Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Cocktail Hour: San Fransicso Pub Crawl


Coming off of a 5 month travel hiatus, we'll celebrate with a pub crawl through one of the United States' most interesting cities. Since it's much easier to navigate this city without a car, that makes our limitations a bit less.

Accessibility, however, puts some of those limits back on as we find no way in to our first planned stop, the Buena Vista which is the originator of the Irish Coffee. 


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It's a long trip via BART and MUNI trains from our hotel in Pleasanton, so we're thirsty. Luckily, I remember a bar from another trip far in the past nearby in Ghirardelli Square.  

At McCormick and Kuleto's (part of the McCormick and Schmick's chain), we are able to indulge in our Irish Coffee. It's much better than I remember the Buena Vista's version to be, too.



Another benefit of drinking at McCormick and Kuleto's is the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling views of the San Francisco Bay. From the Golden Gate Bridge on the left to Alcatraz on the right, the scenery is stunning.



Fifteen minutes of walking will get you to our next stop on the crawl, my favorite neighborhood bar in the city. La Rocca's Corner sits in a flatiron shaped building on the corner of Columbus and Taylor.  

It's a bit a of dive but a friendly one. I've never been here without getting into some great conversations with the locals.



Bartender Sil, who's been here for over 30 years, will be drinking with you and is happy to tell you the history of the place.

No longer owned by the La Rocca Family, who's only survivor is near 90 and suffers from dementia, the new owners are still interested in not changing a thing about this drinkers paradise.



We have a couple of shots chased by a hefeweizen for Letty and an ale for me.  The drinks are great, the company at the bar even better.

Our last stop is probably the most disappointing of the three. Gott's Roadside is a hamburger stand in Napa Valley. They's expanded to include a new location here in the city at the old Ferry Building at the end of Market Street.



The beers are good, as are the burgers, but are way overpriced at this crowded and very noisy location. Although we enjoyed the Napa location, this one is more of a mall food court atmosphere and not nearly as nice.



As a bonus, we tasted some beers at the O.co Colosseum the next day which, although a decrepit and outdated facility, has an outstanding array of beers on tap.  The better so you don't notice what a crap hole the stadium is.

Cheers!

Darryl 

Friday, April 28, 2017

CLASSIC TRIP - San Francisco, California 1998, Part 1


We're going to travel through time here, starting in 1998 and bringing you right up to 2010 with a series of reports from the San Francisco area.  Today, we go into the Wayback Machine for our first trip on a plane with Tim's power chair.  Remember the time frame when you see prices and business names...both might have disappeared since then.  The World Wide Web was in its infancy, digital cameras had yet to be invented (so the pictures below were scanned), and Tim was 10 years old.  We're off to the City by The Bay...


Give me a cheap fare to San Francisco...and I'm there!

Surfing on the 'net one day before Christmas, I noticed some cheap fares advertised on the Southwest Airlines I page. Your webmasters, being the intrepid travelers that we are, couldn't pass this opportunity by.

Burbank airport, old and small, was as good as remembered with no crowding and close in gates. They did move the long term parking out of the airport though...the old lot was given to the valet service. Now you must park a few blocks away. Thumbs up to the airport with another thumbs down to the parking.

Southwest gave us a superb flight that was right on time with great service. The seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and helpful. We were even treated to a song before takeoff by one of the flight attendants (good singer too!). Southwest gets a big thumbs up!

Oakland Airport bills itself as the shortcut to San Francisco and many travel writers have said that you will arrive quicker in San Francisco if you fly to Oakland instead of SFO. I have to agree, it is faster during busy times (beginning and end of the week) but on regular weekdays it'd probably be just as fast at SFO. The fares to Oakland to tend to be lower though.

Oakland airport is very easy to navigate around and is much smaller than SFO. Access to public transportation is very easy. Oakland airport gets a thumbs up.

Transportation to our motel was via Bayporter Express shuttle. This is your typical airport shuttle service, a la Supershuttle, and they have one wheelchair accessible van in their fleet. There is also public transportation available via AirBART bus to the local BART station, BART to downtown SF, and then MUNI bus transportation to our motel.

