Great Bites in Rome

We have some friends who are heading to Rome in the next few months and they'd asked for various recommendations, including where to eat while in Rome. Here are three restaurants that I recommended (and one that just came to mind):

Da Giggetto - This is a Roman institution, located in the old Jewish ghetto in the shadow of the portico D'Ottavia. Great Roman food with some emphasis on Jewish specialities like artichokes. The cacio e pepe is delicious.

La Taverna Degli Amici - I've eaten here over the years... on business trips and during our honeymoon. It's a terribly romantic location - tucked into a small little piazza on the edge of the Jewish ghetto, right next to an old medieval tower. If you can, try to score an outside table. - it may have changed names but it's the same location. A romantic spot.

La Cicala e la Formica - A cute little restaurant located in the Monti area of Rome. Seating is somewhat limited but the food is excellent. Check the menu - if they have dishes with truffles, give them a shot. It's an acquired taste but, once you like truffles, you'll love them. Another place we visited on our honeymoon.

Frontoni - A great tavola calda where you can get delicious pizza (really delicious) made your way "al modo mio", suppli', olive ascolane and other easy-to-eat favorites. We usually meet up my uncle here for the pizza. It's located in Trastevere at Viale Trastevere 52. Next door is a little gelato shop. From there, you can walk deeper into Trastevere.


Scottsdale's Valley Ho

Yet another hip 1950s hotel has received a great makeover and restored to it's mid-century glory. The Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, AZ reopened in December of 2005 after a massive restoration. Rooms, a new spa and all the common areas include classic modern touches. An old-school Trader Vic's is also on-site for those who need their tiki fix. Rates vary from room-to-room. A quick check of a sample itinerary for a three-night weekend in October showed rates starting at $299.00/night. A little pricey but perhaps perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Fires in Greece

Wow. what's been happening in Greece is terrible...


New Hotel Addition

My wife found an old itinerary from one of my business trips to Europe. Listed in the itinerary was a hotel that I really enjoyed but couldn't seem to remember its name. Well, I found it so I added a link to the right... Hotel Pierre in Milano. I'll never forget how my Italian colleague said that the hotel was so nice, that Simple Minds would stay there. That cracked me up.


Wildfires Rage in Greece

While we were looking forward to our postponed trip to Greece, it looks like we dodged a bullet by not being in Greece this week.

Upgrades a-plenty!

No complaints with the trip to Orlando. Not only did I get upgraded to first class both ways (that probably hasn't happened since I was Platinum Elite), the trip was a big success... I predict a big contract as a result.

A few observations...

  • I'm impressed by Orlando's airport. Despite the poorly-designed security lines, the common areas before security are well laid out. Good selection of stores and a conveniently located Hyatt overlooking the entrance to terminal A.
  • School may be getting ready to start but there was no shortage of kids along International Boulevard
  • Most of the rental car companies at the airport are located on-site. One glaring omission is Thrifty. You've seen me complain about Thrifty before and you're about to see it again. First, it took 30 minutes for the Thrifty bus to pick us up. Once the bus finally showed up, we drove way off the property to a Thrifty daily parking lot before finally making it out to the rental lot. It must have taken an hour before we finally got in the car. Weak.
No trips scheduled for now... then again, given the last one was booked with a week's notice, you never know.


Off to Orlando

Well, I'm off to the land of Mickey and Goofy for a quick business trip... yes, really, I'm not planning to visit Epcot or Shamu. I'll be there in Orlando on business. It will be my favorite kind of trip... lighting fast! More to come...

Dean Whips Up Some Surf

Tropical season can tend to be "nervous season" along the Texas Gulf Coast. Last week's build-up of Hurricane Dean had many in Texas scrambling for batteries, water and random things like beer and pita chips. Given that Houstonians were getting soaked by Tropical Storm Erin and flooding was spreading throughout the city, the prospect of Hurricane Dean had everyone on edge.

In the end, Dean made his presence felt in Mexico... but the positive aftereffect of a tropical system in the gulf is a few days of good waves. That was the case yesterday and the hurricane swell hit the upper Texas Gulf Coast. No, I wasn't able to make it yesterday... I wish. Today's forecasts call for head high waves in Surfside slowly dropping throughout the day. As they say, "you should've been here yesterday..."


Beachtime in Lebanon

Speaking of Lebanon, it looks like some are doing their best to forget last year's war in Lebanon. Lebanon actually has more than 120 miles of seashore with scores of sun-filled beaches. Yeah... it's probably not on the top of most people's lists as a beach location but Beirut was once a cosmopolitan and thriving city before the Syrians rolled into town. The city's current situation is complex but perhaps the city and country will recapture their old glory. Anthony Bourdain, world-famous chef and host of No Reservations, was in Beirut when war broke out in 2006. He describes one of the reasons why they visited Beirut before war tore the city apart...

