If Mexico City were a piece of candy it would be a jawbreaker.

posted in: Central America, Mexico | 1

Screen_shot_2013-09-06_at_12.43.10_PMI recently went on a Travel + Leisure Academy Trip to Mexico City. It was my first time on a T+L Travel Academy trip and my first time to Mexico City. I didn’t know what to expect from either.

Going on a T+L Travel Academy is a lot like walking into a candy store. As you prepare for your destination you have great anticipation to partake of the buffet of treats inside, some are familiar favorites and others are unknown. In front of you the candy man offers you a piece, “Try this” he says. “Oh, I know about those,” you reply staring with apprehension at the white round orb in his hand. “They break your teeth,” you say. The candy man moves his hand towards you urging you to take the candy, “Try it. You will be surprised.” So, succumbing to his advice, you pop it in your mouth and begin the flavor-filled, layered journey to the core. (Samples of the candy I brought home.)

IMG_0592I started my trip to Mexico City armed with the apprehensions of my loved ones, (perception and stereotypes are often your reality until proven otherwise.) I landed in Mexico City with the feeling of Hans Solo being dumped into Jabba the Hut’s lair. Out of my element. I speak no Spanish and consider myself a lover of the pastoral experience therefore the cacophony of an unknown city makes my palms sweat. My driver met me with few words but a warm and welcoming affect. His gentle demeanor and smile set me at ease – I was already conquering the unknown with an ally. I would soon discover that he was a perfect introduction to the warm, welcoming, engaging demeanor that permeates this culture, it’s hospitality and people. (Flower stands dot many corners.)

I rode most the 21 KM /13 miles or 1+ hour car ride to the hotel enjoying the comfort of my company but so engaged with the visual pictorial unfolding in front of me that I made no conversation. The colorful buildings, the massive amount of cars (19 million registered to the 29 million people living in the city) the Andretti-esque driving — perhaps stock car is a better example — it was a constant game of chicken and reminded me of my childhood experiences in Athens, Greece. I was now loving it. The chaos, the energy. And how do they fit all of those people in a small bus like that? A modern game of sardines was playing out in front of me.

IMG_0668I love to pull a jawbreaker out of my mouth and be awed by the intense color of the next layer – something I don’t anticipate. Mexico City was that for me. The next day driving by the lush gardens, arboretums and public spaces provided a surprising antithesis to the concrete and glass of the business district and a continuing example of changing layers of this city. It was announced we were now in the Old City. The altered face of the homes and buildings were an indicator,but no way prepared me for the grandeur of the architecture of the old city and the awesomeness of the square. I felt as though I was entering time travel and I could not begin to hear enough of the stories these walls held. (Buildings and street vendors in the Old City)

IMG_0596Lunch was amazing. We pulled the double decker bus up to a local restaurant and the 17 of us filed in and took up half the space. The cervezas made the prime rib taco melt in your mouth. I was so grateful Pablo ordered for us because I didn’t want to play it conservative and miss the real specialties this place had to offer by ordering out of my unfamiliarity. From the taco at El Califa, to the gourmet meal at the St. Regis Hotel, the food was fabulous and as sophisticated and unexpected as the offerings of the rest of the city. (El Califa for lunch)

Our 1+ hour drive to the other side of the city continued to unfold treasures for me. I couldn’t absorb enough. I understood now that Mexico City had touches of art and culture in every detail. In the curve of a building, the design of a garden, the face of its people. The buildings are like blank canvases the architects use with flair. The art of the city is written all over her, to say nothing of the artifacts inside her many museums. I must come back when I can to explore the museums, markets, and drink another cerveza with her people.

IMG_0584I could write more of my experience but there is only so much indulgence others will allow as you pull a jawbreaker out of your mouth and yelp with delight “look at this next color, how awesome!” You just have to experience it for yourself – and give yourself plenty of time. The jewels of Mexico City are everywhere but will only impact you richly if you take your time and marinate in them – or as with the jawbreaker, slowly dissolve down the next layer. (Museum of Modern Art)

I am grateful for the Travel + Leisure experience that allowed me to see a colorful cross-section of this city in one fell swoop. I am going back soon so I can take my time to soak up this gem.

Where to stay in Mexico City? Be in the middle of the action at The St. Regis Hotel, immerse yourself in art and culture at Live Aqua or find an oasis in the city at The Four Seasons.

