The second leg of "Bob & Bryson's Excellent Western Adventure" took my Dad and I to Whistler to preview one of the marquee sites for the 2010 Winter Olympics. During this visit, I was stunned to learn it was actually my Dad's first trip to Whistler. For me, it was my third and, having been in April 2008, I was most interested to see if I noticed any major changes.
The first big change was the trip from Vancouver to Whistler. Highway 99, known as the "Sea-to-Sky Highway", has been given a major facelift. The 125-kilometer drive has historically been a challenging one, with twists and turns, major elevation changes and a steady stream of big trucks. Travellers needed to be alert at all times and budget two hours to travel this stretch of beautiful roadway. Four lanes now make up most of Route 99, turning this scenic drive into a quicker and safer journey. We cruised up to Whistler in about ninety minutes--including a quick pit stop for coffee.
One of my favorite books as a child was the National Geographic title, Explore a Spooky Swamp. It told the story of Willie and Isabella who go on a boat tour of the Okefenoke Swamp with a guide named Johnny.
Johnny shows the children tiny frogs, a snapping turtle, and a mother alligator defending her nest. They float under a canopy of trees laden with Spanish moss.
My father read me the book again and again, and I always dreamed of visiting the swamp. But I never knew exactly where this mysterious place was until I was looking for a place to stay overnight between Charleston and Jacksonville, Fl.--I wanted to break up the drive.
Looking at a map, I noticed this great big swamp in Waycross, Ga, about an hour outside of Jacksonville. It was the Okefenoke Wildlife Refuge, and it immediately click that it was the place featured in the book. The swamp was fresh in my mind because I still have the book and I had read it to my kids only days before. I booked a hotel and packed the book in my suitcase.
When we arrived in Waycross, my daughter was the one who first spotted the Okefenoke Swamp billboard advertisement with a huge alligator.
"I don't want to go! I don't want to see an alligator!"
I'm a year-round rider. I don't put my bike to sleep for the winter; I keep riding. I'm lucky. I live in Southern California, where temperatures rarely drop below freezing. But that doesn't mean it doesn't get cold on my Sportster. It gets very cold, and besides being mighty uncomfortable, it can actually be dangerous. Cold temperatures can raise your reaction time, reduce your ability to control your bike, and generally make you a worse rider. The wind chill factor amplifies the effect of cold air on your body, and riding at 60 mph on a cold night will feel like standing in a 60 mph windstorm. In a word, cold!
In mild weather, layering is the smart way to go. Start with a wicking fabric next to your skin. Cotton is good, but a high-tech microfiber layer is even better. Add thin layers of clothing on top -- clothing designed for skiers and snowboarders is great for this. Each layer will add insulation, and will also trap a layer of air, which is fantastic insulation as well. Finish off with a breathable windproof layer, like a Gore-Tex jacket, underneath your regular riding gear. Make sure not to overdo it, and layer just enough to keep warm, but not so much that you lose mobility.
Bundling up can help, but there's a limit. Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue.
Now that I've learned how to spell it without adding extra letters, and how to pronounce it without adding extra syllables, Albuquerque has become one of my favorite places. It's not only beautiful and culturally satisfying, but it also features a delightful amount of quirkiness that appeals to us older sightseers.
One good example is their baseball team. Most cities give their teams common nicknames like Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Pirates, Yankees, and different colored Sox, but Albuquerqueans named their minor league club the Isotopes, and it's because of Homer Simpson. When professional baseball returned to Albuquerque in 2003, the team owners held a contest to pick a new name. The Isotopes won by a substantial margin, an indication that the city's baseball fans are not only sports-savvy but also adherents of the television's "The Simpsons."
In one episode of the cartoon show, Homer Simpson went on a hunger strike to prevent his town's baseball team, also known as the Isotopes, from moving from Springfield to Albuquerque. His efforts paid off; the team stayed in Springfield. Given all those circumstances, the tie-in between Homer Simpson, Albuquerque, baseball, hot dogs, seventh-inning stretching and species of atoms of a chemical element becomes more easily understood.
