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Travel advice we think you should ignore

travel advice

Eat where the locals/ cab drivers eat

Seriously? Do you eat where cab drivers and these mysterious “locals” eat in the city where you live?  Well, probably yes and no.

No, in terms of cab drivers. If you can afford to take cabs and not have to drive one and you can afford to travel to all over the world, then what makes you think you would be a good culinary match with a cab driver in China? And have you smelled the cab drivers in Abu Dhabi?  That will kill your appetite.

Cab drivers eat where they can get food and get out in a hurry. They don’t do a bunch of wine swirling and sipping – they cruise the streets looking for those who did and they get them back to their hotels. They don’t care about honey glazed beet roots dipped in lavender sauce. (With any luck you don’t either but you get the point – maybe.)

Now when it comes to “locals” you probably do eat where they do in your home city. If you live in a groovy section of San Francisco you probably eat in groovy local places with other groovy local people. Makes sense.

If you go to Beijing who is a “local”? Anyone who was born there? Expats who live there? Communist officials whose lifestyles quite possibly differ from the romanticized version of “locals”? Locals eat where they can afford to eat. In many countries this means eating from street vendors.

If you’re in your 20s and backpacking then you will probably eat from street vendors and local dives and have some of the bad digestive reactions that are part of that phase of your life. If you’re an adult who appreciates hygiene, seats and not having people smoke and spit around you as you eat, then eat authentic cuisine of the area but don’t feel guilty about doing that in a nice restaurant!


Iceland sign

Local language in Iceland

Learn some of the language before you go

Where are you going? In the last year we have been in Iceland, Bhutan, and the Maldives. In each case it would have been nearly impossible, you would have learned a language spoken by people in only one country on earth and most likely you would have made a fool of yourself anyway. Even in Bhutan, which was intentionally set apart from the rest of the world until 1999, the kids learn English in school (as well as their own language).

Yes, it’s a very nice gesture to learn local phrases such as hello and thank you. And if you’re going somewhere for an extended time – maybe a month or more – then make some effort before you go. We aren’t linguists (we aren’t gymnasts either) but before going to Italy we both spent months trying to learn Italian. Brunette had more success than Blonde but even so when we were somewhere out in the middle of Tuscany and Brunette tried to use her Italian to ask a man a question he said “Lady, it’d be a lot easier if you just spoke in English”! And it was, for everyone!

Most of the developed world has people in tourism who speak English at a level where you can communicate with them. When there isn’t a common language various apps can help and good old charades are the most fun of all. In Sicily a waiter acted out swordfish by mimicking a fish that had a knife sticking out of its forehead. When we guessed “swordfish” he happily replied “yes, yes, fish with knife”. That was a lot more fun than learning the Italian names of all possible fish entrees in Sicily.

Learn a few words for the sake of goodwill and use your sense of humor and patience (if you have it) for the rest. When in doubt most people under 40 speak some English.

Trying to get into closed Movistar store in Spain

Trying to get into closed cellular phone store in Spain

Get an unlocked phone and a SIM card for the country where you’re traveling so you won’t get horrendous phone bills when you get home.

Travel writers make this sound so easy. Well they obviously haven’t tried to get into a phone store in Europe where it’s always siesta time, the lines are so long you could conceive and deliver a child while you wait and the employees close the stores when the magical hour comes even if you’re still in line (nursing your newborn).

So maybe you found a place to get the unlocked phone as well as the SIM card. Now no one back home knows your new phone number. If you send it to them they won’t want to call you at international rates just like you don’t want to call them! You will probably have to provide your passport information to get a SIM card (this is an anti-terrorism measure) and think twice about knowing who you’re providing with that information. Generally you need to enter a PIN code every time you use the phone. The PIN will have come with the SIM card so you have to memorize it or hang onto the printout. If you’re going to be in more than one country you need to watch out for roaming charges. You also may need to add time to your phone if you use it more than you thought and that brings you back to the joy of finding an open store.

How often do you actually make phone calls anyway, even at home? Tell people you’ll communicate only via email and only when you have access to free wi-fi.

Do your research before you travel so you will know of places you’d like to eat, play charades with your friends and teach people not to expect to ever speak to you on the telephone. You’ll have a better vacation with less pre-trip stress!







