Saturday, April 19, 2014

Save money by skipping eating out

Local Markets, like this one in Lativa, are a
fun and inexpensive way to enjoy local foods!
There is one way to save money that is pretty universal... Cutting down on the number of meals out.  This can be applied while at home or away traveling. A lot of people buy lunch at work everyday, spending at least $10 per meal.  Over the course of a month, that adds up to $200!  (And, this is a conservative estimate!)  Bringing lunch doesn't have to involve a big time commitment.  Places like Trader Joe's offer ready made and relatively healthy meals at around half the price of eating out.  If you can't commit to bringing lunch everyday, even small steps, like skipping the $2 soda adds up.

Local groceries, like this picture from Norway,
are a fun way to learn about local cuisine!
While traveling, I tend to eat at least breakfast "in," whether that be choosing a hotel that offers free breakfast, booking a vacation rental with a kitchen, or bringing along power bars in my luggage. Of course, I think part of the fun of traveling is experiencing new cuisine, but I don't think it's necessary three times a day over the course of a week (or more)! In addition, some of my fondest travel adventures include packing a lunch from a local grocery (which in itself can be an adventure) and finding a park or beach to enjoy a picnic!  A lot less expensive than a restaurant, and a real authentic experience.

Save money for a special meal out, like we
did at this Pectopah in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Hope these simple tips can $ave you some money at home and abroad... it adds up!
Making your own meal, and having a picnic, is both inexpensive
and an amazing experience, as we did in Sweden.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Images of Italy

To follow up on some previous posts regarding how to take travel photos (and use them as souvenirs), I wanted to share photos from some of my favorite travel destinations!  Starting with Italy.  Enjoy!

The Villa del Balbianello in Como, Italy.

Isle of Capri

Taormina, Sicily

Faraglioni Rocks, Isle of Capri

Trevi Fountain

The Eternal City (Rome) 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Benefits to Packing Light

A lot has changed in the airline industry over the last decade - including the ease of traveling with luggage. I try very hard to never check a bag, for several reasons: the extra time to check-in (and claim) luggage, the cost ($40+ round-trip), the chance of it being lost, etc. Whether you're packing for a week in Hawaii or two weeks in Iceland, here are some tips to help you pack light, and $ave a little on the journey :) 1)  Get a carry-on that is as large as possible, but still able to fit within the guidelines of airlines' carry-on sizes.  (These can be found on each airlines' website.)                  

2) Lay out everything you want to pack initially, and put at least 10% back. Most people don't wear everything they bring, so if you think ahead, you can save yourself the backache of carrying stuff you don't need. 3) Use space saver bags.  These are inexpensive, reusable, and easily compact all your clothing items.
4) Make sure to use any unused spaces.  Meaning, if you have a pair of tennis shoes, put your socks into the shoes instead of leaving that space empty.5) Always wear on the plane your largest clothing items, and layer. You can easily remove a sweater once your onboard versus fit that same bulky sweater into your bag.6) If I'm traveling internationally and plan on buying gifts, I'll pack an extra bag (small, foldable) into my luggage, and use that to bring back the souvenirs.  This allows you to only have to check your luggage one-way. In addition, if the luggage is lost or delayed on the return portion of your trip, it doesn't matter as much.7) Always use travel-size toiletries.Any more tips for packing light?  Leave suggestions below!
Avoid long lines and bulky luggage - Travel light!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Heavenly Hawaii

Since spring has arrived, I thought it would be a good time to post some warm weather travel pictures to get everyone thinking about summer adventures! I haven't met one person who visited Hawaii and didn't love it.  Here are some photos from several of my trips to the Islands, hopefully to inspire you to plan your own! Aloha!

Morning sun on Maui

Green turtle at Laniakea (aka Turtle Beach) on Oahu

Lei in the sand - Kaanapali

Haleakala Crater - Maui

Byodo-in-Temple, Oahu

Sunset over Waikiki Beach

Check back - I'll describe the exciting things to see and do on Maui and Oahu in future posts!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Spicy Taste of New Mexico

Following up on last week's post, Jamie, a resident of New Mexico, gives some tips on their "local flavor." Enjoy!