Albuquerque is also home to a number of unusual museums cover a wide variety of cultural divergences. For example:
Last Thursday, my Dad and I started our "rock star" tour of Western Canada with three stops in three nights - Kelowna, Whistler and Vancouver. Minutes after landing in Kelowna, we were immediately struck by the remarkable landscape. From the Okanagan mountain range to the shores of Okanagan Lake, this place was truly breathtaking.
For a relatively small Canadian city (population of about 115,000), the region has lots to offer. It's truly become a four-season vacation hotspot. In the winter, the main attraction (as we highlighted in last week's blog) is the skiing and snowboarding, with Big White only minutes away and the snow affectionately called "champagne powder".
The region is very dry, with less than twelve inches of rain accumulating each year. This makes conditions ideal for another one of Kelowna's big industries - wine-making. The Okanagan Valley produces award-winning wines in many varieties including ice wines. We spent a couple of hours later in the day at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, a truly remarkable and unique place. With more than 80 acres of organic vineyards, Summerhill takes on the character and personality its proprietor, Stephen Cipes. Every wine spends time in the pyramid, a replica of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, allowing the energy of this unique cellar to enhance each bottle. They offer wine tours and tastings, and have a bistro with one of the best views out over the lake you'll ever see.
It's no secret that Best Western's most frequent guests spend a lot more time in their cars than they do on airplanes. In a recent survey of participants in the Best Western Diamond 100 advisory board, 63 percent said that nearly all of their business trips are road trips.
That's why I've got two items for my blog this week--both about driving.
When the Brothers Grimm compiled German fairy tales and came across the tale of Hansel and Gretel, the gingerbread house was modernized and romanticized. It seems only natural that children and adults alike would become enchanted with the idea of a sweetly edible home. My two-year-old has a couple of Jan Brett books about a Gingerbread Baby, and her favorite part of both stories is the house he lives in - all covered in candy and so incredibly delicious. Germany already had a tradition of making ginger cookies or cakes to be sold at festivals, and the popularity of this story started a tradition of making Lebkuchen, or "witches houses." The German Lebkuchen tend to be simple cottages, but in the United States, where making houses out of gingerbread has caught on more than anywhere else, they are often very elaborate Victorian homes and buildings laden with confections.
For me, there are two seasons -- riding season and show season. And I'm happy in either one.
Right now, we're in the middle of motorcycle show season, as the manufacturers bring out their new models to show to the public. If you're lucky enough to live in one of the towns where the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show makes a stop, trek on out to the convention center and see the new bikes. If you don't live nearby, why not plan an overnight trip?
I love going to the motorcycle show because it's a chance to actually sit on a wide variety of bikes, to talk to the experts and to mingle with other motorcycle enthusiasts. There's always a great vendor's area, where I can look at new accessories, apparel and product innovations (and maybe even buy a few things). Several vendors bring clearance and closeout merchandise, and there are often deals to be had. In warmer climes, the manufacturers even bring out demo bikes and offer rides on their new models. It's a great big biker Wonderland, with something for everyone.
I recently made my annual trip to see New York City at its holiday best, in miniature, at the New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show. Now through January 10, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory houses replicas of New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Penn Station and Yankee Stadium with model trains zooming along behind and in front of them on more than a quarter mile of track.
The replicas are made from natural materials like twigs, leaves, acorns, and pomegranates. Historic New York homes are carefully landscaped with moss and other tiny greenery. Visitors get to walk under the Brooklyn Bridge, built from sugar pinecones and lit with tiny lights - I'm not sure if it's more romantic to walk on the actual bridge or under this replica.
