Holiday travel

Flying this holiday season?

Take a deep breath and be prepared for a lot of company!

There are a few things you can do to make sure your flying plans stay on track, and if something does happen to be prepared.

1. Always watch your reservation at the airlines website for schedule changes, delays and cancelations.  If something does happen call the airline right away to confirm the changes or ask to re-booked on another flight.

2. Check-in with the airline at the earliest possible time, usually 24 hours before your first flight.  Checking in online will usually get you a seat assignment,m and allow you to make changes to your seat if you aren't happy with the one you already have.  If you are not able to confirm a seat while checking in get to the airport early to have a seat assigned.  With no seat you risk being the first one bumped off a flight if it is oversold.

3. Make sure the airline has your contact information and your frequent flyer numbers.  Airlines are doing a good job of being more proactive during irregular operations (irrops), calling customers to let them know of changes.

4. I always have a back-up plan, I know which other flights the airline operates that will get me to the same destination, and the flights of other airlines if I need to ask to be moved to another carrier.

5. If something does go wrong and you are at the airport don't wait for the airline staff to tell you what to do.  Get in a customer service line immediately AND call the airlines 1-800 number, use which ever one you get to first.  If you are at a big airport and an airline hub they should have customer service desks located throughout the airport.  Sometimes a desk a couple gates away will have shorter lines.

6. If it looks like you are going to be stuck at an airport overnight call a hotel and make a reservation right away, before the rest of the crowd catches on and beats you to the last available room.

7. Remain calm, remember that there will be a lot of other people in the same situation, you will do yourself no favor by getting angry at the airline staff, they control the seats, and being nice might just get you that last seat to grandma's house.

Happy Holidays


Lake Tahoe Skiing gets even better!

The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe Opens

Lake Tahoe’s First Five-Star Caliber Ski Resort Opens under Blankets of Snow

The snow is flying across the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and the highly anticipated Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe opened today to much fanfare, during a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony this morning at 10:30 am.  Northstar-at-Tahoe has received over thirty inches of snowfall at the summit in the last 48 hours, setting the stage with near perfect winter conditions for the launch of this world class destination ski resort, the first resort of a luxury hotelier in the Lake Tahoe area.  The forecast predicts that even more snow will fall.

Following five years of design, construction and development phases, The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe opens mid-mountain in Northstar-at-Tahoe resort, offering the finest ski-in, ski-out experience in California if not all the world. “This is truly a first of its kind experience for North Lake Tahoe” said Allen Highfield, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton resort.  “It has been incredibly exciting to see the final details fall into place, the training of the Ladies and Gentlemen and their enthusiasm to welcome our first guests.”  The Ritz-Carlton has created over 350 jobs this year in Northern California, providing highly respected hospitality jobs and excellent training.

The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe is the first new-build resort development in the Lake Tahoe area in decades.  Anticipated to be the premier Northern California contemporary mountain retreat, the $300 million project, situated mid-mountain in the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski area will feature ski-in, ski-out access with mountain concierge services. Manzanita, the resort’s signature restaurant has been created by San Francisco’s James Beard Award Winning chef Traci Des Jardins.  The Highlands Spa is a 17,000 square foot spa and fitness center with treatments and therapies themed around water and the woods. The new Highlands Gondola also opens today and will connect guests between the nearby Village-at-Northstar and The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe resort. Perched slope-side within a 15 minute drive of both Lake Tahoe and the historic town of Truckee, the year-round destination includes 170 guest rooms, 23 private Ritz-Carlton Residences and 25 Ritz-Carlton Destination Club residences.

The hotel is the contemporary legacy of the great mountain lodges built at the turn of the 20th century, inspired by the iconic Ahwahnee in Yosemite and the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.   The hotel was designed as a series of linked pavilions tucked into the contour of the hillside with a grand octagonal lobby at the center.  The rusticity of the building has been tempered and modernized through the use of contemporary materials such floor-to-ceiling windows in the Living Room that provide dramatic views and natural light. Great care was taken to protect the natural form of the landscape and to integrate the building seamlessly into its forest setting.  Landmark trees were selected and tagged important so that construction crews could work around the forest as opposed to clear cutting the site.

The Ritz-Carlton Highlands will be one of the first major five-star caliber mountain resorts to seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.  Beyond the pedestrian-friendly design of the site, some of the environmental features include underground parking instead of outdoor asphalt lots, the use of recycled steel, and the incorporation of energy efficient heating and cooling systems.  The Highlands Gondola acts as public transportation connecting the resort to the Village-at-Northstar below.