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Nashville – Sometimes the Best is “The Ticket Out of Town”

I love Nashville, I really do. So much personality, music every where. I love picking the soundtrack to my life — hitting repeat on my ipod for a day or week as I obsess over a new song I love. I love even more, living along side the writers, musicians and performers that bring these songs to life. Knowing my carpenter might pen the next Billboard top hit for Carrie Underwood just warms my heart. Seeing these people at Starbucks, the dog park or stuck a a traffic light next to me makes my music real to me. Even the person singing at Tootsies Bar in the airport has uncommon skill. Nashville is a great place to come see the magic happen. Keep an eye out for the up and comers, see where the writers meet and get caffeined up for their next all night writing appointment, stretch out on a blanket at Centennial park to bask in the sun next to a writer waiting for poetic inspiration.

What sends chills up my spine is when I have a hankering to see a big named musician on their national tour — Nashville is an impossible ticket to get. Between the music industry “people” and the brokers that snatch up blocks of tickets to resell, it is impossible to get a seat. (Sorry not paying $250 for the privilege to sit on the back row of Bridgestone Arena in the nose bleed section to hear Taylor Swift.)

What’s the solution? Have wheels, will travel. Look up your favorite performer’s tour schedule and pick a cool city you have not been to yet — buy your tickets to the concert — for face value and no doubt a better seat, and plan a cool get away. We packed up for a spontaneous trip to Indianapolis to see Darius Rucker. Awesome concert, great visit to a family-friendly city packed with things to do from museums, sporting events, paddle boating, bike riding downtown — and we got access to tickets to a concert in two weeks noticed. Something that would be hard to do in Nashville. Plan ahead and do the same — or don’t, be spontaneous, and see who is playing this weekend in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, St. Louis — anywhere but here and go!

Want music? Will Travel!
Want music? Will Travel!
Posing at the NCAA museum.
Posing at the NCAA museum.

Now I am going home to Nashville to see who I run into at Starbucks, Clint Black? No, I saw him at the dog park. Keith Urban?  No, that was Five Guys. Steve Tyler? No, that was Whole Foods…

San Diego – Packed with Family Fun!

My family and I just returned from a 12-day trip to San Diego. Twelve days seems like a lot but I feel like we left so much undone!

Five of those days were a family reunion, so those days were more scheduled to fit the interests and activity levels of grandparents, college-aged nieces and nephews, the parental set and then children ages 5-11. Multi-generational travel is a great way to reconnect as a family and experience new cultures domestically and internationally, but can be a challenge as you consider energy levels, interests and the overall goals and objectives of your trip. How often do you really consider overall objectives of your trips? Probably the average person does not, but it is a really smart idea to do so. You will have a greater likelihood of satisfaction and enjoyment for each person participating, and the logistics of your trip will run more smoothly.

This is where I come in as a travel advisor. I can help you immensely. I will help workout with the logistics of your trip, selecting your destination to meet your group’s personality (not all seemingly great destinations are a wise pick).  I will work with you to select activities, plan special meals and coordinate transportation. The best part is that I am on call before, during and after your trip to work out the details and allow you to take all the credit for a well-planned vacation!

I have the ability to offer upgrades and resort credits if you book following hotel properties through me. Along with these hotel recommendations, I have listed some ideas of what to do around San Diego and some notes about our experience. Let me know if you have any questions or would like more resources for your trip to San Diego! For more great pictures, check out my Facebook page. (Link is on the menu panel).

What do to and where to stay in San Diego:

San Diego Zoo Safari – About 45 minutes outside of San Diego, the Safari Zoo Park is a different experience than the San Diego Zoo. A good portion of the animals run free in one large enclosure, and you ride through on a tram or jeep. The best part is that is was established a breeding zoo, so you will see a lot of babies, and if your timing is right you can see one in labor in the “maternity gulch.” Also you can get a look at the near-extinct black rhino, and one of the last few left lives here. There is a variety of different safari options available. It is worth it to log on to their website where you can pre-plan your day. This was great entertainment for our whole extended family.

Sea World – Great fun. Look for discounted pre-sale tickets on the web. We decided to save this for our next trip to Orlando since we were worn out by the end of our stay! Sea World is not far from downtown San Diego.

My husband and son enjoyed the 80-minute tour of Petco Park. The next day they took in a Padres game.

Buy a ticket to the Old Town Trolley. The trolley will take you all over San Diego as well as over the bridge to Coronado Island. You will also get some history and interesting facts about the area.

