Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cheeriest Little Island

Burano, an island in the northern Venetian Lagoon, has been referred to as one of the most colorful places on earth as well as one of the top 10 most colorful cities in the world. 

Approaching Burano from Venice, it’s easy to see why. Brightly colored houses, all of them, pop against the green waters of the channels. At first glance, their narrow streets and impossibly bright colors appear almost tropical. One more look and you feel like you’ve just stepped into a postcard view, as small boats line both sides of the canals and the bright colors rise above.

Legend has it the houses were painted brightly so returning fishermen could see them from long distances. Today, your house can be painted certain colors. Just send a letter to the government to see what color you may use.

When you take the vaporetto from Venice, get off at the small island of Mazzorbo, just one stop before Burano. Walk past the 14th century church of Santa Caterina, a local vineyard, and a park. Cross the foot bridge connecting the two islands and it’s easy to walk the island from one end to the other. Check out the Museo del Merletto or lace museum, Galuppi Square, and the campanile of the San Martino church. Now take a look from another angle of the campenile and see how it leans. Yep, they have their own leaning tower.

The pace is slow here; slower than Venice. Flower boxes, overflowing with flowers, offer sweet scents; laundry, hanging from second story windows, is just as common as open shutters; bikes, sitting by doorways, wait for their owners; cats, posing for their close-up photos, lazily groom their faces. This is a real island with real Venetians living their lives. You just happen to be their visitor for the day.

With tiny streets opening up to small squares and eventually to the island’s main square, you’ll find tourists mingling with locals chatting and drinking espresso or spritz. Elderly ladies work on their embroidery as children whisk in and out. Find a little wider spot and you’ll find an impromptu soccer game.
Lace making used to be a main industry with Burano lace exported worldwide. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly came here to shop for cloth to use at the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. Making lace was an exacting endeavor. Each lady specialized in one stitch. Each piece, tablecloth, or shawl required seven different ladies to complete the stitching. You can imagine how long it took to finish.

Today most inhabitants are fishermen and that’s why you’ll have a fantastic lunch of super fresh seafood at a much more reasonable price than across the lagoon in Venice. A couple of restaurants have been featured on food shows around the world. If you visit during a street market day, be sure to look at the fish to catch a glimpse of typical Venetian Lagoon seafood.

It won’t take you long to walk the entire island, but take some time to wander away from the main squares to find a small bar to sip your espresso or spritz and people watch. Eat lunch here and sample the local catch of the day or fantastic risotto.

Take photos…lots of photos. Remember, it’s one of the most colorful places in the world.

If You Go: Take vaporetto number 12 from Fondament Nove, departing every half hour. It also makes one stop on Murano Island so if you reach Murano from another part of Venice, you can transfer to number 12 at the Murano Faro stop. On the scenic 40-minute ride you'll pass the cemetery island of San Michele, Murano, Torcello, and small islands in the lagoon. If you plan on being in Venice for several days, it’s cost effective to purchase a vaporetto pass good for longer periods of time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bar a Vin, Bordeaux

For wine lovers, there’s just something about tasting Bordeaux wines. 

There’s something special about tasting those wines in Bordeaux. After all, we should get a taste before we head out to the vineyards.

But, how and where to start?

With so many areas, AVAs, and wines, this could be a daunting task.

We know about the left bank, with Medoc, and the right bank, with Saint Emilion to start with. But wait…there’s even more.

So, when we heard about the Bar a Vin in the city of Bordeaux, this seemed like a good place to start our education, right?

This isn’t your normal wine bar. If you want to sample a new wine, gain some insight and advice on a particular appellation or vintage, or just sit and sip your new favorite Bordeaux wine…this is the place. All the Bordeaux wines from reds to dry and sweet whites to roses and sparkling wines can be tried in a setting they specifically designed to let you appreciate and enjoy what Bordeaux has to offer.

The list we were handed had the day’s wines…all thirty of them. Sommeliers spent time with us, shared their passion and their knowledge of the wines on that list, and offered suggestions. We asked questions and they had answers. 

They explained that the list is updated frequently, depending on what is now available or what wine is a specialty they want to feature. If we weren’t sure about a wine, they explained some of the nuances to us. When they discovered our tastes, they brought us one not yet on the list to sample. Truly an experience we’re glad we found.

If you need something to taste along with your wines, local cheeses, meats, and chocolates are available as well. Terrific pairings seemed to exist for everything on the list.

Prices are reasonable…much more so than we expected. We found out why. The Bar a Vin is located on the ground floor of the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux, the headquarters of the Counseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux, or the Bordeaux Wine Council. They underwrite this endeavor as this offers the perfect opportunity to showcase their wines. Makes sense.

This 18th Century building is known as the Hotel Govineau. The triangle front reminds you of a ship’s prow, and it should. It was built to honor the city’s role as a port.

The Bar a Vin, complete with neoclassical architecture and contemporary furnishings, opened in 2006. Look around. Artwork, stained glass windows, tapestries, and mirrors all represent Bordeaux grape harvesters, the Garonne River, and the world of wine in Bordeaux.

If you’re staying in or near the city of Bordeaux, this is a place you won’t want to miss. Superb service accompanying fantastic wines in a relaxing environment…who could ask for more?

One hint…if you’re going in the afternoon, go early. This place, while spacious, fills quickly. Business people to tourists to wine lovers all know to head here about mid-afternoon. Or, go at 11:00 when it opens. The sommeliers love to tell you what’s new!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Travel Credit Cards

Like most travelers, I use credit cards when I travel. Most of us probably use those same cards when we’re not traveling, in hopes of gaining points, rewards, and upgrades. Right?

