3 days in Napa Valley

So I have to confess something here.  I’m not much of a drinker.  I know, I know.  Is it too late now to say sorry?  Just kidding, I’m not sorry.   You’re wondering: how could a light imbiber possibly have anything to say about the most famous wine producing region in the US?

Turns out, there’s a ton of things to do here that don’t necessarily involve spirits, and don’t worry, I will feature some absolutely fantastic wineries on our journey through the beautiful Northern California countryside.  There’s just one question you have to ask yourself:

Wine or wine not?

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know before you go: Austin (AUS)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is small, but sweet.  Even though it isn’t huge (only ~ 25 gates), there’s actually quite a few international carriers that fly out of here, including discount European airline, Norwegian.  There’s not a ton to do here, but there’s local flair throughout the airport, and that’s huge if you’re having a layover where you can’t leave the airport.  It showcases the city and makes the visitor want to return for real.

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can’t fight this feeling of wanting an OREO SPEEDWAGON.  I LOVE PUNS.

There’s only two terminals: the Barbara Jordan is the main and then the much smaller South terminal which only has regional flights (so basically you’re going to see one).

✈️ = get me outta here to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = texas hold ’em here forever

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️  (very easy)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (not that crowded, moves quickly)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (barely any chains, yes! Local legendary eateries: Salt Lick BBQ, Amy’s ice cream, Hill’s Cafe, Austin Java)

Bathrooms:✈️✈️  (could be more)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, could have more charging stations)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s live music and an ACL record shop, otherwise it’s small, so don’t expect that much to see)

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know before you go: Detroit (DET)

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If you’re going to have a layover in Detroit, it will probably be in McNamara Terminal via Delta.  I’ll spoil the surprise, you’re gonna love it.  This airport and I go way back to the times of Northwest being a hub here before it was taken over by Delta.  Loved it then, love it still.

The design is sleek, modern and very open.  It doesn’t feel that crowded because there is a lot of room to move around.  It’s also very clean.  The ceilings are incredibly high because there’s an above ground tram (!) that takes you from one end to the other because it’s so big.  You can walk if you choose, but it is quite a journey.

Moreover, there’s like six different options for coffee, and with the tram, it makes it feasible to have Coffee Bean at one end and make it back for your flight at the other end.

There’s two terminals: McNamara (Delta, Air France, KLM) and North (Air Canada, Alaska, American, Southwest, Royal Jordanian, Lufthansa, Frontier, JetBlue, and United).  McNamara has split into concourses A-C (although B and C are just accessory concourses but there’s like a rave lighted tunnel to get there) with 105 gates.  North has 26.  I’m basing this review on McNamara.

Remember: ✈️ = no town  to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = detroit rock city!

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (I cannot stress enough the amazing above ground tram for the one concourse!)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️✈️  (can get crowded, moves quickly)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (lots of variety in type of cuisine, price points and dining level: sit down vs fast vs lounge vs fast casual).  Chic-Fil-A to PF Changs to Tim Horton’s to a Robata to Robert Mondavi experience to Coney Island?  Like, you don’t see those restaurants at any other airports)

Bathrooms:✈️✈️✈️  (very clean and well lit)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, abundance of charging stations)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (the tram, Delta Sky Lounge, fountains, shopping is a bit random)

lovers in japan: tokyo and mt fuji

Japan is a special place.  Its culture is unique and traditions well preserved.  Tokyo is probably the most interesting city in the world, as it is a city of contradictions.  There’s an avant garde, boldness to it, but yet there’s also a timid sensibility, too.  It’s both modern and ancient, debaucherous and pious.  The food, the facilities, everything is deliberated over and planned out, but there’s spontaneity around every corner.  It’s edgy, real and fearless.  Yet, for a city of its size, it’s unimaginably safe and tidy.

Japanese citizens have a sense of responsibility in keeping their homeland organized and neat, and proudly show off their incredible technology and forward thinking nature.  I love everything about it.  There’s so much to see and do in Japan, and often times not enough money.

turning japanese

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3 days in Tucson

IMG_7488.jpgA few years ago, for her birthday, I promised my sister that I would treat her to one of her bucket list destinations, Miraval Spa near Tucson, Arizona (it was one of mine, too).  It took a few years before I became financially solvent enough, but we finally made it.

Started from the bottom, now we’re here.

So, we packed our bags for the vast, arid landscape of the Sonoran desert to enjoy some pampering, national park sights and southwestern culture.  Listen to the Blink 182 song, that you’ll beat to death in Tucson, okay?

In the desert, you can remember your name…

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24 hours in Minneapolis

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Did y’all see that game last night? It was a classic, with the Minnesota Vikings pulling off a miracle last play to win over the Saints.  And since the Super Bowl is happening in Minneapolis this year, here’s a repost of the 24 hour guide to the city of 10,000 lakes to prepare those who are heading that way in February!

