How to Use a Sauna & Steam Room at a Spa

howtohotbathespaThere is nothing like enjoying a “spa day.” Taking a little time for yourself is necessary, and many spas offer more than just treatments like a swimming pool, sauna and steam room. But how to use these amenities properly? First thing you want to remember when visiting a spa is the basic cycle: Heat, Cool, Rest, Repeat.

What to Wear
Before you get started on your heat regimen, you should to take a few steps to prepare. The sauna is a place of relaxation and introspection, so you want to change out of your clothes, even your underwear, into something that is a dedicated sauna “uniform.” Having your own uniform should put you into the right mindset and allow your body to sweat freely. You can wear only a towel or a swimsuit, depending on your personal preferences (and the policy of your spa). One thing to keep in mind is that high temperatures and body oils can combine to take the color and stretchiness out of elastic fibers. If you are going to wear a swimsuit, wear an older one.

Shower
According to the SaunaScape, “Before you enter a sauna or steam room, you need to take a shower to clean your skin of any chemicals, dirt, oils, antiperspirants, perfumes and makeup that are on your skin or trapped in your hair. In a pool, you’ll be leaving everything on your skin in the water. In the heat of the sauna, scents on your skin can negatively affect other people’s’ experiences and contaminants on your skin can travel into your bloodstream via your sweat.”

In Asia, the cleansing of your body before you sauna or soak in a jacuzzi is a ritual that cleanses your mind of stresses before you enter the hot sauna. Keep this in mind as you shower. Don’t forget if you are wearing a swimsuit to take it off while you shower.

Towel Dry
This is most important if you are going to use the sauna or steam room. Water acts as a very good insulator. If you leave a film of water on your body, it is going to slow down how quickly you heat up and really start to sweat.

Heat
Now is the time to apply heat: this the purpose of the saunas and steam rooms. Which one you choose first is up to you. We like to start with the dry sauna on our first round, and move to the more humid steam baths, as we spend our time there. You may like it better the other way around.

In the sauna or steam room, the upper benches are hotter than the lower benches. Many people find that lying down on the bench heats their body more evenly than sitting on the bench. However, for yourself and others, sit or lie on a towel. If you wore slippers or sandals into the sauna, you should leave them on the floor. This will keep them cool, and prevent you from transferring anything that was on the floor to the benches.

As you sit in the heat, you will feel the heat of your body rising, then you should break out into a full body sweat. Try to stay in the room until this happens. Most people find it takes about 5-15 minutes before this happens. When you have had enough or if you aren’t comfortable, listen to your body and leave. If you laid down, allow a minute or so for your blood pressure to equalize before you stand up.

Cool Down
When you leave the heat, you should feel that warmth throughout your body, your heart pounding like you just sprinted a mile and have sweat pouring out of your skin. Now, you need to cool down to get that excess heat out of your body. You can cool down by taking a cool-to-warm shower, going for a dip in the pool or even wrapping yourself in a blanket, towel or robe and letting the heat slowly come out of you.CoolDown

Rest
After you cool down, your body needs some time for its temperature to equalize and for your pulse rate and blood pressure to come back to normal. Use this time to drink some water, get a massage or body scrub, or just sit and think pray. Hopefully, your spa has a lounge area where you can sit.RelaxationRoom

Repeat
One trip through the heat baths is never enough. Most people recommend two to three rounds. The cycling of your body through the heat and cold is an exercise for your skin and circulatory system. Just remember to cool down and rest and stay hydrated before you start your next round.

Finishing up
When you have had your fill, you should leave at the end of the rest phase. Let your body finish cooling down and let your sweating stop. Some people like to take a full shower with soap and shampoo to help them finish cooling down and get ready to return to society. Others believe in just a quick rinse as the oils your body releases into your skin and hair are better than any lotion or conditioner.

As you get dressed again, you’ll feel the pressures of everyday life returning to you. Hopefully, the time you spent will help you better face what remains of the day or help you get a good night’s sleep that night.

Dallas Summer Musicals brings The King and I to Dallas

thekingandiDallas Summer Musicals continues their 75 anniversary season with their current production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I.  Like last year’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, DSM is producing the show themselves.  This exciting new production features a revamped script, timeless songs, and a new physical production with an entirely fresh interpretation of the musical.  This is a great musical for both adults and kids.