Please contact me for more details.  doug@davaulttravel.com


Hawaii Air Credit with Classic Vacations

Thinking of a trip to Hawaii this winter?  Classic Vacations is offering a $500.00 air credit for selected hotels and resorts through out the Hawaiian Islands.  Book now through December 20, 2009, travel through March 2010.  Contact me for the details as there are some blackout dates and a few rules.


Dublin Ireland

As many of you know I just finished a trip to Ireland, I thought I would write a story on just Dublin, I hope you enjoy.

Dublin is a great city to start your tour of Ireland.   The city is small enough that you will not feel overwhelmed as can happen in larger European cities like Paris and London, but it is large enough to offer great museums, restaurants, shopping and plenty of sight seeing.

Dublin is easily reached from most East Coast US gateway cities and the Irish national carrier Aer Lingus flies to Dublin from Chicago, Boston, New York and Orlando.

Ireland is an island comprised of two countries, the independent Republic of Ireland and British controlled Northern Ireland.   Dublin is located in the Republic of Ireland, a member of the European Union, the Euro is the official form of currency and the metric system is used.  The citizens of the Republic of Ireland are very proud of their independence from England.  A visitor should never mistake the Irish Republic for their northern neighbors.

Dublin is located on the east coast and straddles Dublin Bay, a busy commercial port and passenger ferry hub with connections to France, and England.  The city is split in two by the River Liffey, you find most of the hotels, shopping, dining and nightlife located on the south side of the river.

Where to stay

There are plenty of hotels and inns in the city to choose from, a couple of my favorites are:

The Four Seasons Dublin – located several miles outside of the downtown core in a quiet neighborhood.  The hotel is a great place to return to after a day of exploring.  There are several fine restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, one of my favorites is Rolys Bistro, about 5 minutes from the hotel.

The Merrion Hotel – located downtown opposite the government buildings this hotel was created by the combination of 4 Georgian Townhouses.  The hotel has an impressive collection of art on display, I highly recommend touring the collection even if you are not staying at the hotel.  Downstairs you will find a pool, something rare in Dublin, and a great cellar bar and restaurant.  The hotel built a new wing in addition to the townhouses, be sure to specify where you want your room located when making a reservation.

The Dylan – just a quick walk from downtown on a quiet street the Dylan is a contemporary hotel in a Victorian building.   Sleek and modern combines nicely with the Victorian architecture, and at night the hotel has a very popular indoor and outdoor lounge.

What to do

Old Library at Trinity College & Book of Kells – The Book of Kells is celebrated for its lavish decoration. The manuscript contains the four Gospels written in Latin and is believed to have been written around 800 AD in a monastery off the coast of Scottland.  It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin from the mid 19th century, and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. Since 1953 it has been bound in four volumes. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The volumes are changed at regular intervals.

St Patrick’s Cathedral - Built in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral stands adjacent to the famous well where tradition has it Saint Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin.  A church was built on this site in 1191 and in 1991 we celebrated 800 years of worship. The present building dates from 1220. The Cathedral is today the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland (Anglican).
Jonathan Swift of "Gulliver" fame was dean of and is buried in the cathedral.

Dublin Castle – The castle was originally built in the 13th century, although nearly all of the medieval portions have been lost except for one tower.  Until 1922 the castle was the seat of British rule in Ireland.   The castle now serves as a tourist attraction and while not as grand as some old ruins you will see in the countryside it is worth a stop.

Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane – The Hugh Lane is a small museum with a nice collection of modern contemporary Irish artists.  The most interesting thing to see in the museum isn't really a piece of art, it's Francis Bacon's art studio preserved just as it was when he died in 1992.  The room was moved intact from London to the museum in Dublin.  The room is a disaster; paint cans and brushes, newspapers, boxes and junk line the walls and cover the floor.  There is just a small space for the artist to stand and paint; it's a wonder how he was able to create anything out of this space.  Admission is free.

The National Gallery of Ireland – Home to a collection of Irish and European art, the gallery is located in the center of Dublin just of Merrion Square.  Founded in 1854 and containing 14,000 works of art, the gallery is known for its collection of Italian Baroque and Dutch Masters paintings.

Guinness Storehouse – The Guinness Storehouse is located in the heart of the St. James's Gate Brewery in Dublin, and is, according to the Guinness Storehouse Website "Ireland’s No. 1 international visitor attraction."  Guests spend time exploring seven floors dedicated to the Guinness Beer story, from the ingredients of the beer, to its founder and finally the advertising and marketing of Guinness Beer over the years.  On the seventh you can visit the Gravity Bar, have a pint of Guinness and admire the great views.