UNESCO World Heritage Site: Prambanan Temple, Indonesia

Prambanan Temple, Indonesia

Prambanan Temple

We were fortunate enough to get to Prambanan Temple in Java, Indonesia and unfortunate enough to be there during Eid al-Fitr. If you are not Muslim or do not live in a Muslim country you’re probably wondering the heck Eid-al-Fitr is. Our simplistic explanation is that it’s a 3 day holiday that begins when Ramadan ends. During it all Muslims have to all simultaneously drive, with as many people as can fit on whatever means of transportation is being employed, to somewhere they would not normally be.

Because Brunette is brunette she was aware of this holiday and its reputation for transportation chaos so we intended to plan our trip to ensure that we would not be on the roads during Eid al-Fitr. Where were we? On the roads on the absolute worst day of Eid al-Fitr. We stupidly relied on someone in Italy, who heard from someone in Bali, that it wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe they were just trying to pull a prank on us and, if so, they got us big time!

We had arranged for a driver to take us from the airport in Java to Pramabanan then Borobodor and then our hotel in an estimated time period of about 3 hours. It took 11 hours; most of that at a standstill.  When we got to Pramabanan, which was built in the 10th century, that sounded to us like about how long it’d been since we’d started the drive to get there. Read more…

3 free fun things to do in Barcelona

The Magic Fountain, Barcelona, Spain

Free, beautiful and reliable – an unusual combination of characteristics!

Barcelona is the favorite city of both Blonde and Brunette and one reason is that, although there’s no shortage of interesting places with high admission fees, there is also a good selection of free (and legal) things to do. The nightly music and light shows at The Magic Fountains top our list of attractions.

On our last visit to Barcelona we stayed in the Sants-Montjuïc District where the fountains are located and went to the show several nights in a row. Even if you’re really tired after a long day of sightseeing you can probably find the energy to stand and watch a beautiful show for 15 minutes.

The fountains were built for the Great Universal Exhibition (love the pompous name) of 1929. But partway through the very accelerated (less than a year) process of building the fountains it was decided that they needed something special. So a self-taught engineer/science fiction aficionado, Carles Buigas, proposed the idea of illuminated fountains. Spain seems to have lost some of the hustle that back in 1929 made it possible for them to complete the project in less than a year with more than 3,000 people working on the project!  Read more…

The odd beauty (and odd guide) of Khor Al-Adaid


The Inland Sea in the Khor Al-Adaid area in southeastern Qatar

When Qatar Airways graciously gave us two business class tickets to the Maldives we chose to spend a few days in Doha to break up our trip and experience somewhere new. But as Brunette, the trusted researcher, began to look for activities in Doha she found little that sounded intriguing beyond the Museum of Islamic Art. Our attention span for museums is similar to a 6 year old boy’s interest in a speech about morality so we knew we needed more to fill our time.

Then Brunette came across comments on several travel forums about Khor Al-Adaid, or the Inland Sea. We have gills that are better than our lungs so anything with the word “sea” holds attraction. Also, Brunette had mistakenly been told that Khor Al-Adaid is a UNESCO World Heritage site and we love to see those. It turned out that Khor Al-Adaid had merely been a UNESCO bridesmaid but never a bride. It was nominated to become a UNESCO site in 2008 but, for reasons they have not confided in us, it never gained that designation.

Read more…

Three continents – Three spectacular botanical gardens


Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa (the plants in the lower right are cycads, more on them later)

In our travels Blonde and Brunette have found botanical gardens to be oases of tranquility and beauty and good places to hid from the cops. OK, the second part isn’t true but we didn’t want to be gushing girlishly about flowers and ruin our reputations!

Brunette got indoctrinated into the botanical garden fan club on a long ago visit to Phoenix, Arizona. She took her husband, who’s more prickly than any cactus, and her 4 sons who thought all cacti looked like their favorite male parts and she marched them around the Desert Botanical Garden.  And that’s how a botanical garden bully was born!

In Cape Town we sought out the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. This garden is part of an area of South Africa called the Cape Floristic Region. In 2004 the Cape Floristic Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  That made it the first botanical garden in the world to be included within a natural World Heritage Site. Read more…

Do you care about a resort’s “character”?


