Handy Dandy Random Italian Phrases and Words

So you're going to Italy... don't you wish you had a whole arsenal of completely random Italian words and phrases that you could use at your whim? Sure, anyone can teach you "Chi ha pigliato il mio portafoglio!?" or "Who stole my wallet!?" but how many people are going to teach you, "Diego e' un rompiscatole!" or "Diego is a real pain..." (lit. translation is that he is a box-breaker).

That being said, here are some random phrases and words that you may or may not have a chance to use.

Ho calpestato una cacca - I stepped in some poo (considered to be good luck in Italy... but not when you're wearing shoes with treads)

Questo antipasto misto e' buonissimo! - This mixed appetizer plate tastes great (a typical antipasto misto might have prosciutto, sauteed veggies, olives, etc.)

Lasciami stare! - Leave me alone! (handy when being pestered by gypsies)

Che noia!? - What a drag/bore!

Salve, Giulia. - Hi, Giulia. (Salve is not the typical "ciao" you learn in phrase books but you'll here it in Rome and other towns... more of a local way to say hello)

La banca non e' aperta - The bank is not open (...and if it is open, a line only two people deep will take 1/2 hour)

Che fregatura - What a rip off! (fregare is "to cheat" but can also used in other ways like...)

Che mi frega - What do I care (though it's not as polite as it sounds in English. maybe you should stick to...)

Non m'importa - It doesn't matter to/It's not important to me (ahhh... that's nicer)

Andiamo a spasso - Let's go take a little walk (particulary useful on evenings when you see a lot of people enjoying a walk around the neighborhood after a long day at work)

Questo telefonino e' scaricato - This cell phone is dead (As in no longer charged. Italians looove their cell phones... expect to see plenty)

Non c'e' niente da fare - There's nothing to do (If you can't find something to do in Italy, you're not looking hard enough)

Mi piace acqua liscia / acqua frizzante - I like still water / sparkling water (Bottled water is standard when eating in Italy - most Italians like their water sparkling)

Che freddo! - What cold!/It's cold! (Italians seem to be paranoid about catching a little cold and are notorious for bundling up. If you have an Italian relative, they've probably pestered you about putting on a jacket when you just don't need one. They'll prod you to wear...)

Cappotto / Sciarpa / Guanti / Golfino - Coat / Scarf / Gloves / Sweater

Ma fa caldo! - But it's warm (...and that might be your response)

Sei ingrassato - You've gotten fat (If you have, they'll let you know. Of course, once you lose weight, like I did, then you get...)

Adesso sei troppo magro - Now you're too skinny (There's no middle ground, is there? That's when you can use... "lasciami stare")


The Glass Wall in Houston

Just wanted to post a quick review of a local restaurant we visited with some friends last week. Now, I'm no restaurant critic, per se, but can offer up my opinion on what I enjoyed and can tell you that I'm not the only person who likes The Glass Wall. Located at 933 Studewood in the Heights, the surfer-themed restaurant offers a small but well put-together menu of tasty dishes that seemed to fit our varied tastes.

The Good:

  • Great atmosphere - I really liked the surfer-themed approach... very subtle but by no means overwhelming or tacky.
  • The food was great, albeit a little on the pricey side. As a starter, my wife and I had the night's special - a delicious stuffed tomato - light and tasty. For the main course, she had the rainbow trout and I had the tuna mignon. My tuna was a bit more cooked than I would have preferred but still excellent and the blood orange basil salad was original and tangy - you don't often see blood oranges on Houston menus (though you will in our house). For dessert, we had the pineapple carrot cake - an excellent suggestion from the waitress.
  • Valet - Since the restaurant gets packed, the valet is a must. It's free and they're pretty speedy.

The Bad:
  • The dining room can get a bit noisy but that just goes with the territory when visiting a popular restaurant. Case in point: Gravitas - great restaurant, vibrant scene, excellent food but L-O-U-D. Really, that's not a big deal unless you really want a quiet candlelit dinner.
  • While our waitress mostly did a good job, she had a really tough time figuring out how to split our bill. Everything was straightened out but it just took longer than it should have. Also, while we dug the "bread waiter" idea, getting him to our table was like pulling teeth.
If you visit, be sure to go with a reservation. Otherwise, you'll probably be out of luck.


Dining in Tamarindo

The surfer town of Tamarindo has changed over the years. The influx of expats has brought a whole host of dining options to the town. Here are some of the restaurants that we visited in Tamarindo:

El Jardin Del Eden - Wonderful outdoor atmosphere overlooking tropical gardens and very good food. We would consider this hotel next time as the pool/gardens were gorgeous.

