Category Archives: Uncategorized

Chug-a-Lug for Clean Water Around the World

As a traveler, I can totally appreciate the need for more clean water around the world.  This is World Water Week and without going anywhere except your fave resto or bar, you can help!  Go to www.tapproject.org and find Chicago restaurants — and restaurants in 20 other cities around the U.S. – who are raising money for UNICEF’s World Water Project this week.  Do it.  It’s a good thing.

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Spring Training = Training for Summer!

I only glommed onto baseball  several years ago, thanks to my mom, a long-time, and as we learned, rather hardcore, fan, and

thanking ... um, the Gods, for a good inning against the Brewers

thanking ... um, the Gods, for a good inning against the Brewers

ever since – baseball means something – it signals summer — all the joys of sunshine, hot weather, cold beer, carefree times, and you get a fast, suspenseful game to boot!  And as a Cubs fan (if the wind is out of the north, I can hear the roar of the crowd  from my living room), baseball is a particularly joyful, if sometimes frustrating pursuit.  So off we went on a four-day weekend to Mesa, Arizona for three Cubs spring training games.  I was dreaming of sunshine, hot weather, hot dogs, cold beer and … BASEBALL!

 

 Our destination: Mesa, AZ, and HoHoKam Park, winter home of the Chicago Cubs.  Now if there’s one thing I observed, spring training ballparks are not in the most fabulous neighborhoods, but never mind that.  The ballpark itself was delightful – intimate, clean, good food options – everything you could want! 

As far as hotels: Mesa is home to one chain after another: a thousand Marriott chains, La Quinta and others.   We unpacked our bags at the Marriott Courtyard http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/phxme-courtyard-phoenix-mesa/, which was just fine — nice, updated rooms, nice staff, a courtyard pool area with lounge chairs and towels.  TIP: Skip the expensive and very mediocre breakfast there and head for Mimi’s Cafe just a 5-minute walk away. 

Our room on the West side of hotel - nice sunset views!

Our room on the West side of hotel - nice sunset views!

Your mission on a spring training trip, of course,  is baseball.  If your mission is baseball combined with resort, you’ll want to go for a Phoenix or Scottsdale resort. Online research unearthed a FANTASTIC New Mexican restaurant (www.blueadobegrill.com) – which we visited TWICE over three days — smoky, spicy tamales, chiles rellenos, tangy salsa – much of it smoked over pecan wood — DELICIOUS!  Nothing to look at from the road, but the ambiance inside is charming and delightful.  I recommend stashing a bottle of wine in your checked luggage as there was not much within walking distance -tho we did score a $12 bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at a nearby convenience store.

The Blue Adobe Grill

Sunrise Tours (http://www.travelsunrise.com) provided air travel and all ground transportation and did a nice job of it.  All in all: we saw the Cubs lose three games, but opening day is mere weeks awayand as Cubs fans, say, “This is the year!”

Do Tough Times Trounce Travel?

Hell, no!  This Civilized Traveler might be making a few changes to her travel strategy, but eliminate it entirely?  I’d rather eat bleu cheese – blech!  So, herewith, a few things I’m doing to feed the travel passion during this little economic shitstorm we’re all weathering.

1. Wake up to Mini-Breaks!  The four-day weekend is back, for me!  I’m jetting off to Mesa, AZ for four days of  sun, fun, tangy margaritas, spicy Southwestern food and CUBS spring training games in March, and then planning another long weekend in Portland, OR in May to visit friends and family and explore the food scene that I’ve read so much about.  It’s nice to have a little something to look forward to on a fairly consistent basis  – and Lords knows reviewing my financial statements is most definitely not doing the trick these days.

2. “Um, Hi, United States, I’m Liz, nice to meet you” –  I’m getting to know the nation that some say screwed the pooch on this economic thing, but hey — you can get almost anywhere now on Southwest Airlines for a few hundo, and this country is pretty 4-day friendly when it comes to the get-aways.

3.  “Dear Europe: I haven’t turned my back on you entirely! ”  Yes, flights are still pricey and who knows where that wacky Euro is on its way to (up? down? sideways?)  but I’m using miles to book a trip to Spain this coming fall.  Go ahead, roll the roulette wheel of European currency – you never know – the Euro could achieve parity with the dollar by September and that’d be SWEET!

4.  And lastly, live vicariously through those who are jetting off to Caribbean resorts and sandy Mexican beaches – I’ve been able to thoroughly appreciate others’ vacation stories and start planning a spring beach break for next year!

Hotel it UP!

Hotels – love ’em or hate ’em, any traveler encounters them regularly!  Here I share a few tips and ideas for getting the most out of any hotel stay, be it business or pleasure.

1. You never know if you never ask!  When you check in, ask if the hotel is full.  Then ask what type of room they have for you.  And THEN ask if there are any possible upgrades available.  What you’re looking for here is “free.”  And if you’re nice (you can assume that hotel front desk people have to deal with the same lot of humanity that airline reservations people and flight attendants have to deal; niceness counts), you just may be happily surprised.  If nothing is available, smile and say, “thanks for checking.”