The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort – analogous to a beautiful girl who thinks the most important thing in life is to own a Gucci bag

What’s a resort’s “character” and who are we to judge it? Neither is entirely clear to us but we’ll take a crack at the first part of that question.

Earlier this year we were in Abu Dhabi and then in the Maldives. When planning our trip we were thrilled to discover that between us we had enough Starwood points to stay at the  St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort for a couple of nights for free. Brunette (who started out as the sensible, unpretentious sister) was particularly excited that we would once again have our own “butler” as one comes standard at St. Regis properties. She had fond memories of a butler at the St. Regis in Singapore drawing her a bath.


Not drawing her in a bath, but still.

For the Maldives we were going to stay at Kurumba, a resort that has been in existence since the early 1970’s and is locally owned but does not include butlers although it’s (relatively) posh.

Read more…

UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

It was a hot and sunny day…..

Wait, shouldn’t it have been a dark and stormy night? Well it wasn’t.

Blonde and Brunette were cavorting in a sweaty way through the charming lower part of Carcassonne in Southern France trying to  find a boat ride on the Canal du Midi.

Voilà! Although the canal doesn’t begin or end in Carcassonne it’s one of many places you can experience it. We found a ride that was leaving in an hour so we retreated for some air conditioning and caloric fortification before the aquatic and historical adventure.

What’s the Canal du Midi? It’s a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site and a canal that is 241km (or 144 miles) long and links the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean sea. Work on it began in 1665 and it’s already done!

Read more…

Enjoying tea in a private home in Bhutan

Home in Bhutan

Home in Bhutan

Blonde went to Bhutan with a small group (6) of women on a cultural tour. Fortunately, our guide had friends in a village near where we stayed one night and they had invited us to come to their home for tea. You can hardly look at someone in Bhutan without getting handed a cup of tea so that wasn’t unusual but we were thrilled to have the chance to go into a family’s home. You can’t tell much from the exterior of the homes other than if the family looks to be prosperous or not and even that can be hard for Westerners. We were told that this was the home of a “rich rich” family of potato farmers. Read more…

The interesting relationship between people and animals in Bhutan



Yak in Bhutan

Yak, badly in need of a new hairdresser, in Bhutan

Just as you can tell a lot about a person in terms of how they treat people they may view as being “inferior” to them, whether a waitress, a member of the U.S. Congress or the grocery check-out clerk, you can also tell a great deal about people by how they treat animals. In Bhutan people do not kill animals (unless they have to for sustenance, but that doesn’t provide as many loopholes as you’d think). Apparently very few animals are on social media or travel internationally as otherwise surely they would be moving to Bhutan in droves.

And, lest you be confused, the Bhutanese are not forbidden (by their religious teachings) from eating animals. Although many Bhutanese are vegetarians they do not have to be. They cannot kill the food they eat but they can outsource the butchering, generally to India, and eat meat that others have killed. In fact meat consumption has been increasing  in Bhutan over the last 10 years. (Based on Blonde’s dietary experiences that cannot be explained by the meat from India being super yummy.)

Read more…

Rookery Bay Reserve in Southwest Florida


Rookery Bay Boat Tour

Boat we rode on to “Treasure Island” to learn, um, stuff…

For the last 6 months Blonde and Brunette have been talking about taking one of Rookery Bay’s educational boat trips. And we did, when it was 90 degrees and one day before the trips end until November.

Rookery Bay is a very cool research center between Naples and Marco Island in Southwest Florida. Their mission statement is:

“… to provide a basis for informed stewardship of estuaries in Southwest Florida through research and education.

It is not about meeting Mickey Mouse, wrestling a ‘gator, living la vida loca or even shooting anything (except for pictures). We want you to know places such as this exist in Florida. Rookery Bay has a really great educational center, many interesting programs and kayak and boat trips. These are all part of their outreach to help people see why and how they need to care about and protect the native environment of Florida.

Rookery Bay covers a wide range. It’s 26 miles long, 10,000 acres and extends all the way to the Everglades. On our boat trip the captain, Randy, stopped to pick up another volunteer, Allison, who lives off the grid on Little Marco Island. He also showed us the coastline  nearby Keeywadin Island where Joe Biden’s brother recently purchased a home. Read more…