Get some green chile!  The State question is “Red or Green?” If you can’t make up your mind, you can also order any entrée “Christmas” which means your food will be smothered with half green chile sauce and half red chile sauce.  Lately our favorite place has been El Bruno’s for stellar margaritas and New Mexican cuisine.  Have them make guacamole table side or try their amazing chips and queso.  We always get the fiesta platter for 2 because it has a little bit of everything for a really great price and it is more than enough food for 2.  Another fun place to try for chile is El Pinto. It has excellent atmosphere full of patios and chile ristras.  If you want to take some chile home with you, they have a variety of delicious, authentic salsas and green chile that they jar, sell, and even ship. Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to see green chile cheeseburgers on the menu. It is a must try!  Breakfast burritos are also a must.  Golden Pride may not be much on ambiance, but they have the best breakfast burritos in town. #9 is our favorite.  The spiciness of all chile varies greatly, so if you aren’t sure if you can handle the heat, ask for the green chile on the side. It’s a perfect way to taste the local flavor in manageable doses!

Check out Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque!  Specifically, head to Old Town Pizza Parlor for lunch or dinner.  Locally owned, this place has an excellent wait staff and fresh food.  Their salads and calzones are some of my favorites.  They have the best mint iced tea as well as a perfect kids menu. All kids should try the cheese roll. One specialty dish is their green chile pasta alfredo—think huge bowl of hot cheesy goodness with a kick.  Here in New Mexico, we put green chile in almost everything!

Santa Fe   A day trip to Santa Fe (about 1 hour north of Albuquerque) would be well worth your time and money if you have it.  We enjoy taking the Rail Runner to Santa Fe for the day.  You can catch the train downtown in the morning, eat lunch at Tomasita’s in the Rail Yard, walk about 1 mile to explore the Santa Fe Plaza, grab a chocolate treat from Señor Murphy’s Candy Shop, see the famous spiral staircase, and head back to Albuquerque for dinner.  If you are driving, then stay for dinner and eat at the Blue Corn Café.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bienvenidos a Albuquerque

Jamie, the author of this post,
gives her suggestions for a visit to NM!
New Mexico has a flair for chile, turquoise, sunsets, and balloons.  Living in Albuquerque for almost a decade now myself, along with my native New Mexican husband and 2 kiddos, we get to enjoy beautiful weather and unique culture all the time!  If you find yourself traveling to the southwest, here are some things to do:

Enjoy the weather and scenery!  It is dry, sunny, and gorgeous!  The Sandia Mountains are fun to hike and you can take North America’s longest aerial tram ride to the top of the mountain!  It really is worth the ticket price.  (There are children, teen and senior discounts, making it a great deal!) Note that in winter this would still be a lovely view, but quite freezing at the top.  (If we actually have enough snow, you can ski down the back of the mountain.) The best time to hit the tram is fall or summer, especially if you want to hike around.  Also remember we are a mile high in altitude at the base of the mountain, so drink lots of water to prevent dehydration and slather on that sunscreen! If you want a leisurely walk, head to the Bosque, an area where the cottonwoods grow all along the Rio Grande River. Locals love it, and some even have fun geocaching here. (Just don’t expect lots of lush greens and overflowing water—we are in a drought here in the southwest!) In the fall, all the leaves turn beautiful yellow and it is a sight to see.

Albuquerque’s top event and claim to fame is the Balloon Fiesta!  This amazing event runs during the first two weekends in October every year.  It is hard to describe the true wonder and awe of hundreds of hot air balloons launching from Balloon Fiesta Park.  It really is a sight to see that outweighs the traffic, loss of sleep and prices. We go every year and it does not get old. Last year our kids convinced us to go twice: once for the morning Mass Ascension and then back another afternoon/evening for the gas balloon race launch and Balloon Glow. We had a blast!  