If you’re not familiar with the story of the musical here’s a short summary: East meets West in 1862 in the country of Siam when a very proper English widow, Anna and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok to tutor the king’s many children and wives. The King, is considered to be backward and a barbarian by Westerner standards and wants Anna’s assistance in changing his image. Through Anna’s teachings and devotion to the King’s family the two grow to understand and respect each other in a unique and touching love story. The quizzical king and the English tutor develop a bond that transcends their cultural differences.thekingandimusicalBroadway veteran Rachel York, stars as Anna. If you shut your eyes you would swear that Julie Andrews herself is on stage, she’s that good. She has an incredible voice and has a delightful chemistry with the King who is played by Alan Ariano. The classic songs were a delight to hear again and made me want to sing along with them. The two actors who played the forbidden lovers were showstoppers when they sang “We Kiss in a Shadow”. The sets were fresh and colorful as were the beautiful costumes. One of my favorite parts of the musical is the extremely creative Jerome Robbins ballet, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”. It encompasses the humor of the story and the exotic nature of a country that most of us Westerners can’t understand but appreciate. I would go see the musical again just to experience this performance again.

Did you know? In 1895, the second revival of The King and I opened at the Broadway Theatre, where it ran for 191 performances. It won Yul Brynner a special Tony Award for his 4,525th performance in the role of King.

The King and I continues through April 5th at Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Avenue, Dallas, $98-$108.  214-346-3300, dallassummermusicals.org

The King and I JackieAs a former season DSM ticket holder, I am very excited about this year’s 75th anniversary line up of shows because it bring to town several new and classic shows that we haven’t seen in Dallas.  Tune in for Real Posh Mom Reviews for the upcoming shows at DSM:

Coming up next is The Illusionists, April 7-19, 2015.  This bestselling touring magic show is a mind blowing spectacular showcasing the jaw-dropping talents of seven of the most incredible illusionists on earth.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, June 9-21, 2015

Dirty Dancing, June 23-July 5, 2015

Pippin, July 7-19, 2015

30 Hours in Avalon, Catalina

Catalina HeaderThe island of Santa Catalina has taunted me from 22 miles off the coast of California since I first visited Laguna Beach in 2009.  Sometimes completely shrouded by the marine layer, often appearing only as a silhouette on the horizon at sunset, and occasionally giving us glimpses of glowing rocks on the east end when the morning sun reflects back through a clear sky, Catalina is an intriguing presence when you live along the coast of Southern California. My family, in celebration of our wedding anniversary and my husband’s birthday on the same weekend, finally visited for a short one-night stay to get a taste of what the island has to offer.

Blog Catalina - 05Inhabited for at least 8000 years, the island is thought to have once been called Pimu by the natives, who greeted its first European visitors in 1542. On the eve of St. Catherine’s Day in 1602, a Spanish explorer renamed the island Santa Catalina. In years following, the island hosted hunters, smugglers, ranching, mining, and military operations, was awarded in 1846 as a Mexican land grant, and purchased in 1894 by The Banning Brothers who developed roads and attractions until a fire destroyed the city of Avalon in 1915. William Wrigley, Jr. (yes, that Wrigley) bought the island in 1919 and developed Avalon as a resort destination, bringing his Chicago Cubs baseball team to the Island for spring training in the 1930-1950’s. In 1972 Wrigley deeded 88% of the island to the non-profit Catalina Island Conservancy to protect and restore the land and its wildlife, keeping it undeveloped and wild.  The island holds a unique place in the history of motion picture production as Hollywood’s exotic back lot, beginning as early as 1911. Production crews and sets could be sent to the Island by barge and the vast mountains and beaches could be transformed into almost any place in the world, from the coast of North Africa, Tahiti, the American frontier, the lost continent of Atlantis and the home of Jaws. Although closed to tourism and filming during World War II, it picked up again afterwards and was once again an exotic yet convenient location for Hollywood in the 1950’s, and continues to be so today.

Friends with their own boats go back and forth as their lucky hearts’ desire, but for most us the options are the frequent Blog Catalina - 01
departures from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, Newport Beach, and San Diego on vessels operated by Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer. These modern boats offer comfortable airline-style seating for the hour-long trips to and from the island. For a special experience, however, nothing beats arriving by air. Given the special occasions for our visit, we chose to spend a little more and travel via Island Express helicopter, a thrilling 15-minute ride departing from Long Beach and soaring over the ocean before landing in Avalon. Our pilot entertained us during the brief journey with facts about the water depth and whale watching, and pointed out our hotel as we hovered over the town before landing. It was a truly wonderful way to get our bearings before we started exploring!

Blog Catalina - 04A short cab ride through the town of 3500 permanent inhabitants brought us to Hotel Catalina’s Courtyard Garden Suites, our home base for the short visit. Booked last minute with requirements including a bed for the munchkin in our room and a jacuzzi on the property, it was  a charming choice in the center of town. After quickly checking in we walked around the quiet and glistening streets, enjoying the off-season coolness and bright beautiful colors all around us. We lunched at El Galleon with views of the beach and harbor from our table, and then walked along the water until the drizzle started falling again. We ducked into Three Palms Avalon Arcade for mini bowling, air hockey and arcade games that resulted in handfuls of prize tickets for our daughter. As the sky cleared we walked to the 40-year-old Catalina Island’s Golf Gardens, known as one of the world’s most beautiful and challenging mini-golf courses. Given the off-season rainy weekend, we had most of the course to ourselves, surrounded by gardens and educational signs explaining the story behind each of the holes’ themes. After another leisurely walk along the waterfront, we returned to our hotel for some jacuzzi time before dinner. I had booked a table at The Avalon Grille, an upscale yet island-casual restaurant along the waterfront that I knew would be perfect for my husband’s birthday dinner on Saturday night. The staff could not have been nicer to us, and the 6-year-old was as impressed as we were with the food, ambiance and service. Back at the hotel we returned to the jacuzzi, and then sat by the courtyard fire pit playing cards until the chill chased us back into our room.

