Working out on the Road

So we´ve talked about eating well when on the road. As with any "plan" to stay in shape, diet is probably the most important component. Still, if you want to stay in shape, you need to burn calories and, more importantly, build lean muscle mass. So, how do you do so when on the road or lounging on an island just off the coast of Africa?

First, look for a hotel with a fitness center. When I travel on business, I always make it a point to stay at a hotel with a gym. Since I tend to end up at Courtyards (I like their free wireless and Marriott points), I always have access to a gym. That´s the easiest step.

Second, if you don´t have access to a gym, you can get a cardio workout. Of course, you can go jogging or, better yet, put together an interval workout incorporating a mix of high intensity and low intensity. Don´t know how to put together an interval workout? Look into High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. Also, a jumprope is easy to keep in your travel bag. Just make it a point to pack your workout clothes.

Lastly, there are all kinds of bodyweight exercises you can do in your room. Use them as sets doing 3 sets of each - the number of reps is up to you but 12-20 is probably a good range. If you´re not familiar with what I´m going to list, Google the following exercises:

Prisoner Squats
Y Squats
Decline Pushups
Incline Pushups
Shoulder Pushups
Bulgarian Split Squats
Spiderman Pushups
Single Leg Squats
Mountain Climbers

Really, the list can be long... that´s just the start - do some digging before you leave for a trip and come up with your own routine.


Inside Tips on Gran Canaria

Small town life in Gran Canaria

I have to give credit to a college friend of mine for providing these tips on Grand Canary. His wife is from Las Palmas and they tend to visit often. Insider knowledge is priceless so here are some of the tips they provided us for our trip...

1.Roque Nublo, in the center of the island is a giant rock area, good for a 30-45 minutes hike, (SE of Tejeda). Be sure and go on a clear day, as this area is often quite cloudy. On a clear day, you can see a few of the other islands, including Tenerife. Also, this is a forested area that can be quite cool, bring a jacket. You have to park and hike to get to the top, but its worth it when its clear.

2. Puerto de Mogan . Southern part of the island on the water, make sure its the Puerto de Mogan, not Mogan. When i went there 10 years ago, it was a sleepy village with a nice relaxing port. Now, its a little more crowded, but still has a nice port. There is a market day, not sure when, but if you find out, we happened to go on that day, it was fun.

3. Hydrofoil/ferry to other islands are best , and they leave from Agaete (NW) and Las Palmas (NE) . I've never driven around the west side of the island from Mogan to Agaete, so i can't vouch for the roads. But, the rest of the island has nice modern new roads. The roads going to the middle of the island can get a bit hairy, but i'm sure you can handle it. Hopefully , its not that cloudy. Just ask your hotel about schedules.

4.City of Las Palmas. The Catedral and Museo de Colon are in the historic district and worth visiting. Ask some locals when in this area for directions to the Casino (social club) and Trianas close by. The social club is next to outside cafes and Trianas is a shopping street closed off to cars. There are taxis everywhere and parking stinks everywhere, so maybe take them if your spending a day here

There is a Hotel/Casino Santa Catalina that is a relaxing spot about 1/2-1miles from here. The outside bar area in front usually has a great atmosphere to drink a few. Its not very crowded, but its a good spot. I've been there often.

There is a board walk beach area called Playa de Las Canteras on the north west of the city. My favorite eating spot for seafood is there. Its next to the Alfredo Kraus opera house at the start of this boardwalk called Bosmedianos, gotta get the caracoles and calamari. Its a long walk around, so plan on spending some time if your going to walk it.

Roque Nublo

Puerto Mogan

Las Palmas and the Cathedral (c) Hector Vera

Las Canteras


Eating Right on the Go

Frequent travelers often complain of the difficulty of eating well on the road. Fast-food airport meals, lavish business dinners and late night room service often lead to extra "baggage" on the flight home. With a little bit of effort, it's not that difficult to eat healthy on the road without sacrificing your taste buds. Losing weight in 2006 taught me that it pays to be vigilant when eating on the road. Just by sticking to three key "rules" can help you keep from gaining weight and possibly even shed some pounds in the process. This entry is meant to offer a helping hand to those of you tired of eating the Marriott burger at 11:00 PM and then complaining about losing weight.