 

you’re gonna make it after all…

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36 hours in Vail

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Vail is my favorite winter destination, perfect for the long Martin Luther King, Jr weekend.  Mostly because of the apres ski, as an old injury sidelined me from snowboarding and winter sports a long time ago. There’s so much to eat and do here that even if you’re not partaking in the exquisite powder of the back bowls, you can fill your days and nights enjoying all the sights along the cobblestoned, European chalet lined streets.

Pierce the Vail…

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know before you go: Siem Reap (REP)

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Siem Reap is the airport that serves Angkor Wat, one of the world’s great ancient ruins.  If you ever get the chance, go!  It’s an incredibly humbling place to visit, you will be in awe of the engineering and intricacy of these ancient structures.

Although it is Cambodia’s busiest airport (yes, even busier than that of the capital Phnom Penh), it’s still pretty tiny with only 10 gates.  But, this makes it easy to navigate.  It serves basically every regional Asian airline you can think of, with popular flights to and from Thailand and Vietnam.  It is the hub for Cambodia Angkor and Sky Angkor Airlines.

The design is very classic Khmer with the sloping roofs and when arriving, it makes you feel like you’re already visiting the sacred temples.  And you basically are, as it is located a mere 5 km from Angkor Wat. And about 4 km from the city center where all the restaurants and gem markets are abound.  You will (siem) reap the benefits when you visit this culturally rich area.

Remember: ✈️ = wat’s going on to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = turn down for wat

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (a short taxi or tuk tuk ride away)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (there is just one building)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️ (customs isn’t the fastest and there’s a bit of scrutiny, consider getting an e-visa before you arrive)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (it doesn’t have to be great for a regional airport, but there’s actually a Starbucks, a small Asian food court, Dairy Queen and two other coffeehouses)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️  (could have more)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️ (no wifi, sorry)

Amenities: ✈️✈️ (souvenir shops, bookstore, flower shop)

36 hours in Charleston

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Charleston, South Carolina is quite possibly one of the most charming cities in the US. This coastal hamlet has unparalleled appeal, historical value, and probably one of the highest ratios of award winning restaurants to actual citizens within its small limits.  No wonder it’s a popular destination for tourism and living alike.  It’s also the location for a Bravo reality TV show, so you know they’ve gotta be doing something right.

Charleston chew…

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24 hours in Budapest

Budapest is probably my favorite European city…well, maybe within the top 3.  It is different than anywhere else you’ve been. You don’t feel like you’re in Europe, you feel like you’re in the old world.  It’s got this dark magic, and I love it.

It’s a little more subdued, but yet very distinct from its other former Eastern Bloc neighbors, but don’t let that fool you.   There’s so much history from the Ottoman Empire and Turks and Romans to the Soviet influence, everyone has crossed through this area, including the Roma people, who give Hungarians their gypsy culture.   All of this historic interchange has led to Hungary (and Hungarians) to be a melting pot of mixed ethnicities.

Heroes’ Square is one of the landmark plazas on the Pest side, featuring Magyar and other prominent Hungarian leaders.  The central column is topped by Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown.  It is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Art.

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One of the most memorable places I’ve been is the Central Market Hall.  This grand indoor market is full of colors and sounds and smells, it’s sensory way overload.  Marketplaces seem ubiquitous in America these days, but this feels so original.

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getting hungary just looking at this

There’s giant sausages and other encased meats everywhere (literally so many kinds of sausage), cheeses, pickles of all types. Hungarian food is one of my all time favorite cuisines.  Put a plate of chicken paprikash or goulash in front of me and you’re golden.  You must (read: MUST) buy paprika from Hungary.  So closely associated with this country, their paprika is the smoky and rich and perfect.  They sell it everywhere.

On the Buda side of town sits the Castle Hill complex, made up of Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a Gothic style viewpoint that looks like something out of a fairy tale.  This very popular tourist attraction provides sweeping views of the river and the Pest side from high above.

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The Danube river runs right through the center of town, splitting it into the two sides, Buda and Pest.  The gorgeous bridges that span the river are spectacles in and of themselves, and are lovely at night.

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chain, chain, chain…

Along the Pest side of the river is a long promenade dotted with cafes and riverfront restaurants.  This is a wonderful way to wind down and watch as the lights transform this city into something even more fantastical.  Budapest at night is something else.

Venhajo-Etterem restaurant is located on a converted steamboat and has direct views of the castle.  Dubarry is also an amazing dining experience, if the weather permits you must sit outside in the white linen bistro tables.  Both restaurants serve traditional Hungarian fare of which I cannot get enough.

Walking along the river front will afford you the most spectacular views, the low light of early evening is the perfect time to snap a photo of the Buda Castle.

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Unfortunately, I only spent a very limited amount of time in this wonderful city, and a lot of it was spent with family (yes, unexpectedly have family here), so I didn’t have a chance to visit the thermal hot springs. This is a must when you visit. The Romans were originally drawn to this area for the touted benefits of these mineral water pools. Of course, the Turks came through and built Turkish baths, some of which are still in use. The Szécheny Baths are a grand structure on the Pest side of town that has many baths.  Guess I know where I’m headed next time…

have a great weekend!