Visit Balboa Park. The museums are great and the tram ride around the park is great entertainment for the kids. We enjoyed lunch outside at Panama 66 in the sculpture garden at the San Diego Museum of Art. The grilled peach salad was amazing as was the squash sandwich. The kids loved the nutella and banana sandwich and the Thai soup. They have nice wines and beers on tap. My sister also recommends The Prado located not far from Panama 66.

Visit the Midway Aircraft Carrier and the Maritime Museum right beside it.

A hot day down by the Maritime Museum? Across the street there is a great park with water fountains and a jungle gym with equipment suitable for older kids. This is the first I have seen like this! See the picture below.

Charter a boat for your family and cruise the bay or out on the ocean

Plan a themed dinner or party on a sail boat or small ship to celebrate a family milestone, Argh matey! Let’s make some great memories!

Shop and eat at Seaport Village

Walk through the tide pools at Point Loma at The Cabrillo National Monument Park. This is where the first Europeans arrived in California. Prepare to arrive 1 hour before low tide to get he best experience and wear water shoes or old sneakers. It is safest to wade through the water opposed to navigating the wet rocks.

Big kids park across from the Maritime Museum is worth checking out
Big kids park across from the Maritime Museum is worth checking out

 

The whole family at Safari Park
The whole family at Safari Park

Where to stay:
Grand del Mar
http://www.thegranddelmar.com/

  • Room Upgrade upon arrival if available
  • Daily full breakfast for two guests ($50 credit)
  • Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • $100 Resort Activity Credit

 

What to do and where to stay in Carlsbad:

LEGOLAND Park 1 Legoland Dr. Carlsbad, CA 92008
Big fun for the younger set LEGOLAND California has over 60 rides and attractions geared toward kids ages 2-12. Our crew was 5-11 years old and they all had a great time. (Don’t take teens). The rides are fun but short, which is good to keep the lines moving, but frustrating if you have waited for a long time. The fair games were big fun for the older kids and require extra cash. We had a second day free pass and spent most of that day in the water park. We wished we had a change of clothes the first day because the water games/rides in the main park will soak you! You can bring in outside drink and food which is nice but the food is reasonably priced and is quite good. We liked the pizza and fish burrito. The park is about 50 minutes north of San Diego Proper – allow for traffic heading back to San Diego in the afternoon.

Ready to conquer Legoland!
Ready to conquer Legoland!
Stay at the Legoland Hotel or for more of a luxury experience try the

Park Hyatt Aviara Resort http://www.parkaviara.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html

  • Room Upgrade upon arrival subject to availability
  • Daily breakfast buffet for two guests
  • $100 Credit at Aviara Spa or Aviara Golf Club
  • Early Check-In/Late Check-Out subject to availability

 

What do to on Coronado Island:
We stayed on Coronado Island and enjoyed evenings on the bay. Try dinner at Village Pizzeria or Candela’s If you are going to an outdoor concert on the bay and prefer a picnic, pick up your meal at Northgate Market before you cross the bridge. They have delicious premade meals. I loved the white fish and shrimp ceviche.

Get breakfast or lunch at Clayton’s

Rent bikes and tour the island

Rent kayaks or paddle boards.

Use the free bus to ride from the ferry landing to the Hotel Del for a cocktail or shop Orange Avenue.

Fly a kite in front of Hotel Del.

Ride the commuter ferry from Coronado to San Diego before 8:30am for a free round trip.

There are frequent concerts in the park and on the bay — a great way to enjoy the sunset and the end of the day exploring Coronado.

The SEALS train on the island. We went to bed one night to the sound of gunfire and explosives. Knowing their training is so extensive makes me confident they are keeping our country safe. Want to thank these strapping young men in person? Buy them a meal at Danny’s where they are known to grab a great tasting burger.

Tartine is a great place to stop for a coffee or meal after a bike ride around the bay.

The counter at Tartine, Coronado
The counter at Tartine, Coronado

Where to stay in Coronado:
Hotel Del Coronado

  • Room Upgrade upon arrival subject to availability
  • Daily Full Breakfast for two ($60 value)
  • $100 Spa Credit
  • Early Check-In/Late Check-Out subject to availability

 

What do and where to stay in La Jolla:
See the Sea Lions at La Jolla (Beware! The Sea Lions are stinky up close. You can get pretty close to them if you climb down the rock effacement to the ocean. The ground is sandy so sturdy shoes or sneakers are advisable. Skip the Cave tour, as it is a tourist trap, but the view is spectacular along the path that starts just past the store entrance.