Lazy Wave Cafe - Reminescent of an Asian or Moroccan hideaway. Outstanding seafood with an exotic twist. Some seats are traditional dining tables while others are couches and low chairs in a red-tinged outdoor dining area (see above). The restaurant and the Delice Del Mar is highly recommended.

Nogui's - A good beachside restaurant on the circle. I'm not quite sure I see why so many people fall all over themselves for this place.

Nibbana - Probably my favorite restaurant in Tamarindo. The restaurant had an Asian feel - we sat under a large polynesian style covering. Outstanding pork loin and the tuna tartare was delicious!

El Coconut - An expensive but elgant restaurant. Norwegian-run and a good choice for a fancier dinner. Prices are far from Costa Rican.

Kahiki - Very cool tiki-themed bar with a good local vibe and tasty mojitos. Located next to the Iguana Surf shop.

Pasatiempo Hotel and Bar - Good if you're looking for an American-style hangout - a total gringo place. More of a party place than anything else.

Panaderia de Paris - French-run bakery attached to Laguna del Cocodrilo. Good pastries and coffee... comes with authentic French "service" ;)

Witch's Rock Cafe - Located at the Witch's Rock Surf Camp, the cafe has good casual hangout food and is gringo friendly. Defnitely not gourmet but if you're craving some "bad" food (nachos, chicken tenders, etc.) this is a good choice.


Quick Tips on the Mittelrhein

A stroll through the tiny village of Rudesheim and the nearby Niderwald monument during the summer can be anything but a stroll. It can be more of a crawl as scores of tourists scour the town's lilliputtian streets along the banks of the Rhine River. I first visited Rudesheim and the Niederwald monument in November of 1998. I was in Mainz visiting a business partner. After our meeting, he was kind enough to drive me along the Middle Rhine region. Despite the late season, the weather was clear and crisp and the towns were remarkably devoid of tourists. Yet, such is not the case during the tourist season.

If you're visiting closer to the summer, rather than fighting the crowds in Rudesheim, start your tour of the Rhine a little further north of the river. The second time I visited the Rhine was in May of 1999. We mostly skipped over Rudesheim and took a train from Bingen up to Bacharach, a fascina ting and tiny medieval town with charming architecture, plenty of history and a trail that takes you up to one of the Rhine's countless castles. Bacharach has a population of roughly 1,000 but has more history than some states in the Union.

From Bacharach (or from most of the towns along the Rhine), one can catch one of the frequent boats (Fahrgastschiffahrt!? I love how some German words have fahrt in them) that travel up and down the river to visit nearby towns. Worthwhile stops include the well-preserved Oberwesel and the charming St. Goar and St. Goarhausen. Along the way, one can encounter the famed Lorelei and listen as the boat pipes in a song known to schoolchildren all across Germany. Also worth visiting is Burg Rheinfels.

Trains also offer flexibility along the Mittelrhein as you can use them, for example, to travel from Bacharach to Trechtingshausen (site of the neary Sooneck castle) or to/from other towns. May is a wonderful time to visit as the weather can be sunny and pleasant and crowds have yet to overtake the region. September begins to thin out a bit, as well. You can take a chance, like I did, in November but weather can be risky. Of course, I would imagine December is wonderful once the Christmas markets are all set up.


Speaking of Tours in Buenos Aires...

A while back I had mentioned some private tours you could arrange in Buenos Aires. One other way to visit Buenos Aires is with one of the volunteer guides provided by Cicerones de Buenos Aires. The organization, created by Argentine law in 2001, is a non-profit volunteer-run group dedicated to offering complimentary tours to visitors. A simple application form allows you to list your contact information, the number of people in your group and your interests and they will hook you up directly with a Porteño.

We used the service during our first visit to Buenos Aires in 2005. Cicerones put us in touch with Dany, an attorney who was roughly the same age as my wife and I. We met him at our hotel and spent the next three hours walking around, chatting and getting to know him and BsAs. It made for a great experience and, best of all, it didn't cost us a cent. At the end of our tour, we joined our guide for the Almacen Suipacha, just a few short paces from our hotel. We had a filling meal (there I am in my fatter days) and our fair share of Malbec. Overall, well worth it and something you should check out.


Finding Yourself in the Lost Pines

We headed to Austin this weekend to visit with some friends and do a little bit of pre-baby outlet shopping in San Marcos. For some reason, rooms in Austin seemed to be either scarce or expensive. Our first choice, the Hotel San Jose, was sold out. We first opted for the Stephen F. Austin until I realized we could stay at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort for the essentially same amount.