For fun

The Temple Bar – This area of Dublin is named after a sand bar, not a drinking bar, although today it is more known for its pubs and restaurants than it is for sand.  The area covers several city blocks and is a great place to go if you want a pint of your favorite Irish Beer and some great Fish and Chips.  The area can get quite crowded with both locals and tourists, especially on weekend nights, so be prepared for a loud and boisterous evening.

For shopping head to Grafton Street between St. Stephen's Green and Trinity College, recently declared an Architectural Conservation Zone, this area is full of great shopping.

If you are lucky the local band known around the world U2 will be performing at the O2 stadium where they recently sold out three stadium performances.

Things to know

Do not rent a car for your stay in Dublin, use public transportation or taxis while you are in the city.  If your trip will take you outside of Dublin wait until you are ready to leave the city before picking up your car.  Most rental agencies have locations on the outer rim of the city.  It is much easier to pick your car up outside of the downtown core, where old narrow streets can be a nightmare to navigate.  The Irish drive on the left hand side of the road and the driver sits in the right hand side of the car, opposite the way we are used to driving.  It takes a few minutes to get used to this driving position.  I recommend renting an automatic transmission, no need to learn how to shift with your left hand, and a GPS system is a must.  Be prepared for very narrow roads when you are not driving on the main motorways.  Be sure to bring an international translation of your drivers license, you can pick one up at your local AAA office.

Dublin averages around 2 inches of rain each month of the year.  The temperatures are very mild, both in the winter and the summer.  The best month’s to visit are May to September, where the average highs will be somewhere in the 60’s.  If cooler temperatures and fewer tourists are more to your liking a visit in the shoulder month’s of March and April and October and November can be quite nice, with daytime temperatures averaging in the mid to upper 40’s and low 50’s.

Voltage is 220v AC 50hz, most all American appliances will require a transformer, adapter, or converter to operate properly.  Check with the manufacturer of your appliance to see which one you will need.

Be sure to notify your credit card companies and your cell phone carrier before you travel outside of the US.

A passport with an expiration date at least 6 month’s ahead of your scheduled return date is required for entry into the Republic of Ireland.  US citizens do not need a tourist visa for entry.


City Escape - Seattle

Sometimes you want a little more excitement for your quick escape and Seattle can be the perfect choice.  Just 225 miles north of Salem, Seattle is a quick drive up the interstate, or better yet, a leisurely couple of hours on the train.  Seattle offers the visitor many options for culture, dining, shopping and nightlife.  My suggestion is to check in to a centrally located hotel, park your car, and spend your time walking and exploring the downtown area.  Here are a few of my favorites.

The new Four Seasons Hotel located on Union Ave offers breathtaking views of Elliott Bay and the Puget Sound. This hotel has become a new favorite for travelers wanting luxury and service.  Be sure to request a room with water views and stop by Art Restaurant and sample a few of the regional wines on display at the wine wall.

Seattle Four Seasons

The Seattle Art Museum is located just a few minutes away on First Avenue.  The design of the building is striking and inside you will find permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing artists as varied as Michelangelo and Alexander Calder.  After a visit to the Art Museum I always enjoy stopping by the William Traver Gallery across the street, here you will find contemporary art and glass in a restored 1910 warehouse, and who knows you might find something to take back home.  Next take a short walk to the beautiful Olympic Sculpture Park.  The park has transformed a nine-acre industrial site into an open and vibrant green space for art. This new waterfront park gives Seattle residents and visitors the opportunity to experience a variety of sculptures in an outdoor setting while enjoying the incredible views and beauty of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Admission to the park is free.

Seattle Art Museum

Olympic Sculpture Park

If shopping is on your agenda, just head down the street to Pike Place Market
Seattle's waterfront Pike Place Market is one of the most colorful and energetic shopping districts in the Pacific Northwest. The highlight is Pike Place Market's "flying fish," when fish merchants throw cuts of fish to each other across their stand to the delight of awestruck onlookers. A cobblestone street, lined with vendors selling handmade arts and crafts, a dazzling array of multicolored fresh flowers and photographs of scenic Seattle landscapes, winds through the Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market

For dining try Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge or Lola.  Douglas is Seattle’s own celebrity chef and dining at one of his restaurants is always a great experience. Want a great steak?  Then head to El Gaucho for true luxury steakhouse experience. Be prepared to spend a little time and a lot of money at El Gaucho, but it will be a great evening.


