Food is a major joy of travel….how to choose how to go

I am a “foodie” in one source of the expression. I love good food. That doesn’t mean I like to gorge myself. It means I appreciate great flavors and variety.

One of the biggest joys of travel, whether you’ve done a lot of it or not, is to enjoy foods and good times sharing them bring. There’s an undeniable exposure to culture when you experience different foods. I like to take those memories with me and expand my eating horizons at home by incorporating the flavors into things I can cook myself.

I could write a book on this subject, but that is not the purpose of a blog. Today I discuss the different travel choices for experiencing good food.

“Escorted Group Tours” are usually the worst for good food. It’s not bad food, but the per day price is usually higher than if you did it yourself another way. On the other hand, if you are going to a very foreign place to your comfort level or if you have not done much traveling, this is a “safe” way to go. We have only done two such tours. One was to Egypt and included top notch hotels and a Nile River cruise as well as most meals. It was expensive, but we chose it for the safety factor. Those who ate the local foods got sick. We did not. From a food perspective, it was not an expanding view. From a cultural perspective, it was fantastic.

The second escorted group tour we did was in Russia, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It included high end hotels and a river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow along the Volga River. The food was not very good. We often referred to it as “mystery meat” and we were on one of the better ships. Our outside the group dining that we did on our own was much better. Chicken Kiev squirting at you and real Russian caviar were treats.

Then there are cruise ships. It so varies by ship and line that it is hard to generalize. We have had great meals on many of them, but you don’t get the “local” flavor since all of your meals on board ship and you don’t experience the local culture. We have found it a total waste of money to be paying for food on the ship and then eat in the local places. Instead, we will often find a local place to have cocktails to enjoy the local ambience.

Do it yourself by land travel! That is the way to truly enjoy local foods. But, don’t eat at street carts. You are asking for trouble. If you are nervous about totally planning you own trip, do a combination of escorted or cruise with add ons for yourself in at the beginning and/or end of your trip.

Finally, there are an increasing number of all inclusive resorts all over the world. You’d be surprised at how good the food is with total safety. I attach one photo today of my joy at eating Caribbean Lobster in Punta Cana at Majestic Elegance. I grew up at the Jersey Shore with cold water local lobsters and Maine lobster. Here I learned the joy of trying something different at a fraction of the cost.

I welcome comments and questions here. Check out my other posts on DesiWorlds.com, my DesiWorlds Facebook page, and my very numerous posts on Trip Advisor under the name Desiwood.

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A year and a half of blogging

It’s been a over a year and half of blogging officially for me. It was many years before that that I posted on other social media sites. I have learned a lot and am still learning. One of the suggestions to me upon beginning was that I try blogging on FB first. I have done that. Before I did that, I watched and studied for years on Trip Advisor and then began participating in the Punta Cana Forum under the name Desiwood. I finally got up the courage to actually start posting reviews. Then I moved on to FB.

During the time I have had my own website blog, I became shy. haha I posted daily elsewhere, but could not bring myself to post here. I’m finally over that now, but still have a lot of adjustments to make. I’m still not happy with the look of this webpage, but it is my own procrastination that has prevented me from improving it. Both Go Daddy and WordPress have offered free advice that I have not taken advantage of.

I have been working on making sure that no comments to this site are just ads for other sites. So, if comments just post a site, I do not allow them. Now I have been deleting previously approved posts that contain other sites in the post. It is time consuming. I want to share with my readers life’s journeys. Believe me it hurts to delete compliments in the comments, but this site is not for advertisement. You will see that I do not promote individual products. I should, I will eventually share some of my favorites, but not just yet.

I have been told to do UTube videos. Not yet for me. I have many to share and I will do so directly. I have been told to use hashtags. Not yet for me. I have been told to use Instagram. I am not in a business of selling. If you want to be, then use these things.

For today, I include one photo of two of four men that have encouraged me to pursue my dream of writing a blog. There are many others that have supported me, both male and female. I remember decades ago a Sr. Partner of the law firm I worked at asking me over coffee what I would like to do if I had a choice. I said I’d like to be a writer. He told me to do that. I said I could not because it was too personal and I was a lawyer. I have finally given up the lawyer part and hope to be the writer I always wanted to be. Jordi, Alan, & me

Gardening, Meditation, & Exercise

You are wondering what gardening, meditation, and exercise have in common. I’m here to tell you. Those who enjoy gardening can tell you…..if they do it correctly. Too many people think of gardening as a “chore”, just another stress. This is the wrong approach. You first have to think of creativity, beauty, and enjoyment. Both the beautiful sights and smells. It doesn’t matter how small or large an area you have to work with.