The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort is located just west of Bastrop and the actual "lost pines" (maybe twenty minutes from downtown Austin). The resort opened up less than a year ago adjacent to McKinney Roughs and is well marked from the highway. Once you turn down the main road, you'll have a windy two mile drive ahead of you. If you can plan it, stay in the spring when the drive is absolutely gorgeous - the trees are covered with bright green growth and the road's twists and turns are lined with bluebonnets, indian paintbrushes and other wildflowers. Driving a sports car makes it all the much nicer. The wildflower shot above was taken on the property.

The drive eventually leads you past the resort's golf course to a sprawling ranch-inspired hotel complex. While a two mile drive might lead some to expect a grand and opulent resort, what you'll find fits well with the surrounding area. Our room looked out towards the Colorado River (see left) -most rooms had balconies but we were on the third floor so we missed out. That didn't keep us from opening our windows and enjoying the spring air.

The room was relatively standard although the large LCD TV and large bathroom made for a nice touch. What we really liked was the resort itself. Since we didn't plan for any pool time, we didn't get a chance to enjoy any water activities but the area (with a beach and 1000 ft. lazy pool river) looked great. Next to the pool is full-service bar and a small casual cafe. There are activities on the river, lots of hiking trails, horseback riding options and other "impromptu" fun things to do. The firepit closest to our room was the scene of a big smores cookout. The other firepit seemed to be popular with couples snuggling with blankets. By the pool, kids were enjoying an outdoor screening of "The Jungle Book". More adult options included several restaurants (we ate the the Firewheel Cafe), a bar (Sheller's Barrelhouse Bar and Grill... where we had dessert), a lounge and a breakfast/coffee shop.

For the most part, the whole scene reminded us of an "upscale camping" experience... the secluded location, the quiet atmosphere, the nighttime "campfires". It was tranquil and enjoyable. We just didn't get to enjoy it that long but I'm certain we'll go back. That's why we've listed the hotel on our recommended list on the right.

Sunday was a quick trip to Prime and Tanger outlets in San Marcos and a nice speedy drive home.


Travel threads

How many great T-shirts do you know that allow you blend your love for travel and lawnmowing? You'd think there would be a ton out there but, ironically, I've only found one (and I happen to be wearing it). Defunker has several unique designs... some wry, some very artistic and others just plain goofy. This shirt caught my eye as soon as I spotted it.

While you're at it, check out Threadless T-shirts. There's nothing truly travel related there but you're sure to find one you'll love. We just order a couple different shirts (one for me, one for her) but there were others that were tempting.

Travelin' Babies...

It looks like there is a baby product page after my own heart. Go-baby.com is focused on providing products and advice for parents who like to travel with their children. Their focus is simple...

Go-baby.com is all about making traveling with children a more pleasant and easy experience. The site offers information, advice, gear, and some 80-odd products, all in one easy to surf setting. Says Lesser, "We are constantly expanding and changing but the basic aims remains the same...to make sure the headaches of traveling, especially these days, are lessened and that the trip can be entirely enjoyable. Ideally, we want parents to think of us as the first place to go when planning a trip."

Most of the products on the site fall into two basic

(1) Comfort for the children: "Our unofficial motto," says Maryann, "is 'If they are happy,
you are happy.'"

(2) Convenience for the parents: No more tripping through the airport, trying to lug gear that was not de
signed to travel

One cool item I spotted was the Pogy Travel Crib - easy set-up and breakdown when you're on the road. Pretty cool...

By the way, those infant fares I'm hoping to eventually find may be going the way of the Edsel. According to Go-baby, my favorite airline, Continental, offers fares at 100% for fare codes L/T/S/Q/X/W/I/U/V and 50% for the rest??? The rest? What rest? Are there any letters left in the alphabet? OK - maybe K is missing... I think I've had K fares before.


The New World Capital?

London is starting to stake it's claim as the world capital of the 21st century, a claim actually being made by New York Magazine, not the British.

Indeed, London is a fascinating place - a big melting pot brimming with culture, excellent food (imagine saying that about London a decade ago) and fascinating architecture. The city, like Gran Canaria (the Little Continent) seems to be the "Little World", even mirroring some of the more disconcerting social issues in Europe and globally.

