Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tipping in Restaurants

Tips are expected in some countries...not so much in others. Amounts vary by country. Expectations vary even more. Recently I came across an article with some tips guidelines. Not set in stone...just guidelines. Perhaps you have your own experiences regarding tips. Share them, please.

In Germany a service charge is included in your bill as bedienung. However, it is still the norm to tip up to an extra 10%, especially in upscale restaurants. It is also good manners to hand your tip to your server instead of placing it on the table.

When dining in restaurants in Italy a 10% to 15% service charge may be already added to your bill. If so, it is not expected to add more. If not, a 10% tip is sufficient. Some smaller family run trattorias do not accept tips. Probably best to look around and see what the locals are doing.

Service is included by law in France and your bill may say service compris to indicate this. It is still polite to round up the bill to the nearest Euro or to add 10% for exceptional service.

Tipping in the US is expected and a 15% tip appears to be the minimum. Exceptional service should include a 20% tip.

These are recent guidelines from a travel source. Do you agree? Do you tip? Just curious...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sunday in Napa

Blue skies and a breeze along the river in Napa.

Colorful artwork depicting early life in the Napa Valley.

Brilliant orange California poppies line the walkway.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vacation Rentals

Renting a home, condo or other accommodation for your vacation is an option many people like. You get to stay in one spot, have to unpack only once, see the local sights, take day trips and live like a local. The Better Business Bureau has some tips to consider when renting that vacation home.

Be sure to get your agreement in writing. Never wire money or send a check. Using a credit card will most likely offer the most protection in case there are problems with your rental. And be sure to actually talk to the owner...not just communicate by email.

Find out how to get back your security deposit. Ask if there is a cleaning fee or a fee for electricity, phone service, Internet or other utilities.

It never hurts to ask if the owner offers tickets to attractions or discounts, especially if you are renting in "off season".

If you notice a problem with anything once you arrive, be sure to take photos or videos. Share a copy of them immediately with the owner.

If a offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This doesn't mean you still can't find a "deal" when renting. Just do your homework first.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Westwood Hills Trail

Less than a mile from busy Highway 29 in Napa, California lies Westwood Hills. This relatively small park is packed with a variety vegetation, canopies of trees and panoramic views. Today the hills were splendid in their Spring greenery.

Wildflowers in pinks, yellows and purples lined our trails and walking paths. Some tiny flowers easily get trampled if they venture out onto the path.

Smells from tress and flowers alike surrounded us as we walked. Eucalyptus, California Bay, Coast Live Oak and Buckeye trees towered over head...

or stood guard as one in groves such as this.

Canopies of branches offered us a warm welcome as we walked up the forest road.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rental Cars in Europe

What should you rent for a car when traveling around Europe? Here are a few suggestions that may help you.

Drive what the locals drive. This probably means a small car with manual transmission. Having said that...rethink the number and size of your bags.

Drive as the locals drive. In the UK it will be on the other side of the road. For the rest of Europe it will be the same as the US. Keep in mind in Germany you are required to drive in the right lane unless passing. And don't assume you can turn right on a red light. Know what other countries may have as laws as well.

Learn to read the signs. You need to understand the road signs if you are going to be driving in Europe. Auto Europe is a popular rental can company that has an online pictorial of signs. Remember distances will be posted in kilometers, not miles. Gas is sold by the liter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


You're getting ready to take a trip across the ocean and you're packing all your gadgets. They all have cords, right? Will you be able to use them in Europe or Asia?

First, they probably won't fit in the socket because our two-parallel prong plugs are seldom used anywhere else. You will need an adapter. Don't know what to buy? Check out for a useful comparison chart.

Keep in mind that just because your plug may fit doesn't mean your appliance can handle the type of power now coursing through your cord. There is also a difference in voltage in other countries. Not a pretty site when you "fry" your hair dryer.

What do you do? You could leave all your appliances at home. Or you could check with your hotel to see if the rooms come equipped with hairdryers, if that's what you need to get ready in the morning.

You could purchase battery operated models of whatever it is you need. Or buy one that has dual voltage capacity. Some have a switch so you can change from 110 to 220 volts.

Can't live without something? Then purchase your adapters before you leave home. You'll save some money. If you like shopping online, check out You may want to look into a surge protector specifically designed for higher voltages.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Savor Sonoma

Sights from last weekend's Savor Sonoma wine and food tastings. Flowers were in full bloom everywhere.

Old vines just waiting for bud break.

Winery owner serving his tasty Italian wines out of a barrel.

Tulips of every color...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Coupons for Travel Savings

With travel plans being made now for summer vacations, think about using coupons for extra savings.

If you go to and put the word "travel" in the search line, there is a whole section devoted to just travel coupons. Some are for rental cars, vacation packages, Amtrak or luggage.

Check out and again use the word "travel" for searching. I noticed some coupons for museums, entertainment and parks as well as hotels and restaurants.

Don't forget to check the websites of the places you will be visiting, hotels where you are staying or attractions you may be interested in doing while you are in the area. Their websites often have "Internet specials" or coupons you can print before you book.

As always, check carefully the dates these coupons are good for to make sure they match your travel dates.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Travel Smart

Regardless of where you are traveling this year these tips may save you some money.

Check for any discounts on hotels, airfare or attractions. Are you a rewards member, or AAA or AARP? Can you use your hotel points? If you have a spouse that travels frequently and stays at one hotel chain, be sure they are signed up for the rewards program. The points add up and can be used for a vacation to save some cash.