I was never one that could get into meditation. It just seemed to boring to me. I knew there are great benefits to reduce stress and I led a stressful life. I first “got into it” when faced with a half acre of backyard baron land except for grass. Some people think a big grass area is a sign of achievement. I found it boring. Hubby hated cutting it and we hated paying someone stupid money to show up when they wanted to do it. They either waited too long and it looked overgrown or cut too often and it looked half dead. We consulted with a true landscape designer and decided we did not want to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an ultimately uninspiring look.

We were forced to do something when we put in a pool and the entire backyard ended up being just dirt. Designing and created our own gardens continues to bring us constant joy. I’ll do a series of blogs about the process. For now, I’ll get back to the title of this piece.

In thinking and planning, then in doing, then changing and maintaining, and then just looking and walking, I found that in fact I was getting the benefits of meditation without being bored or having to study a method. Whether it be sitting or planting, in pots or in the earth, there is a serenity that is tough to find in one’s own home doing other activities. The sense of accomplishment is a big bonus. It is a combination of instant gratification and patience in seeing a transformation.

Then the bonus came…….you burn so many calories gardening that it is better than a diet. I’m not talking about farm hand hard work. In fact, I had spinal injury problems that prevented me from doing too strenuous work and found the slow and easy still was easy great exercise that kept me healthy and thin.

For this first post on this topic, I am not showing any photos of what I’ve done, but show one of what NOT to aspire to. We’ve experimented with topiary, but it’s not an easy things to do and damage to the bush can ruin years of work in an instant. We have gone with a mixture of hardscape and small area outdoor “rooms”. It’s been exciting to do it all ourselves. We’ve made changes and had some failures. We adjust. You have to. Your land and climate are not the same as anyone else’s. Big hint here…….try to avoid annuals. You will have to keep planting and removing. Perennials are the way to go.

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Photos, Videos, Memories

This has been a year of learning new things when it comes to posting on social media, especially when it comes to photos and videos. Every place that one posts is different. The last one that I am learning about is my own website. I guess I’m shy. haha

One thing I can’t stress enough is to take photos and videos of your experiences…..whether they are on vacation or in everyday life. You will cherish them! You can always delete them, but you can’t go back and take that which you didn’t. In today’s digital age, there is no cost to snapping or recording away.

I have decades of photos and videos in all sorts of formats. Here are some suggestions for you. Use the equipment that you feel most comfortable with, but find a place to store that which you take……a hard drive, an eternal hard drive, a thumb drive, a zip drive, the cloud, and so many other choices. Don’t leave things you want to save on an individual device. They break; they get lost or stolen; they become obsolete.

Buy an all in one color printer, fax, scanner. It is so easy to convert one form to another to save things forever and there is free software/apps all around for editing, cropping, special effects, rotating, you name it.

I have old fashioned photos, VCR videos, old Polaroids, High 8 videos, digital photos, digital videos, purchased photos, CD photos, you name it. I wouldn’t trade any of them for the memories. Don’t give up on desktop computers. The software and apps for free are amazing to play with you memories and make it so easy to share where you want.

I’ve even been playing recently with converting color videos to individual black and white photos. I attach today the oldest photo I currently have of myself as baby taken by a professional photographer. It’s odd in that I was a true blonde, but the shadows in the old days didn’t show that. I may play with the photo some more to bring it back to reality. I also attach a recent photo on a visit to Punta Cana. This is one taken from a color video that I turned into a black and white photo just for the fun of it.

I hope you enjoy the photos. One thing I’ve learned is that our hairlines seem to be consistent from birth to middle age. Lois Anne baby photo

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Marijuana

I am surprising myself in writing this tonight. I stay away from politics and legal issues. However, a life experiences and travel cannot permit anyone from not encountering this issue. I don’t usually post anything that could be controversial, but how can I portray an honest state of the world if I avoid all such topics.

I first encountered others using pot while at parties in high school. I had a boyfriend that forbade me to participate. I did not see any danger to any of those that did partake. At the time the drinking age in NJ was 18 and alcohol was readily available to those much younger. I saw much more danger in those drinking to excess.