We loved our last trip to London (over the past New Year's Eve weekend). The weather actually turned out to be relatively cooperative (cold, of course, but not much rain) and we found ourselves overwhelmed with options of what to do. Our food choices were endless and, in retrospect, we barely ate anything English, opting instead for Portuguese, Italian, Indian and other international cuisines. The Brits were exceptionally friendly and found that the only occasional gruffness we encountered was from Eastern European workers whose command of the English language was somewhat lacking. Unfortunately, our trip was short - a mere five days - but we would go back to London in a heartbeat. If only the exchange rate was more favorable... I guess that's what Argentina is for.


Avoiding Hotels Near Termini in Rome

Termini train station is an great piece of post-war rationalist architecture (don't worry if you don't know what that is - most people don't know). In fact, if you're a fan of modern architecture, you'll probably want to see it along with other buildings like the Palazzo Del Lavoro and the Palazzo Dei Congressi in EUR. It also reminds me of Eero Saarinene's terminal at Dulles Airport - a modern masterpiece and truly worth appreciating the next time you fly into northern Virginia.

While Termini is great to admire and critical when taking trains to destinations like Florence or Naples, it's not a great area to make your home base in Rome. I see so many people roped into staying around Termini. Why? Admittedly, there is an abundance of hotels (a ton of them) and the prices are reasonable compared to areas like the Spanish Steps or Campo Marzio.

BUT... the area around Termini is not the best in town. How often have you heard of train station neighborhoods as desirable? Yes, there are some notable exceptions - the area surrounding the Bologna train station is not too bad. Termini does not fit that bill, though. While the area is fine in the daytime and there are plenty of restaurants and shops, it's not desirable at night. It's quite seedy and home to homeless and gypsies. While it's not south central LA, it should not be your first choice (or your fourth or fifth, for that matter), particularly the area south of the station.

My advice? Look elsewhere for a hotel room. Even moving just a little further from the station and closer to Piazza Repubblica can get you a very nice hotel. A hotel like The Grand is one of the finest in all of Rome and is just off of the piazza. Ultimately, if you're not sure about a hotel, do some research. Sites like Trip Advisor are filled with reviews tipping off travelers to the seediness around Termini. Here are some examples from three different hotels around the station:

"ONLY stay here if you must. The hotel is one block from the train station, and the area is not very safe. Multiple trash cans were directly outside of the window and became a public toilet. Homeless were digging all night through the trash."
"Plus, the neighborhood seemed quite seedy and dangerous to walk around at night with men congregating at some corners but we also saw plenty of tourists."
"The hotel is closely located to the Termini (main train station), which was our reason for choosing the hotel, but this area is very dirty and seedy and is not one of the choisest neighbourhoods in Rome. If you are looking for a bed to sleep in and not much else, then this hotel will suit you. "

Ultimately, if you're going to have a memorable visit to Rome, it shouldn't be due to your hotel's sketchy neighborhood.

On a totally unrelated note, the more I read about Japanese culture, the more I find it fascinating. I thought you might enjoy this blog entry on an interesting Japanese tradition.


Sunday Round-Up

Here's the latest wrap-up of travel article from various English language newspapers...

Need a U.S. Passport Fast? Be Prepared to Pay - Los Angeles Times - Expedited service can cost... why it pays to plan, when you can.

Saving Your Trip - Dallas Morning News - How to deal with those unplanned emergencies that sometimes add some "spice" to travels.

East and West, Ancient and Modern Meet in Turkey - Houston Chronicle - One of the places on my "list" to visit someday.

Good Luck to a New Armenia - London Telegraph - A fascinating country with a troubled and painful history is aking a comeback.

Rules of the Ski Road Trip - Rocky Mountain News - While the article focuses on road trips from Denver, there are plenty of good tips here.

The Idyllis of Wight - The Seattle Times - Visiting the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England.

Where the Dinner Table is an Altar of Thanks - New York Times - Sampling the culinary delights in Addis Ababa

New York Restaurant's $1200 Pizza - Sydney Morning Herald - Speaking of decadence...

Midnight Mayhem at Ill-Equipped Stansted - London Times - Some discount airlines in London fly out of Standsted. Fares are cheaper but the experience can be less-than desirable

Coast of Dreams: Sailing Croatia's Dalmation Coast - Miami Herald -Visiting the stunning Dalmation coast and it's seaside resorts.

Cairo to Capetown, By Bike - Charlotte Observer - You read that correctly... by bike!?


The Joys of Home

Neither one of us is traveling for a few weeks. Sometimes it's nice to just enjoy the scenery in your own backyard, like the way shadows dance across sheers in the morning light... a great way to wake up in your own bed.

Speaking of enjoying home, sometimes it doesn't take much to remind me why we don't live in a snowy climate. There's March in Houston (in our backyard)...

...and there's March up north...



