Colorful festivals from around the world!

Here are 3 of my favorites!

There are more than 20 light festivals throughout Europe. Each has its own distinct feel and look, but all are creative and colorful. The best known is The Berlin Festival of Lights held each October. For over a week famous monuments, landmarks and squares are lit up with artistic lighting installations. These vibrant projections and video art displays light up the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Cathedral and much more. All of Berlin turns into a free and colorful exhibition from 7pm to midnight with over 70 illuminations!

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At the end of the rainy season in November the Loi Krathong Festival in Thailand serves to both ward off bad luck and bring good luck in the coming year. The dates of this multi day festival are based on the full moon in the 12th lunar month. Chang Mai in the north is considered the best place to experience it. The whole sky and river becomes alive with lanterns and candle lit flower boats made from banana leaves (krathongs) floating down the river. The street parade is huge and never seems to end with beautiful floats and people!

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And lastly, my vote for the craziest, messiest, and most colorful festival is Holi. Holi is celebrated all over India, but the biggest celebrations are in Goa and Delhi. It’s usually at the end of February or in March, but dates vary according to the Hindu calendar. This ancient religious festival celebrates the arrival of spring and goodbye to winter and the triumph of good over evil. The night before there are religious rituals in front of a bonfire. The next day is a complete free for all celebration of colors. People take to the streets to throw fistfuls of colored powder and soak each other with colored water. Singing and dancing are everywhere!

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FREE Airport Layover Tours!

There’s nothing worse than having a long layover at an airport. Even if the shopping and restaurants are good, there’s always time with nothing to do but sit in a huge crowded space with uncomfortable chairs.

Good news! Some airports offer free mini city tours. I was lucky enough to take one from Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea several years ago. Since then I’ve found that there are six other airports that offer great tour options. A long layover never looked so good!

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SEOUL

Incheon Airport offers a variety of tours ranging from one to five hours and come with English speaking guides. You can even choose between city themes or temple themes. They are all free, except for a few that include a traditional Korean lunch for 10.00. Tours are run on a first come first serve basis, so it’s a good idea to book online before you get there.

https://www.airport.kr/pa/en/d/2/3/5/index.jsp

It’s really easy to find the tour departure area. Go to the 1st floor in the main terminal. The desk is numbered 41 and 42 between outgoing gates 8 and 9.

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TAIPEI

If you have at least 8 hours at Taoyuan Airport you can choose from two free tours. The morning one departs at 8:15am and goes to the beautiful Sanxia Temple and pottery shopping in Yingge. The afternoon one departs at 2:00pm and is a city tour that includes Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Each tour is limited to 18 people. They take advance reservations for up to 6 people if you fill out the application within 30 days of travel.

http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/tour/index.htm

You can also sign up when you get there at the Tourist Service Center in Terminal One next to the car rental service center and also at the Terminal Two arrivals hall next to the food court.

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SALT LAKE CITY

If you have more than a 2 hour layover it’s worth it to take a free tour of the Temple Square downtown area. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a shuttle that leaves the airport every 30 minutes in summer and every hour the rest of the year. Regardless of your religious beliefs the church is truly beautiful, and the area is interesting.

The information desk in both terminals will give you the brochure and point you in the right direction!

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TOKYO

Narita Airport either pairs you with a volunteer guide that speaks English or gives you a self-guided option for sightseeing. You need at least a 5 hour layover, but you also can take one of the tours if you’re staying in a nearby hotel. They have a lot of choices ranging from temple to shopping tours. They even have one that’s a nature walk! These don’t include transportation, but everything can be reached by public bus and is clearly marked. You can sign up online.

http://www.narita-transit-program.jp/index.html

You can also sign up at the Narita Transit Tourism Counter in Terminal 1 or 2, but they are only open 9:00am to 12:00pm.

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ISTANBUL

If you’re flying Turkish Airlines into and out of Ataturk Airport with at least 6 hours to spare there is a tour you can take that includes Istanbul’s major sights including the Blue Mosque! You simply go to the hotel desk in the International Arrival Hall right next to Starbucks to sign up. There are three tours a day, including at cultural walking tour. First come, first served!

http://www.istanbulinhours.com/

Be advised that right now you have to have a visa to pass through customs. They cost 20.00, and the easiest way to get one is by purchasing an E-Visa online.

https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/

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SINGAPORE

There are two tours to choose from at the Changi Airport if you have at least a 6 hour layover. The Heritage tour runs four times daily, and the City Sights tour runs two times daily. Sign up at the booth in the Terminal Two transit area between transit lounge F and the Skytrain to Terminal Three. Make sure to stay in the transit area and not clear immigration! Again, first come, first served.

http://www.changiairport.com/en/airport-experience/attractions-and-services/free-singapore-tour.html

If you don’t have enough time for a tour, Changi Airport offers some cool ways to pass the time. There are free movies 24 hours a day in several terminals. There are multiple gardens to walk through including a butterfly garden. There’s even the world’s tallest slide! Spend $10 and you can get a free token.