Quick Escapes - Oregon Wine Country

Like most of you I considered an excursion to the Oregon Wine country more of a day trip rather than an overnight stay, mainly because of the lack of any destination hotel or resort.  Luckily, this has recently changed with the opening of The Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg.   Just a short one-hour drive from Salem, The Allison Inn and Spa is easy to get to and sure to become very popular with tourists and locals alike.  At the Inn you will find luxury accommodations, Jory, the Inn’s signature restaurant specializing in locally inspired cuisine, and a 15,000 square foot Spa to help you unwind after a day of winery tours and tastings.

The Allison Inn

You will find no shortage of great wineries to tour close to The Allison, my favorites include Lange Winery, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Domaine Serene, and Bergstrom. Each of these wineries is located just minutes from Newberg and make for an excellent day of wine tasting.  Lange Winery has been producing great wines since 1987, including a great mix of Pinot Noirs and white wines.  The winery tasting room is small and casual and the staff is always friendly and willing to educate and entertain.  Domaine Drouhin of Oregon is an outpost of the French wine maker Drouhin and is known for its award winning Pinot Noirs produced in a spectacular hillside setting.  Plan ahead and you can schedule a winery tour lasting around 60 minutes and giving you a great overview of the wine making process and ending with a guided tasting of several of their current releases.

Domaine Drouhin

There are several great restaurants to choose from in the area, including the Yamhill Grill, Dundee Bistro, and for fans of mushrooms and truffles, the Joel Palmer House is a short drive away in Dayton.

Next up, Seattle City Escape...


Quick Escapes

Not every vacation needs to be two weeks exploring Provence.  Sometimes you just need a quick break, a couple of days away from the office and the phones, a trip that doesn’t require getting on an airplane or packing your passport.   Take out a map and draw a circle with a radius of a couple hundred miles and I bet you will find many interesting places and things to do.  Here are a few of my favorites.


The Oregon Coast is a wonderful sight, rugged and breathtaking, a perfect place to recharge and relax.   Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge, a beautiful collection of homes, guest suites and guest rooms located in Gold Beach and only 250 miles from Salem, is a favorite location for many travelers from around the world.   The property sits along the north bank of the historic Rogue River seven miles from the ocean.  The lodge is comfortable, with a massive stone fireplace, library, and rooms that look out over the river.  In the evening you can relax outdoors in front of a fire pit drinking a great glass of local wine.  For an extra treat, reserve a room with a fireplace and outdoor soaking tub.  The restaurant at TuTu Tun Lodge is known for wonderful cuisine that is served at a slow pace, so be prepared to enjoy a wonderful meal, but don’t expect a quick dining experience.  The lodge is frequently fully booked, so plan ahead for this trip.  The restaurant operates on a modified schedule in the winter months.

Other activities in the Gold Beach area include kayaking on the Rogue River, exhilarating and sometimes wet jet boat tours up the “wild” sections of the Rogue, golfing at Bandon Dunes, or walking the beautiful beaches.

The drive south of Gold Beach to Brookings along US 101 is one the most scenic drives in the state and often is less traveled than those sections located further north.  There are plenty of roadside stopping points, so pack a picnic lunch and wear your hiking boots.

Next up, Oregon wine country...


Travel Tech - Power

Unfortunately there is no standard for electrical supply around the world.  Often times the standard is country specific, in other situations it can region specific.  It is best to know before you travel what the electrical specifications are going to be in the areas you will be visiting, and to be prepared with the correct converters, transformers, and adapters before you leave home as they may be difficult to obtain in some remote or less developed areas.  A good place to start is Voltage Valet, a directory of foreign electrical requirements.


First, the obvious, the plug. There are many different types of plugs in the world. It’s a good chance wherever you are traveling outside of the USA will have different plugs. Go to a hardware or travel shop and buy yourself a plug adapter for the country you are traveling to. If you are traveling to a smaller less popular or less sophisticated country you definitely want to do this before you travel.  Plug adapters can be hard to find in smaller less traveled countries, and the cost can be much higher that you would pay back at home.

Some places sell super multi-converting plugs that twist and change pocketknife style to convert from many plug types to many other plug types. These are usually bulky and can have a habit of falling out of the wall in countries with not so sturdy plug types (e.g.: USA). However they are a blessing if you are traveling to many places in one trip. Make sure that if your device uses the third plug pin that the plug adapter also has a third pin.