Not wanting to deal with a lot of transfers and also with the unknown (this was our first time flying here via the Oakland airport and with the electric wheelchair), we opted for Bayporter, even though it was a $18 premium over public transit, because we wanted to minimize the amount of surprises that would await us.

Although the wheelchair ramp was not working at first, the driver fixed it promptly and we were on our way. The ride was smooth, uneventful, and fast with only about a 15 minute wait for the van when we arrived. We give Bayporter a thumbs up.

After stowing our bags at our motel, lunch was the first order of the day. We hopped on MUNI's #19 line (Polk Street) and headed south.

One of our main objectives on vacation is to find good food.  Letty is a big fan of the cookbooks put out by the California Culinary Academy which just so happens to be located in Baghdad by the Bay! What's even better for us budget-conscious travelers is that the academy runs a gourmet restaurant (staffed by students and instructors) where a truly first class meal can be had at coffee shop prices...except on Fridays (like the day we were there).

On Fridays the CCA features the Grand Buffet. Now there are buffets and then there is the Grand Buffet. Here, the CCA puts out a spread of some of its more famous signature dishes. Roasted leg of lamb, grilled halibut, polenta with bleu cheese, chicken with cranberry bean sauce, and eggplant Parmesan are just some of the hot entrees to choose from.

To start off, you have a freshly tossed salad, fresh sushi, a large selection of hard meats and cheese and more. To end your meal there is a desert bar with such pastries as chocolate decadence, pound cake, napoleons, and cheesecake.

All this takes place in an old refurbished theater with 80 foot ceilings surrounded by the kitchens of the CCA (all have big viewing windows so you can see America's future culinary superstars at work). All in all a marvelous meal.

Now the downside to the CCA. While every other day you can get a good meal here for less than $10, on Friday's the buffet will set you back $20 per person plus drinks. While worth it for the meal you get, $70 for lunch (for three people) is a budget buster on a trip. Even with the price, though, CCA gets a thumbs up for some really great food in a unique atmosphere.

After lunch we hopped back on the 19 bus, this time going north, to Ghiradelli Square. From there it's a short walk to Fisherman's Wharf and pier 41. We'd been to Fisherman's Wharf and it's too touristy for us but you must come here to get on the boat to Alcatraz Island.

Tim has never been to Alcatraz and had his curiosity piqued after watching the movie "The Rock" so it seemed like a good time to take him. Our plan was to head up here after lunch and, if tickets were available, catch to boat over and spend the afternoon there. Unfortunately, the last boat was sold out so we bought tickets for the next day and continued on. As a side note here, we just missed the last boat on February 28 and prices were increased on March 1 so we got to pay extra too!

THE MARITIME MUSEUM

While we were in the area with nothing to do, we went to the Maritime museum which is just on the other side of Fisherman's Wharf from pier 41 (about a 3 block walk). This worthwhile stop has several historic ships on display including a couple of old schooners, tug boats and the Eureka, an old wooden railroad and car ferry.

The Eureka was the highlight of the day for Tim. We are all were fans of the Don Johnson show, Nash Bridges, which in large part is was filmed on this ferry. The set of Nash Bridges was intact on the ferry when we visited. The security guard was in his last day of employment in the production company and was in a particularly generous mood.

The guard allowed Tim to go onto the set and look around. He also provided us with many pages of script changes that were faxed to Don Johnson on the set and also gave us some official Nash Bridges yellow police tape. Check out this picture (above) of Tim taken on the set.

The ship itself is pretty remarkable with its 4 story boiler and side paddle wheels. It's amazing to think that this is how people crossed the bay before there were any bridges here.

Another very interesting vessel here is the San Francisco Ark, an old Sausalito houseboat restored for the museum. People used these houseboats (and still do) as floating weekend getaways from the city. The Maritime museum gets a thumbs up as well.

After the museum we walked back to Aquatic Park to watch the cable car turntable in action. We tried to go to the Buena Vista for an Irish coffee, but it was just too crowded to get in. After a stroll through the shops at Ghiradelli Square, we wandered back to the motel where we had still yet to see our room (we had just dropped off the bags earlier).

Lodging was at the Travelodge by the Bay and our room with 2 queen sized beds was nicely adequate and just roomy enough. We had gotten the room through Central Reservations (800-677-1500) for an unbelievable price of $59 plus tax. That's dirt cheap in SF! I was glad we did because the front desk was quoting arriving guests a price of $95 for singles.