You know, this time of the year can be, and usually is, very stressful. The planning, the baking, the shopping, the presents and the relatives (even the ones you like) add to the stress. As the mom, most of these tasks usually fall to me and I wonder every year if I can create and recreate the wonderful memories that will hopefully stay with my girls until they leave the nest and start their own traditions. All of this running around and planning brought back memories of when the girls were younger and we always traveled back to the Midwest to celebrate Christmas with our families. So, I decided to offer some unsolicited advice on one more thing that might add to parents' stress over the holidays and that is - traveling to Grandma's and Grandpa's house (or relative of your choice).
At our home, we celebrate Christmas, so here are a few of my tried and true tactics to traveling with the kids that might help make this year's travel a little more relaxing and put the true spirit of the holidays back where it belongs - in your heart.
That special motorcyclist in your life deserves a special gift this holiday season. My non-biker friends know that I'm into motorcycles, and when they think about a gift, they fall back on knick-knacks. Now, I like a die-cast Harley-Davidson as much as the next guy, but I've kind of reached my limit, and I'm almost positive that anyone who has been riding for more than a few years has all they can handle, too. So, to help out my fellow riders, and to help out those who wish to buy gifts for riders, I've got a few suggestions that will make this year's gift season better than ever.
Great gifts under $50:
The Jimi Wallet: Bulk is the enemy when you're riding a motorcycle. The Jimi is a slim, lightweight plastic wallet that is made of 100% recycled and recyclable materials. It's designed to be carried in your front pocket, and will only hold the essentials. I switched from a conventional leather wallet to the Jimi a few years ago, and it's the best wallet I've ever had. ($15)
The Sculpted Skull Belt Buckle : Bikers love belts, and bikers love skulls. So this one is a natural. The best feature on this buckle is that it doesn't have any sharp edges to dig in when you're sitting on the bike. And it's cool looking. ($30)
Looking for stocking stuffers for the traveler on your list? Check out these wallet-friendly nifty products that are sure to bring a smile to their face.
1) Klean Kanteen
The environmentally friendly alternative to plastic water bottles, Klean Kanteen is made of 100% food-grade stainless steel that will last for years. It's lightweight, holds 27 ounces and has a wide mouth for ice cubes. ($17)
2) Monopoly Go
A compact version of the classic, this game board uses clips to attach movers, houses and hotels, which means that players can pause, fold and store their game until later.. Comes with a sturdy travel case and individual player wallets to store money and property cards. ($19.99)
3) Towel Lite
Hiking in Hawaii and suddenly come upon a waterfall with a perfect swimming pool? Dive in and then pull this soft, ultralight, highly absorbent, quick-drying towel from your daypack. It absorbs up to eight times its weight in liquid, yet 90% of the moisture can be easily wrung out to speed drying time. ($14)
4) Origami on the Go
This art kit by best-selling author Margaret Van Sicklen provides a solution to "Are we there yet?" with 40 travel-inspired projects--including Amazon River Turtle, Samurai Helmet, Stunt Plane, Mummy and Chinese Opera Hat. ($15)
5) Red Eye Pack
In-flight comfort packed into one and carry-on approved, this kit contains an eye mask, soft ear plugs, lip balm, a hydrating lotion towelette, dental refresher, chiclets for popping your ears, and a bookmark in a reusable clear zip-top pouch. ($18)
Last month marked the first time in recorded history, (which apparently goes back 165 years) that Toronto had no snow in the month of November. Not a single flurry! Great news for drivers and bad news for skiers. The reality is any skier/snowboarder who's serious about the sport needs to get a long way from the Greater Toronto Area if they want to enjoy the best mountains in the country.
Narrowing the following list of ski areas down to five was a challenge and truthfully I could have found five great ones within the province of British Columbia alone. My methodology for ranking the resorts took into account a number of factors including:
Size of the mountain
Number and diversity of the runs
Average annual snowfall
Tourism infrastructure (accessibility, # of hotels, restaurants and activities)
If you read the famous children's Christmas tale The Polar Express (or saw the movie based on the book) you most likely enjoyed the wonderful illustrations, featuring the magic of that holiday event through the eyes of a child. I've read the book many times to our kids over the years and was intrigued when we heard of a railway company nearby that was offering 'Polar Express' adventures. I was even more intrigued when I discovered that there are a fair amount of train companies that are also doing this all over the US and Canada.