Sunday morning we had time for breakfast, a short tour and lunch before boarding our boat back to the coast. My Wrigley Botanic Garden Catalinahusband had hoped to start his birthday with a stand up paddle along the coastline but the choppy sea was not ideal, and island tour times wouldn’t work with our early afternoon transportation reservations. So after breakfast at The Pancake Cottage we walked around The Catalina Casino to Descano Beach to inquire about kayak and paddle board rentals and campground facilities for future visits, chatted with a group of scuba divers, took a self-guided tour of the Catalina Island Museum, and took a cab up to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. The garden, originally supervised by the late Ada Wrigley, places a special emphasis on plants that grow naturally on one or more of the California islands, but nowhere else in the world. After $2 trolley ride back to town we stopped for lobster rolls at the Bluewater Grill on the waterfront before it was time to leave.

Although the intention of our short visit was to relax and get acquainted with the island, my one regret is not getting a chance to see the buffalo. A herd of North American Bison has been roaming the hills of Catalina since 1924, when 14 were transferred over for the filming of The Vanishing American. By the 1980’s, the herd had grown to as many as 500, far more than the island could support. Since then the conservancy has taken control of the population, for the good of the animals and the island’s vegetation, shipping some to land reservations in South Dakota. Bus and jeep eco-tours of Catalina that give guests the opportunity to see the roaming animals will be at the top of my to-do list when we return.

Blog Catalina - 03Getting back to Long Beach was a comfortable and easy hour-long ocean journey on the Catalina Express as we had upgraded to the Commodore Lounge for priority boarding, wide reclining leather trimmed seats, and a complimentary beverage in a lounge environment with great ocean views. Although they neglected to tell us to arrive early so that we could sit together (seats in the lounge are first come – first serve), we moved about and were able to enjoy the view of our new California home as never before: from the sea.

Special notes:

Plan to visit on your birthday and get lots of special discounts! With proof of your birth date you travel free on the Catalina Express boat, get 20% off a helicopter ride, get a complimentary ice cream cone at the candy shop Lloyd’s of Avalon, discounts on hotel rooms, tours, massages, and more! We even got a discount for our anniversary. For more about the promotions, visit http://www.catalinachamber.com/specials/birthdaycatexp.

Catalina is in a constant state of drought, and unlike other parts of California, they can’t simply pipe water in. At restaurants you will have to ask for a bottle of water, and hotels will request that you not have your linens washed every night. To do our part, we bathed at home before leaving the coast on Saturday morning and carried bottles of water with us on our trip. We suggest that you do the same. 

GoodbyeCatalina

 

30 Hours in San Diego

USS Midway Museum

Vacations don’t always require long flights and big budgets. Since moving to Southern California, I set a goal for my family to take short trips exploring our new state. Follow along as we find the best places for both family and romantic getaways close to our new home.

San Diego, California’s second largest city, is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains to the east, and Mexico to the south. Its diverse neighborhoods are spread out over 4,200 square miles and nestled along 70 miles of sunny Southern California coastline, with a gentle Mediterranean climate and a welcoming vibe. Consistently rated one of the top family destinations in North America, San Diego is the ideal destination for children of all ages offering a variety of family friendly activities and world-class attractions throughout the year. And luckily for us, it’s only a little over an hour south of our home in Laguna Beach.

Elephants at the San Diego ZooOur first priority for the weekend was the San Diego Zoo, first opened in 1916 and now encompassing 100 acres in Balboa Park. Pioneering the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats, the zoo is home to 4,000 animals of 800 rare and exotic species. We knew we would have to commit our entire first day there, and even then we couldn’t see it all! We started the day with the 35-minute narrated tour on a double-decked bus to learn the layout and pick our favorite spots to return to and explore in detail. Some of our favorite parts were the Chinese Giant Panda cub Xiao Liwu,  the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge with a mock polar bear snow den and Arctic research helicopter, and The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey, where a herd of eight elephants roam a 2.5-acre exhibit that includes a 120,000-gallon pool and gentle rolling hills surrounded by a replica tar pit, fossil dig and children’s play area. Our 6-year old daughter Inara is still talking about the adorable koalas in the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback, and we were all amazed that we got to see the 3-month old baby gorilla riding around on its mother’s back and later breastfeeding right in front of the viewing window. As a parent who who is very concerned about the future of our planet, I was also appreciative of the exhibits addressing the threats animals are facing due to climate change, and providing guests with suggestions for reducing our carbon footprint.