Voltage & Current

You don’t need to know what voltage or current are, you just need to know that your electrical device is rated to be used at the voltages and currents supplied by the country you are in. This should be written on the device you are using or in many cases the power adapter for your device (the small, usually black box that is between the device and the plug that gets warm). Here is an example of what will be written and how to interpret it:

Input: AC 100-240V 50-60Hz

If your device says this, and many do, you are in luck. Your device supports just about all voltages and currents. The “AC” means that it requires Alternating Current. It is rare for power not to be AC. “100-240V” means that your device will operate within the voltage range of 100 Volts and 240 Volts. That covers just about all countries. If your device had said “120V” then you would be restricted to 120 Volt countries, such as the United States or Canada. There is margin for error – but it’s small, you certainly couldn’t go to a country such as the France where the norm is “220V”. “50-60Hz” means that your device will operate with power supplies that provide a current of between 50 and 60 Hertz. Most devices operate within this range.

To adapt, convert or transform?

In the above example where the Input supports AC 100-240V 50-60Hz you will only need a plug adapter for the country you are visiting.  Most newer cameras, computers and cell phones fall in this category.  Apple even sells a world traveler kit for their products that includes adapters that slide on and off the charging blocks replacing the one shipped for US models.

Converters are for single volt electric products with simple heating devices such as garment steamers, irons, curling irons, etc. These products are generally used for short periods of time. Step-down converters convert 220/250V foreign electricity down to 110/125V domestic electricity by cutting the number of volts flowing into the appliance in half.

Transformers are for single volt appliances with electronic circuitry (computer chips or integrated circuits) such as computers, fax machines, answering machines, T.V.'s, power tools, cameras, phones, etc. Like converters, transformers can either step-down the voltage or step-up the voltage. Do not use a converter with these products.

The best adapter device to purchase is one that has a dual setting, like the Combination Converter and Adaptor Plug kit Item #EA247 from Magellan’s online travel store.  The low setting is used for charging batteries, like your laptop, camera, and cell phone.  Use the high setting to power things like a hair dryer or curling iron.

When I am traveling I like to bring along a small power strip for the country I am visiting.  I usually find that power outlets are not as plentiful when traveling outside of the USA and having a power strip to plug my camera battery charger, laptop charger and cell phone charger is very convenient.  This is also a great thing to do when on a cruise ship, even though the plugs will most likely be standard US plugs I find that most cabins only have one or two outlets, and even then they can be hard to access.


Travel Tech

Most of us have a pretty good grasp on technology while we are at home. We can call anyone from anyplace, email from home and work, navigate from point A to point B in familiar a surrounding with no effort, and even the act of plugging in and recharging all our electronic gadgets is effortless.  Now take yourself to another country where dialing is different, road systems are unfamiliar, electrical currents and plugs change from place to place and you have the recipe for confusion and frustration.  This is the last thing a traveler wants to experience when they are supposed to be relaxing by the beach or exploring a new city.  Over the next few postings I will provide you with a few tips to help make traveling with technology a little easier.

Cell Phones

Most of us are lost without our cell phones.  We have been conditioned to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and for some of us this isn’t by choice, but a necessity of our professions.  Staying connected with your cell phone while traveling shouldn’t be a problem if you follow a few of these suggestions.

Does your calling plan allow for international roaming?  Most cell phone carriers will add a monthly option for international roaming for a small monthly fee.  Check with your carrier to see if they will allow you to add the feature for only the month you are traveling.  And verify what the per minute charge for calls will be in the countries you are visiting.  Even with the international roaming plan added, you could be looking at very high per minute charges.  As an example, AT&T will add the international roaming plan for an iPhone but still charges $1.99 per minute for call in most European countries.

Will your cell phone work in the country you are visiting?  There are two main types of cell phone technology, CDMA and GSM.  A majority of the world uses GSM technology, but CDMA is very popular in North America and almost non-existent in Europe.  If your phone technology is not supported in the country you are going to visit I would recommend renting a cell phone from a company like Wireless Traveler (1-866-700-3883).  Rental phone rates are based on country and time, include a phone and a charger compatible with the areas you will be visiting plus a charge for usage depending on the plan you select.

GSM phones use SIM cards (subscriber identity modules), tiny electronic chips that hold a cell phone’s “brains”. GSM customers can avoid high roaming charges by replacing their American SIM cards with ones from other countries. For example, travelers to Britain can pick up a SIM card from the British carrier Vodafone; once inserted, it gives the phone a temporary British phone number. Calls within Britain and to the United States would be much cheaper.  Larger airports will have kiosks when you arrive selling SIM cards for the local area, or you can purchase one before leaving home through online services such as Telestial www.telestial.com.  In order to use a new SIM card in your GSM phone it must be “unlocked”.  Most US carriers lock their cell phones to their networks so you must contact your carrier to have them “unlock” your cell phone so it will accept a different SIM card.  Another option is to buy a cheap unlocked GSM cell phone and buy SIM cards when you travel.