The motel was centrally located on Lombard Street, just off the corner of Van Ness, in the Marina District. It can be noisy, thankfully we had quiet neighbors. You can hear everybody else's TV around you. There was also a very bright light just outside our door that streamed into our room. We did get a good night sleep and rate this motel well. We've had much worse here before. TL by the Bay gets a thumbs up this time, but we would like to have had a switch for the %#!$ light!

For dinner we headed down Chestnut Street (one block north of Lombard). The business district is about a 1/2 mile walk from our motel.

Tim let us know in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't eat any Chinese food on this trip except for rice (as he’s grown up, so has his tastes. Tim is no longer adverse to Chinese or just about any other ethnic food – Ed). To keep the peace, while we had hoped to get some of the city's great Chinese food this trip, we went looking for something else. We ended up at one of Village Pizzeria's branches on Steiner at Chestnut. Village Pizza is our favorite pizza in San Francisco so we knew we'd like that.

Village Pizza didn't disappoint. Letty had a very good baked rigatoni dish while Tim and I had a delicious pepperoni pizza. One thing they do here that is neat is they give the kids some raw pizza dough to play with to pass time until the food arrives like play-dough. Tim had a lot of fun trying to mold his into as many shapes as he could.

We were able to make small talk with some other diners and the staff here who were all very friendly. About halfway through dinner, the street outside became full of bicycles. Not just a few, but thousands!

For a good 20 minutes, masses of bike riders filled the street, shouting and laughing as they rode by, followed by a SFPD escort. We found out that this is Critical Mass, a demonstration conducted by bay area riders on the last Friday of each month to promote bike riding as an alternative means of commuting.

They start at the ferry building at the end of Market Street and ride to the Golden Gate Bridge filling the streets as they go. Later on the news we learned that many drivers hate this (although the bikes have as much right to use the road as the cars - but they should also obey the laws and not get in the way unecessarily) and that's why the SFPD provides escort for safety. We didn't see any hateful drivers in our area though.

With a liter of Cabernet to wash down our dinner, we had a great time here and decided to call it a night. Village Pizza gets a big thumbs up.

SATURDAY

Day Two of our trip started with breakfast. Cafe Caravan, one block north of our motel at Chestnut and Van Ness, provided the start for our day. Breakfast was good in this very small hole in the wall. I had sausage and eggs, Letty had an omelet, and Tim had some pancakes. The coffee was delicious, and everything on our plates was delicious. Cafe Caravan gets a thumbs up.

CABLE CAR BARN

We had a morning to kill before our boat to Alcatraz left (at 12:45pm) so we decided to spend it by going over to the Cable Car Barn on Washington Street. This is one area of the city that is not real well served by accessible transportation...everyone else can get there via cable car...so we ended up walking here, about 1 1/2 miles. It didn't look bad on the map but that doesn't show all the hills there.

After getting a good dose of exercise, we made it to the barn. This is where the machinery that runs the entire cable car system is located. You can watch the cables go through their various pulleys and wheels on the way to their journey underneath the streets. The cable cars operated by clamping onto these cables and being pulled along their routes.

The displays here are interesting as are some of the old historic cars located here. Any museum that can hold a kid's interest, as this one does, gets a thumbs up from us. A big thumbs down though to Muni for not providing adequate transportation to its own museum. A good gift shop sells some great souvenirs here.

After awhile here, it was time to start heading over to pier 41 to catch our boat to Alcatraz. We walked over to Columbus and Jackson (about 6 blocks from the Cable Car Barn) to catch Muni's #15 bus to Fisherman's Wharf. In between, we waded through the very crowded bustle of Chinatown where some sort of protest was going on. We never found out what it was about (all the signs and pamphlets were in Chinese).

We made it to Fisherman's Wharf at 11:30am, which gave us enough time to buy a lunch to take with us. Tim was having fast-food withdrawal pains so he had an early lunch of a cheeseburger and fries at the Burger King located in the mall at 350 Bay Street. In that mall there was also a Safeway with a deli where Letty and I picked up a couple of hoagies to go.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we end up on "The Rock"...