Fare Insanity

Memphis... home of Elvis, Graceland, BBQ and the mighty Mississippi.

London... A cosmopolitan city brimming with history, culture, Indian food and vibrancy.

These two cities couldn't be further apart from each other geographically or culturally. Memphis is less than 500 miles from Houston. London's Gatwick airport is 4,853 miles from Houston. Yet, the fares for the two cities are, give or take a few, the same!?

I occasionally check fares to Memphis so we can visit friends but the amounts are preposterous. Granted, you're flying from a Continental hub to a Northwest hub but $480 for a flight to Memphis in the Spring? Spend a few dollars more and you can visit London Tower. Baffling!? Typically fares to Memphis are a joke - $300 - $400 - but these fares take the comedic value to new heights.

By the way, think you know geography? Test your world knowledge via this 10 minute country quiz. I couldn't name 74 countries.


Boutique Hotels in Madrid

It's been a good 7 years since we've been to Madrid but we'll be heading back in a couple of short months. We're 95% certain that we have a hotel room lined up but, just in case, I've been poking around at other hotel options in the city. Listed below are a few hotels you might want to consider the next time you book a trip. Most are boutique-style hotels with rates roughly between $130 - $200 night. As you'll see, we tend to favor more modern hotels although we're fine with traditional hotels, too.

Room Mate Hoteles - This Spanish chain has four hotels in Madrid, each one with its own style. All four hotels lean towards a modern and minimalist look. The Mario Hotel, located near the Teatro Real, have rooms with funky designs, some a bit dizzying. Rates at The Mario start at 90 Euros while the Laura, located not too far from Puerta del Sol, starts at 80 Euros. Online reviews seem to be quite favorable for the hotels.

Hoteles Quo is another Spanish chain with several hip hotels in Madrid. Hotels range from five-star to three-stars although even their five-star, Puerta Del Sol, is reasonably priced in its class. When booking online, be sure to scroll down and look at all rates. A recent search showed a 188 Euro rate at the top but, about 5 rates down, a "Promo Rate" of 138 Euros.

Hotel De las Letras was built in 1917 but the interior doles up a mix of modern and traditional styles. Online reviews suggest booking a superior room rather than a basic room although rates can vary quite a bit. The hotel is off the Gran Via and near Plaza Cibeles.

On a completely different note, if you're in town for business, one hotel I recommend is the Meliá Castilla, near Paseo de la Castellana. This is a business area and is not as central as the other hotels that I've recommended. The two times I stayed there, I found the hotel particularly comfortable. Having stayed in other Meliá hotels before, I can vouch for their quality. If you're looking for cozy, pass on the Castilla as the hotel has 915 rooms. Cheap? Not quite but not unreachable, particularly if your company is paying. Standard rooms start at 180 Euros although rates have been seen as low at 99 Euros.


Jazz in New York City

I'm a big jazz fan and have also looked to New York City as the center of jazz. That's right... New York, not New Orleans or Chicago but the city where jazz artists have flocked for decades. It was in Harlem and Minton's and up and down 52nd street where one could find the musicians that jazz fans idolize to this day. Unfortunately, save for a notation on the 52nd street sign, you wouldn't even realize the role 52nd steet played when greats like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others made their names in the countless clubs that once were there.

While 52nd street is no longer what it once was, there are still plenty of great jazz haunts in Manhattan that you should check out. Listed below are a few of the more popular ones.

The Village Vanguard - Located in Greenwich Village, the Vanguard has been open for over 70 years and has played host to every jazz legend you can think of. Located at 178 7th Avenue South, tickets are $30 - $35 and up. Live albums recorded here include John Coltrane (with Eric Dolphy!) and Thad Jones.

Blue Note - A relative newcomer compared to the Vanguard, the Blue Note started in New York City at 131 West 3rd Street and has spread to locations in Milano, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. Some upcoming shows include James Moody, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Poncho Sanchez and Bobby Hutcherson. Tickets can be purchased for bar seating ($20 and up) or at a table ($35 and up) with varying sightlines.

Birdland - Named after Charlie Parker, Birdland has gone through varying incarnations over the years. Originally located on 52nd street, I visited the current location at 315 West 44th street to see Stanley Turrentine (passed in 2000) back in the late 1990s. From what I remember, there was a minimum order so had an average dinner... then again, I wasn't there for the food. Upcoming shows include Cedar Walton, Andrew Hill and the Heath Brothers. The line-up is a little more eclectic than some of the other clubs mentioned.