After high school I was surprised to meet many older adults that smoked pot. I did try it. It made me want to take a nap. I never experienced any of the horror stories that are propagated by those that rail against it. Then again, I wasn’t by any means a frequent user and never smoked any that had been chemically treated with other substances.

In college, I never, ever even took a single toke. My University had a zero tolerance policy for any drugs. I knew the son of high government official who was gone from school in a day when he was “caught” with pot. I was there for an education.

After college, it was off to law school. I never saw so many people openly talking about and smoking pot as there. To the credit of many of them, once they became members of the bar, meaning practicing attorneys, they stopped. Most said it was because they did not want to be hypocritical. For me, it was a simple choice. I would not put my license to practice law in jeopardy.

I have never bought marijuana. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been around it, experienced it, or been around people who have used it a lot. My take on what I’ve seen…..it is calming, it is not addictive, it does not lead to other drug use, it has less effects than alcohol, it has not side effects, it doesn’t contain nicotine, it helps people with nausea.

There are places in the world where it is legal. The most noted is Amsterdam. I haven’t been there. It’s been on our bucket list for years, but just being permitted to smoke pot legally is not enough of a reason to trade our other destinations.

Times are changing slowly in the USA. In some states “medical marijuana” is legal. However, it is still against Federal Laws and it is more expensive to buy legally than to buy on the street. Why are we so backwards?

There are a few places in the USA that also permit the use for “recreational” use. These are extremely limited. Doctors prescribe opioids that cost less than marijuana, are heavily addictive, and have far more negative side effects. So, if you have health insurance and are “smart” with your doctor, you can get high cheaper on more dangerous drugs. What kind of policy is this? Most of these are depressants, as is alcohol. No one claims to be depressed from marijuana, nor is it considered an “upper”. There are no published medical articles showing the adverse affects on the body that alcohol or other prescribed drugs cause and you don’t see people who smoke it needing anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs.

Why do we waste our American tax dollars on fighting a war against marijuana that does not need to be fought, especially when that money can be used for so many other good causes? Why do we permit a “roach” to be used as an excuse for an arrest and all the costs associated with that and imprisonment?

I have travelled throughout the world and have found marijuana available almost everywhere, no matter how harsh the penalties. In some places you have to be aggressive to tell those selling that you are not interested. Prohibition didn’t work in this country…..let’s stop the waste of money, police time, and damages to representations with this stupidity. When you make something illegal, you create criminal activity. We have more serious issues to confront in this day and age.

Christmas Full Cold Moon and Giving Hotel Managers a Break

We get a special treat this Christmas Day, a “Full Cold Moon”. I’ve added a meme to the bottom of this to remind you of the details. We all know what a full moon is. Why is this one called a “cold moon”? It’s because it is in December, with the longest nights of the year. The actual longest night of the year is the Winter Solstice, which will occur on December 21st. It’s daylight is over 6 hours less than on the Summer Solstice.

This will be the first Full Cold Moon this century to appear on Christmas Day. The last one was in 1977….38 years ago. The next one won’t be until 2034. It’s definitely something to look forward to. Slightly oddly, it will be at its peak at 6:11 am ET. You should get a pretty good view on Christmas Eve also. Take a moment to look at it. You don’t have to be in a “cold” climate to see it. This December has been amazingly warm on the east coast of the USA and other parts too.

Hopefully the sky will be clear enough to get a good view. Here where we are, clouds almost totally obscured the first Blood Moon in 3 decades back in September. Not far from us, others had a great view.

If you happen to be at a hotel for this event, don’t expect the managers to be able to guarantee you a good view. haha Yes, it sounds funny, but it never ceases to amaze me the things that people expect hotel managers to be able to do for them. I’ve posted a little comic to remind all of the tough jobs they have. It made me laugh and I’m sure many in other types of jobs feel the same way about bosses, co-workers, customers, and the reality of their jobs.

One of my favorite complaints about a resort was that the sea water was too salty. What did that guest think a manager could do to change that? Personally, I don’t like people who constantly want to “talk to a manager”. Sometimes it is needed, but most of the time you just need to talk to the proper hotel employee. It does no good to complain to your waiter or waitress about how many towels are in your room or to complain to housekeeping that there was something not right about your meal. Be polite, speak to the correct person, and give the managers a break.