Be Vigilant at Mealtime - You cheked into your hotel and the only nearby restaurant is a TGI Friday's. You could go for a tasty chicken fried steak or a cheeseburger with extra mayo and fries but you'll probably find other options on the menu. If you're after meat, stick to lean protein (lean cuts of beef, chicken breast, tuna, salmon, etc.), vegetables (not iceberg lettuce), reduced fat dairy,whole grains and some fruit for good measure. Avoid anything fried, obviously, and take a good look at how food is prepared. Olive oil based preparation = good.
Butter = bad. The same goes for dressing - skip the ranch and go for vinaigrette. Also, fat-free does not equal low calorie since so many ideas are loaded with sugars to add flavor. If possible, check if the restaurant has any healthy options. Places like P.F. Chang's, for example, offer a menu called the "Trainer's Table".

Curb your Cravings - I subscribe to the 5-6 meals a day philosophy. It keeps me from gorging myself at mealtime since I haven't eaten in hours, allows me to eat good snacks and keeps my metabolism revving. Mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks are good if you're eating sensibly and controlling your portions during your "main" meals. My favorite? I pack South
Beach Meal Replacement bars or Balacen Trail Mix bars in my briefcase. They're typically 200-250 calories, have a good balance of nutrients and usually offer a healthy 15-19g of protein. They're satisfying and much healthier than other "snack" options like a scone from Starbucks (500-700 calories) or fast food.

Drink Plenty of Fluids - and for the most part, by fluids I mean water. Just plain old water. It will fill you up and properly dehydrate you which can help with weight loss. Avoid juices (most are loaded with sugar) and full-fat coffee drinks. A tall non-fat latte with Splenda is only 120 calories and will provide you with calcium and protein without a sugar spike. If you really want something different, look for unsweetened tea drinks, Fuze beverages or other low calorie options that are delicious without weighing you down with "empty calories". If you really like juice, look for light options. I drink a light grape juice at home that has 40 calories per 8 oz. as opposed to 120 calories for the regular stuff. As far as I can tell, they taste the same.

These three rules will make a difference when you travel. Sooner or later, I'll post something on exercising while on the road. If you want more tips on how to change your eating habits, check out The Abs Diet. Anyone I know who has tried is really liked it. It's not a diet, per se - more of a change in eating philosophy that allows you to eat really well without depriving yourself.


A Glimpse into Saudi Arabia

Up until recently, I probably would have skipped over an article about visiting Saudi Arabia. Yet, recent business dealings have made Saudi Arabia more interesting to me. That's why a new article in Conde' Nast Traveler on Saudi Arabia piqued my interest.

Of the two million visitors that go to Saudi Arabia each year, a mere 6,000 are visiting for what you and I would consider a "traditional trip" rather than making a pilgrimage. The country hides an amazing wealth of history for those who take a Discover Saudi Arabia tour via Saudi Arabian Airlines. This article, quite lengthy (I've just started reading it) is well worth reading. Even if you never have plans to visit, we can always benefit from knowing more about exotic destinations across the globe.

Masmak Fortress in Riyadh

Madain Saleh in Northwestern Saudi Arabia


Desert and Mountains in Saudi Arabia (Ray Ellis, Photo Researchers)


A Step Back in Time at Las Alamedas

Las Alamedas is one of those old school Houston restaurants that's been around as long as you can remember and pretty much has never changed. My wife had heard me talk about Las Alamedas recently. I kept commenting that we hadn't been since we were dating. She surprised me by taking me there for my birthday. I was thrilled.