San Diego Zoo

As it was a last minute trip, we waited until after our day at the zoo to decide where we would stay that night. After a quick search on Expedia, we settled on the Hotel Solamar, a stylish boutique Kimpton Hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Deigo. The neighborhood is a historic 16.5-block district founded in 1867 when it was the Wild West complete with Wyatt Earp running three gambling halls, and now housing a thriving dining, shopping, and nightlife scene. It was a bit too chilly to enjoy the hotel’s rooftop pool but that didn’t stop us from trying, and we hope to get back again to fully experience that option. For dinner we rode Uber to The Fish Market, a seafood restaurant on the harbor founded in 1976 by fishermen, and had fun posing by “Unconditional Surrender,” a statue of the famous WWII sailor kissing a nurse.

Day 2 started with a big breakfast at Broken Yolk Cafe (but not as big as the one Adam Unconditional Surrender San DiegoRichman finished to win the Iron Man Challenge there in 2010, on Man vs. Food) and then set out once again for the harbor. We entered a floating city at sea and walked in the footsteps of 225,000 sailors who served our country aboard the USS Midway Museum. Part of the Navy fleet for 47 years and active during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, the USS Midway was one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers and the museum highlights the city’s rich military history. We listened to passionate docents everywhere on the ship, and Inara loved climbing on the aircraft all around us.

USS Midway Museum

A narrated Hornblower Cruises harbor tour gave us a different view of the city, passing by Shelter Island, ship-building and dry-docking facilities, Coronado Island, and under the 2-mile-long San Diego- Coronado Bridge. With a large sightseeing deck and full snack bar, it was a perfect way to pass an hour or two on a beautiful afternoon before getting ice cream in Seaport Village to enjoy while walking along the water towards the last stop of our visit.

With so many museums to choose from Hornblower Harbor Cruise SD and limited time, we decided to let Inara have some fun at the New Children’s Museum downtown across from the San Diego Convention Center before heading home. A highly-engaging, multi-sensory experience, it was a wonderful opportunity for her to work off some energy, and for us to build and play with her. The museum offers opportunities for children to experience the arts in ways that are meaningful to them, like climbing, sculpting, painting, and banging “drums” with kitchen utensils-turned-instruments. The current exhibit, FEAST, features 13 artist installations and 8 other projects centered around food in unexpected ways.

San Diego WWII

We were sad to leave the city that afternoon, knowing there was still so much left to experience! We left with albums of photos, homemade clay bowls, and the comfort in knowing that San Diego is close enough to visit again soon. Suffice it to say that 30 hours is not a long enough time to see this beautiful city! There seem to be special events every weekend, which means plenty of excuses to return. A few that caught my eye happening in the coming months include:

  • Celebrating all things Irish at the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, held March 14 at the corner of 6th Avenue and Juniper Street near Balboa Park. The day includes a 10:30 a.m. parade and an all-day Irish festival featuring food, beer gardens, musical entertainment and more.
  • On April 19, EarthFair in Balboa Park celebrates a range of eco-friendly practices and environmental causes. Offerings include earth-friendly and organic foods, wildlife preservation education, displays of alternative energy vehicles, pet adoption services and more.
  • From May 7-10, knee-slapping good times abound during the San Diego Annual Gator by the Bay Zydeco, Blues & Crawfish Festival, held at Spanish Landing on Harbor Island. The event features 25 bands on five stages along with dance lessons, food and Cajun cooking demonstrations.

For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.

4 Tricks to Learning a New Language

NewLanguageTricksOne of the reasons that my husband and I wanted to move abroad was learning new languages. Learning a new language, you learn a lot about another culture. You leave your comfort bubble and open your mind to new people and ways around life. By learning, you exercise your brain, and like exercise, the trick to learning a new language is consistency.

Today, I just turned my first language journal for a graduate class that I am taking. Yes, I am back in school. I am a lifelong learner, and classes keep me accountable to stay focused and disciplined in my education and learning. I have a habit of starting projects and not finishing because I can get easily distracted on something just as exciting. 😉 I write this not only for others, but for myself as a reminder of what I need to do while I am learning Montenegrin.

USE technology!
In today’s modern world, it is now easier than ever to learn a new language with software and websites available. RPM’s Jayne loves using Rosetta Stone as she is learning Mandarin. I have used Rocket Language in teaching my daughter Spanish. And, Google Translate is another resource, BUT I would not trust it completely, as it speaks like a robot not a person. 😉 As I have learned the language and grammar, it has been more useful when I cannot figure out the correct word when writing a paper or talking to professional. Lastly, watch TV and movies in the language or with subtitles. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn in pronunciation and vocabulary.