Tips on going to Balloon Fiesta:  Get discounted entrance tickets at the Albuquerque Costco, and get an extra early start to beat the traffic. We prefer to drive and pay to park rather than using the crowded bus system that limits the timing of your visit. Always have cash on hand to avoid ATM fees at the park. We bring our own blanket, hot cocoa, and snacks. Remember your camera and an extra battery because you will want to take a lot of pictures. We usually splurge on Tom Thumb mini doughnuts and breakfast burritos and then find a less crowded spot toward the back of the field where you can spread out a blanket and actually watch the whole process of inflation and lift-off of a few balloons. You can even talk to the balloon crews. We also enjoy collecting Balloon Fiesta Trading Cards and Pins, which you can buy in the pin trading tent. Many pilots and their crew hand out cards (they are just like baseball cards) about their balloon. The museum also is worth a look after the crowds die down. Be sure to pick your favorite special shape balloon too. Last year Snow White made her debut appearance.  One last thing: Locals don’t call it a festival, it’s a FIESTA!

Check out Old Town Plaza!  Enjoy the southwest architecture; peruse the shops full of chile ristras, Native American jewelry and art, and plenty of other southwestern souvenir items. Tiguex Park is right nearby, as well as 3 small museums. If you have kids, definitely check out Explora and plan to have 1-3 hours of hands-on fun. If you like Dinosaurs and history, check out the natural history museum. If you like art, check out the art museum. You could spend about an hour at each, depending on how in depth you like to study exhibits.

Check back next week when Jamie describes some of her favorite places to eat in and around Albuquerque! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

"If most American cities are about the consumption of culture, Los about the production of culture." ~Barbara Kruger

Gabe, a native of LA, describes some of his
favorite cultural aspects of the city.
Following up on the last post, Gabe describes LA’s cultural spots:

One way to judge a major city is by the quality of its artistic culture.  My tastes tend to run towards what we generally call high culture, so I am not an expert on the more local scenes, where to see the best graffiti, and the like.  However, Los Angeles does sport a number of world-class museums that are not to be missed.  On the top of the list are the two Getty Museums: the “New Getty” near Mulholland, or the original Getty Villa in Malibu.  The original Getty now houses the Getty foundation's classical and ancient art collections (an outstanding collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art).  Its location, on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Palisades, can’t be beat.  The newer Getty is a monumental set of structures overlooking the 405 Freeway, UCLA, and Los Angeles in general.  Designed by Richard Meier, it also has lovely gardens, and a variety of rotating exhibits, as well as its permanent collection.  The exhibits it puts on, as well as its stunning photography collections (one of the best in the world), are almost always outstanding.

La Brea Tar Pits
Also worth your time are a visit to the mid-Wilshire district, to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Page Museum at the La Brea Tarpits (next to each other).  LA’s collection of modern art is really quite good.  Though it is no New York MOMA, both the exhibits and permanent collections are top notch.  The Tar Pits, however, are something pretty unique.  Tar has been bubbling up in the area for at least 40,000 years.  And the various animals that have found themselves trapped in there have been excavated on and off from the late 19th century.  Here, you will find dire wolves, saber tooth tigers, deers, mammoths, and a variety of other creatures.  Another family friendly place.

View of UCLA and downtown LA from the Getty Museum
Perhaps, however, you are tired of spending time in West Los Angeles, and want to head out to the Valley, or beyond the Valley.  Pasadena, home to Caltech, also has two not to be missed museums and gardens.  Though you won’t see Leonard or Sheldon, the Norton Simon Museum and The Huntington Library and Gardens are worth the trip, despite that Big Bang disappointment.  The Norton Simon has a really stellar collection of European and Modern Art, an Asian art collection, as well as a great sculpture gardens.  The Huntington Library is one of the great archival sources on the west coast. But it is the Gardens that are the special things.  One of the great botanical gardens in the world, The Huntington is truly amazing.  With over 120 acres of landscaped area, including amazing roses and lovely Japanese gardens, they are a special place.