Are you absolutely sure you will be staying at the hotel you booked? If so, many offer a discount of up to 30 or even 50% off the rate if you prepay for your room. Some of these will refund payment if you cancel within 24 to 48 hours.

Already bought your plane ticket? Keep checking the fares anyway. Some airlines will adjust your ticket if fares go down.

Read the guidebooks or ask the hotel if there are discounts on attractions you wish to visit. Sometimes you will get a deal or a coupon just by asking.

Once you get to a new, or even favorite, destination...walk. There is no better way to see the sights than on foot. Plus you save on costly cab rides. You can even visit the sites in your hometown or in the closest large city and save money by having a staycation. Check online before you go to see the best times to visit certain attractions, museums, zoos, etc.

Check the weather before you go. And be sure to check daytime as well as night temps. If you don't need a heavy sweater...don't let it take up room in your suitcase. On the other hand, you may want to plan on wearing layers of lighter clothing to stay warm enough.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Summer Travel Ideas

Summer is on its way. Head to California for these ideas...

Pet a bat ray at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Designed to give a sense of what it's like to be in the water with the animals is just one of the special beauties of this aquarium. Sardines swim around your head in a circular tank. A petting pool gives you a hands on experience with bat rays. Other tanks give you the feeling of swimming with jellies.

Watch boats and builders at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. Many times you might see boat builders actually at work.

Or just watch boats. Balclutha, an 1886 full-rigged three masted sailing ship, sailed around Cape Horn 17 times. She is over 250 feet long and newly restored. The Eureka, a side wheel passenger and car ferry, hosts a collection of vintage cars on board.

Take some time out to grab your lunch at a gourmet to-go window, sit by the bay and watch the ships and sailboats. Some award winning chefs from places like Fish and Farm or Chez Spencer are now serving lunch from to-go windows. American Box Lunch at Union Square, Spencer On the Go in SOMA, Greens to Go in the Fort Mason or Marina district, The Sentinel in the Financial district and Little Skillet in SOMA are just a few. Check them out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wine and Glasses

Ever wonder why wineglasses come in a variety of shapes? Or, are you are a beginner wine drinker and can't figure out what glass to use when serving wine to your guests? Is there a difference?

According to Riedel Glass, an Austrian glass manufacturer, the philosophy is simple. The content of the glass determines the shape.

Sparkling wines are served in a tall, narrow glass allowing the wine's bubbles to form at the bottom and rise to the top better than in a wider or more shallow glass.

White wine glasses are shorter than a Champagne glass with a medium diameter bowl. If, however, your white wine is more full-bodied, serve it in a glass with a slightly larger diameter bowl, allowing it to breathe and release its full aromas.

Lighter or medium bodied Red Wines are served in a glass with a slightly wider bowl than that of a white wine. Heavier Reds need the largest bowl in order to mix as much wine as possible with air. You also will be able to stick your nose into the glass to appreciate the wine's bouquet.

Dessert wines are served in small glasses or ones with small bowls.

Why all the differences? Try tasting the same wine from different glasses. From the moment you stick your nose into the glass to the final will notice a difference. Does that mean you've been doing it wrong. Absolutely not. It's up to you how you want to serve and drink your wine. These ideas just may help you get started.'s fun experimenting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lake Hennessey Hike

Balloons over Napa Valley are a common site Saturday mornings. We glimpsed this one on our way to our Lake Hennessey hike.

Moss covered trees line the shores of the lake.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hopmonk Tavern

If you are in the Russian River Valley or headed to the Armstrong Redwoods, stop at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol for lunch. Eclectic in decor this delightful place with amazing food is located in a historic railroad building. Floors are slightly uneven...booths are generous...they pour a bunch of different beers from all over the country and the world...and their chef uses local cheeses, fruits, produce and meats.

Not sure which was better...salad of mixed field greens with beer poached pears and Cowgirl Creamery goat cheese or the homemade tomato soup with hints of gin and fennel.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What is it?

Of course you know where I am...but what is this? Look closely. Could almost be a gorilla covered in a blanket...or not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bodega Bay

Saturday along the coast at Bodega Bay was picture perfect.

Crashing waves against the rocks

Thundering surf

Beaches yielded some good California Jade

Rock sculptures jut out off the beaches

Monday, March 8, 2010

Armstrong Woods

Celebrating 75 years...just a drop in the bucket of the life of these magnificent trees.

Fairly self explanatory sign...

With over 55 inches of rain annually here in the Armstrong Redwoods, this is classified as a temperate rain forest.

There is absolutely no way to capture the grandeur and beauty of these trees on film.

With strands like these throughout the park, silence is the main sound. Truly a living reminder of the once primeval redwood forests that covered this part of the country.

Giants hugging the bank of a crystal clear stream.

Some redwoods grow only an inch or so each year where their tops are exposed to full sun. Under ideal conditions of partial shade and protection from moisture loss, trees may grow two to three feet in a year.

Sunlight does make its way to the forest floor now and then. Even at that, it's cold walking through the forest. And quiet...once again you notice the silence. Not many birds or wildlife as there are not many food sources. We did hear an owl and a woodpecker.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Living Desert

Just outside of Palm Desert in The Living Desert lies this beautiful spot...

Yup...this is part of the Fault Line

Beautiful animals in somewhat normal habitat roam. This cheetah was looking for a nap.

This African Cerval is showing off his beautiful coat.