Get Away With Fran

March 15, 2010

Take me to Miami

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:27 pm

16th Floor Pool Deck

OK, I know I am the envy of my East Coast pals today, as I have landed in Miami where it is warm and sunny (and not rainy and dreary as it’s been for days now in Boston).

There is something wonderful about coming out of the airport and feeling, well, kind of sweaty, but in that good, “I am in Miami” sort of way.

I am staying at the much-lauded, 411-room Epic Hotel in downtown, a Kimpton property. And my first impressions are this cool design hotel deserves all the praise.

EPIC Main Exterior (lo-res)

Literally I had a fleet of bellmen in crisp tan uniforms snap my bag out of the cab before I could blink an eye.

Lobby- Living Room

In the lobby (above) the equally well-dressed and efficient front desk team got me speedily checked in and within minutes I was in my airy, 18th floor room, checking out my very own deck, which overlooks the property’s hip pool/social area on the 16th floor (top photo, except there are bikini clad bods there at present), tall residential buildings and the ocean beyond.

One Bedroom Suite

Complimentary wine is served poolside during an hour-long daily social hour, starting at 5, so I may just hop down for a swig before I head off to meetings and other social obligations tonight. I’m in town to cover Cruise Shipping Miami (formerly known as Seatrade), the annual gathering of the cruise lines and ports and others affiliated with cruising. In the next few days, I’ll fill you in on the latest and great in the world of cruising.

But meanwhile, I heard the San Antonio Spurs are staying here tonight. Lots of very tall men walking around tonight. That, and free Internet access (every guestroom at the Epic has wireless and a complimentary desktop too). Woo-hoo.

March 12, 2010

Partying like Jennifer Aniston at Borgota

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:13 am

JenAn

OK. I kind of hate Jennifer Aniston. Who doesn’t? She is way too perfect.

And now she may or may not be with hunky Gerard Butler – depending on which of the rags/mags you believe, their “coupling” is either a publicity stunt for their new movie, “The Bounty Hunter, or “true love.” I’m betting the former.

But you can’t deny they had time together at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. And that’s because the PR folks at the hotel are making the most of their JenBut connection.

In fact, Butler and his leading lady filmed several scenes of their comedy at the Borgata and according to a press release, “got to know each other” off-camera while frequenting the hotel’s restaurants and hot spots.

In celebration of the film’s release, and what the hotel terms “the couple’s budding romance,” The Borgata has created an A-list “Follow the Bounty to Borgata” package, available through April 10.

Included are accommodations in a spectacular Hideaway Suite at The Water Club at the Borgota; a spa treatment from the Immersion Spa (Jen is reportedly a fan of the Ultimate Oxygenerating Facial; no comment); a $200 food and beverage credit you can use at Bobby Flay Steak of Seablue by Michael Mina, where Aniston and crew dined during filming; and a $100 retail credit for use at one of the Borgata boutiques. Plus you get VIP Entry and Complimentary admission to MIXX and mur.mur nightclubs, so like Jen you can glide past the velvet rope.

No guarantee the paparazzi won’t spot you, though. The package is priced at $1,499, and available weekends only.

December 15, 2009

Best deal to China ever

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:24 am

China1

I got a press release today that advertised “Best price on a China Package – Ever.” And the funny thing is I think it just might be. If you can leave, like, now, or even in the next few weeks, you can do China, complete with air and hotel, from under $1,000.

China Spree’s China Express – Bejing Free-style Travel package (say that five times fast) is a 7-day deal with roundtrip air on Air China and five nights’ accommodations at the 4-star Beijing Huabin International Hotel, described as a comfortable, 290-room property only a 10-minute walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (my Beijing photos, above and below). The hotel offers LCD TVs with satellite channels, broadband Internet access and minibars, hairdryers and coffee makers, so how bad could it be?