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QATAR

The Doha Airport offers tours to the Souq Waqif, the Museum of Islamic Art, Katara Cultural Village and the Pearl-Qatar shopping center. There are four tours a day that can be booked on a first come, first serve basis if you have at least 5 hours. You can register at he Doha City Tour desk (marked as “City Tours” at the beginning of Concourse B located between the Mont Blanc and WH Smith shops.

https://www.qatarairways.com/en/offers/doha-city-tour.html

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My 15 Best Travel Tips!

PLAN ahead! You either need to book well ahead of time or try for last minute deals. Make sure your passport has at least 6 months on it from your return date.

LIMIT how many destinations you go to! Make sure you’re not spending all your time rushing around trying to fit everything in.

STREAMLINE your packing! Make a list and stick to it, especially if you’re going to be moving around a lot. And, you want to have room for those souvenirs!

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BUY tickets online for popular attractions! You’ll spend less time waiting in line ensuring it will be more enjoyable when you get there.

TRAVEL in the shoulder season! You’ll have fewer crowds and lower costs.

DO your research! Learn about the place you’re going to for a more meaningful trip. Read about the weather, visas, appropriate clothing, vaccinations, customs, tipping and more.

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AVOID stress! Give yourself the gift of time. Pack earlier. Arrive at the airport earlier than you need to, and give yourself a longer layover.

BE flexible! Even the best-laid plans can get sidetracked in an instant. Patience is very important while traveling.

TAKE an extra credit card with you! It’s smart to have a backup. Make sure to use no-fee credit cards and put a travel alert on them.

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MAKE extra copies of your passport and important documents! Carry them in your suitcase, and email them to yourself as well.

TRY new things! You never know when you’ll have the chance again.

LEARN a few common phrases in the local language! A simple “Please” or “Thank you” can go a long way.

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BUY travel insurance! It’s the most important thing you hope you never have to use, and a medical emergency abroad can cost more than you think.

USE your social network! Someone may know the perfect place for dinner or the best hike in the area you’re going to!

GET Global Entry! For only $100 you get both Precheck privileges and the ability to speed through customs in minutes. Good for 5 years!

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Unforgettable Dubai!

It’s hard to imagine that a mere 30 years ago Dubai was mostly desert! Astounding growth has turned Dubai into a sort of Las Vegas on steroids. It’s an interesting place, but don’t expect any sense of history or much culture. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find an “authentic” experience of the Middle East. Having said that, there are so many crazy things to do that it’s worth the trip.

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Everything is very spread out in Dubai, and the traffic can be horrendous. There is a metro system, but it’s fairly limited. Rather than pay for expensive taxis, I rode on the Citysighting Dubai hop-on hop-off bus. It’s inexpensive with several routes that go just about everywhere!

The highlight of my trip was a helicopter tour with Helidubai. It was my first time in a helicopter, and wow, what an incredible place to see from the air! It was breathtaking to see the Palm Jumeirah and The World islands from the sky. You can’t truly appreciate these man-made islands and archipelago from the ground. It was also fun to see all the crazy Dubai architecture from up above.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m NOT a mall type of person. But, there are two malls in Dubai that can’t be missed. They are true destinations in themselves with spectacular surroundings. These malls have something for everyone and are open as late as 2am!

The Dubai Mall is the size of over 50 football fields with 1200 stores and more activities than you can imagine! The aquarium and underwater zoo is higher than a 2-story house and almost a third of a mile long with thousands of aquatic animals. You can even watch people scuba diving in there while walking by! There’s also an indoor ice skating rink complete with disco sessions and an Emirates 380 flight simulator. Just outside is the Dubai Fountain. This water and light show is 25% bigger than the one outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas!

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The Mall of the Emirates is smaller but still interesting and beautiful to explore. It is home of Ski Dubai, an amazing indoor ski resort. It’s absolutely surreal to leave the desert heat and walk into a chilly winter scene. After renting everything I needed including a ski jacket and ski pants I was ready to go! There is a quad chairlift and 5 different runs including one “black diamond”. I think it could get boring pretty fast, but for a few hours it was a blast. They also offer snowboarding, a zip line, and even a ski school!