Our experience on the Polar Express (ie. The Heber Creeper train, running up and down Provo Canyon, Utah) was memorable. First, kids love trains. So, basically, you could simply put kid on a train and the outing would be a success. Now, add Christmas decorations, snowy mountains, a trip to the North Pole to see the big red guy and a cup of hot chocolate for the ride and the kids feel they are living the story...and as an adult, you can't help but get caught up in all the excitement.
As the days tick away and the holidays approach, I still have a lot of shopping to do, but for once I am not stressed. Every year I hunt for the perfect gift, and then at the last minute I panic and get something that my mom, dad, sister, or significant other really won't want/need. Not this year though. This year, I have a plan. I'm going to buy them all some travel.
Tell us and enter for a chance to win a $250 Best Western Travel Card®!
A new year is fast approaching. This is the perfect time to start dreaming about where your travels may take you for 2010! It can be a place you are already planning on, have visited before, or if you just want to dream big. Fill us in on your wish list travel destinations and enter for a chance to win a $250 Best Western Travel Card.
To submit your wish list travel destinations (and at the same time enter for a chance to win a $250 Best Western Travel Card®), select the Comment button and enter in your response to the question, "What destinations are on your travel wish list for 2010?"
Once you enter a comment you are entered into a random drawing for one commenter to win a $250 Best Western Travel Card!
In addition, get an extra entry into the contest for adding this blog post to another site (track back). Copy and paste the URL under the Trackbacks section to add this post to your blog.
The contest promotion ends on January 6, so submit your travel destinations today.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the YMBT Fall Photo Contest. Reviewing all the photos submitted for the contest was an impactful reminder of how many exciting and beautiful things are out there to be discovered on our travels.
Congratulations to our winner, A.C. Merritt, winner of a digital picture frame, for the beautiful fall photo featured below. We had so many fabulous fall travel photos, it was difficult to pick one.
Last month I took a Tuesday evening flight to Atlanta and ended up arriving to my hotel at about 10:30 pm. Little did I know that the entire hotel lobby and many of the rooms were occupied by revelers attending Jezebel Magazine's raucous "Most Beautiful Atlantans" party.
After a five-hour flight from the West Coast, I was a rumpled mess in a sea of beautiful, well-dressed Atlantans. I felt like the only person in the hotel lobby without a Cosmopolitan cocktail in my hand. I was definitely the only one with a roller bag and a briefcase.
While there was certainly a lot to look at, I remember thinking to myself, "Man, if I had only known this party was going on, I would have booked the hotel across the street!" Luckily, the front desk clerk recognized my distress, and told me he'd moved me to a high and relatively unoccupied floor.
This made me think about other situations where I'd say, "If I had only..." when it comes to hotel stays. Hopefully you'll learn--as I did--how to avoid some snafus...
I've heard this story every spring, and so have you. My riding buddies call to ask for some help -- it's the first nice day of the new season, and time to go for a ride. Except their bikes won't start. Dead battery, or bad fuel, or gunked up oil. Who knows? All I do know is that they didn't take the time to get their bikes ready for the winter, and now it's springtime, and now they're suffering.
So, you know what's coming: My tips for prepping your motorcycle for the winter.
First and foremost, give your motorcycle a good, thorough cleaning and detailing from top to bottom. Fix the little things that you've been putting off all summer and fall. Tighten those loose fasteners. Lube that chain. Wrap that frayed wire. A little bit of time spent now will save you a ton of heartache later.
Figure out where your bike is going to spend its winter. The best of all worlds is a heated, enclosed space, but not all of us have that option. You're going to need access to an electric outlet with "always-on" power, as well.
