Archive for the ‘Things to Do’ Category

Camp for Adults

June 28, 2013

SmoreIf it’s been more than a few years since you went away to summer camp, you might want to consider doing it again for your next vacation.  Camp – like the rest of us – has grown up!  Regardless of your interests; surfing, weight loss and fitness, stand up comedy, sports, music, art, quilting,  outer space,  or even zombies there’s probably a camp for that!   You can go away to “camp” for just about any interest ranging from a weekend, a few days or a few weeks depending on your time and budget.

Imagine spending days – even weeks doing what you love!  What better place to meet others who share your passions?   Parade Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest have all written recent pieces on the subject of “adult summer camps”.  My husband and I have each done one.   Here are a few, including the two we did,  to peak your curiosity:

Crossword Puzzle Camp (Crossword University Cruise) – Yes, a cruise for crossword enthusiasts!

Culinary Institute of America Boot Camp Cooking Vacations – Two to five day workshops on a variety of food types.  Offered in NY, California and Texas.  Why not add one on to your next family vacation or business trip?

Ballroom Dance Camp – perfect for couple who are hooked on Dancing with the Stars!

Calling all Cowboys and Cowgirls!  Want to participate in an actual cattle drive?  Prefer yoga?  You can spend a weekend with other cowgirls doing yoga and horseback riding in Montana.

NYFA John 1New York Film Academy offers a variety of acting and film making camps for adults, teens and kids both in NY and LA.  The shortest course is 1 weekNYFA John 2 but they offer a number of online course as well.   My husband did one of the adult camps in LA (they use the Universal Studios actual film lot) and an advantage of being an adult is you get asked to appear in more of the student films.  There are LOTS of teens and young adults – not so many over 40.  As a result, if you are “mature” you will likely get asked to play the parent, the judge or another “adult role” in several of the student productions!   “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

Archaeology?  You can participate in an actual dig in Colorado!

Sunny Hollywood Animals

Sunny Hollywood Animals 2Love animals?  There are lots of camps related to animals.  Some let you interact with your own dog in unique settings and activities.  Some offered by the Audubon Society let you help conduct bird census or restore natural habitats.  You can even learn to train big cats for film and television work at Hollywood Animals!  I did the private course and cleaned enclosures, cut up raw meat for the animals’ diets, fed animals and worked with big cats on various commands used in commercials, television and film.  At the end, I even got a certificate stating I’m a qualified animal trainer – and the pictures are pretty cool too!

Wine is a popular subject for camps as well.  From a one day to a weekend to a full week there is something for every wine lover.  Wine World in Seattle offers an ongoing schedule of inexpensive wine workshops.  Based in Portland (some classes are offered in Seattle too) the Wine and Spirit Archive offer certification and “fun ed” classes for both career and social wine lovers.  Of course, there are longer programs offered in Napa and Sonoma Valley.

Considering a career change?  There’s a camp for that!  Before you ditch your suit, plan a vacation with Pivot Planet.  There you get hands on experience in your fantasy job.  Thinking about raising alpacas in your retirement?  Try it here first!

Memorable vacation or career development – there are camps for just about any interest so pack your graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows – you’re off to camp! 

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Beyond the Opera House

June 14, 2013

Sipping the great Australian wines from Red Earth Wines last week brought to mind the two trips “down under” that I’ve taken.   Many people mentally lump New Zealand in with Australia and try to do both countries in one trip.  Given that Australia is roughly the same size as the United States, I think there is more than enough to see and do there alone.

Sydney Opera HouseMost trips down under start in Sydney.  The Opera House is iconic and certainly a “must see”.  You can take a tour of the facility (offered in multiple languages), a backstage tour or even get tickets to a concert to fully appreciate the acoustics.

 

As visible as the Opera House is the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  Did you know you can climb it?  Don’t worry – it’s probably  the safest, most well-run operation I have ever encountered.  It takes about 3 1/2 hours to complete the climb.  You only need to be able to walk and climb a few ladders and stairs to be able to enjoy the spectacular views from the top of the bridge.

John & Sunny Sydney Harbor Bridge

You are given a jumpsuit to wear over your clothes, an attached jacket – everything you need to stay warm.  Everything will be attached to you(even your sunglasses) and you will be attached to the bridge.  Safe, safe, safe.