Work on it DAILY!
Make learning a new language a priority, by making it a daily habit. I don’t have language class everyday, BUT I take time to work on it at least for 30 minutes. Whether its minutes or hours, be sure to set aside a small amount of time each day to study your new language.

Don’t be afraid to SPEAK!
This is my biggest obstacle: FEAR. I allow fear of what others may think of me or saying the wrong thing hinder my language development. Fortunately, daily I remind myself that I learn from mistakes and so can you! Having someone correct you doesn’t make you dumb, not allowing yourself to be helped does. Locals will appreciate the effort, even if they don’t quite understand you at first! Some of the greatest times of laughter have been when I have stumbled over the language. 🙂

PRACTICE, practice, practice!
Consistency requires practice…everywhere! Like earlier mentioned, watching TV and movies is practice. Greeting the people in the new language, reading foreign websites or finding people in your community that speak the language are great ways to practice. Take every chance you can to practice speaking, reading and writing!

Any tricks that helped you in learning a new language?

Why Not Travel to Colombia?

Cartagena, Colombia It was as if I had declared my intention to walk through Times Square in 1975 alone and unarmed. “Colombia? Why?” was the response almost every single time I shared the holiday travel plans I had with my husband. And my response in turn? A defiant “Why not?” of course.

In truth, situations came together that gave us the option to fly off somewhere for a week, including that my daughter would be spending the break with her father and his family in Florida. We only had  a week to travel, so our bucket list spots that would require longer (meaning a day or more each way spent in transit and more than a 3-hour jetlag) were off the table. As we are in the middle of home renovations, spending a bunch of money was out of the question too. What to do? Log on to the American Airlines website, plug in our miles and see where they take us. Bogotá! 1. It was the cheapest miles ticket over the holidays. 2. Neither of us have been to Colombia (a huge plus). 3. Cartagena, the glamorous Caribbean city only an hour and a half from the capital by air, has been popping up on countless “Best of” travel lists from over the last year and for 2015. And the best part? It’s not crawling with Americans in fanny packs and white sneakers yet. Done. (Note: My Spanish is terrible. My husband, a gringo from Texas, fares much better but is far from fluent.) DSCN1610

We arrived in Bogotá at midnight, crashed at the airport Aloft Hotel for a few hours, then hopped an early flight out to Cartagena on the coast. Bogotá was cold, so stepping off the plane after such a short flight and getting hit with the hot tropical air was a welcome shock. Most of the people we encountered were tourists as well, mostly from other South American countries, and the security and cabs were all accustomed to people who had no idea where they were going and were very helpful. We got to our hotel, the Hilton Cartagena (using points from previous travels), checked in without incident, and were soon lounging at the pool with fruity cocktails and a beautiful view of the Caribbean. It was Christmas Eve but you would never know it aside from the decorations. We weren’t far from the Old Town, about 10 minutes by cab (a consistent equivalent of about US$3) so for our three days we spent evening hours there after afternoons by the beach or pool. The old city was much like New Orleans with its architecture and party spirit, music, food and pedestrian streets, and it truly came alive at night. We cocktailed at the elegant Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, formerly a convent and now a favorite of part-time neighbor Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with live music, roaring fans, English-speaking staff, and air-conditioned bathrooms (more on that later), and dined at little cafés around the town. The top spots were booked up weeks and months in advance, long before we’d booked our trip, but we ate well and imbibed even better. In Cartagena you can’t beat the Caribbean favorites ceviche, local cerveza, and rum cocktails.

Why Not Colombia?And we walked. We traced out the paths of the characters in Love in the Time of Cholera, scoped out the beautiful cathedrals, and took dozens of pictures of the gorgeous architecture and the walls of the old fortress.  During the day we needed frequent breaks from the heat, so returning to the cool and fragrant halls of the Santa Clara was invaluable for rest and a cold drink or two. Other favorite places in Cartagena included Café del Mar, an open air restaurant/club on the walls of the old city (pricey but worth it for the view- go for at least a glass of wine at sunset), Demente Tapas Bar in the trendy (and more local) Getsemani neighborhood adjacent to the old city (chat up well-traveled owner Nicolas as he puffs his cigar and plays American blues on his computer behind the bar- he gave us great recommendations for Bogotá), and Café Havana, where we listened to live Cuban music and attempted to salsa dance after midnight when the party finally started.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria

Bogotá was something completely different, as only an hour and a half flight took us from 7 ft elevation to 8660 ft. elevation. In Love in the Time of Cholera the city was described as like Paris: often grey, rainy, and cold, but rich in culture.  Although the high altitude was noticeable, we got really lucky and arrived for some sunny and warm days, perfect for exploring the city by foot.  The first element of Bogotá that grabbed our attention was the prevalent graffiti; even statues and monuments are tagged. But much of the street art works are gorgeous murals taking up entire buildings, and there were clearly significant styles. I wanted to know more, and my online searching turned up a website for Bogotá Graffiti tours, Colorful Bogotá Street Artdone in English by an Australian street artist who is now a resident of Bogotá. We were intrigued and signed up for the next day, not knowing at all what to expect. It turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made while traveling. While our first day exploring the city was lovely and informative,