Happy Holidays to all, whichever holiday you celebrate this time of year. Travel safely, whether near or far, and be patient. full moon xmas 2015hotel managers

Humor, Thanksgiving, & Adaptation

I have been “bad” in not posting a blog entry since before Thanksgiving. For over a year I have posted almost daily. Life’s journeys and living have gotten in my way. Communications with friends and family have taken preference recently. New learning has also taken its toll.

First topic tonight is humor. I have posted an unusual Thanksgiving Turkey. I hope you get a chuckle out of it. Life is nothing without humor. I have spent over a year posting only funnies and inspirational messages on Facebook. I think I have learned how to post in that time and will be now be posting to this website for all to enjoy. Most of my postings on my personal page and blog have been original, but I hope here to combine the two.

Thanksgiving is past, and most are on to the December holidays. It was a tough time for hubby and me. In mid November we went to NYC to see a wonderful show, Ripcord. I’ve posted the “program front page” and the tickets. If you look closely, you will see that we got an absolute bargain on the tickets for front row seats to a great show. We have seen many performances at The Manhattan Theatre Club over the years. We hope to continue to see more in the future. This was a “preview week” and well worth it.

For many years we have travelled to the Dominican Republic for Thanksgiving. We have stayed at several places, but mainly at Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana. This year our family wanted us to be with them and not travel. It saddened us, in a way, because we have made friends and faux family when we have been there. On the other hand, November turned into a month of many interactions with blood family who had moved away from where we lived and we were glad to be with them. It was an adaptation for us from many years of happiness and a return to former years of happiness.

Then Thanksgiving came. Bad news all around. On our trip to NYC to see Ripcord and have a great time at the Carnegie Club and Russian Vodka Room, we both got sick. As careful as we are in travelling anywhere, the large mass of people on the trains, in Penn Station, NY, and throughout the city, “got us”. It is always a danger in travel or in local publicly congested areas. I got a chest congestion and cough that did not quit until yesterday. Hubby was also not feeling well.

As a result, we decided not to infect our family and stayed at home for Turkey day. They were disappointed, but grateful. We could not continue our quarantine, however, because the day after Thanksgiving we had to go to a family funeral. Life takes strange curves. If we had been away, as usual we would have missed giving our support to our loved ones.

We did have a different Thanksgiving by ourselves this year with Brugal Cider, Prime Rib, mashed yams, and asparagus….not that we really felt like eating. I have to admit, it was delicious. Then, a couple of days ago, we had a more traditional Turkey Dinner when we were feeling a bit better.

Humor, thanks, and adaptation are definitely the secrets to happiness.
Turkey Ass

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Soulmates

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I saw the attached media and had to comment that that one thing I disagree with is that finding a soulmate only takes a second. You will never know in a second that someone might be your soulmate. Most of us don’t look for soulmates, and if we are looking for such, probably won’t find them. It happens when you least expect it and it takes time. Your mind and heart have to be open and you can’t be desperate for it or blocking it with pre-conceived notions.

Our lives often prevent us from seeing that potential soulmate right in front of us. It is not about sex, lust, passion, money, looks, possessions, ambition, age, station in life, education, or a host of other things. It is about intimacy and a sharing of life’s triumphs and disappointments.

Don’t get me wrong. Sex is great. There are people, however, for whom such a relationship is not possible, for many reasons, whether it be physical, mental, distance, gender, other relationships, or a myriad of life circumstances.

Sadly many people never find a soulmate. Luckily for some, they find more than one in a lifetime…..sometimes at the same time. Yes, you can have more than one soulmate. It is insane to think that you can provide all that is needed for someone else and that same person can provide all that you need. You can come close, but it is not healthy to depend upon or the other person to be totally dependent upon you. True soulmates bring happiness, humor, and outside interests to the other, was well as the common bonds. They are devoted to one another, but know that that both they and the other need more in life than just one person.

I’m lucky. I met my first soulmate shortly before I turned 18 and we are still together. We would not be if we stifled each other.

Room Upgrades

One of the questions I am asked the most is “What’s the best way to get a room upgrade?”.  Before I answer that, I have two things to say.  First, book the room you want and will be satisfied with.  Do not ever “count” on an upgrade.  Second, the thing NOT to do is think you can tip the person at the front desk and that it will make any difference.  If upgrades are available, most hotels are willing to give them or sell them to you, and would fire a front desk, or other personnel, who would give you one by lining his/her own pocket.  Ask politely and don’t get an attitude if it’s not available.  Most hotels would LOVE to sell you an upgrade at check-in, IF they have such a room that would otherwise be vacant.  If you’re at a fully booked hotel, the odds are slim that such will be available, but it never hurts to ask.