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Arabian Adventures is a great tour company for booking excursions out of the city. I booked their Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari online, and it was very entertaining. There were five of us in a 4-wheel drive, and the rollercoaster ride over the sand dunes was a real adrenaline rush. Don’t do it if you get motion sickness though – they don’t hold back! We stopped for sunset and then had a delicious dinner at a Bedouin-style camp complete with camel rides and belly dancers. The night ended with all the lights being turned off and we were able to do some stargazing…it was stunning!

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No trip to Dubai would be complete without strolling through the dazzling Gold Souk. I’ve never seen gold in so many shapes and sizes! There are hundreds of retailers under covered walkways. They not only sell gold but silver, diamonds and other precious stones as well. I didn’t price anything, but I’ve read that it’s cheap and you can barter. The nearby Spice Souk has narrow passages selling every spice and herb under the sun. It’s a colorful and aromatic experience, and It’s not hard to find, just follow your nose!

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The last thing I would highly recommend is a tour of the Jumeirah Mosque. Their motto is “open hearts, open minds”. Don’t forget to dress modestly (as in all of Dubai), but they will provide you with garments if needed. My tour was lead by an Englishwoman, which I didn’t expect. She guided us through many aspects of the Islamic faith, starting with the ablution ritual done before prayer. Inside the mosque the dome, minarets and call to prayer were explained. Then she spoke about Ramadan, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the five pillars of Islam. Afterwards there was a Q&A session. It was a great cultural experience!

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Are you flying in or out of SFO this summer?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it will probably be miserable to fly in or out of SFO in the next few months, and there already have been severe delays and cancellations.

SFO is rehabilitating its second longest runway over the course of three months. They are repaving, upgrading the runway lights, realigning the runways and adding a secondary taxiway. I read that the amount of paving done is equal to about 8 miles of a four- lane highway!

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They are doing construction on the weekends, yes the weekends (!) and there have been hundreds of flight cancelations so far. I was flying from Burbank to SFO a few weeks ago and was delayed 3 hours! They are also diverting flights to Oakland. My poor friend was trying to get home from LAX after visiting her son at college, and not only had to wait for hours but had to fly into Oakland instead.

I heard through the grapevine that construction is affecting short haul flights the most, but I suggest you be prepared for delays no matter what. The biggest problem will be if you need to make a connection. In the last few years, airlines have been shortening their minimum connecting times. I regularly see schedules with connections of less than 40 minutes! I don’t know about you, but this makes me really nervous and I always look for something longer. I’d rather have my clients spending more time in Dallas or Denver than scrambling to try and make their flight and then missing it. There’s enough stress in flying these days!

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The bottom line is that if you’re flying on a weekend in the next few months departing on time will be an absolute crapshoot. Here is the official construction schedule. And, I think we all better be prepared to have it go longer than anticipated. All I can say is, keep calm, bring plenty to read or watch, and good luck!

Friday, May 5th at 6:00pm PST through Sunday, May 7th at 12:00noon PST
Friday, May 12th at 6:00pm PST through Monday, May 15th at 12:00noon PST
Friday, May 19th at 6:00pm PST through Monday, May 22nd at 12:00noon PST
Friday, June 2nd at 6:00pm PST through Monday, June 5th at 12:00noon PST
Friday, June 9th at 6:00pm PST through Monday, June 12th at 12:00noon PST

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Should You Buy Travel Insurance?

The bigger question is how much money are you willing to lose if something goes wrong before or during your vacation?

Travel insurance sounds like one of those types of insurance you don’t really need like some extended warranties. In actuality, shelling out for travel insurance is a smart move in a lot of cases.

If you’re taking a short domestic trip with air and hotel, chances are you don’t really need travel insurance.

If you’re on a tour or cruise, traveling overseas or taking a longer trip you definitely should have some form of it. These days you never know if bad weather, political instability, or illness will disrupt your trip. Travel insurance lets you cancel or interrupt your trip if you get hurt or ill, miss a connection, or come across a terrorist attack. You can get reimbursed for nonrefundable costs like plane tickets.

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Many people think their credit card “covers” them when traveling. Some credit cards cover medical and baggage insurance, but in general you’d be surprised how little they include! Also, don’t automatically assume that your regular medical coverage will cover you out of the country.

Basic travel insurance should cover these five things; trip cancellation and interruption, medical, evacuation, baggage, and flight insurance. But, there are a lot of variables.