When dialing a number outside of the US always add the plus (+) sign and the country code.  For some phones holding the “0” key down for a few seconds enters the (+) symbol.  The website www.countrycodes.com is a great place to find the codes for areas you will be visiting.

On your GSM phone, it helps to store your contacts on the phone itself rather than the SIM card.  If you do this all your numbers will be available if you swap out your SIM card.

For iPhones and other devices that have data and texting plans, be sure you have a data and/or texting plan that allows for use outside of the country.  Not including this can be a costly mistake to make, as data roaming charges are very expensive.  And make sure to monitor your data use so you do not go over you plan limit, a spendy mistake this author once made.  AT&T provides a very comprehensive document for iPhone users traveling outside of the US.


International Travel Safety

HUB International offers the following tips for individuals who are traveling internationally:

  • Learn as much as you can about the country you are visiting before you leave. You should be aware of the political and cultural climate, health/safety risks, active criminal and terrorist groups, and their propensity for kidnap and extortion. There are a number of travel security resources available, some of which provide ongoing travel alerts.
  • Depending on your destination and your medical condition, you may want to plan for how you will cover the substantial expenses associated with hospitalization and/or medical evacuation. There are a number of travel insurance and emergency evacuation plans that provide cost effective coverage.
  • Carry your medications in the original containers with copies of the original prescriptions.
  •  Remove all personal information from luggage tags. Use a small, discreet tag that includes your employer name and business address. If your luggage is lost, you can reclaim it with a business card and photo identification.
  • Do not honor requests to transport letters or packages from people you don’t know, no matter how innocent they appear.
  • Keep your cash and high value items in the hotel safe.
  • Leave expensive jewelry at home. The majority of insurance claims placed by individuals while traveling are related to jewelry losses. In many cases, these losses resulted from individuals accidentally leaving their valuables behind.
  • Book a hotel room between the third and sixth floors. A room below the third floor can pose a potential security concern. A room on the seventh floor or higher makes fire rescue and evacuation more difficult.
  • Do not discuss your travel plans with hotel staff members or reveal your personal information to casual acquaintances.
  • When you leave your hotel for the day, secure your luggage with plastic luggage ties. Inexpensive and easy to use, these ties can keep your personal items safe from anyone who comes into your room.
  • Never leave your laptop unattended. In light of the increasing risk of identity theft, you should travel only with the data that you absolutely need. If you are traveling for business, have your employer install a highly encrypted program on your laptop to reduce the risk of hacking.
  • Exercise caution in using ATMs. Avoid alerting bystanders that you may be carrying a large sum of cash. ATM transactions should only be done during the day, and only inside a financial institution. Avoid using ATMs that are located on the street.


London - Day 10

Day 10 was going to be a relaxing day, maybe some shopping and lunch, nothing too crazy the day before we head home.  I had wanted to see Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, so we hopped on the tube and headed towards what we thought was Westminster Abbey.  Well it turned out we were going towards Westminster Cathedral, still a a great old building, but not what I had expected.

We saw this:

Instead of this, oh well..

Next stop Buckingham Palace and a walk through the park and Bond Street for a bit of shopping.  The Palace is big and imposing, I wondered if the Queen was peeking out a window looking down at all the tourists.

Bond Street is split into two sections, Old Bond Street and New Bond Street, both are lined with great shopping, many of the designer stores are located on this street.

After our day of walking we were ready to head back to the hotel for afternoon tea and packing, home tomorrow!

London - Day 9

First - dinner at Hakkasan last night was fantastic.  The restaurant is in the basement of a building down a dead end street, very small entry with a door monitor making sure anyone entering has a reservation.  Down a long flight of stairs and you enter into a huge space, totally unexpected, and very modern and contemporary.  The food was Chinese, but with a modern flare, and very very tasty.



Today we started our day at the Natural History Museum.  An huge complex of buildings right next to the Science Museum and The Victoria and Albert Museum.  The museum is separated into 4 zones, the Red Zone(Earth Lab), the Blue Zone(Dinosaurs, Reptiles and Mammals), the Green Zone(Birds, Fossils and Minerals) and the Orange Zone(the new Darwin Center).  We spent most of our time in the Minerals and Earth History sections, spending a brief amount of time in the fossils and mammals section.  You could spend a full day at the museum and still not see everything.  Admission is free except for the new Darwin Center exhibit, and be prepared for a lot of school aged children.