-Darryl
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS: Finding Deals and Saving Money on Your Trip


Our last two Travel Tips talked about money…specifically managing your money while traveling and getting enough money to take a trip. This last part is about making the most of your money. Particularly, finding deals and taking advantage of them.

When looking for a good deal it pays to be flexible. If you can travel over a range of dates instead of particular days, you can find deals. If you can stay somewhere away from the heart of the action, you can find deals.



Start with airfare. Check the big sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz to get a rough idea of what your airfare will be for your trip. Next, check the airline sites themselves as they often strive to have the lowest fares for those who use their sites. Now, unless you need to travel immediately, sit back and wait (you can also check Kayak, which has a fare predictor that can guide you to when the fares should be lowest to buy).

We find that the lowest fares are not usually offered until about 2 to 3 months before you want to go. If you are checking 6 months in advance (as you should to build your budget), the fares you’ll find are not going to be the lowest. Keep checking every couple of weeks to see it they change. The lowest fares usually need to be bought 21 days before travel, so you can keep doing this until 3 – 4 weeks before you need to go.

Also, many sites have calendars that show you how much the fare can change based on the day you travel. You might see that traveling on a Wednesday might be $250 but if you left on Monday, you could go for $99. There is usually a box asking if your dates are flexible that you can check to see this calendar.





Another way to find cheap fares is to plan your route around bargain airlines like Southwest, Virgin America, or Jet Blue.  You can generally find good fares for these airlines on their websites but you can also use them for leverage on other airlines. For instance, if Southwest is offering a 99 dollar fare from Los Angeles to Chicago, you will find other airlines like American or United matching that fare.

Hotels have myriad ways to save, let’s start with the obvious…call and ask. Call the hotel and ask for their rate. Then  just ask, “can you give me a lower rate?” You’d be surprised how often they do. Don’t feel bad, the people at the front desk are used to it and a lot of the time they quote you a high rack rate first and have a lower rate in reserve for those who ask for it.

Next, it pays to belong. Have a AAA card? That will get you a discount at most hotels. Work for the government? Most hotels have special rates for government workers and many do not care if you’re actually traveling for work or not. Costco card? American Express? Walmart customer? Not as prevalent, but still, some places will also give you a discount for that too.



How about joining a hotel’s reward program? While I don’t see them offering too many discounts just for belonging (or offering a minimal discount if they do), we do see perks just for being members. Marriott is good for getting a late checkout, upgraded rooms, and more. Best Western and Marriott let you earn free nights very fast. Hilton lets you get points not only at its hotels, but at restaurants all across the country as well.

Since it’s free to join, it certainly doesn’t hurt to sign up and you will get some good perks and freebies over time. Of course, the more you use, the more you get.

Think about a vacation rental. This works especially well if you have a large group. Check sites such as homeaway.com for rentals at your destination. Recently, we had a group of five of us and got a three bedroom, 2.5 bath flat with living room, kitchen, dining room, two terraces, satellite TV, a/c, free internet access, and two pools in Cannes for $1,000 for a week. Divide by 5 and you see that each of us only had to pay $200 for a week in luxury in the South of France.

Consider staying in a different neighborhood. In Los Angeles, for example, you can get rooms in some of the suburban areas such as Pasadena,  Arcadia, or even by the ocean in Long Beach - all perfectly nice areas - for as little as half as much as you'd pay for a premium location like Beverly Hills or Santa Monica.

For both air and hotel, sign up for websites that scour the net for deals. One of the best is Travelzoo.com. You can search the site for deals but the real sweet service is to sign up for their weekly e-mail of the Top 20 Deals. Another couple of sites we like to use for this is cheapoair.com and Airfare Watchdog.


Examples of deals we’ve seen…and been able to take advantage of…in the last year included a $99 mansion room with meals in the Silicon Valley, an $89 room at a resort in Napa Valley, $12 per night all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic, $5 baseball game tickets, and much more.

Other sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Mobissimo also let you sign up to be notified of deals.  It also helps to have a relationship with a local travel agent that can let you know when they find unadvertised offers.