Bogotá Street Artincluding the absolute MUSTS- the Botero Museum,  Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), and Museo Histórico Policía (dedicated mostly to the country’s wars with drug lord Pablo Escobar and guerrilla groups M-19 and FARC), the most interesting and informative part of our Colombia adventure was this two and a half hour tour. Our guide explained the battles and the partnerships between the artists and the authorities, the reasoning for the art and the legality of it. We started to notice the different styles and tags, and came to understand the messages that they conveyed and why. In Bogota Graffiti Tour a country where the media is still tightly controlled and individual rights are limited, this art is a necessary form of communication. In order to truly understand the culture and history of Colombians, learning about their struggles from different sides is essential (including the role that the U.S. has played) and we are truly glad that we got the opportunity during our time in their country.

Our nightlife experiences in Bogotá were quite different than Cartagena and other cities around the world, because it was very clear that this is a place where caution is key. Of course that’s the case everywhere when traveling, but here there are still powerful groups of people with political points to make, and they control large parts of the country. Safety is stressed by guidebooks, hotels, and locals alike, especially when it comes to what neighborhoods you go to and how you get there. This is one of the only cities I’ve spent time in where I didn’t use public transportation. When leaving the Hilton Bogotá, the staff walked us to a car, noted who we left with and where we went. Leaving a museum, the front desk called a car for us, gave us the license place of the car that would come, and gave us a code to give the driver so that our route could be tracked.  At one point on our way to the historic La Candelaria district our driver got stuck in standstill traffic because of a protest, and it was evident we would be late to our destination. Being seasoned travelers, we offered to pay up and walk the rest of the way but driver  would not allow it, even calling the hotel to have one of their representatives talk to us. He explained that the two remaining blocks might look safe but were not for us, which was unnerving. A fellow American who was staying at our hotel had grown up in Colombia and had a teaching job in another city, but the day we met she had just been robbed by a cab driver. So suffice it to say, our evenings were early and nightcaps were in the hotel bar. Boring, maybe, but thankfully we now have no bad stories to tell.Andrés Carne de Res Bogota

Highlights of Bogotá included the restaurants Black Bear (swanky New York vibe and modern dishes, a recommendation from Nicolas in Cartagena) and Andres DC (we went to the one in the city but the BIG one is 45 minutes away; I would describe it as a House of Blues on, well, when in Colombia), and the cable car trip up the mountain to the breathtaking views from Montserrate at 10,341 ft. If you are lucky enough to get a sunny day, like we were, drop everything else you had planned and get up there then. I’ve met many travelers who never got the opportunity to see a view other than fog, sadly.

Overall, the country is certainly not the backwards and scary Romancing the Stone version that Americans seem to envision still. For the most part we felt very safe and cared for, and the people really wanted us to have a good time. Many said “You will come back, right? And tellJayne Overlooking Bogotá your friends to come!” as we left. If you, like us, prefer to travel to places that will challenge you, where you will not be surrounded by other American tourists, it’s worth it to travel to Colombia. Knowledge of the language is a good idea no matter where you go in the world, but here it’s more important as English isn’t as prevalent. If we’d been fluent we likely would have taken more risks and had more fun, frankly. We did leave with beautiful memories though, and thanks to utilizing miles and points, it was a very inexpensive trip that we are glad we took. But Colombia has quite a ways to go before we would recommend it to everyone, and after meeting the people and seeing some of the beautiful country, we sincerely hope that they can get there.

 

24 Hours in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

SarajevoWith its extraordinary cultural and religious mix and rich Ottoman heritage, Sarajevo is a city that merits a visit at any time. Surrounded by green hills and bisected by a river, it is a place of spectacular beauty, and though the scars of the siege of the 1990s are still evident, Bosnians display heartening resilience and vitality.

THURSDAY
4PM McDonalds

Oh, the things you do for your kids and the places you stop after driving over five hours to get to Sarajevo. Yes, this American establishment was the first place we visited when we arrived in Sarajevo. The kids were sooo excited because we don’t have a McDonald’s in Montenegro. They ordered their Happy Meals with the “Cut the Rope” toy and enjoyed every bite. Note: you pay for everything when you are at McDonald’s in Bosnia, even the dipping sauce, so use them sparingly. The interesting thing about visiting McDonald’s outside of the US is studying its various menus and facilities. This one had a McCafe that included coffee, desserts and alcoholic beverages.