Our next stop was the Tate Modern to see the Pop Life art exhibit.  We are both fans of Pop art by artists like Warhol and Haring so we were excited to see the exhibit.  The building housing the Tate is quite impressive.
The galleries are housed in the former Bankside Power Station, which was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Battersea Power Station, and built in two stages between 1947 and 1963. The power station closed in 1981. The building was converted by architects Herzog & de Meuron and contractors Carillion, after which it stood at 99m tall. The history of the site as well as information about the conversion was the basis for a 2008 documentary Architects Herzog and de Meuron: Alchemy of Building -  Tate Modern.
There were quite a few pieces by Warhol and a lot of pieces from his magazine Interview.  Keith Haring's Pop Shop from Manhattan was duplicated but there weren't many of his pieces of art.  We were not impressed with the rest of the exhibit, just not our taste.

When we arrived in London at our hotel we asked the concierge to try and find us tickets to see the Priscilla Queen of the Desert musical based on the movie of the same name.  I had heard it was a great production and seats were hard to find.  Because Clark has a hard time bending one knee we can only sit on the right-hand side aisle, an impossible task for the concierge, but I thought we would try.  I was very excited when I heard they were able to get us tickets in row 5 on the aisle, I'm not sure how he did it but I was very happy.  The show was fantastic, great songs, great costumes and sets, we had a great time.

Link to video clip.




London - Day 8

Let's start with the evening of Day 7.  How can so many people fit in one place at one time?  Soho was packed wall to wall last night with people dining, going to the theater, drinking and bar hopping, hanging out at coffee shops, and just walking the streets.  Which were filled from one side to the other, I don't know how anyone could possibly have driven the streets, it was very exciting and full of energy.  We had some great Sushi and Tempura at a little place called Kyoto.  It was packed and loud, but the food was very authentic and fresh.

Day 8 started with an awesome breakfast at the Soho Hotel, this place really knows how to do things, the fresh fruit they had laid out in the morning was spectacular, and they had freshly made granola and fresh squeezed smoothies.

I have to comment that the British and Irish both seem to have a fondness for toast.  Every morning we get asked before we have even sat down if we want toast, and well we aren't big toast eaters, and this seems to bring much distress to our servers.

The hotel is very odd, down a small alley, no markings with the hotel name, small drop-off zone and lobby.  The paparazzi were out front when we arrived, I am sure they were disappointed that we were not so famous.  I'm told it's popular with the music and movies stars, although we haven't seen anyone famous yet.

After breakfast we went to the British Museum, just a short walk from the hotel.  It's amazing to see everything the British have plundered, I mean collected, over the last several hundred years.  Want to see the statuary that decorated the Parthenon, don't go to Athens, it's here.  How about the Rosetta stone, not in Egypt, as were, it seemed, every mummy, statue of a Pharaoh or god, and anything else of importance in Egyptian history.  I guess they took everything that wasn't nailed down, and if it was they just used dynamite to free it up.  If I were an Egyptian I'd be angry.


They even moved entire Greek and Syrian temples, it was just amazing how they could move such huge pieces.

The museum was having a special exhibition on the life of Montezuma (or more appropriately Moctezuma), the last Aztec emperor before the Spanish arrived. It was a great exhibit, well worth the entry cost.

After the museum we headed to the underground, one thing Clark and I love to do when traveling is to use the local subway system to get around.  So far the London Underground has been easy to use and navigate.  I bought a special iPhone application for the subway system and has really helped plan our routes.

Our next stop was the area around the Parliament buildings, we saw Big Ben, Parliament, and then took a ride on the London Eye.  If there is a long line to ride the Eye buy a Fast Track ticket, it costs a few more Pounds, but we were on the ride in just a few minutes, and it seemed like they didn't put as many passengers in the Fast Track capsules.  We had great views over all of London, it was very cool.


After our ride we headed back into Soho for lunch.  We ate at Cafe Boheme in Soho, a nice French Bistro, very casual, great food and service.  Then back to the hotel for a spot of tea and a nap before we head out later tonight for dinner.  Based on a great recommendation from Joanna Heathcote we are going to a Chinese restaurant named Hakkassan, it is supposed to be out of this world good!


Ireland - Day 7

Today we were supposed to drive from Killarney to Cong for our stay at Ashford Castle.  Last night Clark and I were sitting in our hotel room and he blurted out, "let's go to London"!  That's when the travel consultant in me kicked in.  Within in a few minutes I had booked us a hotel at a sold out location using my Virtuoso contacts, booked airfare between Cork and London, changed our rental at Hertz so we could drop off our car in Cork instead of Dublin, arranged transportation in London and canceled our stay at Ashford Castle and our one night at the airport in London.  These are the things a professional travel consultant can do for you at the spur of the moment.

