Los Angeles Tips for Visitors

Los Angeles Tips for Visitors

I recently returned from a short trip to Los Angeles. I think people either love or hate LA - it’s a huge sprawling city that takes time to really see and understand. I happen to love it. I love that it has all the great things you can expect from a world class city, but because it’s made up of many different cities and neighborhoods, each area has it's own vibe. Venice, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Westwood, Santa Monica, and Downtown LA all feel like completely different cities. There is no one Los Angeles.

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Cabo Luxury Hotel Overview

Cabo Luxury Hotel Overview

My wife and I visited Cabo for a few days in May... we stayed at Esperanza, and Auberge Resort, but while we were there I took a day to visit the other high end resorts and, more importantly, meet my sales contacts. (Having a personal contact is so helpful when I want to do something special for a client!) Click below for an overview of each luxury property in Cabo, including the Virtuoso perks that I can get for my clients at each. (I've also included a few photos of each from my visit.)

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Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan

One of my clients, Amy Cohen - one of the most adventurous travelers I know -  just returned from a 28 day solo trip to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This region, located at the border of Asia and Europe, is known as the Caucasus (pronounced CAW-kuss-is, named after the Caucasus Mountains). All three countries were part of the Soviet Union and are now independent. The largest cities in each country are fairly large cities, even by American standards:

Yerevan, Armenia - population 1 million
Tbilisi, Georgia - population 1.4 million
Baku, Azerbaijan - population 4 million

Amy visited all three, plus towns, churches, synagogues, mosques, nature sites, and more throughout the countryside and mountains. Although most travel itineraries for this region are 7-10 days, Amy's extended time there allowed her to see much more than the typical traveler. This was a fun project for me to work on because these were all new destinations for me. They were new to her also, which is why she asked me for assistance with the arrangements. I very much enjoyed seeing her photos and asked if I could share a few of them here. 

Travel Tips for Laguna Beach, CA

Travel Tips for Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA is located about an hour south of Los Angeles and an hour north of San Diego. My wife and I spent some time there recently and really enjoyed it. We both thought it would be a good substitute for Hawaii due to the beautiful beaches and views. 

The town of Laguna Beach has a downtown arts district with a few streets of galleries, boutiques, and cute shops. There are lots of restaurants and cafes to choose from. There's also the town of Laguna Niguel, but there's no "downtown" area - just a variety of strip malls.

Below I've listed what I learned from our visit. If you'd like to plan a trip to Laguna Beach, I would love to work with you... I have great relationships with the top hotels there. My clients are considered VIPs and are offered free upgrades, breakfasts, spa certificates, etc.

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True/False Documentary Film Festival

True/False Documentary Film Festival

My wife and I recently visited Columbia, MO for their annual True/False Documentary Film Festival. We both love documentaries and have wanted to go to this for several years, but our schedules never worked out. This year we were able to go for a portion of the festival and were not disappointed. 

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Istanbul - Tips and Notes

Istanbul - Tips and Notes

After a week in Istanbul, here are some random notes I have accumulated, along with some tips for anyone who might visit in the future.

Look for the white beans in a red sauce. If you see it, order it with rice. It's amazing. Many restaurants have it. Erzincanli Ali Baba next to the Suleyman Mosque is supposed to be the best. Really fantastic - don't miss it.

There's a nice cafe / Nargile bar at the end of the Hippodrome (go to the last obelisk and bear left down the hill). Great spot to chill for a little while. Backgammon, hookahs, food, desserts, etc. Another large Nargile cafe (no food) is located on the tram line near the Grand Bazaar.

There are cats everywhere. No one seems to mind.

Turks (especially men?) drink a lot of tea. Whenever there’s a break for anything, there seems to be a young man bringing tea on a small hanging tray. Tea is almost always served in glasses, not in paper or plastic cups, even if it means a taxi driver has to leave his glass on the curb for the tea server to come back later to pick up.