The Main Dining Room at Las Alamedas

I had fond memories of going there as a kid and enjoying the architecture that reminded me of our trips to Mexico City. This visit didn't disappoint. Stepping into the restaurant is like leaving the chaos of the Katy Freeway and stepping into a miniature (relatively speaking of course) version of a hacienda like La Hacienda de Los Morales in Mexico City. I would gladly go to the bar just to kick back and enjoy one of the restaurant's top shelf margaritas. A premium margarita with Patron Silver will run you $9.00 and the bartender didn't skimp.

The Bar's Old World Charm

The main dining room is known for its tall windows overlooking greenery and a ravine. We actually reserved the wine cellar - a little private room before the main dining room. In a sense, you're on display as everyone who goes to the main room walks by but we actually found the experience just as entertaining as it was romantic (including the father who kept telling his kids we were in jail).
Parties of Four Can Reserve the Wine Cellar

The food was excellent - not spectactular but very tasty and certainly much much better that 99% of Texmex fare found around town. We started with a tasty and, anything but light, queso fundido campeche. Do yourself a favor and order a small. It is more than enough for two people and only $6 - a bargain considering the rich cheese has shrimp and crawfish. For dinner, my wife had the Huachinango Pontchatrain - a cajun inspired red snapper - and I had the Tres Caballeros with three tenderloin medallions. Both were very hearty portions and quite tasty.

I've heard service can be spotty but ours was excellent and our waiter was very attentive and did a thorough job of providing recommendations from the menu. The wine list was a little on the antiquated side but who goes to a Mexican restaurant for wine?

Overall, we enjoyed it and would gladly go back.


Fun with Visas

We have some friends living abroad in London who have quickly found that non-U.S. citizens can sometimes run into all kinds of "fun" issues when trying to travel in the European continent. Below is what it's like to deal with multiple entry visas - something that Americans can be subject to, as well, when visiting countries like Saudi Arabia, Brazil or Russia. It's not an issue in Europe but we get to face these issues, as well.

Keep this in your back pocket so you can plan accordingly when planning for a visa...

As you know, - wait, maybe you didn't know- I am one year away to become a US citizen, therefore, I still carry my Ecuadorian passport wherever I go. For someone like an American citizen or an EU citizen, this situation shouldn't be familiar at all, but for me it's a huge pain in the neck every time I want to travel because I have to get a visa!

Yes, even with my husband's job in the UK, I still need to obtain a Schengen Visa to visit any of the 14 countries members of the EU. The task shouldn't be so painful if they would give me a 6-month multiple entry kind of deal, but unfortunately, so far I have only obtain visas worth the same length shown on my hotel booking reservation and my airplane ticket. Once the trip is over, the visa expires and there I am with another application ready for the next trip. That implies that every time I want to go somewhere, I should coordinate airplane tkts and hotel first before showing up at the consulate because that is the way they give you a tourist visa. Isn't that awful? There is a lot of money involved (100 dollars per application) and no room for spontaneous trips to Paris over the weekend.

The worse part of the story is that even though the Schengen Visa allows me to enter any of those countries, I can only ask for one at the consulate of the first port of entry of my visit, or the country of longer stay. They are very strict on their stuff. Most of the Consulates operate through an automated booking system, so you never know how long the next appointment would be. It's horrible! I'm telling you all this story because I knew I had to get a visa for my Italian adventure. I called the Italian Consulate to make an appointment with 6 weeks in advance and they gave me an available date that was 8 weeks from now!!! Fortunately, we live around the block from the consulate office so I had to go for several days to beg them to give an earlier appointment. They were pretty mad of my insistent pleas, but in the end they gave an earlier appointment for 5 days before the trip in June. I guess it's a lesson on perseverance and serious travel planning for Ecuadorians living abroad.

I guess I shouldn't complain because at least I'm not Colombian!