The Iridium - Once located near Lincoln Center, the Iridium is now located at 1650 Broadway. The youngest of the clubs I've listed, this is the one I've visited the most having seen Ahmad Jamal (twice), Mal Waldron (passed in 2002), Steve Lacy and Bob Dorough. Dorough used to play every Sunday in 2004 and is known for some quirky songs recorded with Miles Davis, was the creative director for Schoolhouse Rock. The restaurant and club are separate and they often have a great line-up. Upcoming shows include John Patitucci, the Mingus Big Band and the Brubeck Brothers. Les Paul plays every Monday night.
Include sample schedule


Making Travel Easier with a Little One

Our friends know we love to travel... any chance we get, really. Yet, some friends have told us that when we have children, our traveling days will be numbered.

Weeeelll... it looks like we're going to gain some first-hand experience as we have a little traveler on the way. We're thrilled about our little miracle and, of course, I've already started looking into child passports. After all, my parents took us traveling when we were young and we plan on doing the same.

While at Right Start, we began looking at various strollers... 3-in-1 strollers, jogging strollers, umbrella strollers, travel strollers, etc. etc. etc. In talking with the saleslady, we found out that MacLaren Volo strollers, while not inexpensive as far as travel strollers go, are durable, attractive and work in a pinch when flying. Made in the UK, Volos are easy to come by but can be found at Right Start, Target and even at Amazon.com. They come in hip colors like Turquoise, Saffron Orange, Salmon Pink and Citrus Lime. They're only 8.6 pounds and come with a rain cover. Who said travel strollers can't be hip?


Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

There are so many reasons to love Palm Springs. For us, three features of the area that make it so attractive are the weather and seemingly sunshine, the great mid-century architecture and the scores of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

The last time I posted on Palm Springs, we recounted our visit to Frey II, Albert Frey's famous second residence. Today, I'm going to focus on one of our favorite spots in the area surrounding Coachella Valley - namely, Joshua Tree National Park.

Now, Joshua Tree is no secret spot. U2 helped put this stunning area on the map with their 1987 release of The Joshua Tree. Incidentally, people have tried to locate the famed tree from the album cover - this guy makes a convincing case that he found it. OK... not what I was planning to write about. Back to the real purpose of this entry...

Joshua Tree is maybe 45 minutes from Palm Springs. Taking the Twenty-Nine Palms Highway, you drive through towns like Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree to get to the closest park entrance. The park provides a great map online (similar to the one you'll get at the entrance) although you can find books via Amazon and through other sources. I have a copy of the Road Guide to Joshua Tree National Park - small and compact. Anyway, fees are only $10.00 per car to enter the park and you'll be covered for a week. Once you enter the park, you'll have to drive several miles to get to the first hikes. If you stop along the way, you'll be struck by deafening silence. On our first trip, we pulled over to take some shots and were astounded by the near absence of sound. It was eery at first.

Rather into providing detail on the history of the park, the flora and fauna, etc., I'll just share a few hikes that we've taken and enjoyed. Some are a bit more strenuous than others but anyone in reasonable shape can enjoy them. Most guidebooks recommend these hikes during cooler months and that is a wise suggestion. Then again, we have hiked in the park in July but I wouldn't emulate us - we're kind of crazy.

  1. Hidden Valley is one of the more popular hikes in Joshua Tree. In part, people enjoy it because it is short and easy. The hike is located near Jumbo Rocks so it is visually stunning and it provides a great introduction to the park. The hike is a 1 mile long loop.
  2. Barker Dam is similar to Hidden Valley as it also provides a nice intro to the area and is only 1.3 miles long. Walking along, you'll come across an old water tank used for cattle and a rock marked with indian petroglyphs.
  3. The Lost Horse Mine hike is longer - about 4 1/2 miles roundtrip - and has more of an elevation change but can still be easily navigated by most visitors. This hike is more barren and "wild" in that you traverse mostly rocky terrain but it provides insight into the area's rich mining history. We saw people taking the trail with children so it can be done as a family. By taking side trips and additional loops, you can actually turn this into a longer hike.
  4. Ryan Mountain was our most recent hike and perhaps our favorite. The hike is about the same length as the Lost Horse Mine Hike - 4 1/2 miles - but scurries along the side of steep terrain to the top of Ryan Mountain. You'll go through an elevation change of about 1100 feet but the hike is truly worthwhile. At the top of the mountain, you'll have a 360 degree view of the park. Similar to Lost Horse Mine, there is no shade.
A few no-brainer tips to make the hikes easier...
  • Carry a backpack with plenty of water. It gets hot so you'll need it, especially if you go in the summer like us.
  • Sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen are a good idea to have on hand.
  • We brought snacks so we could enjoy some trail mix while hiking or taking a break.
  • Don't forget your camera - you can snap a thousand pictures on these trails.
  • Watch for snakes - we saw some big ones one the Lost Horse Mine trail
  • Don't touch the cholla cactus - you'll be sorry.
If you check out any of the hikes we mention, you can take the main park road on a big loop and pop up closer to the northeast end of the park. There are a few restaurants along the main road as well as the typical junk food options that should probably be overlooked. Ultimately, make the trip out to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs - it really is worth it. If you're not in the Coachella Valley but in the LA area, the 1 1/2 - 2 hour trip is one you should not miss.