2. Pack it, baby.  I usually pack a scented candle, slippers or socks, a little snack or two (some nuts, or crackers or what not), and a Diet Coke (oh, the horrors of being surprised with a) no mini bar (where a Diet Coke costs, like, $5 for cryin’ out loud – what is UP with that?), b) no vending machine or c) a vending machine that does not work.   I have also learned that packing a half-bottle of wine is quite the delight if you’re going to be there for a couple days.  It’s nice to return to your room at the end of a business day and treat yourself to a glass (without racking up a hotel bar bill and trying to slide that past on your expense report!)  Just remember to pack a corkscrew (I’ve had no problems getting it past security.)  If you toss a half-bottle into you bag, you WILL have to check it – but sometimes you can find a nice little shop near your hotel selling half bottles, too (and the afore-mentioned Diet Cokes.)

3. Unplug the stupid alarm clock/radio in the room.  NO MORE will I be woken at 4:15 a.m. by an alarm that either a previous guest set or a maid accidentally set.  I use my cell phone alarm clock instead.

4. If there is a coffee machine set-up in the room, call downstairs and ask for MORE coffee packets/ pod things.  Because, seriously, you have to make two half-cups to make a whole cup of anything strong enough to get this Princess up and at it in the morning.   Don’t forget to ask for extra cream or sugar packets while you’re at it.

5. Pillow fight: I was recently at the Biltmore in L.A. for a tres glam event (the Grammy Awards if you must know) and had my hair all glammed up for the big fete.  How I wished I had a satin pillowcase for overnight coiffure maintenance.  I called downstairs to see if they had one, but alas, the answer was no.   Am thinking of packing my own for my next big Hollywood affair. 

All in all, the name of the game here is ask, ask, ask.  If you do it nicely, you will be rewarded more often than not, I promise.

Top Tips for Civilized Travel Without Breaking the Bank

Traveling is AWESOME … and it’s especially so if you’re rich and can buy first-class tickets, stay at five-star hotels, have a car and driver, a personal concierge, a valet, a sherpa, personal chef and sommelier, tailor, stylist, masseuse and Lord knows what kind of other support people there are.  But – 10 years of traveling has enlightened me.  Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to fly business class on international flights many times and I’ve splurged on some ridiculously expensive hotels and experiences, but I’ve also learned how to make lemonade out of lemons when the budget just can’t budge that much!   

Herewith – a few of my favorite tips for traveling in a civilized manner on a welfare budget.  OK, not welfare — but not Rockefeller, either.  Hope they’re of use to you or someone you know!

  • FLIGHTS: OK, people, this is a critical step, especially for international flights.  I’m a picky bitch sometimes, and I won’t settle for just any seat, on any airline, blah, blah, blah.  Here is how you can turn a Coach class experience into your own personal Business Class environment (CAVEAT: this works best when you have a two-leg international trip.)

1. Say you’re going to Rome, from Chicago, via Toronto.  In Coach.  Check in for the whole enchilada at one time and you can often get a bulkhead or exit row seat on the long leg – because no one in Toronto is checking in for the Rome leg as early as you are in Chicago!  OK, seat selection: check.

2. OK, say this worked for you: voila, you have enough room to put your feet up!  But only if you pack a carry-on that can double as an ottoman.  That way you can stretch out and put your feet up on it!

3. Bring towelettes of some kind.  While the peeps up in Biz Class are getting hot towels, you can wash your own hands with a scented towelette or wipe.  Nice.  And frankly, a hot towel only dries out your skin if you ask me.

4. Have your own happy hour!  Yes, you can smell the warm almonds up in Business class, but if you pack your own, you can enjoy a glass of wine or whatever drink you prefer, with whatever you please.  I like to bring roasted almonds, maybe some good cheese and crackers (I swore off the olives, as they just don’t travel that well and you’ve got olive pits to deal with.)   

5. By all means, bring ear plugs and an eye mask.  With two glasses of wine and an Ambien (aka, the Amy Winehouse road to a good night’s sleep), you’ve got quiet and darkness and you can snooze away.

6. Bring hand cream and lip balm.  Dude, it gets drier than the Mojave and it feels like a little first-class pampering as well.  I used to bring a can of facial spritz until the TSA seized it.

7. Buy at least two liters of water at the airport AFTER Security.  Force yourself to drink it if you have to, but you will feel SO much better when you land.  You can never get enough from the flight attendants.  It’s heavy, but you won’t be carrying it off the plane, so don’t worry about it.

8. Bring socks!  Comfy, comfy, comfy.

9. Be nice to the flight attendants.  They have the power to dole out complimentary wine or cocktails and/or generally bestow any other favorable treatments to you – but ONLY if you’re a nice person.  And civilized travelers are nice by default!

NEXT WEEK: How to wrangle a hotel upgrade, and/or enhance your overall hotel experience!

 

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