Don’t worry about not being able to bring your own camera or cellphone with you.  There are cameras strategically mounted along the route and you can get plenty of photos of you and your group.  They will be available in the gift shop at the end of the climb.  You can book your climb on line and buy your photos at that time to both save money and be sure to get a spot for this unique adventure.

Family on Bridge

It’s an amazing experience and one not to be missed when in Sydney!

Another unique opportunity is only about 30 minutesSunny with koala outside Sydney.  Koala Park Sanctuary lets you get up close and personal with native Australian animals.  Yes, koalas, kangaroos, wombats and more!  Our family of 5 booked in advance, had a private guide.  With that, we got to go inside the koala enclosure (lots of other tourists looking puzzled as to how we got there), hand feed kangaroos, hold the wombat, participate in sheep shearing and drink Billy Tea.  Yes, you want to do all that!

John feeding Kangaroo

Without a doubt, the bridge climb and the close encounters with the animals were the highlights of Sydney for our group which ranged in age from 17 to 74. These are sure to be some of your favorite memories from your visit down under as well.  G’day!

Sip Around the World

June 7, 2013

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We went to Australia last night. Best part, this journey ” down under” came with no jet lag!  Martin Gorman of Red Earth Wines and the team at Wine World in Seattle poured tastings of 9 Australian wines from various regions giving us a bit of education too.

WineWorld.jpgLooking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours somewhere in the world without the need for a passport?  Consider a wine tasting in one of your neighborhood wine stores.  Many, like the one we just attended at Wine World, were free.  Others that offer food usually have a nominal fee.

 

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If you are new to wine, or just want to branch out and try something new, wine tastings from various parts of the world is a great way.  Wine World features wines from all over the globe; Chile, Spain, Italy, Greece, Argentina along with the expected France and USA.  Find something you like?  Use your discount card (free) and save 10% on the treasures you take home to share with friends and family.

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Wine World (I-5 at the 45th St exit)  has wine tastings every day of the week and special events several times a month.  Their website is the source for the most up-to-date information on store events.  You can also sign up for emails to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

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Love to eat and drink?  Sign up for a wine/food pairing seminar featuring food and wines of Germany and Austria later in June for only $50.  Sure a lot less expensive than a plane ticket to Europe!

No matter where you live, your local wine store likely offers tasting events.  If you normally just pick up a bottle of wine at your grocery store, it would be worth seeking out the wine specialty retailers in your area to find out about their events.  You not only get a unique experience, but you support a local business at the same time.

In addition to the extensive programs at Wine World,  Esquin (4th & Lander, a little south of the stadiums) also has a  calendar of events where you can taste wines from near and far.  Sign up for their newsletter or visit their website for the current list of events.  In addition to wines, they also have beer events if that’s more your taste.

Food and wine is part of the culture and an enrichment of travel.  Your local wine store brings the world to your neighborhood.  Bring your friends and take a  trip without packing a bag, we did!  G’Day!

Fore and More

May 31, 2013

Scotland is known as the birthplace of golf with roots dating back to the 15th century and nearly 600 courses dotting the landscape.  So needless to say, if you are a golfer or have a golfer you like to travel with, Scotland is a dream destination.

Now I don’t play golf and my husband can take or leave it so this is aimed at the non-golfers who visit Scotland.

Bagpiper at Turnberry

Let’s focus on Turnberry.  One of the top rated courses in Scotland and a Starwood Luxury Collection property with lots to offer beyond golf.  Sure, there’s a great spa, a bagpipe player to enjoy with sunset cocktails and an outdoor activity center for archery, fishing or off-road driving.  But my favorite feature at Turnberry is the falconry!  Educational and exhilarating, various raptors you can work with, hold on your gloved hand and yes, even have them fly and land on your arm.  An amazing experience!

 

Falconry, Turnberry Scotland

Falconry, Turnberry Scotland

Abbey ruins, Scotland

Abbey ruins, Scotland

Then there are old buildings such as Abbeys and Castles.  Lots of Castles.  Some ruins, some intact.  A worthwhile day would be a visit to Culzean Castle less than 4 miles from the Turnberry resort.  There is lots to see from the building to the walled garden, the swan pond, even caves!  You can go on a ranger walk, have lunch and even do a little shopping.