Check out some of the stuff it's required: http://www.esteri.it/visti/index_eng.asp

Being from Italy, I can just imagine what it was like dealing with the dreaded Italian bureaucracy. Imagine the same situation in Russia or another "less organized" country than Italy (yes, it's possible).

So, keep that in mind when you do your planning.


Trouble in the Skies

Their first mistake... joining the "Mile High Club"... twice! Their second mistake, getting belligerent and ending up handcuffed while the flight is diverted.

We felt like we were being very naughty but we made a point of being quiet.

Well... you reap what you sow.

Helpful Insight on Gran Canaria

Las Palmas - From CanaryForum.com

With our Canary Islands trip looming, I'm digging to find as much information I can for our trip. Given that very few Americans go to the Canaries, most of the information I'm finding is out on the web. CanaryForum.com seems to provide an unbelievable amount of information. For those going to Grand Canary, there is a topic-specific index that is very helpful. Lots of good reviews, inside tips, etc. I found the Towns of Gran Canaria to be particularly helpful.


Soaring Through Cypresses in Texas

The first experience people have with zip line or canopy tours is in places like Costa Rica or Nicaragua. In South Africa, you can experience the longest and fastest zip line in the world. Yet, if you're new to zip lining and want to test the waters before your vacation, there's a place in central Texas that you should visit.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours is an easy drive from Austin - about 30 miles west on 71 and 14 miles from Marble Falls. Well disguised from the road, Cypress Valley includes a series of 7 zip lines that traverse a peaceful valley filled with towering bald cypresses. Each person is equipped with gloves, a safety harness and a helmet. Safety is first and you'll soon find that guides are sticklers. Yes... places in Costa Rica may let you fly upside down (something to look forward to) but in the sue-happy culture of the U.S., they'd prefer you keep both hands on the carriage that connects to the line.

After a basic flight school, you'll be set to take off from the main building and into the valley. The 6 lines and three sky bridges start nice and easy and increase in difficulty, culminating with a 350 foot zip line. First-timers will have a great time and quickly overcome any initial fears. Even those with a fear of heights will feel comfortable and will want to go back for seconds.

Along the way, the guides ask you to look out for interesting landmarks (like a cactus growing in a tree) and will fill you in on the plants and critters that make their home in the valley. Towards the middle of the tour, you'll pass Lofthaven, a pricey treehouse that you can rent by the night. Weekday rates are $250 a night and weeknights are $375. At that rate, you might want to check the Four Seasons on Town Lake.

The whole tour lasts about 1 1/2 hour. It's been a few months since we've been but the rates were under $50 a person. Once you've taken the tour, you can graduate to the Canopy Challenge, a more difficult tour that includes various obstacles along the course. We've yet to do this but plan to do it in the future.

Seeing U.S. safety standards vs. Costa Rican standards was a little unnerving. Places like Cypress Valley make sure you wear a helmet at all times and are quick to show off their heavy duty platforms and safety harnesses. In Costa Rica, our tour guide explained, "I like this tour - they don't make you wear a helmet" shortly before they taught us to fly upside down. Still, we wouldn't trade our Costa Rican tour for anything. Visiting Cypress Valley helped us get amped up for our visit to the Congo Trail Canopy Tour and is worth doing any time of the year when the tour is open.


Three Tips: Heidelberg, Germany

I'm going to start a new "category" of posts called Three Tips... basically, three tips that a reader would give a friend when visiting one of their favorite destinations. We'll start with the first one for Heidelberg, Germany - a famous town on the Rhine River known for its famous castle and its college-town atmosphere. This one was from a poster on the Horn Fans board.

Three Tips on
Heidelberg, Germany

1. Stay in a local guest house. Not necessarily in Heidelberg, but also look in Eppelheim, Schwetzigen, Oftersheim and Plankstadt. All are connected by public transportation, or easy access by rental car.