6PM Window Shopping
Along Sarajevo’s main pedestrian promenade called Ferhadija, we enjoyed a walk under the Christmas lights and brisk air. We found clothing stores, toy stores and many more, along with street vendors selling freshly-pressed pomegranate juice.Ferhadija7PM Dining in Old Town
We headed for Baščaršija – the heart of Ottoman Sarajevo – and enjoy cevapcici (che-VAHP-chee-chee), minced beef sausage-style kebabs served with pita-style bread, raw onions and kajmak – a Bosnian national dish. We stopped at Ćevabdžinica Željo 1, where you order in increments of five. Be prepared to sit close together, as this place is always packed.Zeljo8PM Coffee Talk
For Bosnians, drinking coffee is a ritual for relaxing, not quickening the pulse. Inside the rustic, wood-planked Miris Dunja, we unwounded and drank thick, frothy, slow-brewed Bosnian coffee served in copper pots.BosnianCoffee9PM Rest & Relaxation
We stayed at Marriott’s brand new Residence Inn Sarajevo. Read more about it here and why you should stay here when you visit Sarajevo.ResidenceInn

FRIDAY
9AM Hospitable Breakfast

We love continental breakfasts in Europe. It is not just cereal, processed scrambled eggs and pre-made “Belgium waffles” mix that you make in the waffle maker in the lobby. The breakfast includes cold meats and cheese, freshly cut fruit, muffins and breads, freshly scrambled eggs or hardboiled, if you like, and hot meats. The Residence Inn Sarajevo also had an espresso maker where you could make up to 8 varieties of coffee from freshly grounded beans.RIBreakfast12PM Street Lunch
No one is ambivalent about Sarajevo’s rich street food. One of my family’s favorite is burek, pastry dough filled with beef and potato, cheese or spinach. We headed back to the Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city. We ate at Buregdžinica Sač, where we paired these savory pie portions with a glass of yogurt. We walked off our lunch and picked up a bag of freshly grounded coffee, by a man who was pounding it in a large mortar. Who needs an electric grinder when you can do it by hand?! 😉 We completed our lunch at the Cream Shop, a sweet shop with baklava, kadaif and more.BurekIgda1PM Street Shopping
One of the oldest streets of the Baščaršija is Kazandžilu, or the Coppersmith Street. We found an ornately decorated Bosnian coffee set and platter. It was a unique piece because it was hand hammered and decorated.CopperShop

Marriott Comes to the Balkans – Rewards Card is Worth it!

RISarajevoBefore leaving the Unites States, some wise friends of ours recommended us to apply for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card. We were already Marriott Rewards members, but the credit card takes it to the next level. Initially, we experienced a bit of sticker shock, but trust us: The $0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year, then $85 annual fee is well worth it.

The Marriott Rewards Premier card has quite a few perks to recommend it. First off, the signup bonus. Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. It has a great rewards rate of 5 points per $1 spent at the Marriott; 2 per $1 spent on airlines, car rentals and restaurants; and 1 per $1 spent elsewhere. And then come the perks. Oh, the perks. Yes, there’s an $85 annual fee (waived the first year).

Since we received a free nights stay in a Category 1-4, we of course wanted to stay the at the best, but the only problems is that we lived in Southeast Europe, AND Marriott had all its hotels in Western Europe. Wait…did I just see a “coming soon.” Yes, Marriott was opening its first hotel in the Balkans in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. WooHoo! That’s not too far from us, and we have never been to Bosnia…yet. 🙂RISarajevoBedResidence Inn Sarajevo is amazing as soon as you walk in from the brisk, cold winter day. The staff, speaking both English and Bosnia, great you with a smile and a wealth of information about the area. As soon as you turn the door knob to come into your suite, you see the fully-equipped kitchen and separate areas for eating, working and relaxing. The well-designed rooms promote productivity with large, well-lit work desks, ergonomic chairs and complimentary high-speed Internet. A welcoming and restorative feel is created throughout with warm, earthy colours and light wood fixtures and fittings. Natural light floods the rooms through floor to ceiling windows and each suite has its own private terrace.RISarajevoLobbySince the Real Geek Dad is in graduate school, the public spaces on the ground floor were inviting, feature flexible seating for working or relaxing and a 24-hour Market selling drinks, snacks and meals. He also squeeze in some time to release some the tension in the fitness center. The Residence InnSarajevo also provided a delicious continental breakfast.RIColdFood RIHotFoodIdeally located near Old Town, the Residence Inn Sarajevo provided convenient access to the city’s historical and cultural attractions as well as restaurants, cafes and shops.

Here some other benefits that offset the fee, you’ll get:

  • One free night’s stay after your account approval, plus one night a year on your account anniversary
  • 15-night credit towards Elite status
  • No foreign transaction fees (key for international travelers – these usually set you back 3% of everything you spend abroad)

The anniversary free night’s stay, by itself, wipes out the annual fee with room to spare. The Marriott Premier gives you quite a bit in terms of rewards and bonuses – the signup bonus alone is better than the industry standard of $200-$300. I cannot wait to use this reward in a year!