I can only describe it as being like South Beach or Los Angeles. In addition to some of the best Middle Eastern food the already wonderful Lebanese classics, there was every variety of Asian fusion, European and American, that you would expect of any modern sophisticated major western city.

Lebanese contacts were effusive, bursting with pride, "enthusiastically and persistently trying to get us to come. The Lebanese food was already said to be the best in the Middle East and by all accounts Beirut was newly resurgent, shockingly tolerant in the days since the Hariri assassination, relatively peaceful between groups. By all accounts it had returned to its one-time status as the "Paris of the Orient."


Ski Lebanon

Here's a place to add to your list of ski resorts to visit... Faraya, Lebanon. Apparently the resort is quite popular. It is one hour from Beirut and close to 50 miles of runs of mostly above treeline skiing. Not bad.


Harvest Time in Texas

This weekend marks the beginning of the 2007 Harvest Wine Trail in the Texas Hill country. 22 wineries spread out across the hill country are offering up wine tastings, grape stomps and other fun events. It seems like Texas will get a break from the sweltering heat and the torrential rain so this might be an ideal way to pass the weekend.

Some of the more well-known Texas wineries taking part in the event inlcude Becker Vineyards, Driftwood Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Mandola Estate Winery and Spicewood Vineyards.

As the number 5 grape and wine producer in the U.S., Texas offers a large variety to choose from. Eight federally approved Viticultural Areas exist in Texas. You can find out more information online on Texas wines at Go Texan Wines.


More on Palermo Viejo

Dang I miss about Buenos Aires - I am itching to go back there so badly. Surely there's a way to arrange a business trip there or something !? If you're blessed enough to go to BsAs in the coming months, here are 7 Things to do on your visit to Palermo Viejo


Videos on Concierge.com

Concierge.com has just added a video page to its web page. It includes a handful of quick stylish videos on New York City, Miami, Paris, London and Rio de Janeiro. The longest one I spotted was nearly 7 minutes long and it was on "24 Hours in Paris". Some focus on the city as a while while others drill down into hotels, shopping, etc. They provide brief snippets of these particular destinations and I'm sure they'll add more destinations. In some cases, you can even watch videos with an interactive map so you can hop from location to location.

A Worthwhile Visit to Greystone Mansion and Park

Located in a privileged location in Beverly Hills sits Greystone Mansion and Park - a lovely place to enjoy beautiful South California weather and pass a few relaxing hours. We made it to Greystone Mansion in July 2005 during a July 4th weekend trip to Beverly Hills. With only a few hours left before catching a flight out of LAX, it made for a perfect last-minute stop.

Just a glimpse of the sprawling manicured grounds

Greystone Mansion, one of the largest in the Los Angeles area, is located at 905 Loma Vista Drive, just off of Sunset Boulevard. It was built by Edward Doheny in 1928 as a gift for his son. Today, the house is closed to visitors but the grounds are open to the public (and free!). Clear days offer beautiful views of the area but, even on a typically smoggy LA day, you can't help but just soak up the gardens' tranquility.

Natural beauty on a sunny day

Finding the mansion is easy and the web page offers a map and directions. Check the web page for events as occasional tours of the mansion are available. If you can't make it out to the mansion, you might catch a glimpse in your favorite movies like Spiderman III, The Prestige, X-Men or Austin Powers: Goldmember.


It Just Must be Colder in Italy

Italians are funny about cold weather... even slightly cool weather. Whenever we visit Italy, we always seem to be flooded with the usual comments from relatives... "aren't you cold?", "don't forget to take a jacket" or "are you going out like that? You're naked!" Yeah... it's just part of life in Italy. Just take a ride on the metro in Rome during a cool but sunny March day and you'll be sure to see people covered head-to-toe with a cornucopia of scarves, wool coats, hats and more. It's enough to make you break into a sweat. Of course, one of the benefits of the cold are the ubiquitous chestnut sellers (to the left) in the centro storico of Rome. Roaster chestnuts are a traditional cold-weather treat and, just like the famous American Christmas song, a favorite holiday delight.

Italians are also good at blaming sickness on mysterious drafts, slight cooling sensations or even the teeniest bit of damp weather. A friend of ours was visiting Houston from Rome... During August, she became sick with a cold. Her reasoning? She stepped in a small puddle of water when she got out of the shower and must have caught a cold. Yes, the cold-weather plague extends beyond the cool months... it seems there's a little hypochondriac in every Italian (at least every one I seem to know).