Last weekend wrapped up the college football regular season. And with it brought to the forefront all of what is best and maddening about college football. The experts vote and the computers compute and we all wish there were a better way, but it doesn't stop us from tuning in (especially if we have a team playing in some bowl game somewhere). I know-- there are more bowls than anyone can possibly be expected to remember. But if you are fan and your team is playing you are most likely going to tune in...or if you are really fortunate you are going to travel to the destination and watch.
These are my top bowls I would choose to attend, both for location and my interest in the game:
Have you been dreaming of a romantic European vacation (think cobblestone streets, delicious food, historic buildings and arts) but don't have the time, money or airmiles to get there anytime soon? Look no further than a vacation to beautiful Quebec City, Canada - just a hop skip and a jump from the US border (Only a two-hour drive from the northern borders of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and easily accessible via major airlines such as Air Canada, Northwest, Continental and Delta). Quebec City is over 400 years old, and while it is considered to be a French-speaking city, you will find many people and vendors who can and will speak English to you. Visiting Quebec City is like taking a European vacation without the European pricetag - from the moment you set your eyes on Quebec with its humungous city walls and daunting gates, the narrow, winding streets and sidewalk cafes, you'll feel like you've traveled halfway around the world. As you make your way down the cobblestone streets and hear the sounds of horse's hooves clop-clopping along as they pull carriages filled with couples enjoying the sites, you'll appreciate the historic, old-world feel that surrounds you. You will enjoy quaint boutiques, stunning architecture and spirited festivals. There is so much to see and do, and you surely won't have enough time to do it all, so I thought I'd help by narrowing it down to a few "must sees" for your visit to "North America's Little Europe"
Not sure what it is exactly about fountains but they always seem to attract a crowd. Famous fountains attract hordes of people to their shores every day. Something about the mixing of water, architecture and art holds a general attraction to most people. In fact, people have been using them as a gathering place for as long as they have been around. Granted, many fountains are built in public places so it would be easy to assume that's why people flock, but even in public places fountains seem to be the center of attention.
Fountains started out with the purely practical purpose of providing water to thirsty people. The Romans started getting fancy with them and placing them in gardens and courtyards. The art didn't stray far from its origins as Europe is home to the most famous and elaborate fountains.
And for some reason most fountains have a way of accumulating coins. Not sure where the tradition started that turned fountains into change banks, but from what I can tell people do it for luck, to make a wish or a good opportunity to get rid of loose change.
Practically every town and city has their own fountain somewhere of some kind. For a list of the world's most famous fountains I turned to specialists. Fountainsinthecity.com has a list of the 10 most famous fountains in the world. Not surprising, most our European, with the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy leading the way, though it was interesting to see Las Vegas rounding out the list.
The weather is starting to turn, even here in sunny Southern California, where I call home. Even though temperatures are pleasant during the daytime, in the 60s and 70s, after the sun goes down I can expect 40s and 30s. It's hard to figure out what kind of gear to wear, what to carry, whether to ride or to take the car. I have to admit, there are times when I wimp out and ride in the cage, just to avoid the discomfort. I'm not proud of it. But it's the truth.
Which got me thinking - when it's getting colder here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's getting warmer down in the Southern Hemisphere. I started to do more than fantasize about locations below the Equator where I might like to ride.
My love of trains goes back to childhood when our family sat on the front porch of our home in North Dakota and listened to the chugs and snorts of the steam engines as they hauled freight and passengers across the prairies. This affection was enhanced when my dad got a job on the railroad, a move that furthered my dream of someday riding in a caboose. And when it happened, I was moving royalty, seated in the cupola of the little red car and waving to the wheat fields and little towns that dotted the flatlands.
Those days are gone, but a few avenues remain where I and others like me can live go back to those thrilling days of yesteryear. They're called excursion trains now, but they serve the same purpose. Four of them are located in the Southwest, so with a little planning I can ride them all in less than a week.