The best way to get a room upgrade is to belong to a program that provides for it.  Choosing the program that best suites your needs and budget is the primary chore for the traveler.  The one we’ve used the most and that suited us perfectly for world luxury travel was American Express Platinum card.  For many this might be out of your price range, but the upgrades can’t be beat.  As a cardholder, you will get a room upgrade at check-in, “if available”, as well as certain other amenities, like a free spa service or complimentary breakfast or brunch, as well as early check-in and late check-out.

I’m sure the words “if available” jumped out at you.  In this program, every time we chose one of selected hotels, we DID get an upgrade at check-in.  Lesser programs are not so “giving”.  Investigate the programs out there and you might find you already belong to some through credit cards or “loyalty” programs.  To take advantage of these upgrades, of course, you are going have to book through one of the hotels that participates in the program, so some planning is necessary.  Next, you may have to book through your sponsoring program, so you’re going to have to check out the “rules”.

We had always thought that we had to book through American Express Travel Services or an American Express Travel Agent to get this perk.  It did not matter to us, since our travel agent was an AmEx TA.  We were very pleasantly surprised on two occasions, one before a cruise and one after a cruise, that at check in, since we were paying with our American Express Platinum Card, we received upgrades even though our hotels were “add-ons”  to our cruise packages.

One “downfall” to the perk that we encountered was that in order to qualify for the upgrade, you usually had to pay “rack” rate.  They are not going to give you both a cheap rate and an upgrade.  For us it worked spectacularly, although the rates we paid were no bargain.  The suites we got were fantastic.  Mind you these were all very upscale hotels to begin with.  At the Hay Adams we were upgraded to the suite they advertise in their brochures that had a balcony looking directly at the White House.  At the Grande Bretagne in Athens, we had a suite with a huge terrace looking directly at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Parliament.  In Versailles, at the Trianon Palace we had a suite that resembled the size of an apartment with a view of the Palace of Versailles.  At the Shangri La in both Hong Kong and Bangkok, the room upgrades were location/view based.  The Excelsior in Rome gave us a beautiful suite with a fireplace.  The Marbella Club gave us a multi room suite to die for with a private, furnished, “back yard”.  The list goes on and on.  We frequently utilized the card benefit (as well as the two for one international air in Business or 1st Class).

As a rule, you are not going to get such if you are staying at large “chain” hotels, even if they are part of your program benefit.  They tend not to have such “wow” rooms.  You are not going to get a “bargain” rate either.  You will get tremendous rooms/suites.  Do your homework first to see if the hotel even has such great rooms.  You can’t get an upgrade to something that doesn’t exist.

Loyalty programs can also get you upgrades.  Sometimes these are direct from the hotel chain and sometimes they are associated with a credit card, or both.  These are your typical programs that use “miles” or “points”.  “Hilton Points” is a very popular one because of the number of choices in the “chain” all over the world.  They can be used for free stays or upgrades.  Many people who have to travel for business use this program for their business travel and then use the points for their leisure travel.  Unfortunately, they have recently greatly increased the number of points that are needed for free stays/upgrades.  You need to stay on top of your “program” for Rule changes and know when it might be time to change programs because of those rule changes.

The final way to be likely to get a room upgrade is with a smaller operation or boutique hotel where you are a repeat guest.  They are less likely to have a “loyalty” program, but more likely to reward their repeat guests with upgrades.  This has happened to us quite a few times, including in France at the Chateau d’Artigny and even at an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic, Majestic Elegance.

In the “old” days, a travel agent had “contacts” in the industry and could get you a great upgrade or mark you as a “VIP” for that choice room, especially if it was a special occasion like a honeymoon.  Ours got us a Central Park view over-the-top suite at the St. Regis in NYC for the beginning of our honeymoon and great upgrades throughout our trip in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janiero, and Iguacu Falls .  Those days are rare now, but many places do offer honeymoon upgrades.

Book the room you want, but do your homework before you go, especially if you belong to a any kind of program that offers upgrades.  Know your program rules and inquire politely at check-in.  Some programs might require you to select the upgrade using points at the time of booking.

Happy, Safe, & Healthy travels always!