Decadent Affordability

Admittedly, Travel + Leisure has never claimed to be a budget travel magazine. Yet, I'm always amused when a travel magazine bandies about the word "affordable" when discussing $300 a night hotel rooms. While waiting in Logan Airport for a flight back from Boston, I picked up the March 2007 issue. The cover touted "25 Affordable Beach Resorts". Knowing I probably wouldn't come across a true list of 25 resorts, I still bought a copy as I do enjoy the magazine and generally devour most anything travel-related.

Keeping my eyes peeled for good tips, I came across a few gems inside:

Page 30 includes a list of (Best Deals) 3.07. Perhaps there are more ways to define "deal" that I realized. The lead "deal" was a two-night Romantic Hong Kong Experience package from the Langham Hotel that included a helicopter ride, all for only $1,400.00

Page 61 says that for "an affordable alternative" to Potsdamer Platz, you might want to rest your head at the Dorint Sofitel am Gendarmenmarkt for an economically-minded $375/night and up.

Page 81 lists essential items one might bring to Costa Rica for an upscale surf trip. Be sure to bring a heavily padded board bag to carry your $4,895.00 Chanel surf board. Don't expect a warm welcome as you paddle out into the line-up.

Oh... and those 25 resorts? Well, they may have actually named a few as a majority were listed as $200/night or less including the Hotel Estalagem da Ponta do Sol in Madeira for $106/night.


Winter Won't Let Go in the Northeast

It does appear to be quite cold outside. As you can see, the weather is actually quite beautiful - clear, sunny skies with no clouds whatsoever. The view towards Cambridge doesn't tell the whole story as it's around 7 degrees outside with "refreshing" 30-40 mph gusts. Sounds just like Houston, doesn't it? This weather makes my recent trip to Allentown sound like a trip to Cancun. The high today was supposed to be 14 degrees but, from what I heard, it never got that "warm". I suppose it's all just the same from a hotel room. It could be 90 outside and I probably wouldn't know the difference.

Of course, the wind gusts made for a nerve-wracking landing. My brother is holed up in his room with the flu - not a good way to start a business trip - so I walked across the street from the Marriott Cambridge to the MIT Press bookstore to pass the time. I looked through some sale books and picked up Houses of Asia and Graphiscape Tokyo - both interesting architecture and design books.

Across the street is the MIT Co-Op, a nerdy version of the football temple known as The University Co-Op at UT. You can find plenty of books but, unlike the UT Co-Op where you can find everything for tailgating, partying and showing off your Longhorn pride, you can find hundreds of different shirts and sweats with essentially the same "M.I.T." design.

Granted, I did come across a couple of cool Boston guides that are worth checking out the next time you visit Boston or Cambrige... eat.shop.boston and NFT Boston 2007 (Not for Tourists). Unlike your run-of-the-mill Fodor's or Frommer's guide, these guides provide a different take on destinations like Boston. I won't have time to see anything so I left them where they are but they might be worth checking out the next time you visit Boston.


OK, I actually came back from dinner and a workout. Strike the "I suppose it's all just the same from a hotel room. It could be 90 outside and I probably wouldn't know the difference" comment. That is so not true. It is freezing in this hotel and at one point I was sitting in my room wearing my overcoat. At dinner, my hands felt frozen. Granted, I am more cold-natured since I lost weight but, as Gob would say, c'mon...

Anyway, I ate at MC2, the hotel's restaurant. You never know what to expect at a Marriott restaurant. That is, you can expect the food to be relatively good. However, my entree was actually excellent. I had a garden salad that was relatively pedestrian but my roasted salmon on lentils and sauteed spinach was scrumptious. The total bill, with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, came out to about $32 - not bad and well within reasonable limits.