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Istanbul - Day 6

Istanbul - Day 6

Today was our 6th full day in Istanbul and I haven't had a chance to write since day 2. We've been seeing and doing so much during the day, and so tired at night - there's not a lot of down time. I know some people go to a city like this for just 2-3 days, but I really enjoy being here longer. It gives me a chance to get to know the city better and see different parts of town - not just the touristy areas. Still, I want to make use of every minute here, exploring until I'm exhausted, then back out after a rest.

Since Tuesday, when we did our food tour and visited the Grand Bazaar, we've been all over Istanbul:

Hagia Sophia (pronounced Aya Sophia) - first a church, then a mosque, now a museum. Reminded me of the great churches of Italy. Tons of tourists.

Galata Bridge - hundreds of fishermen on the top level, dozens of restaurants on the lower level. The bridge connects the Old and New cities. Need to go back to try the fresh caught fish from the boats at the Old City side.

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Istanbul Grand Bazaar and Nargile Bar

Istanbul Grand Bazaar and Nargile Bar

After our food tour of Istanbul, we were both pretty tired and came back to the hotel to rest for a while. Rachel eventually took a nap and I went out and walked the 2-3 blocks to the Grand Bazaar to explore for an hour. It seems like most of the shops are gift shops for tourists, but I only wandered around for a little while and saw small sections. It's like a maze of streets inside, and I think there are sections that are for certain types of shops. What I found most interesting was how the vendors all try to get tourists to come over to their stall (hello, jeans, good price - where you from?) and the tiny tea shops and mini restaurants hidden here and there for the workers. I definitely want to have lunch at one of those places before we leave.

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Istanbul Food Tour

Istanbul Food Tour

Today was quite a day, so this will be a long blog post...

It's now 6 PM and we are still recovering from a 6 hour food tour in the Old City. The tour took us to places in the city we never would have found on our own and introduced us to a ton of interesting food as well.

We booked a tour thought Istanbul Eats, and our guide was Connie, a German journalist who has lived in Istanbul for 9 years. She writes for the Guardian and is a tour guide on the side.

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Istanbul - Day 2

Istanbul - Day 2

It's 4 PM in Istanbul and we've had a full day already. After breakfast in the hotel we took the tram to the heart of the Old City to see some of the big sights. I typically like to get the big famous things out of the way early so the rest of the trip feels more relaxed and there's less pressure to see or do certain things. We visited the Blue Mosque, the Underground Cistern, and Topkapi Palace. The first two were really stunning... Topkapi Palace was expensive, underwhelming, and practically a zoo full of groups and tourists. We couldn't wait to get out of there. Reminded me of Chichen Itza and the Palace of Versailles, just less interesting.

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Istanbul - Day 1

Istanbul - Day 1

Now that the Paris trip is over, I have time to slow down a bit... I had planned to blog in Paris but I just didn't have time for anything more than uploading a photo once in a while. I arrived in Istanbul last night around 11 PM. I had arranged a private transfer for myself, which was a good idea since the airport was mobbed and there was a looong taxi line. I went out for a walk down the street a couple blocks and had a chicken sandwich and a diet coke, then came back to sleep. I am recovering from the Paris trip, which was all work. I even laid down across a row of 5 empty seats on my flight here and slept for a couple hours. People thought I was nuts.

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A work day in Paris

A work day in Paris

Today is my 9th day in Paris, and I finally feel like I've adjusted. My body has caught up with the time difference, we've become friendly with all the staff we are working with from the hotel and the DMC, and the first wave of the program is half over. Wave two is always easier because we've figured everything already, maps and documents have been designed and printed, restaurants located and booked, amenities prepared, etc

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Paris - Day 7 (Le Marais, Jewish Museum and BHV Dept Store)

Paris - Day 7 (Le Marais, Jewish Museum and BHV Dept Store)

Today was our last day in Paris, and we really enjoyed it. I was thinking all day about why today feels different for me than the other days of the trip, and I've identified a few reasons:

• We have seen all the big things on our list that we wanted to do here, so there's no feeling of pressure to figure out the schedule, remember to do something, find a place to buy something, etc. We left the last day completely empty and just enjoyed being in Paris.