Rent a kayak or go on a snorkel, bike or kayak tour. These tours are a great way to learn more about the area while having a great outdoor experience. http://bikeandkayaktours.com/kayak-tours/kayak-la-jolla/

Eat at George’s at the Cove. The view is beyond compare. I have eaten there almost every time I have been to La Jolla. Plan to eat at an off-peak time to get a table on the balcony. Last time we opted for dessert only and had gelato at Bobboi’s up the hill at 8008 Girard Street. Delish! I loved the Meyer lemon mint.

Play golf at Torrey Pines.

Hike the trails along the ocean front in Torrey Pines.

Up close with the sea lions in La Jolla
Up close with the sea lions in La Jolla

Where to stay:
La Valencia
http://www.lavalencia.com/

  • Room Upgrade upon arrival subject to availability
  • Daily Full Breakfast for two ($60 value)
  • An exclusive Virtuoso Gift
  • Premium bottle of wine
  • $10 Mini Bar Credit
  • Early Check-In/Late Check-Out subject to availability

The Lodge at Torrey Pines http://www.lodgetorreypines.com/

  • Room Upgrade upon arrival subject to availability
  • Daily Full Breakfast for two at the Grill ($40 value)
  • $100 Credit for Spa Services
  • Early Check-In/Late Check-Out subject to availability

The southwestern tip of California is a fantastic vacation spot for families and couples with something for everyone. Weather averages about 70º year-round. Contact me if you are planning a trip, and I can be of any help!

My Life as a Sojourner

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a sojourn as a period of time when you stay in a place as a traveler or guest; a temporary stay. I define myself as a sojourner.

I was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1968, a daughter of a naval officer. They tell me being born in the South does not make you a Southerner. The fact that my family roots are in New Jersey and Chicago and that we moved “up north” when I was a few months old seemed to cement my status as “non-southerner” or if we are cussing, a Yankee.

I have no sorrow for my loss of status in the eyes of the southern aristocracy. (Most would say I never had it to lose). I loved my youth and the opportunities I was afforded. I witnessed big city living and the power of commerce and ingenuity while we lived around New York City. I was immersed in various international cultures and customs while we lived in Greece. I traveled abroad and learned that being a sojourner gives a unique and valued perspective. Finally, my years living in the seat of our government outside of Washington DC exposed me to the great opportunity and power we have in our own country to affect laws, culture, society and change domestically and internationally.

Fast forward to my young adult life. While I had a Yankee upbringing and the benefits and perspective it brings, when it came time to choose for myself where to live and contribute, I chose the South. I have lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi. I love the hospitality, culture and creativity found in its people. I find them approachable, and their hospitality and commitment to family so appealing. It felt like home. So much so, I married a true southern boy, 5th generation Ole Miss graduate whose southern roots trace back before the civil war.

Ours was a unique union in the eyes of many dyed-in-the-wool southerners — it was not uncommon to hear comments such as “that’s a true mixed marriage,” or “there’s a cross cultural union for sure.” Marrying into and living in the culture of the deep south has been a foray into a new environment for sure. One I have embraced. But for sure, I have been informed I am a sojourner.

My children were born in Mississippi. I guess that means they have duel citizenship, part Yankee and part Southerner. They are a part of the story of the Old South and have a claim to it’s heritage and history. But I hope they have the eyes and the vision to see beyond that culture and become sojourners in the world around them as I did.

In a way the life I have created in the south for the past 30 years years has been that of a sojourner. An observer, a participant, dwelling in and embraced by the people and it’s culture. I may have weaved myself into the tapestry of life but I am still a Northerner living in the South. That is fine. I love what I bring to the table, I love what I get to embrace and how its people and customs have washed over me and changed me.

That is a lot of how I look at living, loving and experiencing the culture of the world around me. That is why travel is so important to me. I hope to continue to open the eyes of my children, so they might immerse themselves in the cultures and the peoples of the world. That is what this blog is about. “My Southern Routes.” My life as a explorer in our country and around the world, and our family’s stories of adventure, learning and traveling — embracing all we are and what the world has to offer.

Who knows, one day my children might fall in love with a culture, a community, a person somewhere on the other side of the globe and weave themselves into that tapestry. They will never escape their Southern Roots and Yankee Heritage. I hope that will only enhance their perspective and enrich the lives of the people they love as the sojourn themselves.