Apparently, I'm not the only one who has noticed this tendency. David Gross, in his book Fast Company, makes a similar observation about a colleague at the Ducati factory...

Dino, the curator fo the museum, had a terrible fear of the cold. He began each morning by wrapping himself in layers of thermal protection - undershirts, down vests, sweaters - preparing for the daily zip over to the company on an old scooter that would send his multiple pale yellow and ivory silk scarves fluttering. In autumn, he looked like a late-season bumblebee that had miraculously survived a first onslaught of cold, with his black trousers, striped jumper, puff jacket, and his baldness... Even in the office, he kept his guard up, wary of drafty corners, removing a piece of clothing only as the day wore on and the heating system kicked in.

In Bologna that fleeing gust of seemingly innocent air - a draft - could trigger a rash of illnesses ranging from sore throat to even a slipped disk. It all depended on the atmospheric conditions, which Dino could recount like a precise human weather vane: "Attenzione! The wind has died in the hills. The sea is calm. The Pianura is a mass of still air, a breeding ground for disease."


Googie Across America

I'm a real big fan of Googie-style architecture. If you're not familiar with googie architecture, let's just say it's that fun and whimsical architecture - usual commercial and retail - from the 1950s and 1960s. Think Bob's Big Boy or some of the wilder motels on Route 66. A great resource is Alan Hess's outstanding books, Googie: Fifites Coffee Shop Architecture and Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture. A perfect example is Mel's Drive-In at 8585 W. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood (on the left - originally Ben Frank's). As you can see, the architecture is fun and futurustic and harkens back to the post-war days when Americans were thinking of space travel, new technology and relishing in the car culture.

Two of the best sites out there for researching googie architecture across the U.S. are the Lotta Living Message Board (particularly the Roadside Rambling section) and Roadside Peek. Lotta Living focuses not just on googie architecture but also other styles of mid-century architecture, restoration, etc. It's a great site. One current thread, for example, focuses on the amazingly intact La Villa Basque Restaurant and Coffee Shop in Vernon, CA. Roadside Peek, on the other hand, is packed with reader-submitted photographs of Goggie architecture, neon and other great mid-century architecture from across the country. Both of these sites are useful when planning to make architecture-specific road trips or "pilgrimages", so to speak. Photographs are subdivided into all kinds of categories such as Roadside Motels in Texas (see the Tradewinds Motel on the right from Grand Prairie, TX)

Either site will serve as a great launching point for your next cross-country road trip.


Monkey Business and an Update on Yapta

I never thought I'd see the day where this kind of quote appeared in an article...

"Other passengers asked the man if he knew he had a monkey on him,"

Oh... I'm still testing Yapta - so far, all it's showing me is that the fares I'm interested in keep going up (!?!). One things I don't like about it is that I'm constrained to specific travel days in my searches. Personally, we're flexible so to have to give very specific dates is a problem. Travelocity used to allow people to look at "time periods" but has since stopped doing that for international flights. That's a problem when the fares you're exploring are Rome and Buenos Aires.


Three Tips: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

Three Tips
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

Posted on Horn Fans by 1990txgirl...


1) Take a little detour to Hwy 12 before you get to the town of Napa and start the day at Domaine Carneros. It's peaceful, the grounds are lovely and a glass of bubbly is a fine start to any day.
2) Don't miss the Silverado Trail; too many visitors tend to stay on the main highway.
3) Don't hesitate to share tastings with your travel companion. There's no reason you should pay $10-20 per person, especially if you don't know anything about the wine.


1) Stay in Healdsburg. It's the convergence of the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley appellations, a great "home base" for northern Sonoma County.
2) Ask the locals for recommendations, for both wineries and restaurants. If you like the wine at one place, ask them which wineries they like. If we hadn't asked, we probably would have passed by Unti Vineyards and Rochioli, both great discoveries.
3) Explore, explore, explore. Sonoma County is much more spread out than Napa Valley so you won't see winery after winery strung along one main road. Pick an area that interests you; pick a winery or two that interest you. Then head in that direction and see where the day takes you.


A Money-Saving Offer and More on Houston

It looks like the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa is running another special to coax visitors to escape the rain and enjoy some time off this summer. Another letter arrived in the mail...

We know that August will bring back those "dog day afternoons" that we actually have grown to miss. You and your faily are invited to "make it one more time" and take advantage of another very special offer to visit Hyatt Regency Lost Pines for $129 per night.

The offer is available only to past Lost Pines guests Sunday-Thursday nights between August 5th and August 30th. You can visit lostpines.hyatt.com and use offer code 1MORE. I'm not sure if they're truly checking to see if you've stayed before but it's worth a shot.