Culzean Castle, Scotland

Culzean Castle, Scotland

Scotland has some colorful tartans and fabulous cashmere.

Begg Cashmere, Scotland

Begg Cashmere, Scotland

We saw a display of great scarves in the boxed displays in the lobby of Turnberry.  Alas they were not sold in the hotel boutique, but with the help of the concierge, we found the nearby Begg Cashmere factory store and left with some incredible bargains!  Yes, you now know what everyone on my shopping list got for Christmas.

Isle of Arran

Isle of Arran

If you have a car at your disposal and want to venture further afield, you can take a ferry to the Isle of Arran off the coast.  There you can, of course play some golf,  visit the local creamery where cheese is made and exported all over the world as well as local distilleries.

The roads are narrow and a bit harrowing, especially for those of us not accustomed to driving on the left so be sure you have a designated driver if sampling the wares from the distillery!

Friends in Scotland Pub

Friends in Scotland Pub

Speaking of drinks, no visit to Scotland would be complete with visiting the local pubs.  A great source for local fare such as Haggis, Bannocks and tatties, they are also a warm and cozy place to enjoy a pint with friends – or make new ones!

Sunday in Scottsdale

May 24, 2013

Lots of Northwesterners head to the desert this time of year.  Sure, its starting to heat up but hey, its a dry heat and there are lots of golf courses.  Rates have dropped at many of the resorts so its perfect for a weekend – or longer getaway.

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If you find yourself in Scottsdale on a Sunday, be sure to book a table at Davanti Enoteca on Scottsdale Road at Lincoln.  The “build your own” Bloody Mary (or Virgin Mary) is amazing!

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They have all the usual items, Bloody Mary mix, limes, celery and olives.  But they also have a HUGE assortment of hot sauces and house-pickled items from cauliflower to actual pickle slices.

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There are also hot, snap peas, prosciutto wrapped asparagas and bacon!  How can you NOT love a Bloddy Mary with a thick slice of bacon down the inside of the glass!?!

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After a great brunch you can stroll next door and do some shopping at the Scottsdale Marketplace.

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This unique collection of over 35 shops features new, vintage and antique treasure in all styles and price points.  You are sure to find an irresistible treasure to remind you of your great desert getaway.

Tovrea Castle

Looking for something else to fill your afternoon in the desert?  Why not visit Tovrea Castle?  This unique home and cactus garden are now part of the Parks Department and are open to the public for tours.

Sure, you can also catch some rays by the pool at your hotel or play some golf like most of the desert visitors do, but these “gems” will make your getaway something special and most important – memorable!

 

Hidden Gems of Paris

May 17, 2013

Okay, they may not actually be HIDDEN, but far too many Louvre Paris people miss them none the less.  Everyone goes to the Louvre‘, the Eiffel Tower (though last week’s post told you how to skip the line and get more out of the visit), the Arc de Triomphe and you should too, but some of my favorite places are a bit less known.

Catacombs of ParisThere are catacombs in Paris.  BIG catacombs and you can tour them.  You’ll need to take the subway, there are no restrooms there and plan to stand in line but it’s well worth it.   Believed to be the source of infections in the 1700’s, bodies were exhumed and moved to old quarries outside (at the time) the city of Paris.  So many skeletons were moved an in an effort to honor the dead, patterned walls were constructed from the bones.  A bit macabre perhaps, but we loved it!

Are you a fan of the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera?  Paris Opera House LobbyThen a visit to the Paris Opera House is a must!  Even if you are not, it’s one of the most spectacular buildings.  The outside is impressive, but so many buildings in Paris are beautiful.  But inside!  WOW!  We even got to sneak a peak inside the performance hall and saw the actual chandelier that is replicated in the Broadway musical in rather spectacular fashion.

Concerts in ParisIn many neighborhoods, you will find flyers posted outside decommissioned churches advertising classical music concerts.  I’ve been to these in Rome, Venice and Paris and they are always lovely evenings in beautiful settings.  The posters are never in English but you should be able to make out the date and time as well as the composer’s music being performed.  There are few (if any) tourists and it’s a great way to spend a Paris evening.

Get the museum pass either online before you go or at one of the less busy monuments to save yourself a lot of line time.  The line at the Louvre’ and other tourist hotspots is to buy tickets.  There is usually an express entrance for those with the museum pass.