If you’re taking a road trip, the big expense is fuel. Log onto a gas price comparison site like gasbuddy.com to map out the cheapest gas stations on your route. Become a Costco member to be able to buy their cheap gas and use Costco.com to map out their locations on your route. Get their Citi Visa card to receive a 4% rebate on your gas purchases.



Make sure your car is in tune and running well to maximize your mileage. Plan a route that will allow for minimum stops and traffic.

Another way to save money is to get lodging that includes a kitchen. While we love to go out to eat at local restaurants when we travel…it’s one of the biggest highlights for us…we still like a kitchen where we’ll go to a local farmer’s market and cook some of the best and cheapest breakfasts you’ll find on the road.  We’ll save the money for a nice dinner later.



Speaking of eating, street food is enjoying a renaissance these days and you can get some fantastic food at rock bottom prices if you’re willing to give the street stands, food trucks, and hole-in-the-wall dives a chance. Check with the locals to find the best of the street.

If you have some other suggestions that we’ve missed, please feel free to post it in a comment below.

-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS - Hotels


Here are some tips I've learned...sometimes the hard way.

Bring your confirmation - If you get a confirmation via e-mail, print it.  If you make a phone reservation, make sure they send you a printed confirmation.  BRING IT WITH YOU.  I always do this...and end up not needing it.  That is until the one time I forgot.

Recently, I had a reservation for a suite for $90 a night, Thursday through Sunday.  With taxes and one room service charge, the bill came to just over $300, or it should have.  I was presented with a $550 bill at check out and when I complained, I was told that the special rate wast just for a regular room, the suite was more, and, on top of that, only good for midweek so the weekend rate was charge at the rack rate of $230 a night.

I didn't have my confirmation.  I didn't have a way to retrieve it (it was on my work e-mail).  I didn't have a prayer.

Luckily, when I got back to work, I fished out the confirmation from e-mail and, low and behold, it said "Luxury Suite" for $90 per night...every night.  I e-mailed the manager, sent him a copy of both my confirmaton and bill.  To his credit, he refunded the difference immediately but I would have saved a lot of hassle and heartburn if I'd just followed my own advice.


Inspect the room before accepting it - make sure you're getting what you reserved and what you need, especially if you need accessible features such as a roll-in shower.  If it does not meet your confirmed room, they should give you one that does or make sure you pay no penalty if you have to cancel.

Get a refundable rate - Some hotels...notably the Hilton chain...are starting to come up with supersaver rates like airlines.  Rates that are discounted but non-cancelable, non-refundable.  I don't like this.  Who knows if the weather will take a turn for the worse, you get sick, or some other reason you cannot make it.  I look for a rate that will let me cancel with no penalty a day or two in advance.   I have a trip coming up to northern California.  The hotel has a 48 hour cancellation policy.  I'm going to check the weather forecast just before that window, if a big storm is on the way, I'm goint to go with my alternate reservations in Arizona which allows me to cancel with no penalty up to 12:00pm the day of check in.  That's flexibility.

Also, put it on the calendar to remind you before the cancellation deadline hits so you remember to cancel, if needed, and you don't end up paying hundreds of dollars for a room you forgot you had a reservation in. Keep a printed copy of the cancellation in case the hotel still charges you.

Tip the maid...everyday!  Leave a couple of dollars on the pillow.  Don't wait until you check out.  Appreciative maids clean rooms better and leave you better toiletries.  If you can't tip...you shouldn't be staying there anyway.


Compare total cost - Paying an extra twenty dollars for a suite with a full, hot breakfast will beat a room at the Motel 6, such is the case at many destinations. 

As an example, I can get a very nice, large room for around $80 or a two-room suite for around $100 at most Drury Inns. Sounds a bit expensive until you include an expansive hot breakfast buffet for everyone in the room; a light dinner; three cocktails; unlimited popcorn and soda from afternoon to the evening; free wired or wireless Internet; free use of their Internet terminals; free long distance calls; free local calls; pool, spa, and fitness room.

How much extra would all that cost at a cheap, motel?

Are there any special events taking place when you get there? - If you want a quiet stay, you probably don't want to go during "Bike Week."


Ask ahead of time what kind of view the room has - parking lot or beach?

Any tips you want to share?