After dinner, I worked out in the hotel's fitness center. I got a great leg workout (pretty much killing my legs) and then received a reminder of how much I miss a rowing machine at my gym. Since I couldn't chase my workout with a protein shake, I had room service bring up a tall glass of skim milk with a bit of coffee. Time to wrap it up and get ready for tomorrow's meetings.

Finding discount codes online

We all know what a great resource the Internet can be but did you know that by doing a little searching, you can locate all sorts of discount codes for hotels, airlines and car rentals? There are also web pages that list scores of codes that may or may not work. Granted, some in-demand hotels like the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines may not have codes available.

It may take a few minutes but a little extra effort can save you some money.

This one's short and sweet... I'm on my way to Boston today. The high is going to be a balmy 14 (!)


Sunday Round-Up (on Monday

It's a day late but here's yesterday's Sunday round-up...

Taking the Kids - To Spring Training - Houston Chronicle - I did this in college with some friends and it was a great road trip. This writer focuses on the Cactus League.

Patagonia in a New Light - The New York Times - Torres del Paine is a stunning region in Argentina... would love to visit next time we're there.

36 Hours: Barcelona - New York Times - You only have 36 hours to spend in Barcelona. What would you do?

Kirkwood Boasts Big Snow, Small Crowds on Weekdays - Dallas Morning News - I've always wanted to visit this ski resort in south Lake Tahoe.

Gehry's First Hotel Sparkles in Rioja Alavesa - Los Angeles Times - Frank Gehry, architect of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, designed this new hotel in Rioja.

See Venice and Dine Like a Native - London Telegraph - By Italian standards, Venice is not known as a culinary epicenter of cuisine in Italy. Here are some tips on how to eat better in a town where tourist fare sometimes rules the day.

Spring Breakers Party On Amid Acapulco Drug War - Sydney Morning Herald - I guess enough alcohol can make you oblivious to anything...

My Fair Lady - Sydney Morning Herald - Save up your pence to shop in London

New "Open Skies" Deal Could Cut Europe Fares - Seattle Times - Could lower airfares be around the corner via a new tentative agreement between the U.S. and EU?

Getting There is Half the Fun - Rocky Mountain News - Backcountry skiing near Vail

Mount Fuji: Land of the Rising Sun - London Times - Climbing Mount Fuji... definitely on my list.


Niiice waves in las Islas Canarias

I guess I never realized how many great surf spots there are in the Canary Islands. One beach after another has great waves... some of which are really sick! Turns out, we're going to find out in person :)

Here is a bodyboarding video from Gran Canaria. Despite the poor soundtrack choice, there are plenty of great rides on this 3:52 video. Plenty of nice barrels...


Wallpaper's New City Guides

Wallpaper Magazine just rolled out the coolest little city guides. We spotted some at Barnes & Noble earlier tonight. We flipped through the Rome guide and then picked up a copy of the Madrid guide. They're compact and mostly focused on cool architecture, a few hip hotels, shops and restaurants. Each one also includes a little 24 hour itinerary for each city. They are by no means comprehensive but offer a nice taste of each destination.

20 guides were just published in October of 2006. Some of the main international cities include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Tokyo. Another 20 guides will come out in April with even more in October. Each one is only $8.95 and is available directly from Phaidon Press or via typical retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

By the way, while we're on the topic of Wallpaper, a recent issue includes a review of the new Design Suites Calafate. We were lucky enough at the Design Suites in Bariloche and simply loved the hotel. The new one in Calafate looks like it has taken design to another level - a stylish way to stay near the amazing Perito Moreno Glaciar.

L'Eperon D'or in Brussels

Here's a travel tip I'm pulling out of the memory banks...

During my 1998 business trips to Europe, I had the opportunity to visit my company's offices in Zaventem, a suburb of Brussels adjacent to the airport. Of course, rather than staying by Zaventem, I took the opportunity to stay in the middle of town - once at The Hotel Amigo and once at the Royal Windsor. Both hotels are located in the historic center of town and offer easy access to many of the city's major sites.

Belgium is known for oustanding food and Brussels offers many fantastic restaurants. In fact, Belgium has more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than France. But I digress... One restaurant that I truly enjoyed during my travels that can still be found in Brussels is L'Eperon D'Or. The restaurant, located on 8 Rue des Eperonniers, is right about two blocks from the Grand Place. The dark and narrow street is worth visiting. While I can't remember exactly what I ate, I do recall that the restaurant was in an old restored 17th century house with a nice, quiet atmosphere. It offered excellent Belgian cuisine with moderately expensive prices. I took advantage of a prix fixe menu. While I walked in without a reservation since I ate by myself, reservations are recommended - +32 (0) 2 513 97 67