I want to say thanks to Joanne Heathcote at JH Hotels for finding us a room at a great hotel, the Soho Hotel when the hotel was booked to near capacity.  I also want to mention that Hertz Ireland has been a great car rental company to work with.  Great staff, good cars, no hassles.  When I called to ask about changing my return city the response was, no problem, just return it with a full tank.  I know this might be unique to Ireland, small island country, easy to move vehicles around, but it was still refreshing.

So now we get to end our trip with a little bit of city excitement.  Of course I didn't pack for London so it means we get to do a little bit of shopping!  The new musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert is playing, so hopefully we can get tickets.

I'm blogging from the airport in Cork, it's a new facility, very nice, lots of European connections, I would highly recommend flying out of Cork if you are continuing on to another European city.

Ireland - Day 6

 Today we drove to Cork, Ireland's second city, or first, depending on who you talk to.  It sounds like there is a big rivalry between Dublin and Cork.

We didn't have much time to spend in the city, and it was raining very hard with gale force winds.  we walked around the central shopping area, had a great latte at Nosh&Coffee, and then stopped for pizza.

Cork is home to a large university, and you could tell the city had a very young and energetic vibe.

Cork facts:

Cork (Irish: Corcaigh, from corcach meaning "swamp") is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland's third most populous city. It is the principal city and administrative centre of County Cork and the largest city in the province of Munster. Cork has a population of 119,143, while the addition of the suburban areas contained the county brings the total to 190,384. Metropolitan Cork has a population of approximately 274,000, while the Greater Cork area is about 380,000.

Cork has a reputation for rebelliousness dating back to the town's support of the English Pretender Perkin Warbeck in 1491 following the Wars of the Roses. As a result, County Cork has earned the nickname of "the Rebel County", while Corkonians often refer to the city as the "real capital of Ireland", and themselves as the "Rebels".

The city is built on the River Lee which divides into two channels at the western end of the city. The city centre is located on the island created by the channels. At the eastern end of the city centre they converge; and the Lee flows around Lough Mahon to Cork Harbour, the world's second largest natural harbour after Sydney Harbour in Australia. The city is a major Irish seaport; there are quays and docks along the banks of the Lee on the city's east side.


Ireland - Day 5

Today we drove the Ring of Kerry and Valentia Island.

The Ring of Kerry (Irish: An Mhór Chuaird) is a tourist trail in County Kerry, south-western Ireland. The route covers the 170 km circular road, starting from Killarney, heading around the Iveragh Peninsula and passing through Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen and Killorglin.

Popular points include Muckross House (near Killarney), Staigue stone fort and Derrynane House, home of Daniel O'Connell. Just south of Killarney, Ross Castle, Lough Leane, and Ladies View (a panoramic viewpoint), all located within Killarney National Park, are major attractions located along the Ring.

A more complete list of major attractions along the Ring of Kerry includes: Gap of Dunloe, Bog Village, Rossbeigh Beach, Cahersiveen Heritage Centre, Derrynane House, Skellig Experience, Staigue Fort, Kenmare Lace, Moll's Gap, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall, Muckross House, The Blue Pool, Ross Castle, Ogham Stones, St Mary’s Cathedral, Muckross Abbey, Franciscan Friary, Kellegy Church, O’Connell Memorial Church, Sneem Church and Cemetery, Skellig Michael, Beehive Cells and the Stone Pillars marking an important grave.

The scenery is just spectacular, and the weather was perfect for the drive.


We stopped at Ballycarberry Castle:

And a nearby fort, which is a stone circle used as a residence by chieftains:

We were chased off the property by a herd of marauding cattle:

On Valentia Island we went to vist a tetrapod walkway site preserved in the stone.
The site is of international importance, being well dated at older than 385 million years; the oldest in situ tetrapod trackway in the world. About 200 prints represent the passage of one or more tetrapods, primitive four legged vertebrates, across the soft sediment of a large river floodplain in Devonian times. It is a key record of the important evolutionary step of vertebrates leaving aquatic environments and breathing air on land. This site has the scope to fire people's understanding and appreciation of geology that ranks with the best the world has to offer. 

This is an example of a two lane road on the island:

 It was a great trip, but it definitely took the whole day to drive the ring and visit all the sites.  We stopped in Portmagee and ate at the Morrings.