What to Pack in Your Carry On

CarryOnBagSince I began traveling for business four years ago, I have flown a lot around the world. I learn something each time I travel, like what I should have packed and what wasn’t necessary. Now with airlines charging fees for checked baggage and some even charge for carry ons, being prepared with the in-flight must haves will help you fly well. Here are some essentials that make it into my carry on every time!

First “Valuable” Class
I always make sure to have my most valued possessions with me in my carry on – just in case my checked luggage “goes to another destination.” 😉 My Canon 4Ti camera, Acer Aspire Intel Switch 10 Intel 2 in 1 and a change of clothes are non-negotiable. Sometimes, I have my laptop for conferences, but fortunately, I do not always need it, thanks to services like Evernote and DropBox.CarryOnInside

Business “Beauty” Class
My Henri Bendel Folding Cosmetic Bag is my lifesaver. It is compact and when opened, the TSA can see what is inside, without removing the content. I usually fly without makeup and apply it on about 30 minutes before we land or in the airport bathroom. There is nothing like feeling fresh when you land for your next adventure.

  • Makeup wipes
    CosmeticBag
  • Moisturizing lip balm
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume
  • Concealer
  • Hand sanitizer

Economy “Entertainment” Class
I try to pack a book or download one to my Kindle app on my Acer Intel 2 in 1, but to be honest, I hardly ever get to read it. I love in-flight movies or playing solitaire. However, I always make sure to always pack my Moleskine Evernote notebook and pen for those moments of inspiration. I find I’m my most creative when my head is “in the clouds” and make the most of those “daydreams.”

What can you NOT live without as you travel? Please share below!

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24 Hours in Dubrovnik, Croatia

DubrovnikAt midday, church bells echo through Dubrovnik old town. Chic women click-clack down cobbled alleyways. The city’s charisma is intoxicating, full of rich history and tragedy. But much has changed over the last decade or so. The creative spirit that people of Dubrovnik fought to preserve is very much in evidence these days. Cafes, boutiques and restaurants have sprouted among buildings in myriad styles.

SATURDAY
10:30AM Dubrovnik Old Town Tour
During the winter season, the Dubrovnik Tourist Board organizes a FREE Saturday guided sightseeing tour around Dubrovnik old town in English, beginning at Pile Tourist Information Centre and lasted for an hour and a half, ending on Luža Square. Sign up by 6PM Friday by email here.DubrovnikTour

11AM Gundulićeva Poljana
A great way to take a break while on the tour in Dubrovnik old town is at Gundulic Square’s vibrant market. Fruits, vegetables, flowers and crafts are all sold here in this traditional and friendly setting. Also worth visiting here is the statue of the square’s namesake, the acclaimed 17th century poet, Ivan Gundulić. Make sure to pick up Dubrovnik’s traditional delicacy called arancini (candied orange peels.)Arancini

12PM Linđo Folklore Ensemble
Enjoyed a dazzling folklore dance performance of the Linđo ensemble in the heart of Dubrovnik old town in the Sloboda Cinema. The Folklore ensemble Linđo was founded in 1964 to promote traditional dances and songs of the Republic of Croatia. Linđo first started performing a year later, in 1965 and by today became a brand name when speaking of tourism in the city of Dubrovnik. Linđo itself is the most popular dance of the Dubrovnik coastal region and has been danced in the same manner for over 200 years. The dance is accompanied by the lijerica, an old South Dalmatian instrument with three strings, which came from the Eastern Mediterranean and Greece in late 18th century.Lindo

1PM Croatian Lunch
No one is ambivalent about Croatia’s rich food. For many, ćevapi (che-VAHP-ee) — beef sausages served with onions and french fries — reigns supreme. At Konoba Rhea Silvia I, prepare to order in increments of five. Complete your lunch at Razonoda, part of Pucić Palace, with Chemex coffee from the world-renowned Eli’s Caffe in Zagreb.Cevapi

8PM Coffee Talk
Cafe Festival is located on one of the most beautiful streets in the whole world, Stradun. This sidewalk cafe is perfect for two of Croatia’s favorite pastimes: drinking coffee and people watching. There’s no better place than Cafe Festival near the Franciscan monastery.

SUNDAY
10:30AM Brunch
Chihuahua Cantina Mexicana serves up “Mexican” food. For the price (enchiladas, tacos, fajitas and burritos in the 50kn range), it’s an easy option for families. The staff was friendly, and you must remember that you aren’t near Mexico, so keep you expectation low and you’ll leave here fulfilled. 🙂Taquitos

There are even more things to do in Dubrovnik, so I have begun planning my trip back in 2015. I didn’t check out the Rector’s Palace or any of the monasteries. I didn’t go to a classical concert, and I missed the cable car. You should consider making a stop to visit the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” You won’t regret it.