-Darryl
Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Cocktail Hour: Grigio, Schmigio


Still Lent here so we're trying some different wines supplied by the Wine of the Month Club. Today is one I don't normally look forward too.

Pinot Grigio, like Vognier, is usually too tart and maybe a little sour for me. I'd rather have a smooth chardonnay or even a sweet chenin blanc if I'm to drink a white.

Give the gift of wine this Mother's Day from WineoftheMonthClub.com!


Still, this is what was in this month's selection...so let's give it a shot.

Sycamore Lane is but one of the brands the Trinchero Estate sells. You might be more familiar with their low budget name, Sutter Home. Their line of low priced wines are better than the price suggest. At the winery, I was told this is because they owne everything, the land, the winery...everything.  Nothing is leased, it's all paid for and they don't have to price in their mortgage in the price of their wines.

So, lets get on with it. The bouquet is clean, sweet, with maybe a hint of pineapple.  The taste is more sweet, dry, and less tart than I'm used to. Another sip, and there's that tartness, under the back of my tongue.

Still, not a bad refreshment for this 70 degree afternoon on the patio.




Cheers!

Darryl

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS: Money Management While Away From Home

Money…it not only makes the world go around, it’s the power behind your vacation.  We’re going to do a couple of Travel Tips about it. First, how to manage it during your trip.


Most people by now, but by no means all, realize that you shouldn’t carry big wads of cash with you to pay for things on your trip.  There are several ways to accomplish this with minimal cash…
Credit cards are the most handy forms of payment for the traveler. No cash involved, quick transaction, and a list of your spending is provided to you on your next bill.
We like to use a card that is accepted widely and offers us a rebate for using it. Others like to get points, like frequent flyer miles, when using their cards.  I try to put all travel expenses on the same card so I can get a running total, check for errors, and pay one bill for the entire trip.
Beware that you still need to stick to your budget. You don’t get that list of expenses until well after you’re home so keep track of what you’re spending…it’s very easy to ignore when you’re using plastic.  Also be aware of how credit cards work in other countries. Restaurants in France, for example, don’t have the separate tip line that you see in the U.S. on the credit slip. You need to leave your gratuity in cash.


Other countries, in Europe in another example, use credit cards that have RFID chips in them and many places and ATMs won’t accept cards without them…at this time, most American credit cards do have them embedded. Look for the gold chip on the front of the card. Check with your card issuer before you go to see if you will have a problem.
Also check with your card issuer before you leave to let them know you’ll be traveling.  Many credit card companies will suspend a credit card that is used far from home automatically to prevent fraud. You can clear that up with a call but that call may be hard and expensive to make in a foreign country. Much easier and cheaper to do it before you leave...a toll-free number to call is usually listed on the back of the card.
If you don’t have a credit card or prefer a cash-like “pay as you go” system, use your bank’s ATM card with a Visa or MasterCard logo to make purchases on your trip. This works just like a credit card but you need to be aware that the money is instantly deducted from your account. Keep scrupulous track of debit card use to make sure you do not overdraw your account and incur a fee.
For both credit and debit cards, most come with extra foreign transaction fees on every purchase made outside of your home country. Again, check with your issuer before you go. There are some cards that come without these fees.  Here’s a list of some cards without them, http://www.cardhub.com/credit-cards/foreign-transaction-fee/ , and another one here: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/top-credit-cards/no-foreign-transaction-fee-credit-card/ .
One difference between credit cards and debit cards in general is that credit cards offer better protection against fraud and also come with perks like damage insurance for your rental car.


As much as we’d like to go cashless, it is not quite possible to do completely. You’re going to need some. Like we mentioned in our Travel Tip about tipping, we like to go to the bank first and get a hundred (or two) dollar’s worth of ones and fives for tips.
On vacation, travelers used to count on traveler’s checks. Don’t bother with these relics anymore…it is very hard to find merchants now who take them and you’re going to have to find a bank teller to cash them now.  In a pinch, you can also usually cash a check at your hotel’s front desk.


Instead, use your ATM card. You usually get the best exchange rates and can get your cash quickly and conveniently. Know that you’ll get dinged with fees so don’t use an ATM for a small sum. Get a hundred dollars or more to make it financially feasible.
Also, make sure you do it discreetly and safely.  Use a money belt and your hotel’s safe for large sums.
Finally, don’t go into hock for your vacation…only spend what you can afford. Also, only go where you can afford to go…don’t get to the point where you have to take out a loan to pay for it…and have fun!
-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS - Tipping

This edition of Travel Tips is well named because it deals with that minefield known as tipping!