China3

The operator is even throwing in airport to hotel transfers (by bus, not pedicab) and daily American breakfast. The tab? From $588 per person if you can get yourself to San Francisco; from $988 from New York’s JFK (plus airport fees and taxes from $299). Fares are available from other cities as well.

There is also a land-based price for those who have frequent flyer miles to burn. Reasonably priced tours and other add-ons are also available once you’re in Beijing – so you can get too to the Summer Palace and the Great Wall (from which I sent txts to friends bragging I was on the GREAT WALL). There are meal packages available too.

The low prices are available for departures in December and January.

November 9, 2009

Remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:06 am

BerlinWall

Back in 1961, the leaders of East Germany probably didn’t imagine that the foreboding wall they were putting up around Berlin – to keep East Germans in – would someday be a big tourist attraction.

But visit Berlin in 2009, as I did a couple of months ago, and you’ll find remnants of the concrete barrier – and the culture of GDR (German Democratic Republic) – are very much part of the tourist scene in Berlin.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, and through the end of the year there are special exhibits highlighting the Wall years and peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the wall and end of the GDR (including at Alexanderplatz, the square in the heart of the city).

The wall that divided the city was really two walls, separated by a “death strip.” Border crossings allowed those from the West to enter the East, but East Germans were not allowed to leave. Hundreds died trying to flee.

In the euphoria that followed the breach of the wall in 1989, much of the concrete was dismantled (pieces of the Berlin Wall now reside not only in Berlin but around the world including in New York). But there is still plenty in Berlin to remind travelers and locals alike of this chapter in world history. (more…)

October 28, 2009

Architecture travel fantasy in Illinois

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 2:21 pm

hs-chicago-avenue

I am a bit of an architecture geek. No, I’d never try creating anything, but I do admire the work of others – and have been known to go out of my way when traveling to see the latest and greatest, and old and historic.

So I think it’s super cool that the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is again serving up its Architecture Fantasy Camp in 2010

Drafting_room1_(HB)

The camp program takes place at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in the very drafting room where the master worked in Oak Park, Ill., with a program very much designed for non-architects. Dates are March 5-8; June 13-16; August 1-4 and October 3-6, 2010.

As part of the program, which BTW I think would make an excellent holiday gift for any Wright fan, (more…)

October 27, 2009

Passion for Portugal

Filed under: Food,International,Travel Advice,Wine and booze — admin @ 8:00 am

DSC_6436[1]

The Portuguese are passionate people. Some might even call them emotional (anyone who has ever seen Fado music performed in Lisbon will surely get this). And this month, I had a couple of opportunities to see how that passion pours over (excuse the pun) to Portuguese wine.

At a tasting featuring several dozen vintners, I sampled everything from young verde(the Portuguese prefer not to call it “green wine” though that’s how most American’s know it) to aged port (a personal favorite).

DSC_7231[1]

And last week at Grill 23 n Boston, I sampled a full range of red wines – and one rose – created in the Alentejo region by the Adega Cooperativa de Borba (and distributed locally by L & B Beverage of East Providence, R.I.).

The Adegaborba.pt Rose 2008 was fine with a terrine of foie gras with apples poached in cherry lambic, served with a tarragon egg and “soldiers” toasts.

But the perfect pairing for me was the Adegaborba.pt Reserva Red, 2004, one of three wines served with the main course of slow roasted and braised elk (with yummy creamed bacon and salsify and tobacco onions). In fact, this very drinkable red (which goes for a bargain price of about $15 per (more…)

October 23, 2009

Whiskey dreams and Ireland

bushmills_bottles

The other night I had very unusual dreams involving Leprechauns and such that I can only credit to the fact I went to a Bushmills Irish whiskey tasting at the brand new Post 390 restaurant in Boston. I am beginning to understand why Jim Morrison was such a fan of the stuff. I did not quite hallucinate, but…

First let me admit I know very little about whiskey. I’m much more a vodka gal. But my whiskey education included learning the fact I actually rather like the Bushmill 16 year, with a little water and ice, especially when accompanying a gussied up version of meatloaf – Post 390′s is veal, beef and pork, stuffed with ham and Fontina cheese and topped with a slightly sweet Marsala sauce. Yum (and my favorite dish of the evening). But I digress.

