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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Cruising On The Nile

I’ve always dreamed of cruising down the Nile River. I didn’t expect I’d be running down a dusty path in the dark trying to find a place to jump on board the ship!

My four day cruise from Luxor to Aswan had been booked months before with a wonderful company based out of Cairo called Memphis Tours. But, I couldn’t anticipate getting violently ill while touring the Great Sphinx of Giza and being stuck in bed with an IV for a day and a half! Luckily I was staying at Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel, and they had an in-house doctor.

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Once he gave me the go-ahead I immediately jumped on a plane to Luxor and raced to catch up with my cruise. Driving through rural Egypt itself was an exotic adventure with beautiful green strips of sugarcane and palm trees on one side and dusty villages on the other.

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The Sonesta St. George 1 is a 5 star elaborately decorated ship with only 47 cabins – all river view. This ship was just refurbished – and it shows! Never did I expect to be cruising on such on something so luxurious. It even has a spa and fitness center. The trip includes all meals, excursions, entrance fees, an Egyptologist guide, service charges, taxes and transfers.

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The rooms are spacious and comfy. But the best part is the shower! It has so many spa features that it comes with a remote control and a one page instruction sheet. I had fun trying out the steam bath, jacuzzi and water massage all to glowing disco-type lights.

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Once I was able to tear myself away from the bathroom I discovered that the panoramic French windows opened. What a treat to be able to sit comfortably and glide along watching the green fertile banks of the Nile. It’s a scene that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. The banks are lined with mud brick huts, sugar cane fields, egrets, donkeys, fishing boats and waving kids. It was relaxing and fascinating at the same time.

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Due to my illness I missed the Valley of the Kings and Karnak. As sad as that made me, I was astounded at everything I was able to see. The beauty of Nile cruising is every temple is within a short distance of docking. We were never more than a horse and buggy ride away from a spectacular temple or sight!

I can’t wait to share more about my Egyptian adventure in another blog. Memphis Tours was superb, and as a woman traveling alone I never felt unsafe. The Egyptian people I met were very welcoming and kind, and the things I saw and experienced definitely surpassed my expectations. Stay tuned for more!

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Beware Of American, Delta and United’s New Basic Economy Fares!

All three airlines have introduced a new low cost fare called basic economy. Yes, the fares are low, BUT they are extremely restrictive. Read this before you book them!

United Airlines:

  • Seat assignments ONLY at check-in, and seating together is not guaranteed
  • Carry-on bag is limited to ONE personal item; no overhead bin use unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier, have a MileagePlus credit card, or are Star Alliance Gold
  • NO flight changes or refunds
  • NO upgrades
  • LAST to board unless a MileagePlus Premier member, primary card member of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member

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American Airlines (these fares don’t go on sale until February):

  • Seat assignments ONLY at check-in, and seating together is not guaranteed
  • Carry-on bag is limited to ONE personal item; no overhead bin use unless you’re an Elite member or have an Advantage credit card
  • NO flight changes, same day stand by or refunds
  • NO upgrades
  • If bag is brought to the gate you must pay an ADDITIONAL 25.00 on top of regular baggage fees
  • LAST to board
  • Elite qualifying miles earned at a reduced rate

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Delta:

  • Seat assignments ONLY at check-in, and seating together is not guaranteed
  • NO changes or refunds
  • LAST to board
  • NO upgrades or preferred seats