Arizona, Road Trip, The World A to Z, Travel

Turning Ten Comes With a Trip

Sam

Meet Sam, our grandson. As the oldest, he is the first (and test case) to receive what we hope will be a new tradition – a gift on his tenth birthday of a trip with the grandparents.

The gift comes with a nice, but kid-friendly and appropriate, piece of luggage. For Sam we chose a canvas and leather bag about the size of a gym bag. The gift also comes with a couple of catches: First, while the recipient gets to choose the destination, it can be vetoed by us or his parents (hey, we’re not crazy); Second, they have to participate a little in the planning. There’s no specific timeline for when to take the trip. In Sam’s case, he turned ten in December, so we looked at spring break or the following summer to accommodate his school schedule.

Sam mulled over his options and asked if he could come spend some time with us in Arizona. Specifically, he wanted to know if he could ride a dirt bike in the desert. He’s an experienced rider, so I told him I’d find out. That started the ball rolling on a plan for a desert adventure week.

Hanging out in the airport waiting for our flight.

I flew out to Washington DC to pick Sam up and spend a day with his mom (my daughter) and his two sisters. It wasn’t his first time flying, so Sam knew the ropes when it came to packing and airport security. He’s pretty low key as “tweens” go, so he makes a great travel companion. We arrived in Arizona on a hot, sunny August afternoon. It was his first trip to the desert and I wondered how he would react to the heat and wide-open spaces and cacti. 

Zipping around the indoor track.

We kicked off the adventure at an indoor go-kart track. It was a first for Sam … and me! We raced each other, zipping around the track and trying to beat each other’s time. What fun! When we got home, Sam jumped on the phone and gushed about it to his mom. 

Sam is a natural.

I wasn’t able to find a way to ride dirt bikes in the desert, but we had tracked down a place that would allow Sam to drive his own four-wheeler through the Wickenburg Mountains. We arrived for our guided tour with Adventures of a Lifetime and the owner tested each of us to make sure we could handle the route. To be fair, I think everyone was a little more worried about my skills than Sam’s.

An incredible panoramic view above the Hassayampa River.

After four hours over dirt, sand, and rocks, through the Hassayampa River and up to the stunning views from a mesa, we headed back. Our guide revealed this was the first time he’d ever let a ten-year-old ride on his own and he was impressed with Sam’s abilities. Sam’s low key personality was cracking a bit with excitement.

Hamming it up in front of the Pink Jeep.

Next stop, Sedona. We figured Sam would enjoy the adventure of a Pink Jeep Tour. He had visited the website and chosen the tour he wanted to take. With reservations for one of the most daring and adventurous options made, we hopped aboard and explored the giant red rock spires on the Broken Arrow trail. 

The look of shock and awe at his first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.

From there it was off to the Grand Canyon. I covered his eyes as we approached so we could capture his reaction on video as he saw it for the first time. Needless to say, his “shock and awe” was priceless!

Sam is in four states at one time.

We drove through Monument Valley on our way to Four Corners. I was a little worried about Sam being bored with a lot of driving, but he played games on his tablet between ooohing and ahhing at the landscape

Ending the week with a splash.

Our weeklong adventure wrapped up with a fun, relaxing last day at home that included a refreshing dip in our neighbor’s pool. We were thrilled to have had the chance to spend some one-on-one time with Sam and he got to enjoy a vacation he dreamed up and helped plan. His sister, Lizzie, is up next. She knows about the “trip for your tenth birthday” tradition and is already thinking up ideas. We’re excited to keep the new tradition alive.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, encouraging a new generation to explore it can be loads of fun.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, The World A to Z, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

Wine Tasting in a Worldwide Quarantine

With much of the world in a quarantine, companies are shutting down (permanently and temporarily) or finding creative ways to thrive. That’s the case with Schlossadler International Wines!  We discovered this relatively small wine importer at a street fair in March … just before COVID-19 forced us all indoors. What luck! At that street fair we ordered a case of wine and became a member of the club. Three weeks into the shutdown, an email popped up from Liza. Schlossadler had figured out how to do virtual wine tastings! WOOHOO!!!

All set up for our virtual wine tasting.

We chose one of the sessions featuring Italian wines, paid via PayPal and got our taste buds ready for a stay-at-home date night. Dale delivered our three bottles of wine just after lunch on Friday. We popped all three into the wine fridge, chilling the white and slightly cooling the reds. We moved a computer to our home bar so we could create a wine tasting atmosphere and logged in Friday night just before the 8pm kick-off. 