As for Houston, here are a couple places to check out the next time you visit or you may have missed in your own backyard.

We met up with some friends today at Mint Cafe', a family-run Lebanese restaurant located in a shopping center on Sage and West Alabama - caddycorner from Macy's in the Galleria. A variety of homemade Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes make this a great place for a light lunch, a Sunday afternoon meal with friends or an evening bite. The atmosphere is modern but casual and the food is excellent. I particularly like the chicken kafta kabob sandwich. The complimentary olive tapenade and pita chips are delicious and the babaganouj has a wonderfully smoky flavor. Locals routinely rate the restaurant highly for its authentic food and friendly service. The restaurant has been open less than a year but has already developed a loyal following.

Now, onto a store is anything but a secret. In fact, Bering's Hardware has been a favorite of Houstonians in River Oaks, West U. and the Memorial area since 1940 (even though it started as a lumberyard on the east side) Definitely not your run-of-the-mill hardware store, Bering's offers everything from traditional hardware items (think screws, PVC pipe, tools, caulk, etc. to gourmet foods, fine china, luxury baby items, stationery (one of the best selections in town) and more. We went by the West U. location at 3900 Bissonett to pick up some thank you notes but usually visit the Westheimer location. Either one has a great selection although the Bissonnet location is massive.

Lines Getting Longer

Think check-in and security lines are a hassle at your airport? Think again... ugh!?


Book Review: Hitching Rides with Buddha

If you travel enough, you start to find that some hotels maintain book exchanges where hotel guests can "borrow" a book in exchange for leaving a book. While in Costa Rica, our hotel, The Tamarindo Diria, had a small book exchange located near the staircase on the way to our room. I dropped off a copy of Ciao, America! by Beppe Severgnini and picked up a copy of Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson. Despite any Buddhist undertones, the book provides a witty and fascinating portrait of life in Japan.

The premise of the book is simple - the author sets upon a journey from Capa Sata in the south to Cape Soya in the north to follow the sakura or the blooming of the cherry blossom. As you read the book, you soon find out that tracking the cherry blossoms seems to be a national obsession in Japan.

I find that reading about Japan and the Japanese people is simply eye-opening. The more I read, the more I want to visit. Until then, I have to live vicariously through these types of travelogues. The book is filled with countless little vignettes of interactions with Japanese people as well as what it's like being a gaijin in Japan:

I wended my way through and the crowds parted like the sea before Moses. Women eyed me with intent indifference. Schoolchildren openly gawked, jaws gaping. Men watched my every move as though I might pull out a handgun and start shooting at any moment. Old women bowed with perfect precision, not a degree too low, not a degree too high. You could use the bows of Japanese grandmothers to chart the entire Japanese social hierarchy, from outcast to outsider, from doctor to lawyer to Emperor.

"A foreigner, look!" A flock of high-school girls burst past in a flury of nervous laughter, and boys, brave after the fact, whispered "Harro!" to the back of my head. "Ah, we have an international guest from America here today," said the disembodied voice of the PA system, the voice of a decidedly tinny god. "Maybe he will sing a song for us later."

That I, so average and unexceptional, should cause a stir among these bright crowds of costumes gives a new perspective on the idea of exotic. I remember a trip to a Japanese zoo, and how the children turned their backs on the caged wildebeest and watched me instead. More interesting than a wildebeest, became my personal motto after that. It was oppressive at times. When your face doesn't fit the national dimensions you find yourself in an observer-affected universe; your presence alters actions, and the very act of observing changes that which is observed. You cannot slip by unnoticed. You cannot forget the pigment you present to the world. If nothing else, Japan has taught me what it is like to be a visible minority."

The book is quite funny although Ferguson's synicism can sometimes grate on you. Despite being a hefty 410 pages, the book is a relatively quick read. Yes, the dimensions are a bit large for a briefcase when traveling but the entertainment factor makes it worthwhile.

Watch Those Bags!

More and more bags are disappearing as millions are lost each year by major airlines. British Airways alone lost a record 1.3 million bags in 2007. The comments from readers are endless.


Digging for Better Fares

I thought I would share something I just ran across earlier today. Here's the scoop...

I am considering visiting a client in Plainsboro, NJ for a face-to-face meeting. The client informed me they're roughly 45 minutes from Newark and 45 minutes from Philadelphia. After spending some time on Continental's page searching for fares, I found the following:

Houston to Philadelphia roundtrip - ~$340.00
Houston to Newark roundtrip - ~$1,050.00

So, by flying into Philadelphia, I save $700 and have an easier experience since getting in and out of Philadelphia is easier than Newark. Moral of the story - check alternate airports. Flying into a different airport can make a big difference.