2. Tour the Heidleberg Castle, visit the altsttadt or old town area which is adjacent to the Castle. Take a short trip to Schwetzigen and see the Palace and the promedade. There are several great restaurants. If you have kids with you, Heidelberg has a wonderful zoo. The summertime brings many ferstivals into the Heidelberg area. Check the web for dates. One highlight is the Rhein on Fire. Castles along the Rhein and Neckar rivers are all illuminated, many have fireworks. Check for exact dates but its usually on a weekend night in July and September.

3. Take a short side trip to the Rhein river. The 30km stretch from Bingen to Koblenz is fabulous. There are numerous Castles to visit. Most towns are also built on old Roman ruins and walls. The Rheinfels castle is a must see. You can wander all over it, along with taking a guided tour. It also has a restaurant which overlooks the river, from about 500 feet over it. That part of the Rhein is the heart of German wine country, many have stands set up right along the road of the valley. Also close by to Heidelberg, within a 30-minute drive is Worms. The Cathederal is about a thousand years old and has ties to the reformation and Martin Luther.

If you visit during December then weinachtsmarkts or Christmas Markets are the main attraction. Key markets from the are include Heidelberg, Mannheim, Schwetzigen, Eppelheim, Bad Wimpfen, Marlbron and if adventurous only two hours from Nurenburg and the granddaddy of all Christmas Markets.

One last hint for the Rhein valley and Heidelberg. If you're into beer then visit local breweries. Most have beer gardens that are normally open May to September.

From Horn_Fan_86 on Horn Fans


Working on Your Language Skills

So you're traveling in two weeks to visit some expat friends in Strasbourg but haven't had a chance to learn any French? No worries... you can start learning French or several other foreign languages without having to pay a dime. It turns out the BBC has several online courses that can help with a variety of languages... French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch... even Icelandic or Ukranian. The best part is that most of the content is in MP3 format so you can dump it on your favorite player and learn while you jog or as you head home from work. Not bad for free! The BBC Languages page is really worth visiting. I'm going to brush up on un petit peu de Francais.


The Italian City that Must Not be Missed

It's been something like four months since I started this blog and it's a sin that I have yet to post anything on my Bologna, my hometown in Italy. With so much to say about the city and with limits on my time, I will have to write a little bit at a time.

So, let's start with something very simple. If you're going to be in Italy and you're heading towards Florence, make it a point to go to Bologna. If you're on your way to Venice from Rome, make it a point to stop in Bologna (your train will stop there). Why? Bologna has so much to offer - perhaps the best food in Italy, amazing history, a well-preserved (and rather large) historic center that is extremely walkable, a vibrant social scene (it is a university town, after all) and much more more. Trains to Venice pass through Bologna and the city is only 50 minutes by train from Florence. Even if you stop just for a day, it is worth it.

Now, in this entry, I'm going to mostly focus on hotels in Bologna as there are many options but many tend to be expensive. Why? Bologna is known as a culinary city, a college town and many other things including a convention town. Outside of the city is a large convention area so hotels can sometimes fill up. That being said, there are plenty of options in the city with prices truly running the gamut.

Over 20 miles of colonnades
line the streets of Bologna

As you can imagine, most of my personal experience in Bologna is not in hotels. Being born and raised in Italy, we didn't spend too much time in local hotels. I have stayed in a couple since we moved to the states, though, and can recommend some others based on what I've seen/heard. That being the case, do some fact-checking on each hotel but these should get you off to a good start:
  • Gran Baglioni - Bologna's most luxurious and choicest hotel.
  • Hotel Orologio - One of four historic hotels owned by Bologna Art Hotels. Three others include Hotel Corona D'Oro, Hotel Novecento and Hotel Commercianti. Pricey but very reputable.
  • San Donato - Located right by the University and a three minute walk from Piazza Maggiore, the four star hotel is now owned by Best Western.
  • Starhotels Excelsior - I typically don't recommend anything by a train station but Bologna is not your typical city and the Excelsior offers a great central location by the station.
  • Hotel Re Enzo - Also a Best Western property, the Hotel Re Enzo offers reasonable room rates for a hotel located about a 10 minute walk from Piazza Maggiore. Small rooms but... well, that's Europe.
  • Sterlino Hotel - a budget hotel in a nice Bologna neighborhood, this hotel was a few minutes away from our house. The hotel has a great neighborhood restaurant below.
Piazza Maggiore at Night