Schlossadler President Hans Fritsch stepped into view and welcomed us live from California. He introduced his team: Liza in Phoenix, Ema in Alaska and winemakers Patricia and Mauro Figaretto from Corte Figaretto in Italy (where it was FIVE AM the next morning!) 

A virtual warehouse tour kicks off the tasting.

Hans took us into the warehouse for a brief tour. Then it was time to taste the wines. We kicked things off with Secco di Corte, an indigenous white. Greg and I had created a little pairing plate of goodies to go along with the tasting and we nibbled as we listened to the descriptions of the wines. Patricia and Mauro’s described their vineyard and their boutique wines. In Italy, an annual production of 80,000 bottles is “boutique.”

Ema offered insights into the meaning of the import label and explained the DOCG band. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG), the highest official Italian wine classification.

The wine tasting begins.

We sampled the first of two reds and learned more about how Corte Figaretto blends ELEVEN grapes to create Bacca Nera. The mild red delighted us as we listened to Mauro talk about his grapes like a proud father and how they are picked by hand in two phases. About half of the grapes are harvested when they are perfectly ripe. The other half is done about three weeks later when the grapes are just overripe.

A few bites to nibble and pair with the wines.

Moving on to the star of the tasting, we poured a generous taste of Amarone del Valpolicella into our glasses. Patricia wowed us with the story behind the oak casks this wine ages in after the grapes are dried for four months. Mauro travels to France to hand select the oak used for his casks, insisting the care that goes into each cask makes a better wine. He must be right, because the Amarone was MAGNIFICENT! The deep, ruby red color and the fragrant nose tease just a bit as that first sip dances on your tongue and tantalises your taste buds. 

Once the three tastings wrapped up, Hans and the team at the California headquarters opened up the live chat feature and we “met” our fellow tasters, asked questions and bantered back and forth for another 45 minutes. What a delight. We’ve already signed up for another virtual tasting this Friday.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, sometimes you might have to explore some of it virtually. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Musings, Road Trip, The World A to Z, Travel

Ya Gotta Love Texas

Editor’s Note:  A year ago, Greg posted the following on his Facebook feed as we wrapped our cross-country trip to our new home in Arizona. When it popped-up as a memory yesterday, we were both struck by the humor and thought it would be fun to share here. CAUTION: Strong language.

Caution, rant ahead (but in a good way…sorta).

Will this road ever end? (Photo © 2020 Judy Romano)

Let’s talk about Texas. It’s a big f’in state. So big that we spent 9-1/2 hours getting from the CENTER of the state (Waco) to the western border (El Paso). We can see New Mexico (and frankly, Mexico) outside our hotel window, but we’re still in Texas. Shit (or as they say here, “Sheeee-it”). We went from tree-lined streets and roads through the vast nothingness of west Texas. We drove through a town that on its “welcome to” billboard praised its band. I guess their football time was such a west Texas embarrassment that the band got top billing. That’s not a bad thing…when I was in high school, people came to games to see MY award-winning, kick-ass, LA All City Champion, take-on-all-comers high school band. But I’m sure they don’t talk about it in the diner in this west Texas town. Heck, the Sheriff at the gas station didn’t even give me crap about my foreign sports car with the Virginia tags…probably out of embarrassment for their football team.

But I digress. Let’s talk about the bad things about Texas. From Beaumont to Waco, we collected more bugs on the front of the Spider than a fly strip in a dairy farm. We collected an equal amount between Waco and the aforementioned embarrassed by its football team west Texas town. There, the bugs were replaced by a hellacious wind straight on the nose that lowered our gas mileage into ’70s American muscle car territory (okay, that’s exaggeration but it was pretty sucky for us) and stirred up dust reminiscent of Los Angeles smog in the late 60s. We skirted a few dust devils that looked like they could suck up the Spider like Dorothy’s tornado sucked-up the wicked witch of the west on her bike.

Speaking of driving, the roads SUCK. They’re not smooth in any way. I think they lay down tar by pushing it through a potato peeler. When you drive a two-seat sports car, you feel every bump and the performance tires complain. When the road is no smoother than a cheese grater, you long for smooth interstates, but alas, even there the road surface was akin to the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. No wonder everyone there drives a big truck or SUV…lots of suspension to soak up the crappy roads.