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Paris - Day 6 (Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Dept Stores)

Paris - Day 6 (Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Dept Stores)

Today was a fun, long, tiring day. We got up super early to be at the Louvre before they open. Tickets are not available in advance and we didn't want to be standing in line forever. We arrived at 8:40 AM and when they opened at 9:00, we were in quickly. They have self-service ticket kiosks where you can buy your tickets once inside, and by 9:10 or so we were in the museum. 10 or 15 minutes later we had been to the Mona Lisa... it was really amusing getting caught up in the rush of people rushing to the Mona Lisa before the crowds got there. The painting is beautiful but I was honestly more interested in the people taking photos of the painting and the security.

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Paris - Day 5 (Giverny and an Evening Walk to the Eiffel Tower)

Paris - Day 5 (Giverny and an Evening Walk to the Eiffel Tower)

Today was a wonderful day. (Warning - there are lots of pictures today. I probably took about 400 photos today and it's hard to choose which ones to include. The pictures tell the story better than I do anyway.)

After a quick coffee meeting with our DMC at the cafe near our hotel, we headed to Giverny, Monet's home in the country, in a private car (yes, we're getting spoiled). It was about an hour drive, and we first made a quick stop in the town of Vernon so I could take a quick look around. We poked our head into the town church and continued to Giverny.

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Paris - Day 4 (Notre Dame, Latin Quarter, Musee d'Orsay and Seine River Cruise)

Paris - Day 4 (Notre Dame, Latin Quarter, Musee d'Orsay and Seine River Cruise)

This is our 6th day of the trip but our 4th day in Paris. We slept in a little bit this morning (until 9 or so) and then had a quick European style breakfast at the cafe near our closest Metro stop... croissants and coffee, standing up at the counter. So good. We took the Metro to Notre Dame (which is located on an island in the middle of Paris) and since the line wasn't too long, we went in. Pretty magnificent (not as impressive as St. Peter's at the Vatican but still pretty amazing).

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Amsterdam - Day 2 (Anne Frank House, Canal Boat Cruise and more)

Amsterdam - Day 2 (Anne Frank House, Canal Boat Cruise and more)

Today was a lovely day in Amsterdam. The weather was perfect and we were looking forward to getting out again to explore the city.

After a little breakfast in the hotel, we went out for a walk before arriving at the Anne Frank House. They say the wait to get in could be 90 min to two hours, but since we followed Rick Steve's advice and bought our tickets online in advance, we walked right in, past the 50-60 people waiting.

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Amsterdam - Day 1 (Arrival, Dutch Pancakes and Exploring)

Amsterdam - Day 1 (Arrival, Dutch Pancakes and Exploring)

After a very quick breakfast in the hotel, we took a taxi to the Gare de Nord train station in Paris, where I enjoyed one of my favorite little things in Europe: standing at a busy coffee counter to have a coffee and croissant.

We boarded the Thalys high speed train to Amsterdam, covered Rachel with a Children's Hospital blanket and she was asleep in 5 minutes. I spent the time going though some photos, checking some sites and going to the dining car for a coffee.

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Paris - Day 3 (Versailles)

Paris - Day 3 (Versailles)

Today was a looong but fascinating day. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we were picked up by our guide for the day, Christine, and Alex, a driver. Our goals for the day were to see some areas and attractions we will be using for our group in May.

We started off with a quick stop at one of the two bistros we will be using for a big group lunch in May. Unfortunately, they had just had a fire a day or two ago and were going to be closed for a few weeks. They had just finished a big renovation and re-opened in November and the restaurant manager was standing outside looking like he was about to cry. He and Christine knew each other and spoke briefly.

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Paris - Day 2 (Champs Elysees and falafel)

Paris - Day 2 (Champs Elysees and falafel)

We started the day with a wonderful breakfast buffet in the hotel... lox, fresh bread, croissants, and a very odd hard boiled egg that couldn't possibly have been from a chicken. We took the Metro to the Arc de Triumph and took the elevator to the top for a great view of Paris, the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower.

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