Here are some things to consider when looking into insurance:

  • Trip cancellation or interruption

Compare covered reasons (illness, injury, weather, political situation, etc.) and maximum allowance

  • Others traveling with you

Does coverage include travel companions cost if your trip is cancelled?

  • Pre-existing conditions

Are pre-existing conditions covered?

  • Nearest hospital

If you need medical treatment, are you allowed to determine where you will get that treatment?

  • Trip delay or stolen luggage

How much compensation is there for stolen luggage? If your luggage is delayed does your insurance pay for an unexpected hotel stay or the purchase of needed items?

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The two insurance companies I tend to sell are Travel Guard and Allianz. I sell them because they have a tried and true reputation and are easy to work with. They have different policies to choose from, and it’s easy to compare them. I had to use my Travel Guard insurance last year when I got sick in Egypt. This caused me to stay an extra night in Cairo, miss my flight and miss the first day of my Nile cruise. I was able to get full compensation for all my out of pocket expenses including the doctors bills. I’ll never travel without insurance again!

The cost of insurance varies depending on age, amount paid for the trip and number of days away. You can even get annual travel insurance if you travel a lot.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on travel insurance, but I highly recommend thinking twice before leaving the country without it!

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Swimming With Sea Turtles!

Akumal in Mayan means “Place of the Turtle”, and it certainly lives up to its name. You can literally walk out the front door of your bungalow, wade into the refreshing water and see turtles swimming! This was something I never tired of. Even just waiting for their heads to pop up out of the water was a treat! What an incredible experience.

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We stayed at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, an eco-friendly low-key resort that was the first hotel on the beach back in the 1970’s. It’s a simple place with 21 rooms in the 3-story hotel and about 20 bungalows. It has a small pool, restaurant with outside seating, spa, beach bar, dive shop and lots of palapas to hang out under. You can rent bikes and golf carts, and it’s within walking distance of shops and restaurants. If you want a laid back relaxed place to stay, this is it!

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The sea turtles feed on underwater grass really close to the shore. There are two kinds here, the green sea turtle and the loggerhead turtle. You can be standing in neck high water look down and see a turtle swimming by! And, if you’re lucky enough to be in Akumal May through November you can watch them nesting.

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Unfortunately these wonderful creatures are endangered. In March 2016, Akumal Bay was declared a marine protected area. The turtles are showing signs of stress, and some are growing tumors. This is due to people touching them among other things. Even though it’s really cool to swim with them we have to remember that they are wild animals!

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There is now a roped off swimming area that you can’t go past. Someone patrols the area in a kayak to make sure that people don’t cross over the rope. The grassy areas with the turtles are just beyond it, but they still swim into the roped off area and are easy to see. It’s sad that people don’t respect their space.

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Here are a few tips for swimming responsibly with sea turtles:

  • Use biodegradable sun block.
  • Keep a 7 ft. (2 m.) distance from corals and other marine species.
  • Swim near marine creatures and corals, not over them. You reduce the risk of kicking corals and allow sea turtles to rise to the water’s surface to breathe.
  • Keep your distance while any sea life is feeding.
  • Harassing, touching or grabbing marine creatures is not allowed.
  • Do not touch, walk or stand on corals. Use life jackets but not fins.
  • Do not remove anything dead or alive from the sea, it is a federal offense.

You can also come to Akumal for the day. It’s about 1 ½ hours south of Cancun and about 20 minutes north of Tulum. They rent snorkels and life jackets on the beach, or you can bring your own. You won’t be disappointed!

 

Highlights of India’s Golden Triangle

India is the most colorful and joyful country I’ve visited. It’s also the most heartbreaking and haunting country I’ve visited. It’s been a while since I was there, but I wanted to share my impressions with you.

I did the golden triangle tour, which consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. These three cities form an almost equilateral triangle, and this triangle is considered “golden” because of their extraordinary cultural and historical sights. I highly recommend this for a first time trip to India!

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Delhi

Delhi is a city of over 18 million people. Yes, 18 million! Just driving around is a huge adventure in itself. Imagine trying to make your way though streets filled with weaving cars, tuk-tuks, cows, bikes, dogs, monkeys and even a camel or elephant! All of this is accompanied by incessant horns and no sense of right of way. It’s truly a sensory overload. And then there are the people walking in the road, sleeping beside it, or just sitting there begging. It’s an easy place to hate at first sight. However, underneath the traffic, pollution and poverty is a fascinating and captivating country.