Once in Bologna, you'll find that the city offers a wealth of sites to see, from great museums to amazing churches. Even with a day, there's plenty you can fit into your schedule. In fact, simply walking along the collonades of Bologna (more than any other place in the world) is worthwhile. Places you shouldn't miss include:
  • The Basilica of San Petronio - scheduled to be larger than the Vatican until the pope made sure plans fell by the wayside. The church is largely unfinished but massive and very impressive. Check out the chapels where you can come across some amazing masterpieces including a dark representation of heaven and hell.
  • Piazza Maggiore - The heart of the city and an architectural masterpiece.
  • Santo Stefano - A series of seven churches dating back to the 5th century - each church is built "on top" of the other. The square in front of the church is a pleasure.
  • The Asinelli and Garisenda Towers - two of several remaining towers. Up to 180 once dotted the 12th and 13th century skyline of Bologna. The towers have been ingrained in my memory since I was a small child.
  • Mercato di Mezzo - Dating back hundreds of years, this market is home to dozens of vendors. This is where you can get a feel for the culinary prowess of Bologna.
  • Museo Civico Archeologica di Bologna - Dedicated to history and architecture of Bologna.
  • The University of Bologna - The oldest university in Rome lends an academic air to the city as well a vibrant nightlife.
Of course, you can't think of Bologna without thinking of great food - Bologna and Emilia Romagna are home to mortadella, ragu', tortellini, prosciutto and tagliatelle. It's no surprise that Bologna is known as "La Grassa" or "the fat one". To get a good taste of the city's cuisine, visit Da Cesari on Via De' Carbonesi 8.

If you have any money left over after eating, the city offers great shopping. Bologna is the birthplace of the fashion brand Furla - you can't walk too far without passing one of the company's several boutiques. Personally, I also recommend Al Balanzone, a great stationer and gift store located on Via Farini 7. We've been friends with the proprietor of Al Balanzone since I was a little squirt attending school at San Luigi. We always make it a point to visit when we go to Bologna - you should, too.

Shopping at Furla

At the end of the day, just remember this... if you're in Florence or you want to come up with an interesting trip, go to Bologna. The city is an easy train ride from Rome and Florence but a world away in character.


A Lazy Saturday Afternoon Bouncing Around Town

Saturdays are great days to get chores done around the house, mow the lawn and then run around town for errands. But who says running errands has to be limited to the usual stops at Home Depot and Target?

My wife and I decided to run around inside the loop in Houston this past Saturday as she wanted to check out a sale at a high end boutique before we grabbed some lunch. If you're looking to shop for boutiques in Houston, you have countless options in the Heights, Rice Village, Uptown Park, Highland Village, River Oaks and so on. We ran by the Upper Kirby District and Montrose to check out a sale at Mix: (Modern Clothes) and then grab some lunch. Here's where we ended up...

Lofty fashions at Mix: (Modern Clothes)

Mix: (Modern Clothes) - 2717 Colquitt - A fashion palace... three stories of high-end designer clothing located in a stunning modern building that deserves raves not only for its contents but also for its design. Prices are not pocketbook friendly and typically end in "undred" (I breathed a sigh of relief as we walked out empty-handed) but options are plentiful for those with money to burn. For those more interested in design, enjoy the sparse but clean lines of this concrete boutique located in a neighborhood with an eclectic mix of residential architecture.

Where else but Texas?