LA Culture Things:

Grauman's Mann Chinese Theater
So, while I have suggested that LA is more than Hollywood, even that Hollywood is a veneer, that isn’t quite fair.  Hollywood, and the culture it inspires, is very much part of the fabric of Los Angeles.  And if you are going to experience Los Angeles, you really need to do some of the LA things. One should go to Grauman’s Mann Chinese Theater, and see the handprints of Hollywood’s royalty.  You can stop by Universal Studios and take the tour, getting to see a little of the inside of how movies are made, go on the rides, and perhaps eat at some overpriced tourist traps on the Universal Citywalk.  You should go to Hollywood and Vine, near the Chinese Theater, and see the tourist spectacle that is downtown Hollywood.  You might take a trip out to Anaheim, and go to Disneyland (very pricey, just fyi).  You could even find one of the many tour buses that drive around and show you the homes of the rich and famous. One way or another, you should do a Hollywood thing (I recommend one of the first three, especially the ones that are free).  If you want something a little stranger, and more interesting, though, I suggest going to the Hollywood Forever cemetery.  One of the older cemeteries in LA, it is home to many people from the entertainment industry, and important social and political folks from LA’s history (if you want to see Marilyn Monroe’s grave, however, that is in a little cemetery in Westwood, not far from U.C.L.A.).  The cemetery also has music events and summer movie screenings.  It is really great fun.
What's a visit to LA without seeing Beverly Hills?

LA culture isn’t just Hollywood.  The Sunset Strip, for instance, is home to clubs like “The Whiskey A Go Go,” where classic bands such as Doors were brought to national attention.  You should also go downtown, to Olvera Street.  It is the oldest part of downtown LA.  It still has a number of historical buildings from the early days of Los Angeles (19th century, that is).  It is a tourist attraction to be sure, and the picture of Spanish culture is presents is certainly a-historical.  But it has a lively street scene, and interesting vendors, selling pottery, puppets, serapes, and the like.  Which reminds me: shopping.  There is much shopping to be done in LA.  And even if you aren’t going to actually shop, there is much window shopping and people watching to be done.  You can go see the extra-extravagant in Beverly Hills, on Rodeo Drive.  If you are in Santa Monica, you can wander along 3rd Street Promenade, home to many popular chain stores, and some good restaurants.  It is a few blocks of pedestrian only space, very close to the beach.  If you want to see what the hip and hipster folk are wearing these days, you can go to Melrose Avenue, home of fancy boutiques, for clothing or furniture, or foods.

Lastly, I will recommend that you visit a Mission.  And the most likely one is Mission San Fernando Rey de España.  Visited by California 4th graders every year, the Missions are a required part of California history.  Originally taught as part of a story of the expansion of the civilizing process, the story now is much more nuanced.  The chain of 21 missions that span the El Camino Real (The Royal Highway), were part of the Spanish expansion and control of California.  They represent the real arrival of the non-Indian peoples to California.  They brought new peoples, new foods, new plants, and new animals, to what would become the 31st state.  They also brought Christianity to the indigenous peoples, with all the complexity that that entailed.  Amerindians were often forced to work the land, and, as it did with all the Columbian interactions, death tolls could be high, especially from disease.  But you cannot understand the history of California without the Missions.  Located at the north end of the San Fernando Valley, right between the 405 and the 5 freeways, it is well worth your time.

Window Shopping on famous Rodeo Drive!
I hope this gives you some ideas of things to do in Los Angeles.  Many of these things can be easily found in guidebooks.  That is, this isn’t exactly hidden LA.  But it is my sense of some of the important things that make LA what it is.  If you are interested in some of the things off the beaten path, I’ll be happy to make an addendum to this post (for instance, a tour of architectural LA is definitely worth doing.  And LA is a great place for foodies, but that is a post all its own).  Los Angeles is a wonderful city – yes, it is messy and complex, and transportation is a disaster.  Like all big cities, the gaps between rich and poor are striking (a visit to the Watts Towers) will highlight this.  But it is also remarkable.  It is culturally vibrant, there are excellent museums and theater, its beaches and mountains are gorgeous, its people range from the everyday nice folks, to the ridiculous, and it has a depth that can come as a surprise.  I hope you get a chance to enjoy it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Los Angeles is seven suburbs in search of a city." - Alexander Woollcott