But here’s the good thing about Texas roads…speed limits. In Texas, they assume you’re not a candy-assed driver. They have two-lane roads with speed limits set at 75 mph. You read that right. Seventy-five f’in miles per hour on a two lane rural road with driveways and tractors and animals of all kinds. I’ve heard that armadillos, in particular, can take out a suspension…of course, by the looks of it, a Ford F250 can take out an armadillo pretty well, too. In most states, brand new four-lane highways still have speed limits topping 55 mph. Texas says screw that! If you can’t handle driving that fast on a rural road or drive 80 on the Interstate, stay out of our state….pansy.

Home … and away from Texas. (Photo © 2020 Judy Romano)

Finally, there’s one other good thing about Texas…the people are creepily nice. I didn’t meet a soul who didn’t say good morning/afternoon/evening, offer a tip on a good restaurant, hold the door for you, or let in a driver into traffic (okay there were the two a-holes that cut in front of me thinking they could accelerate their POS Toyota pick-up to 75 in five seconds flat, but at least they weren’t pansies). They smile, say ma’am, sir and thank y’all and simply dare you to dislike them. But it’s just not possible.

So thank you, Texas, for being, well, Texas. You still need to remember that you are part of the U.S. of A. and not your own damned country. But we’re happy to have you — God knows, we don’t want you against us — and happy that you continue to show us that not giving a damn has its merits.

Rant over. That is all.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z, Travel

Wanderlust Amid Health Fears

Covid-19 … if you’re a  travel professional, it’s wreaking havoc on your business and your clients’ travel plans. If you love to travel, it leaves you wondering whether you should cancel all or parts of your itinerary or reschedule because you MUST change your plans.

Whatever you decide to do, being informed will ease your fears and help you make the best decision for you and whoever you travel with. 

First: Be safe. Follow all the medical advice and determine whether you are willing to take the risk to travel. The CDC has pages of information and updates its site often.

Second: Whether you book through a travel agent or on your own, check to see if flights, cruises, hotels, and other providers are canceling trips, offering no-cost changes or even closing. Your travel professional can really be worth her (or his) weight in gold in times like this. 

Third: Don’t give up on your wanderlust! Use this time to look into all the places you’re dreaming of going. Plan some itineraries. Give yourself a reason to look forward to the end of this crisis and start socking away some travel spending cash. Travel within your own backyard … take a weekend road trip or check out a local art show or festival.

Travel to places online. Watch travel shows on TV or the internet. Dream. Add to your bucket list. 

Whatever you do, don’t panic. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. It will still be there when all this crisis passes. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z

Blah, Blah, Blogs (or You Decide the Topic)

When you commit to writing a weekly blog it’s easy to think, “hmmm, what if I skip a week?” or – more often – “What the heck am I gonna write about this week?” 

 I am quite proud that the topics I write about are either from the heart or from personal experience. That means I have to come up with a topic even on weeks when Greg and I don’t go anywhere. Honestly, that’s more often than not. 

I’d love to travel more. If you read this blog, chances are you feel the same. Short of winning the lottery or having this blog discovered by a wealthy benefactor who’s looking to sponsor my travels, you are going to be reading a little less about places I’ve been and a little more about HOW to travel. I am happy to share lessons learned, travel tips, hints, and similar topics with you. I’d also like to know what you want to read.

What do you want to know? What topics interest you? 

Send me your questions! Send me your thoughts! If I get enough, I’ll do a fun question and answer blog. I may be writing this every week, but you’re reading it. Shouldn’t you have a little say in what’s discussed? 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … let’s start exploring how much fun we can have together with this blog.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z

The Topanga Vintage Market

Ever watch those flea market makeover shows on HGTV and wonder, “Where are these flea markets with all this cool stuff?” I think I found one!

We are spending a few days in the San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles. As we drive past Pierce College, I see a sign for the Topanga Vintage Market. YAY! Finally, we’re here on the fourth Sunday of the month! I turned to Greg and said, “Guess what we’re doing?”

Bargain shoppers head to the Topanga Vintage Market.

The market officially opens at 8am with more than 100 vendors. It’s a reasonable $4 per person to get in (free for Veterans and their families) and it’s well worth the price. 

If you’re in the market for vintage clothing – this is the place. Several of the vendors are even sporting their wares.

Tsotchkes? This place has tsotchkes galore. I love the collection of vintage ash trays. I spot a selection of mirrors in amazing condition. Looking for a dial telephone? There are many options throughout the market.