Last Sunday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes squared off in the 97th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alberta. Canada's version of the Superbowl is held in late November each year and unless it's being played in Vancouver or Toronto (which have dome stadiums--weather usually plays a key role. Surprisingly, this year's weather was tame and quite boring, making it a non issue. In fact, at kick-off the sun was shining and a balmy eight degrees Celsius.
In contrast, the football game was exciting and full of intrigue, making it one of the best I can remember. It came down to the final play, where the heavily favoured Alouettes kicked a field goal with no time left on the clock to win by a single point. Heartbreak for Saskatchewan fans and the thousands who made the trip to Calgary to cheer on their provincial heroes. The game was the icing on the cake for a fantastic week of events and activities that make the Grey Cup a truly must-attend Canadian event. If you've never been, do yourself a favour and mark your calendar for the 98th game next year. It will be contested on November 28th, just three hours north of Calgary in Edmonton - "The City of Champions!" Edmonton has hosted three of the most memorable Grey Cup games in recent history and will sell out their 60,000-seat stadium. Chances are the weather will be nasty, which perhaps surprisingly will add even more fun and festivity.
It's not very often that "Good Morning America" calls. So when producers contacted me last month to help them out with a segment about navigating airport security lines, I jumped at the chance.
As it turned out, the segment touched on two areas of interest for readers of this blog: getting through airport security lines AND driving in heavy road traffic.
My advice: Choose your security line carefully--try to avoid getting behind families with children, those with strollers or hard-to-remove lace-up shoes or boots. I also recommend staying away from international visitors holding foreign passports since they typically don't have the drill down like U.S.-based travelers and tend to slow down the lines.
The segment also helped road warriors answer an important question: Is it faster to stay in one lane during heavy freeway traffic or is it better to weave around slow movers in zigzag fashion? Check out the video to get the answer to that question!
We are hearing a lot about the Swine Flu and other sicknesses right now, and with the holiday travel season, cold weather, and family gatherings, it is important to do what we can to stay healthy. I'm no "germaphobe," but I also am determined to avoid getting sick this season.
With all of the traveling, airports, cab rides and family dinners with my cousin James (who will inevitably have strep throat or something else terrible) I've formed a plan of action for how to keep my immune system strong throughout this holiday season.
Here it goes:
Drink water. I used to get so mad at my father when he would tell me this but now that I know the science behind it, I get it... Germs try to enter your body through the mouth and nose, your body creates mucus to help keep them out... If you don't drink water, you can't create mucus... end of discussion.
Clean hands. Your hands touch an awful lot of surfaces every day, and they also touch your eyes, mouth, nose etc... So keep them clean, and try not to touch your face too much. Wash those puppies like there is no tomorrow, keep a little bottle of sanitizer with you if you have to!
I've been fortunate enough over the past few years to either travel on business for myself or tag along with my husband on his business trips which have taken us to places around the world I never thought I would see. I'm a lucky woman. My last trip for work to California had me thinking about how to combine a business trip with pleasure. It is one of those perks that make you feel like you've had an extra vacation added in to your year.
Trying to mix business travel with pleasure can be a tricky balancing act, but with some careful planning and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, I found it can be done.
It doesn't matter what city or country you're traveling to, plan ahead. When I find out what city or country I'm going to be traveling to, I spend some time online checking out the activities, events and local highlights that might be worth exploring. If I'm traveling to another country or even a different time zone, I try to arrive a day early just to get over jet lag, get some exercise and a good night's rest. You'll be amazed at how much better you'll feel and have a clear mind heading into your work week.
As the World's Largest Hotel Chain, we know it is a big world out there
with lots of places to see and experience. Best Western's You Must Be
Trippin' travel blog offers travel tips, ideas and feature destinations
to make your next trip a success. We are also interested in where
you've been trippin' and invite you to share your travel ideas, tips
and destinations with us.