About five minutes away from Mix is Paulie's, a lower Westheimer cafe' that offers great salads, sandwiches, pasta and other light options. Located in a restored mid-century building, the cafe' has a light and comfortable atmosphere with windows that overlook traffic buzzing by on Westheimer. I had a filling Italian Family Salad and a spicy cup of gazpacho. My wife had a tasty plate of Mediterranean Pasta Salad. Paulie's is typically open 'til 9:00 pm with a second location is near the Medical Center.

Light lunchtime fare at Paulie's

While you're in the neighborhood, there are other options located within walking distance. Next door to Paulie's is Silver Smith Gallery, a funky boutique with an eclectic mix of clothes and jewelry. Men will find a small selection of cool buttondowns and T-shirts although prices are inflated (a shirt I bought at Defunker for $26 was on listed at $34). Heading towards Hazard is The Cookie Jar Bakery, a great place for an afternoon sweet or to simply blow your diet. Next door is Pixie & Ivy, run by a former in-house merchandiser from Barney's in New York. The atmosphere is somewhat shabby chic but prices are anything but. Caddy-corner is the River Oaks location of the Upper Hand Salon, a great place to treat your wife or girlfriend.

This was our Saturday afternoon in Houston - come up with your itinerary and share it with us.


A Home Away From Home in Manhattan

Over the past ten or so years, I've had a chance to visit New York City for business and pleasure a good dozen times. When you visit a particular city that often, you tend to become partial to a specific hotel - call it a home away from home. It provides familiarity and allows you to get to know a specific area of the city.

My choice when visiting New York City, more often than not, is The Shoreham Hotel. The hotel has gone through quite a few changes and an expansion or two since I first started staying there in the late 90s. The hotel's minuscule 1920s-era lobby has been expanded to a much larger lobby with a trendy bar/restaurant with doors that open to the sidewalk, sleek meeting room s and a nicely laid out breakfast room. Recent renovations have added an art gallery and fitness center - amenities that were but a dream a decade ago when the hotel had roughly 80 rooms. Today, the hotel has 174 rooms, all of which have been renovated.

The hotel's style is a blend of modern design with touches of art deco that recall the hotel's pre-Depression origins. Throughout you'll find touches like backlit perforated headboards (they seemed to be doing this about 10 years before other hotels) and art deco-inspired lamps and sofas. The hotel used to have some great Warren McArthur tubular chairs from the 1930s but, as best as I can tell, the hotel got rid of them.

Room sized can range downright miniscule (the small rooms in the first hotel expansion from the early 2000s) to larger suite-like rooms. I used to ask for rooms in the old part of the hotel but those have since been renovated. Chances are they will still be larger than the small rooms in the expansion. So, ask for a room in the original wing of the hotel and you should get more space. Bathrooms are relatively small but, unless you plan on spending an inordinate amount of time hanging out in the bathroom, they do the trick. The Shoreham has always provided great toiletries and in-room amenities like complimentary water, CD players, etc as well as complimentary espresso and other treats in the common area.

Room rates can vary depending on the time of year - sub $200 deals can still be found when the hotel is running specials. If you've got plenty of money to spare, you can rent out the hotel's penthouse suite for $1500 a night with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent. The hotel's Atrium Loft is profiled in a WB11 segment called Suite Party Places.

This block of W. 55th offers several dining options including a couple of nice Italian restaurants. Walk one block west and you'll hit Avenue of the Americas. One block east is 5th Avenue. A short walk north will take you to the south end of central park.

If the hotel is booked up, check out The Mansfield Hotel, one of the Shoreham's sister properties. I stayed there one summer and found it to be another great boutique hotel. Either hotel will provide you with a refreshing change from the typical Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton near Times Square.


Enjoying Lebanese at Cafe' Lili in Houston

Finding good Mediterranean food (Lebanese, Turkish and other similar varieties) in Houston is becoming easier and easier. Mainstays like Dimassi's and Cafe Lili have been around for years while "newer" places like Fadi's and Empire Turkish Grill have flourished. Witness how Fadi's has gradually taken over neighboring retailers as it has expanded "eastward".