All you really need in Punta Cana...room keys, towel tickets, and tip money.

First, know that just about anywhere you go, you will be expected to tip at some point. Some places more that others. While there are places that tipping is inappropriate...Japan comes to mind...most destinations will have someone that expects one.


For me, when in doubt, I leave something to let the person know I appreciate their service. I've yet to see someone return the money I've given them.

So who do you tip? The list can be daunting...waiters, housekeepers, pool boys, concierges, drivers, bartenders, and just about anybody that goes out of their way to make sure your vacation is special.


Some bills include the tip, or gratuity, automatically. Check your bill before you leave a double tip.

The way you tip can also make a difference. You should tip the maid who cleans up your room. I recommend daily so the tip can make a difference during your stay. If you leave the tip somewhere money might be left by mistake, like the top of the dresser, the maid will probably figure it is not a tip and leave it. The common place for a daily tip is to be left on top of the pillow on your bed. Money left there is known to be a tip. (Note: some travelers have let me know that they also leave maid tip money on the bathroom sink)

What about all-inclusive resorts where tipping is included in the price? This is a sticking point to some people, but I do leave or give a token tip for services. You will still get service if you don't but you will get better service if you do. Leave a dollar or two to the bartender, the person who gets your towels, the person checking out your sports equipment, etc.  

Not only will you get better service, but a lot of times you'll be making a noticeable difference to someone who does not make a lot of money.

Some will say tipping adds to an already expensive vacation. I say, if you can't afford to give a dollar or two here and there, you can't afford the vacation in the first place.

To get ready for tipping, I'll go to my bank just before leaving on a trip and take out $100-150 dollars in one dollar bills and another $50 or so in five dollar bills, just to have something to tip.

I'll also study up on my destination before going to see what the local tipping etiquette is. One good site is iTipping.com .

No matter how hard you prepare, you will come across someone who you don't know if you should tip or not. In this quandary, if they did something a little extra for us, I'll tip them a couple of dollars.

If someone does something completely exceptional for you, like our pool boy in the Dominican Republic who reserved a special spot by the pool for us everyday, I'll make sure to find them when we leave to give them a special, larger than normal tip.

What if you don't know what the proper amount to tip is locally? In the absence of information, tip as you would at home. 15 - 20% of the bill in a restaurant is normal here in the U.S., so that's what I'll do abroad. A dollar a bag, with a minumum of $5 for the person who takes our bags to the room is what I pay here, so that's what I'll pay there, and so on.

Tipping is a personal decision, don't let me tell you exactly how it should be done...this is just my personal policy but, as Steve Martin said in My Blue Heaven, "tip everybody!" Maybe not quite everybody but don't be stingy either.

-Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Cocktail Hour - Wine


Today, we're taking a break from cocktails and just enjoying a chilled bottle of Chardonnay we picked up last week.  Many wineries in Napa Valley are really taking advantage of the number of tourists showing up.  Prices of up to twenty dollars, just to taste, are not uncommon.  It was nice that we found a coupon in the local weekly for free tasting at Folio Winery in Napa, off of highway 12 between Napa and Sonoma.  It was devoid of the big crowds up the road and also the pretention.  Just a relaxing little winery where you could sip wine on your time by a roaring fireplace.

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Folio handles about a dozen different labels.  I ended up getting a three-pack of Hangtime wines.  This week, we are cracking open the Chardonnay with grapes from the Edna Valley, just inland from San Luis Obispo, that are allowed to hang for a long time ripining on the vine (Hangtime...get it?)  The number on the label corresponds to how long the grapes have been left to ripened.  On this bottle, it was 134 days.

This has a nose of lime and pear, with hints of pear and apricots in the taste.  A slightly buttery smoothness lessens the tartness in the throat.  Very good for a warm day of birdwatching on the patio.  A quick check online shows prices in the $18-20 range, which corresponds well with the $17 dollar price we paid at the winery.


Cheers,

-Darryl