Furniture is a little limited, but what is here is a really fun combination of like-new condition and ready-to-be-refurbished, mostly mid-century stuff. A smattering of vendors offer what I think of as flea market items – comic books, used-but-not-classic kids items, lamps and whatnot that you’d find in a resale store – you get the point.

Coffee to the stars?

While you stroll the aisles under the gorgeous, Southern California sunshine, you can also grab a coffee or snack from one of the several food trucks on site. Parking is plentiful  and even interspersed with classic cars — it is LA after all. 

Giant tiki statues sit among planters and glassware.

We grab a business card from a guy selling big tiki statues for a future purchase. He says he’s at this market most of the time and if he’s not there, we can call him. Hey … you never know when you might need a giant tiki statue, right?

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … take a break from landmarks and check out a local open-air market wherever you travel.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z, Travel

How Do You Travel?

From Washington’s Birthday until the end of May, there are no federal holidays. This season should be embraced by travelers. The need for vacation days, breaks from work and school, are well-studied and documented. A whole quarter of the year without a break built-in is just awful!

The good news is, every school schedule includes spring break. Students and teachers from 5 to 95 have a week off somewhere during this dearth of holidays. If you’re looking for an adults-only type of vacation, you should consider where the spring break crowds may be. After all, HOW you travel is as important as WHERE you travel.

Here’s what I mean: When you plan a trip there are dozens of questions to consider before making any reservations. “Where are we going?” leads to “What do we want to do?” “Do we want to avoid the crowds or head to a popular, albeit crowded destination?” You have to ask about interests – Will I be bored in a museum? Do I want to sit in a beach chair and escape into a good book? What will the kids do while I’m relaxing? Maybe a cruise or an amusement park. Maybe we should send the kids to summer camp and take a romantic vacation for two without them. 

It seems like every question you ask brings up another question … and that’s just the “where” aspect of vacation planning. “When” is also important: “Do we go over spring break?” “Do we take a longer, summer vacation?” If you don’t have a school schedule to worry about, do you take into consideration when you will encounter students or when you can avoid them?

And then there’s the question of “how” you travel. This is the most important question for me – Cruise? Train? Road trip? Flight to a far-off destination? Greg and I are not fans of cruising. We prefer land-based travel because the opportunity for surprise diversions comes up at nearly every turn. We prefer smaller crowds, so we tend to travel during off seasons. That means we give up a few things, though. Sometimes stores and museums are closed at our destination, for instance. 

But there are many times we have opted to head right into a crowd. We took our grandson on a road trip in August. The crowds at the Grand Canyon were immense – busloads of tourists crowded the overlooks and restaurants. He was on summer break with every other school student in the US. We were locked in to his school schedule.

I could go on and on, but by now you get the point. Planning a vacation can be a monumental challenge. You can tackle it alone, with your family or get help. Travel professionals can offer ideas you may not have considered. Researching a potential destination might even lead to a new item on your travel bucket list. Have fun with it! 

Remember, while there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, you have a whole lifetime to see it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Musings, The World A to Z, Travel

Rewrite Your Stars … or How Dreaming Makes You Successful

Within the last few months, I’ve seen at least two movies that include a storyline about a character rewriting the stars; that seemingly predestined journey through life that fate deems inevitable. In these movies, as in real life, those who are able to find a more satisfying, even fascinating path are called dreamers.  

I have always been a dreamer! When I was young, that label was used to chastise: “Get your head out of the clouds.” “Pay attention and stop daydreaming.” “You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t stop wasting your time dreaming.”

Those phrases held me back. I’d dream of rewriting my stars and  hear one of those voices in my head reminding me how futile dreaming is.

Somewhere in my 40s the voices stopped. I started dreaming again. At first it was cautious, but eventually I dreamt with an almost childlike enthusiasm. I acted on those dreams.

There are those who work all day. Those who dream all day. And those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. Go into the third category because there’s virtually no competition.

Steve Ross, Former CEO, Time-Warner

I noticed a sparkle return to my eyes. Smiles came easier. I found myself spending less time worrying and regretting and more time dreaming and looking ahead. I walked away from people in my life whose voices echoed those taunting, anti-dreamer thoughts.

Somehow, looking back, I knew I’d always be a dreamer. I’d always found a way to make a dream come true. I always found enough money for another trip (a consistently repeating dream involves travel). I never gave up looking for professional satisfaction — at least not until I realized my life outside of the office was shining brighter that life in the office. 