Gabe, a native of LA, describes its "nature side" in this post.
All cities are complex. They have tourist spots, and places off the beaten path. They have parts that are easy to get to, and others that are hidden. So I am not saying that Los Angeles is unique when I suggest that it is complex.  However, in some ways it is more complex than most, and for two reasons. The first is more cultural: Hollywood pervades the space of the city, creating a real veneer that is both interesting and frustrating. It is part of the reason why people come, but it also disguises a social and culturally vibrancy that rivals any of the great cities of the world. This isn’t to say that a visitor to LA shouldn’t do Hollywood things, there are wonderfully historical and current things to be seen and experienced, but it does mean that you have to work a little harder, especially on a short trip, to get below the surface. That it is more than Hollywood is clear if you just read its name: El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula (which translates to The City of our Lady the Queen of Angeles of the Porciuncula River). Though initially settled by the Tongva and Chumash Native American peoples centuries ago, the city itself was founded following the building of the first local mission, the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel around 1781. This is not the place to go into the history and development of Los Angeles. All I want to do is point out that if one were only to see the actors and other “beautiful people,” you would miss not only the fascinating history of the place, but the non-Hollywood things you could be doing.

The second reason for the complexity of Los Angeles is its geography.  Its area is vast. The city itself is 503 square miles, and that doesn’t count the full-incorporated cities of Santa Monica, Culver City, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, Burbank, and the like. To drive from Santa Monica to Pasadena will take you anywhere from 40min to 1.5hrs to traverse the 25 miles of LA freeways. The key word here is drive; one of the hardest parts about being a visitor to Los Angeles is that to really experience its diversity, you have to have access to a car. There is a public transportation network. But it is very limited. My recommendation, then, is that if you want to get the most out of your LA trip, rent a car.

So, now you have your car (a convertible, if you want to be totally cliché). What should you do? Where should you go? What should you look at? What follows will be a few recommendations in each of the following categories: Nature things; Museum things; and LA Culture things. These are by no means the only things to do.  Or even necessarily the best things.  But they will give you a sense of Los Angeles that is more than Baywatch or any other tv show. And they should also be fun and interesting.

Nature Things – Oceans and Mountains

Santa Monica Pier & Beach
Nothing is more iconic about California, and Los Angeles in particular, than its beaches. And no visit to LA would be complete without a visit to the shoreline. Whether you want to go to tide pools, surf, take in the sun, or just people watch, LA is one of the best places in world. Now, there are many beaches to choose from; however, my recommendations are a good place to start, and I will give you three. First is the most iconic: The Santa Monica Pier and Beach. Santa Monica itself is a fascinating a place, a city fenced in by the city of Los Angeles on one side, and the ocean on the other. And its pier is one of the classic LA places. You will get a wonderful view of the water, Catalina on a clear day, and the adjacent beaches are lovely and a scene themselves. In the evenings in the summers there can be jazz and other free concerts. And it is a great place to people watch, though a little on the touristy side. Further south is Venice Beach. If people watching is really your thing, this is place to go. Filled with Muscle Beach, local street life, a great bike path, and of course the beach itself, Venice is a scene unto itself. However, if what interests you is more the natural world, you need to go north up the coast, to Malibu (home of some of the rich and famous), or, preferable up to Zuma, which is one of the prettiest beaches between LA and Santa Barbara.

Though the beaches are fun and stunning, the Santa Monica mountains, which divide West Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley (known in the area as “The Valley”), have a beauty all their own. The ecosystem there is called chaparral. These are not the forested mountains of Northern California, or the higher peaks of the Rockies; rather, these mountains are characterized by scrub oaks, non-deciduous plants in general, and a dense brush, all of which can occasionally erupt into impressive wildfires (which are, in fact, an important part of the ecosystem and biodiversity). It is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, from the smaller lizards and snakes (only the rattlesnake is venomous), red tailed hawks, California Quail (the state bird), to larger mammals like deer, coyotes, mountain lions, and the things they eat, like rabbits, raccoons, possums, and of course, the afore mentioned reptiles. There are a variety of hikes one can do, but two stand out to me. The first, is to go to Dirt Mulholland, and hike up to the Nike Missile Silo. Not only will you get great views of Los Angeles, but you will also see a little bit of its Cold War history. Once upon a time, when the United States was worried that Russia might try to nuke California, missile silos ringed the US, including Los Angeles. Dirt Mulholland leads to one of these Nike missile locations. Another hike option is Runyon Canyon. This hike has the advantage for beginning hikers to get into the Hollywood Hills. The views from the summit will give you views of the LA Basin, the Sunset Strip, and the Hollywood sign. For those who just want a nice lookout point, there is a great on just to the east of Beverly Glen on Mulholland Drive. It will give you a view of both the Valley and Downtown Los Angeles. It is also lovely at night to see the lights of the city (though the little lookout point is a sunrise to sunset location only). There are other hikes to be done, many more rigorous. And if someone is interested, tell your lovely blogger, and I’ll be happy to make some recommendations.

