes a small galley-style kitchen (with many of the original flatware, etc.) a bathroom and a back office. Walls are covered with wood paneling and the floors are cool concrete - essential for the warm desert climate.

And then there was the pool - the sparking blue pool that Frey so often enjoyed. The perimeter is surrounded by a cinder block railing that protects one from falling onto the driveway below. Adjacent are built-in seats, contoured to the body - similar to Frey I (Frey was often photographed enjoying these seats in his pool). Of course, the desert landscaping take precedence - no manicured bushes or closely cut grass. The deserts takes over where the house ends. But the view - the view is spectacular. Just imagine what it must have looked like back when Palm Springs was in its nascent stages and the daytime sky was free from haze.

Frey built himself a perfect little pied-a-terre. While the house is normally closed to the public, keep an eye out for special events that might allow for tours. The house was available for guided viewing during the 2006 Palm Springs Modernism Show and may once again be open. We really enjoyed the tour - despite arriving in Palm Springs around 3:00 AM the night before, it was a great way to start the morning of our third trip.

For more information on Albert Frey, check out Albert Frey: Architect. To gain more insight on the houses he built for himself, Albert Frey Houses 1 + 2 is a must.


Sunday Travel Round Up

Here is a Sunday round up of some of the travel articles published across the country in Sunday travel sections:

Making the Most of Those Long Argentine Nights - New York Times - Sometimes I wish the papers were keep their lid on this South American jewel. Then again, I don't.

The 10 Great Truths About Travel - Arthur Frommer (syndicated) - Some great tips here. Some are obvious but are often overlooked.

Deconstructing Non-Refundable Tickets - Chicago Tribune - This is a good article that provides insight on non-refundable tickets with airline-by-airline policies.

British Airways Slashes Fares - London Telegraph - Looks like now might be a good time to plan a trip using BA.

Easter Island: a Chilling Parable of Forman's Excess - Denver Post - An article detailing this writer's first visit to Easter Island and its famous statues.

Small Resorts Cater to Skiers with Modest Budgets - Dallas Morning News - An article on small Colorado resorts including, my favorite, Arapahoe Basin.

New Zealand in High Summer Realm of 'Lord of the Rains' - Pittsburgh Post Gazette - Coping with a rainy visit to New Zealand.

Pick a Romantic Destination for this Valentine's - Atlanta Journal Constitution - Sometimes the best gift can be a little getaway.

India's Thar Desert: From Camel Caravans to a Fortress City - Seattle Times - A visit to an 850 year-old fortress.

'Next Cancun' Taking Shape on Pristine Nayarit Shores - San Francisco Chronicle - Following the success of tourist-fueled towns like Cancun, Ixtapa and Huatulco, FONATUR gets to work on another resort.


Deceive the Thieves

Tired of hearing stories of gypsies pilfering wallets on the metro in Rome or near the Eiffel Tower? Try some slight of hand. These travel wallets really cracked me up when I spotted them on Pure Modern's web page. They're "camouflaged" travel wallets made out of Tyvek and designed to look like an air mail envelope, a folded up dot matrix print-out, a folded newspaper or fake leather (not sure I get or dig this one). Anyway, check them out- they're pretty amusing.


Flyin' in Costa Rica (Part I)


Upside Down

The Butterfly (!?)

No, they're not abdominal exercises. At the Congo Trail Canopy Tour near Artola in Costa Rica, these are ways you can ride the zip lines. If your first experience with a canopy tour was in the U.S., riding a zip line upside down might be a bit unnerving, if not disorienting. We tried not to look too hard at the safety standards (no helmets and... yeah, that platform has a bit too much electrical tape) but still had a great time. The entire experience is worthy of a much longer post (that will be part II) but the following quick videos show the butterfly (my wife) and upside down (me) in action.