Saturday, June 29, 2013

High Tea – Pinkies Up!

I think my Aussie in-laws were British in a former life, as it seems that every time we vacation with them, we must go out for High Tea.  And not just any old place where you can get a teabag and a cup of hot water, oh no.  We have been to such esteemed places as the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney, the Veranda at the Moana Hotel in Honolulu, and the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia.  All of them serve a very proper British-style tea with the cucumber sandwiches and the tiny scones.  And they all make a big deal out of the tea and how it is served.   When the waiter has to tell you how to drink your tea, it immediately becomes a big deal.  Maybe not quite to the level of a Japanese Tea Ceremony, but it still makes me feel like I don’t know the rules and I will inevitably do something WRONG.  It is a study in minding my manners – my mother would have been proud.
Empress Hotel

Peninsula Hotel
Moana Hotel

Friday, June 21, 2013

What do you mean, it’s “fogged-in”?

I have given up trying to predict the weather when I travel.  I have managed to be in places when it is unseasonably cold, or unseasonably hot, or very windy for this time of year, or most likely the rainiest it has been all year.  Rain and clouds and fog like to follow me around the globe.   

In Taiwan, I was excited to go to the top of Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world.  They say the view is incredible!  I will have to take their word for it, as it was cloudy and rainy and I couldn’t see a thing.  I got a brief glimpse of the outside before the weather closed in, but absolutely nothing but gray skies from the observation deck.   

 The same thing happened when I went to Switzerland.  I was going to the Alps!  I was going to see the Matterhorn!  Or not.  Even though I was there in June, I had rain and fog in Zermatt, and near-blizzard conditions at the Jungfraujoch in Interlaken.   
Ok – so maybe I should have expected snow in the mountains.  But at the Grand Canyon?  In March?  My Aussie husband had lived in the States for almost 10 years but had not seen much of the American southwest, so we flew into Phoenix and then drove up to the Grand Canyon.   I had not realized that the elevation of the south rim of the Canyon was almost 7,000 feet (over 2,000 meters per my Aussie husband) so I was rather surprised that there was snow on the ground when we got there in the late afternoon.  As mAh was keen to see the majesty of the canyon, we drove to the rim for a sunset view.  Lucky we did, because it started to snow that night and all the next day with a near whiteout in the area.  This was our view of the Grand Canyon that day.  Not so impressive, is it?   

In other weather related news; we ran into the Mistral winds while in France on our latest adventure and let me tell you the French are not kidding when they talk about them howling down the Rhone Valley.  We endured them for 2 1/2 days until we were able to escape to the Langedoc.   
My worst weather while traveling?  A few years ago I was talked into taking a cruise from Florida to the Bahamas, in November.  Living on the west coast of the US, I didn’t pay much attention to the weather on the east side of the country.  Things like “hurricanes” did not register on the radar for me.  They should have as I found myself in the midst of one on Grand Bahama Island.   It was rather scary, and it made for a nasty boat trip.  The beaches were closed, as were most of the other tourist attractions, except for the casinos.   I got a lot of reading done that week.  Oh well – it was a lesson to me to not have a weather-dependent holiday!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How Not to Pack

I like to think of myself as a fairly savvy traveler, but I fail miserably when it comes to packing for a trip.  I like to have options in my wardrobe choices each day.  Several options.  I cannot seem to pack lightly.   
 My Aussie husband picks out a couple of pairs of pants, maybe some shorts depending on our destination, and then throws some coordinating shirts in.  Done.   
I wish!   It also doesn’t matter if we will have access to a washing machine during the trip – I have to have a full contingent of clothes for the entire duration.  For instance, I have to have several different tops for each day, in case I am not in the mood to wear what might be the obvious choice.  Fortunately, I can pack a lot into any given suitcase, but it most certainly will be checked luggage.  Which came back to haunt me on our last trip…    
As I packed for our trip to the South of France, I thought, “We will have a connecting flight and be changing planes.  What happens if one of our bags gets lost?”  and so I split up the clothes so that some for both of us was in each of the 2 bags.  I thought I was being pretty smart!  Until we arrived at our destination, but neither of our bags did…  Sigh.  The truly sad part of it was that we also had a small carry-on that I *should* have put a change of clothes into, for just such an emergency.   
It all turned out ok in the end, as the airline delivered our luggage to us that next morning, but I have learned a valuable lesson.  Unfortunately that lesson is not to pack less so it fits into a carry-on bag, but to pack MORE so that I have an extra outfit with me at all times.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Traveling With Friends

My Aussie in-laws often travel with friends; when they travel on their own, they inevitably make friends that they then travel with later.  They love it!   I had never considered it – until one of our friends mentioned that she thought it would be fun to rent a house for a week and get the gang to go and stay there.  In France.  Before I knew it, three couples had signed on and we had set a date and rented a house in the Dordogne region.  None of us had visited that area, so were excited to explore.  Unfortunately, we were also unfamiliar with the little windy roads and the distances between places.  Towns that looked close on the maps took hours to get to and we wound-up driving a lot more than we had envisioned.  We did however manage to find some time to spend at our house – a 5 bedroom chateau close to the river.  It had a large kitchen that we could all work in, and we felt very European as we shopped at the local village market and brought all the goodies back for a fabulous meal.  I was starting to like this whole friend travel thing.  I liked it even more when we were able to arrange for a group tasting at a small family-run winery outside of Cahors.  The owner/winemaker at La Gineste was a very welcoming and interesting man, and he and his wife had prepared a plate of cured meats to nibble while we tasted their lovely wine.  And then they brought out a cheese platter.  And then there was some cake, to have with their most robust wine.   

Three hours later we had toured the winery, tasted everything they bottled, and stuffed ourselves with the “tasting accompaniment” which we had been assured repeatedly was “not lunch”.  It was one of the best days we have ever spent with our friends.