Griffith Observatory
Lastly, there are a variety of wonderful hikes to be done in Griffith Park. One of the largest urban parks in the country, it covers over 4,000 acres. Unlike more manicured parks, Griffith is at least somewhat in its natural state. There is a lot of free parking around, so it is a pretty cost-effective destination. According to the website, there are 53 miles of trails, fire roads, and bridle paths. Besides the number of trails, it is also home to the Griffith Observatory, a really wonderful place to see Hollywood and Burbank. It is also iconic, especially for its appearance in the James Dean classic, Rebel without a Cause. There is a nice hike that goes from the Observatory to Mount Hollywood. There are also other things in close proximity to the Park. The LA Zoo is nearby, as is Traveltown, a home to old trains (this is a particularly fun place for younger children, as you can climb on the trains).  In addition, two of the great concert venues are nearby: The Hollywood Bowl, and The Greek Theatre. Both are excellent, if you want to see some live music of the more expensive kind.

A Collegiate interlude

Though there are more, LA proper is home to two world class universities: The University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) and the University of Southern California (USC). Both campuses are lovely, have museums and guided tours, and are worth visiting. U.C.L.A., in particular, is quite beautiful. And it has a fabulous sculpture gardens that are worth a visit. There, you can interact with Rodin, Jean Arp, Clader, Matisee, Lipchitz, and more. USC is located in downtown Los Angeles, so you might double that up with your visit to downtown – you could also check out the Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry if you are in the downtown area. U.C.L.A. is in Westwood, in the heart of west LA, an easy stop if you are doing anything from the beaches to mid-Wilshire, or on your way from West LA to the Valley.

Next week’s post will cover LA’s “Museum and Culture” options. A city so vast, it can’t be confined to one post!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Adventure Capital of the World

First commercial Bungee jumping site.
If you're looking for a little adventure, be sure to visit Queenstown, New Zealand. The "Adventure Capital of the World!" Did you know it was here, in 1979, that A J Hackett invented Bungee jumping?  I didn't, until I visited the city with my younger brother, who decided he wanted to take the leap! If the original jump of 141 feet off a suspension bridge over freezing water below isn't a big of enough thrill, there are now even higher options, including a 440 foot drop from a highwire cable car!

Jet boating the Shotover Canyon River
Bungee jumping seem too dangerous?  It did to me!  I instead opted for "jet boating." Our driver was an ex-racecar driver, who speed up to 85kph through the Shotover Canyon river within reach of the canyon's rocks and in water only 10cm deep at times! Turns out this was a much risker activity than the bungee jumping I was so nervous about!  Take home lesson - always research the risk before you choose an activity! Besides these heart racing adventures, Queenstown also offers whitewater rafting, river surfing, and canyon swinging for the adrenaline junkies.

If you have a family, and not everyone wants to participate in these more extreme activities, Queenstown, and New Zealand in general, offer a plethora of other fun adventures.  Some other suggestions include visiting beautiful Milford Sound, "Lord of the Rings" tours of filming locations, snow skiing, hiking, and wine tasting. And, a trip to the top of Queenstown via the Skyline Gondola can't be missed!  Enjoy your trip and stay safe!

Beautiful Queenstown, New Zealand

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Milwaukee ~ A city of beer and baseball and more!

My recommendations, below, of interesting spots in Milwaukee are really just the tip of the iceberg. But the tip includes the high spots (sorry for the pun). Milwaukee is easy to get to, just a two hour drive from downtown Chicago, traveling north on Interstate 94. Here are some things you'll want to see!