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One of my favorite places in Delhi is the Red Fort. This UNESCO complex dates from 1648 and was the residence of the royal family when the capital moved from Agra to Delhi. Its impressive architecture is built of red sandstone and marble once inlaid with precious gems. You can walk around the grounds and visit various areas like the Mumtaz Mahal, formerly the women’s quarters but now an archeological museum. The historic ruins and grounds are colorful and fascinating!

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And to me, no trip to Delhi is complete without a visit to the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi. It’s in a beautifully maintained garden on the banks of the Yamuna River in the spot where he was cremated. It’s a simple but serene spot with good views. As you walk around there are tablets with his quotes on them. It’s very moving!

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The real highlight is wandering the streets of old Delhi. This labyrinth of alleyways has lots of hidden treasures. The Old Delhi Bazaar Walk and Haveli Visit by Masterji Kee Haveli is an incredible way to immerse yourself in the colors and vivacity of the area. Their tours include walking and cycle rickshaw as well as a traditional meal in a Haveli (private mansion). This is not just a tour but also an authentic Indian experience that’s not to be missed! http://www.masterjikeehaveli.com/

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Agra

The main attraction in Agra is the fabled Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was built in 1652 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22,000 craftsmen 22 years to complete this spectacular white marble mausoleum. This beautiful place changes colors with the light, and it’s worth being there at sunrise or sunset. Even though it’s an image you’ve seen in pictures many times, it’s one of those places you can’t appreciate until you see it in person. Inside the smooth marble is intricately inlaid with semi precious stones culminating in an incredible dome under which lays the tombs of the Shah and his wife. These are actually false tombs as their real graves are at a lower level.

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The other place not to be missed is the Agra Fort. This palatial fortress is made out of red sandstone and marble and dates from the 1500s when it was home to the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. It houses a huge maze of buildings that are like a city within a city. It takes a few hours to wind your way through all of the buildings, so wear good walking shoes. Among the many palaces inside, my favorite was the Shish Mahal or mirrored palace. The entire inside sparkles with tiny inlaid mirrors and is breathtaking!

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Jaipur

This incredible place is the capital of Rajasthan and is known as the “Pink City” due to the distinct color of its buildings.

Wait to shop until you get here! The bazaars are full of jewelry inlaid with gemstones, richly embroidered fabrics, bright handicrafts, colorful bangles, interesting statues, traditional joothis shoes and camel leather bags and wallets. Johari and Nehru Bazaars are my two favorites.

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The most distinctive landmark in Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. It’s right at the edge of the City Palace and was built with 953 small windows made with intricate latticework. It was designed so that the women of the royal household could look out and watch life pass by in the streets below without being seen. You can visit it as part of a tour to the City Palace. The City Palace, with various historical museums, vast courtyards and gardens, is in the very center of the old city. The grandeur is really impressive, and the royal family still lives in part of it!

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One of the highlights of my trip was riding an elephant at the Amber Fort. Riding one of these brightly painted elephants from the bottom of the hill to the main entrance takes about 30 minutes. The government limits the number of rides they can take in a day, so arrive early!

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This was also the place where I watched a snake charmer. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was really interesting and entertaining!

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The fort itself is beautiful, but to me not that much different from the other forts I’d seen. The thing that keeps it memorable is the views and the monkeys. There are monkeys all over India, but these were the most fun to watch. There were whole families everywhere, and it was a treat to watch their interactions!

Monkey Temple nearby Jaipur, India.

India is not for everyone. You have to have the right attitude and also a lot of resourcefulness. You have to be ready to see extreme poverty, get sick from their poor hygiene, endure stressful travel situations and experience pollution.

Yet, I can honestly say that no other country has left such an impression on me. India has a very rich history and there are interesting things to see – everywhere! It’s a beautiful country, and in every direction colorful buildings and even more colorful people surround you. The people are incredibly open and friendly even if they have next to nothing. It certainly helps you put your life into perspective and become a more grateful person.

I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing the most unique place on earth – India!

New Passport Information!

Have you looked at the expiration date of your passport lately? Most countries require that your passport is valid a full six months after your return. I had a client that couldn’t get into Canada for a business meeting, because she forgot this important fact.00152

There are a huge number of people who applied for passports in 2007, when Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean all started requiring them. Now it’s ten years later, and they’re all about to expire. The State Department is expecting a sizable backlog of people renewing their passports, so if yours is anywhere near expiration you should renew it today. Right now it’s taking about six weeks to renew, and the wait will only get longer!