Invest in a week long (or however many days you will be there) Paris Metro pass.  The system is easy to use and you will feel like a Parisian in no time!  The larger stations take credit cards for the purchase and that will give you maximum flexibility.

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Do your research ahead of time and plot out your days to make sure you capture as much of this beautiful city as you can in the time you have.  But also be sure to allow time to sit at a sidewalk cafe and sip a chilled Rose’ and watch the world go by.

j’aime Paris

May 10, 2013

Yes, I love Paris.  Here are a few suggestions to help you love it as well.  Do as much research, book tours and buy tickets on line NOW – it gets busy!

Summer – particularly July – is a great time to visit Paris.  It’s warm, there are sidewalk cafes everywhere and Rose’ wine is both inexpensive and delicious!

Bastille Day is July 14th.  If you can plan your trip to be there, it’s well worth it!  Locals and tourists alike arrive EARLY at the Champ de Mars, the official site of the Bastille Day (French independence day) festivities.  Take a picnic and plan to spend the day.  We were actually on the other side of the river (both sides were lined with watchers) and as long as you have a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower, you are in for a treat!  The fireworks, set off from the Tower, are breath-taking!

Bastille Day, Paris

You can’t visit Paris without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.  On any given day, you will find the lines to buy tickets to visit the tower staggering!  Behind the scenes at Eiffel TowerThere is a fee so you will have to pay anyway, but the option I’m suggesting will cost you only a little more, give you a ton of fascinating information AND let you skip the line!  There is a tour offered called “Behind the Scenes at the Eiffel Tower”.  Buy your ticket up to 3 months in advance and print them at home.  You’ll get to see an underground bunker, the machinery that operates the elevators and learn the history of this iconic monument.  Once on the 2nd level, you can purchase a ticket at a kiosk to go all the way to the top if you want.

Very near the Cathedral of Notre Dame is Sainte-Chapelle.  Without a doubt, the most spectacular stained glass in all of Paris.  Due to the narrow Sainte-Chapellestairs by which you enter and the security, the line is always down the block.  Here’s my next “skip the line” suggestion.  On a board near the front of the line you will see posted flyers for concerts.  Check the dates – it will be in French so just look for the numbers for both time and date.  If there is one taking place during your time in Paris, ignore the line and ask the guard at the front how you buy tickets to the concert. He will send you in through security to a courtyard where a ticket kiosk sits.  Bring Euros!  When I was last there they didn’t take credit cards.  Get your concert tickets and go on with your day.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Later, return about 30 minutes before the concert.  There will beConcert in Sainte-Chapelle 20 or so  people in line with you, you will have all the time both before and after the concert to wander the sanctuary taking photos without being jostled by other tourists.  Then enjoy the way the setting sun bathes the room in colorful light as the  classical concert fills this majestic setting.

Of course there are a couple of more “must do” items you might miss so I’ll have to devote next week’s blog to Paris as well.  Time to go open a bottle of Rose’!

Cave Tubing in Belize

April 26, 2013

On a recent cruise, one of our stops was Belize City, Belize.  Not one to indulge in “duty free shopping”, we look for unique activities in each destination.  Cave tubing definitely filled the bill!

Caves Branch OutpostThere was about a 40 minute, air-conditioned bus ride from the port to Nohoch Che’en, Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve.  There are more than one cave tubing company in the area.  We were with Caves Branch Outpost and we found them to be very professional in every regard.

All the touring companies require you carry your tube, life jacket and helmet about 30 minutes down a dirt and pebble trail to the spot in the river where you “put in”.  Closed toe shoes are also required.  No flip flops or aqua socks.  The path is rough underfoot and there are times you have to cross the river on foot so a sturdy sole is a must!

If you have a waterproof camera – bring it!  You can also use a “Shark Pack” for your cellphone which is what we did to get these pictures which we shared with our fellow travelers.

Jungle Walk to the River

The water is “refreshing”.  While cool, it feels great on a warm day after your half hour walk to the river.  You won’t encounter mosquitoes thanks to the bats that make the cave their home.  We also didn’t get a good look at the bats so if you are spooked by them, just don’t look up while you’re in the cave.

Your group of 8 riders will have a guide.  Our guide 20120105_170142strung our inner-tubes together and in places where the water is very shallow, tows the line of guests to deeper water so you don’t get stuck.  He also serves as an information source both along the trail and inside the cave.