Cafe' Lili is one of our favorite spots. Located at 5757 Westheimer, adjacent to Thai Restaurant (despite the generic name, a great place for Thai - hospitality 10x better than Nit Noi), the family-run restaurant is generally busy any time of the day. Saturday afternoons are usually buzzing with customers enjoying the restaurant's authentic Lebanese cuisine. Lili, the matriarch of the family is almost always there, parked at her reserved table with a hookah in hand. Her son is typically working behind the counter while her husband treats everyone to a delicious cup of Lebanese coffee (don't drink the grinds - you'll rue the day you did)

Our most recent visit was two weeks ago. On a nice day, you can enjoy a seat out on the covered sidewalk where the parking lot manages to block out the sound of Westheimer traffic. For a relatively light meal, grab a sizeable kabob salad. The chicken kabob salad is excellent. The sampler is more than filling and includes hummus, tabouli, baba ghanouj, spinach pie, meat pie and fried kibbie. One item to skip is the lebne as it is relatively flavorless - a much much better version can be found at Empire Turkish Grill. Fadi's also has better hummus. Daily specials are posted on a chalkboard by the entry and typically range from $9.99. If you feel like wine, the restaurant offers Lebanese wine by the bottle.

Pick a nice day and enjoy a lazy afternoon at Cafe' Lili. Chances are you'll run into someone you know.


Five to Try in Palermo Soho

Lately, Palermo Soho has become the trendiest area of Buenos Aires. With good reason... the area is bustling with boutiques, restaurants, hip hotels and bars. This is a great area to visit (and visit often) if you want to experience the vibrant scene in Buenos Aires. United's recent fare sale makes it even easier to spend some time in this glorious city.

When visiting Palermo Soho, here are five restaurants that will give you an opportunity to sample Argentina's delectable cuisine:

Bobo - Attached to the highly recommended Bobo Hotel, the restaurant offers excellent cuisine. If available, order off the prix fixe menu that may include delicacies like salads topped with rabbit, excellent sirloins and amazing desserts.

El Diamante - A small narrow stairwell takes you up to this dark and intimate local restaurant. Great tapas and a hip scene that really gets hopping on the rooftop patio.

Meridian 58 - Corner of El Salvador and Borges - During our last stay in BsAs, this was our first stop and the food here was excellent. The towering windows overlook a few sidewalk tables that are usually taken.

Bar 6 - Great atmosphere - a huge space with tasty prix fixe lunches. Seating is located at regular tables, on couches with coffee tables or from a second floor "loft". Buzzing atmosphere.

Lounging at Bar Seis

Bar Uriarte - Admittedly, we never had a chance to eat there while in BsAs but the bar and restaurant is on nearly every recommended list. Sister restaurant to Sucre and Gran Bar Danzon.

Other good options are Cluny, Lomo and Olsen.

There are plenty of options... pick up a handy Palermo pocket guide on gastronomia (easy to find in stores, restaurants and hotels in Palermo Soho) and you'll have no shortage of places to eat.


Traveling with a Bun in the Oven... and Train Travel

We've realized that as we plan our trips, we now have to take some different considerations in mind. Traveling while pregnant brings some new issues to play so I've been doing a bit of research on the topic. It seems like Baby Center has more topics on pregnant travel than you could imagine. If you're expecting and you have a trip lined up, here are some good articles to check...

How Can I Stay Comfortable During a Plane Flight?

I Need to Drive Cross-Country. How Can I Stay Comfortable?

Eight Smart Strategies for Pregnant Travel

Airline Policies for Pregnant Travelers

Onto a totally different topic, The Man in Seat 61 is a web page dedicated to train travel in Europe (and in other parts of the world, as well). There is an overwhelming amount of information here - pretty much everything you might need. The site is dedicated to British travelers but you'll be sure to find it useful. Lots of fares, timetables, information on trains, suggested itineraries, etc.