Kathleen, the author of this post, describes some of her
favorite places in her city of residence ~ Milwaukee, WI!
First, let's address the beer and baseball.  Miller Park, is where the major league baseball team, the Brewers, play. Insider's tip, for those who don't want to walk the really long distances from general parking, you can nab a closer parking spot for only $15 extra. There is a great store and restaurant right at Miller Park. Interested in beer? You can tour the Miller Brewing Company, with tasting at the end. How about a little history? Tour the Captain Frederick Pabst Barons. It too had a small gift shop. Check out the craft breweries, of course, and the pubs along Water Street.

In the mood for a different brew: tea? Try the Pfister Hotel for their Sunday afternoon high tea. As you are traveling downtown, don't miss the Milwaukee Public Museum, with its show on downtown Milwaukee of 150 years ago. Also in the downtown area: the Betty Brinn Children's Museum, and Discovery World. If you go to Discovery World, you will find yourself at the lakefront, and on one of my many favorite drives, Lincoln Memorial Drive. Continue on and you will pass the Milwaukee Art Museum with its beautiful Calatrava-designed wing. It has paintings by Picasso and Georgia O'Keefe, among others. You'll see folks skating, walking dogs, and swimming along the shoreline. Turn north again at Lake Drive and you'll see the stately mansions backing onto Lake Michigan.

Here are a few things I left out: The Harley-Davidson Museum; the "Domes" with their enclosed arid and tropical zones; the Basilica of St. Josaphat; Marquette University; the downtown Riverwalk (and statue of Fonzie from "Happy Days"), and cruises; Old World Third Street (pick up some cheeses and sausages) and of course the Milwaukee County Zoo. Also a wonderful time: the summer ethnic festivals, starting with Summerfest in late June. For more information, try this website.

No matter the weather, I could sit at the waterfront, drinking local Colectivo coffee and watch Lake Michigan and its sailboats, by the hour. Enjoy your Milwaukee trip!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Valentine's Traditions Abroad

With Valentine's Day approaching, I thought it would be fun to examine Valentine's traditions across the world!

England - The tradition of modern Valentine's Day started in England in the 19th century. Flowers (red roses) are the most common gifts and are often sent anomyously.

South Korea - On February 14th women present men in their lives with chocolate.  A month later, on March 14th, the men return the favor.

Taiwan - Once isn't enough!  Valentine's Day is celebrated twice a year - once on February 14th and again on July 7th, which corresponds to February 14th on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The number of roses varies based on the relationship - One rose means you're his "one and only," 11 means you are his "favorite," and 100 roses is a marriage proposal!

Russia - Valentine's is a relatively new tradition, and women are given many types of flowers, not just roses.

Finland - In this country February 14th is "Ystavanpaiva" or "Friend's Day," in which people celebrate not just their loved ones, but their friend's also!

Latin America - Most Latin American countries celebrate "Dia del amor y la amistad" or "Day of Love and Friendship" along with "Amigo secreto" or "Secret Friend" in which a group of friends gives anonymous gifts to one another.

Singapore - Valentine's Day = Big Spending, with 60% of people spending between $100-$500 during the holiday.

Catalonia - Traditional Valentine's Day isn't celebrated, but rather "La Diada de Sant Jordi" or "St. George's Day" is celebrated on April 23rd. Historically, men give women roses while women give men a book.

Japan - The celebration in this country is based solely around chocolate.  In fact, Japan sells half of its annual sales during this holiday! Women give chocolates to the men in their lives, and men return the sweets (but they need to be at least twice the cost), on March 14th's "White Day."

Are you from a country not listed?  Share your Valentine's customs in the comment section below!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Via Magazine - Local Activity Ideas

Following up on my last post, if you are an AAA member in the West, they provide a monthly magazine, Via, with local travel and safety tips. Another perk!  The content of these magazines is also available online. A recent article, linked here, suggests places for indoor fun during winter weather. If you live in the West, check it out! Otherwise, search online for your local version of the magazine. It's always full of great activity ideas!