If you need it right away there are services that will expedite it for you. This can cost up to between $200 and $400. Don’t get caught out – go check your passport now!

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New passports being issued have gone through some changes. There is now a chip in every passport for security purposes and to help decrease fraud. Also, new passports have 28 pages, and only 17 of those can be used for visas and entry/exit stamps. You can opt to get a bigger passport of 56 pages at no extra charge. You used to be able to get pages added when your passport filled up. Now they don’t allow it, so even if you’re not sure how much you’ll be traveling in the next 10 years, I think it’s a good idea to get the bigger one.

Here is a link to the DS-82 passport renewal form:

https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/212241.pdf

Keep in mind that your old passport must have be issued within the last 15 years, issued when you were at least 16 years old, and issued in the same name you’re using now.

The easiest way to renew your passport is through your local post office. If you don’t want to download the form they have all the paperwork and can even take your passport picture! You can call to make an appointment or just walk in.

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You’ll have to mail in your old passport with the application, your photo (size 2×2, in color, no glasses, white background, looking straight at camera), the DS-82 form, and a check made out to “US Department of State” for $110.00.

When you are ready to mail everything in make sure to use a traceable method! You want to make sure doesn’t get lost. The best way to send your renewal packet is by USPS priority mail with either signature or delivery confirmation.

Once that’s done, you sit back, relax and start planning your next adventure!

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My Vote For Prettiest Fishing Village in Southern France!

Last May I had a few days to fill before meeting up with my French group in St. Remy. I was flying into Marseille and wanted to find a place on the Mediterranean close by.

Luckily, I chose Cassis, a small seaside-fishing village only about an hour away by SNCF train. There’s a train station right near the airport with a shuttle in between, so even with a change of trains in downtown Marseille it was relatively easy. A quick cab ride to the waterfront, and I was there!

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I stayed at the Hotel Liautaud right on the harbor. It’s a 2 star hotel that’s simple and clean. But, the real reason to stay there is the view! I was fortunate enough to get a top floor corner room with two balconies. WOW!

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Pastel buildings lined with outdoor bars and restaurants surround the delightful harbor. It’s almost impossible to stroll around the port without stopping in one because of the incredible aromas! I had a tasty thick bouillabaisse fish soup with croutons that was to die for. And, who can go to Cassis and not try Crème de Cassis? This sweet dark red liqueur is made from black currents and is heavenly added to a little sparkling wine or champagne.

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The Cassis area boasts a lot of vineyards. I went on a wine tour of Clos Sainte Magdeleine, high on a cliff just outside town. The vineyards are on terraced slopes, stretching right to the sea and because of this, the wine has a slightly salty taste. It’s a historic place that was founded in 1896 and I don’t know what I expected, but it was a shock to go down to the wine cellar and find state of the art stainless steel tanks!

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The real star of the area is Calanques National Park. The park has steep limestone cliffs that rise out of the sea. There are dozens of fjord-like bays that are only accessible by boat or hiking. The first one, Calanques de Port-Miou, is only a 20 minute walk from the port through pretty neighborhoods and by pebbly beaches.

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The best way to see the rest is to take a boat tour. There are several tour companies in the center of the harbor offering trips to between three and eight calanques through out the day. I chose to take the half-day eight calanques cruise, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. Each narrow inlet we turned into was surrounded by towering walls of limestone. The water was crystal clear, and I could even watch the fish swimming around. The strangest thing I saw swimming though were two wild boars in the middle of the bay! No one could tell me why they were there, but they were entertaining to watch!

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The central harbor has a little Petanque court (similar to Italian bocce), a public beach, and a great tourism office. Towering over all of this is the Chateau de Cassis, a fortified castle built in the 14th century. Unfortunately it’s not open to the public, but it’s truly spectacular to look at especially at night when it’s lit up.

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Right next to the public beach is Cassis a Velo. Run by two incredibly friendly women, they rent e-bikes complete with self-guided tours of the area. The maps are easy to follow, and it’s an exhilarating way to see the beautiful vineyards, cruise down country lanes and cycle through pine forests. It’s a hilly area, and it was so fun to effortless pedal up the hills!

 

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I was able to spend my last morning at the bi-weekly outdoor market. Market days in Provence are my absolutely favorite thing about the area. A Provencal market has fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olives, jams, honey, desserts, breads, wine, olive oil, lavender products, soap, tablecloths, clothes, flowers and so much more! It’s a perfect way to immerse your self in the best that Provence has to offer. You can eat your way through and gift shop at the same time! What a wonderful way to end my time in Cassis.

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