When I started to dream more, I found myself surrounded by other dreamers. Oh sure, there were still naysayers in my life and their “poo-pooing” was ever present. I started seeing them as sad and unfulfilled.

My new life is filled with joy. Smiles are a constant. I travel more and am achieving my dream of doing it in style. Sending happiness out into the world has brought it back to me time and time again.

I say “thank you” all the time. To my fellow-dreamer, fellow-nomadic, enthusiastic, happy husband … to God … to the universe … to any and everyone who gives me another reason to smile. 

I relax more and enjoy more. Little annoyances are dismissed with ease, pushed out to make more room for joy. 

Ten years ago it seemed the stars were pointing me to a future of settling for things, of growing old without much excitement. Then I started dreaming again — and I rewrote my own stars!

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … start with a dream.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Musings, The World A to Z, Travel

Black and White — or Shades of Brown?

When my son was about two-and-a-half, we found ourselves at JFK Airport waiting for a flight. He has always been a good traveler and we managed to keep ourselves busy for a little while people-watching. After about ten minutes of a never-ending stream of passers by, he turned to me and gave me one of those looks that only a two-year-old can muster — so very serious, but overwhelmingly curious. 

“Mom,” he asked, “why do we say people are black and white?” 

WOW! How do you answer a question like that? I didn’t want to influence his thought, so I answered his question with a question: “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he pondered, “there are lots of people here and I’ve been looking at them, but I haven’t seen anyone who is black or anyone who is white.”

I responded with another question, “What color are all these people?”

His response was quick and perfunctory, “Brown.” Nothing more, nothing less. His innocent observation of probably a few hundred people was that everyone was brown.

I was proud. JFK Airport is an endless variety of people. International travelers from every corner of the world passed by our seats. We’d seen people with every shade of brown you could imagine. I asked him to explain what he meant by brown.

He said, “well, some people are really light brown – like you, and some people are darker brown – like dad (his father is part-Hispanic), and some people are really dark brown – like the chocolate you like. 

OK, that gave me a little chuckle, people described as the colors of food was a great two-year-old observation.

We spent a couple of minutes wondering why anyone would say black or white to describe a person and never really came up with an answer. I explained that people from different places have different color skin and they also have different cultures and music and food and wear different clothes. He asked if the kids play with different toys. “Yes, they do,” I answered. He asked if he could play with other kinds of toys and I noticed the topic had returned to more typical kid conversation.

That conversation has stuck with me his whole life. He is almost 30 and still has the same wild curiosity about life and people. I am still proud.

I wish everyone could see the world through his two-year-old eyes. I wish everyone could see differences as fascinating instead of scary. I wish people could see the world in a never-ending number of shades of brown and not black and white. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … it’s thrilling and different and brilliantly colorful … go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z

Relaxing Isn’t Just For Vacation

Sitting in a spa chair with warm water swirling around my tired feet, it occurred to me I don’t relax enough. My mind, like the water, was swirling around the word, “ahhhh.”  This luxurious last-minute diversion in our day, part of a quick three-day break from the daily grind, got me thinking about vacations. After all, they are for relaxation, right? As if we didn’t already know that, even the dictionary agrees: “Vacation – an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.”

Image result for studio m palm springs pedicure

But what about relaxing when you’re not on vacation? I got my first massage years ago. Eventually I went from about two a year to a massage every three weeks. When I missed one, my shoulders and neck would let me know. They would tighten up and remind me to get my knots worked out.

About a year ago my massage therapist decided he needed to do something different. I was CRUSHED! Just the idea of it sent my muscles into a tightening frenzy. I’ve spent the last year looking for someone to take Mike’s place. I’ve resorted to finding other ways to relax. It’s a lot easier to mentally relax when you’re not driving into an office everyday, so working from home is a big help. I get monthly pedicures — there’s nothing like a really good foot rub! — and Greg and I are a little more conscious about taking weekend getaways. 

What I’m trying to say is this: Even if you’re not sitting on a beach sipping a cocktail with a little umbrella in it, you can and SHOULD take care of yourself all the time. Find ways to relax. Take a staycation and order room service! Shut down your everyday brain and activate your vacation brain (the one that doesn’t spend so much time worrying about work and feeling stress). 

Take a mental vacation and dream about all the places you want to go on an actual vacation and create a plan to make that happen. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. You’ll have more fun if you’re relaxed while you’re away!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019