Inside the CaveOnce you get to the river, you sit back and enjoy!  You are inside the cave about an hour and another hour out on the river.  Don’t worry, you don’t have far to walk once you get out (maybe 100 yards) and there is a great lunch waiting for you in the lodge building.

Cruise passengers Cave Tubing

If you are planning a trip or a cruise ship stop in Belize, Cave Tubing will be the highlight of your visit!

Zipping Along

April 19, 2013

Zip-lines which originated back in the 1970’s have become increasingly popular and now can be found in all sorts of settings and all around the world.  There are zip-lines through jungles, across canyons, even down an Olympic ski jump!

Zip-lining is generally safe (accidents are rare).  There will be sturdy steel cables and some sort of harness.  Sometimes you have to climb up stairs or a ladder to a platform, other times you do a brief “hike” from the end of one line to the start of the next so some level of mobility is needed.  You don’t need a lot of upper body strength because you are not holding on, the harness is securely attached to the cable.  You “hold on” just to have something to do with your hands and sometimes to operate a brake to slow your arrival into the landing platform.  The company should provide a helmet and gloves (if they are needed).  Everyone requires closed-toe shoes.  No flip flops or loose footwear – they would come off!!!!  Be prepared to buy photos so calculate that cost into your activity budget.

Utah Olympic ParkIn the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah the “ride” is 1500 feet long and is said to be the “steepest in the world”.  It offers a 500 foot vertical drop at a top speed of 60 mph.  There are 4 cables side by side so several members of your party can “race”.

 

Known as the “birthplace of zip-line touring”, Costa Rica offers many choices of rides from rain forest canopy and waterfalls to beach settings.   Many other Central American countries also offer zip-line tours.  The cruise ship traffic to destinations in Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala all offer zip-line shore excursions.  Keep in mind that the more ships in port, the longer the wait can be for your ride.  

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Many West Coast residents travel to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico more often than they do to the Caribbean or Yucatan Peninsula due to the ease of airline flights. While in Cabo, my husband and I went zip-lining with Wild Canyon Adventures.

Wildcanyon Adventures

They picked us up at our hotel in an air-conditioned van, the equipment was top notch and the ride was close to flying!  The steel cables (8 in all) stretch across a VAST desert canyon.   A few of the 8 “rides” we could do together as a couple, which was fun.

John & Sunny Zip Line in Cabo

It’s an easy walk between the launch platforms (sometimes uphill for short sections) and there are covered areas to wait out of the heat for your turn.  There is also cold water at these wait stations and plenty of staff to give all the help you need.

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We particularly like this zip activity because of the span – the “Big Ocho”, line 8 is 2674 feet – yes, half a mile – 295 ft up in the air!!!

Planning a trip this summer?  Do a Google search for the combination of zip line and your city to see if there is a nearby zip line.  Read the online reviews and if you find one that looks fun, you can often get a discount if you book on line or print an on line coupon.

The great thing about zip lines is that you can do it over and over again in different locations and have different experiences.  The variety of terrain; through rain forests, over waterfalls, high up in the tree canopies, across vast canyons, over beautiful beaches or even down a competitive ski jump, each offer a unique, “adrenaline injected” adventure to your next vacation.

Downton Abbey Tourism

March 1, 2013

Are you hooked on Downton Abbey?  We are!  I watched the first episode under protest – I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy it.  I’m not a fan of historical, period type dramas.   By the end of the first episode of Season 1 (watch it for free on Comcast on Demand, Hulu or Amazon streaming if you are a Prime Member) we were royally hooked!  We’ve since convinced several friends to try it and yes,  they are all hooked too.

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The show is filmed at a real castle, Highclere Castle, and you can visit!  Even though a family lives there, several times a year, the castle and grounds are open to the public.  Tickets for this summer are on sale now through their website.

If you’ve watched all 3 seasons, you’ve also seen the spectacular castle in Scotland where the family travels in the last episode.  That castle, Inveraray Castle is also available to tour.

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If a trip to England and Scotland is in your plans, a visit to one of these iconic castles should be part of your itinerary.  Imagine the envy of your family and friends when your holiday card arrives with a photo of YOU in front of the “Crowley family home”, Downton Abbey.


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