Colum_Egan I am newly intrigued with Irish whiskey and just may have to head to Ireland to discover more. There could probably be no better guide than Colum Egan, my host at the tasting in Boston and the Master (more…)

October 21, 2009

Stressed in Boston – but maybe a Princess Cruise will help

Filed under: Cruise,Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 5:58 am

Even travel writers have off days and I was having one yesterday. But today I woke up with a new, and better, attitude because it turns out I live in one of the most stressed out cities in America. So I am not alone.

My epiphany came courtesy of Princess Cruises, which has released the results of a Harris Interactive survey it commissioned on – get this – Life Balance (gee, can you tell the cruiseline is based in California?).

My city, Boston, tops the list of  places where people’s lives are not in balance, as in, we are crazy stressed out or, presumably, lead unbalanced existences. More stressed out than Beantown, is Chicago and Houston and rounding out the list is Los Angeles and San Diego.

Cities where people are more mellow. or at least claim to have balance in their lives, are Miami, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth (hot and lively, boring, boring, crazy lively, boring, so go figure).

The survey, according to the surveyors, finds “Americans continue to strive for the ultimate life balance, which includes juggling work and personal priorities” but concludes “only approximately one-quarter of people in the U.S. actually have achieved this goal.” Gee, and you thought (more…)

October 19, 2009

Vodka with taste, from Slovakia

Filed under: International,Travel Advice,U.S. — admin @ 9:54 am

Combine really good vodka, Double Cross, and the culinary expertise of Boston top chef Michael Schlow at Via Matta, at a vodka tasting, and of course you have a winning combination. And for those who say vodka has no taste I say blahhh. If there is not taste (which I would argue there is) vodka certainly presents itself in a sensory way, and in Schlow’s hands even a sensual way as well.

First to the vodka. If you haven’t yet heard of Double Cross you will, if for no other reason than it comes in an incredibly cool narrow rectangular bottle and that it hails from the unusual vodka destination of Slovakia (the double silver cross on the bottle is reflective of the Slovakian flag and there are sayings in Slovakian on the label). In fact, Double Cross is the only Slovakian vodka distributed in the U.S.

And the vodka does not even hail from any place in Slovakia you’re ever heard of. It comes from a 13th century village in the mountains near the Polish border and not from Bratislava, and not from more cosmopolitan Bratislava (Slovakia’s up and coming capital city). The vodka uses locally-grown winter wheat and mountain spring water drawn from aquifers located 200-feet below ground level.

How a Slovakian vodka landed in fine restaurants, bars and liquor stores in Boston involves an (more…)

October 13, 2009

Around the world in 26 days and in luxury style

Petra

If you have $29,995 handy, 26 free days and want to see the world and/or are looking for a perfect holidaty gift, check out the “trip of a lifetime” being organized by AHI Travel in Chicago.

The “Grand Journey Around the World” tour visits eight countries on three continents, stopping at nine UNESCO World Heritage sites (including Jordan’s Petra, in photo, above).

You also fly in business class, stay at world-famous hotels (including the Peninsula hotels in Asia) and do tours with only 20 fellow passengers. Nice.

You start off flying from the U.S. to Japan, and do Kyoto and Tokyo before flying on to Beijing, Bangkok, Dubai, Cairo, Jordan (Petra), Jerusalem and Germany’s Rhine Valley – yes, an odd but interesting assortment of exotic and not.

Some meals are also included as are gratuities and other extras. And you can even earn more than 25,000 frequent flyer miles on Star Alliance carriers (not a reason to spend $29,995, of course, but add it all up and it’s a pretty good deal).

Departures for the tour are August to October 2010.

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