After all, we constantly see ads on television about this card or that one and we get ads mailed to us to sign up for the next best and greatest reward card. Confusing? Of course. Are they a good deal? That depends. How do you know what’s best? How do you know what’s good for you?

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is

Here a few things to think about if you hold a travel reward credit card.

Did you know that more than half of those with a reward travel card carry a monthly balance?

Do you know what your yearly fee is for this card?

From the survey…

2017 Survey: More Than Half of Travel Rewards Cardholders Carry a Monthly Balance
U.S. News surveyed 1,278 travel credit card users to understand the benefits and drawbacks of owning one. While the vast majority of respondents have redeemed lucrative rewards in the last year, many cardholders are not aware of their annual fee or how to take advantage of their card benefits. Additionally, more than half of travel credit card users have carried a balance on their card in the last year, potentially negating the rewards they have earned.

Thirty-three percent of respondents earned more than $500 in rewards in the last year.

The most popular redemption options included free domestic flights, followed by cash back, followed by free nights at a hotel. Free international flights were the least commonly redeemed.

More than half of travel credit cardholders surveyed carried a monthly balance in the last year.

Since travel rewards credit cards tend to have higher-than-average interest rates on purchases, carrying a balance has the potential to cost you more than any rewards you earn. Travel credit card expert Daraius Dubash of recommends that people carrying credit card debt should probably opt instead for a zero percent APR card and focus on eliminating their credit debt before trying to earn travel rewards.

Sign-up bonuses are one way that cardholders end up carrying a balance, says Joe Cortez, senior writer for "In a way [a sign-up bonus] is almost a trap to try to get you to put a balance on the card up-front." Forty-three percent of consumers surveyed said they qualified for their card’s sign-up bonus.

It’s also critical that consumers be aware of annual fees. Most respondents knew what their card’s annual fee was, while 17 percent of respondents didn’t know.

“I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the number of miles that are involved,” says Cortez, but people don’t always consider that there are both additional fees and benefits with the card.

Nearly half of travel rewards cardholders don’t take advantage of cardholder benefits.
Ninety-six percent of respondents redeemed at least some rewards in the last year, but 48 percent of respondents did not take advantage of common cardholders benefits such as airport lounge access, trip cancellation/delay insurance, free checked bags when flying, auto rental insurance and priority boarding when flying.

Cardholders should be aware of auxiliary travel benefits that come with their card and can provide a lot of value and justify the annual fee, Cortez advises. In order for consumers to get the most value out of any given credit card, they need to consider those benefits and fees alongside their personal travel preferences and spending habits.

Survey methodology:
  • U.S. News ran a nationwide survey through Google Surveys between April 17 and April 19, 2017.
  • The sample size was the general American population and the survey was configured to be representative of this sample.
  • The survey polled 1,278 people who own travel rewards credit cards.
  • The survey asked nine questions relating to their travel rewards credit habits.
  • All winning answers were statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level.
  • See the full survey data, questions and results.

More results will follow…including how travel cards work, which might be best for you, and how to compare those cards. Stay tuned…

Monday, August 7, 2017

Passport Lost?

If you lose your passport, what do you do?

Report your passport as being lost or stolen immediately as this will make is useless for anyone else to use internationally.

Contact the Embassy. If you registered with the US State Department, they notified you of the nearest Embassy.

Apply for a temporary passport. Again, the Embassy will be able to help with that. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, if you have a copy of your passport, an additional passport photo, and correct identification with you when you go to the Embassy, this will speed up the process.

How do you travel with your passport? Do you keep it safe at all times? Do you keep it on you at all times, or do you leave it in the hotel safe? Be aware, the hotel room safe might not actually be safe.

If it’s with you…make sure it is protected and safely carried.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Plan Your Winter Getaway...Now

Summer is in full swing. The pool is refreshing. Why would I want to think about winter?

Good question. However, it you’d really like to get away for a winter vacation, now is the best time to start thinking about it. Why? 

Here are a few things to think about…even while you’re sipping your favorite beverage by the pool.

Start checking airfare. Yes, now is a good time to put in some alerts on different sites. A good rule of thumb for knowing whether an airfare is a good deal or not. Use this simple formula. For domestic flights take the number of round trip air miles times 3.2 cents and add $230 (RT miles x .032 + 230). For International take the miles times 8 cents and add $200 (RT miles x .08 + 200). It really does help to know if that email you just received is a good deal or not.

So, when should you book those fares. I’ve found that international airfare starts rising about 90 days out. Bottom line…check early and often, especially if you have specific dates you want or need to travel. Domestic fares are supposedly at their best 54 days out, unless you find a fantastic fare.

Also, start checking where you want to stay. Is it an all-inclusive, a vacation rental, hotel, or resort? Are you flexible or do you need a specific time and location? Look at Internet specials. Many places start advertising deals in the summer for their fall and winter stays. Sometimes you can get lucky and find deals at the last minute as resorts like to have all their facilities booked, but don’t count on that.

If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to check your passport. Make sure it doesn’t expire in the next six months. If it’s close to expiring, apply for a renewal immediately. Right now the passport offices tell me there could be a three month wait. It will be December in four months!

Do you have a house sitter or pet sitter? If so, check their availability. You wouldn’t want to find out at the last minute they are already booked with someone else.

Do your plans include a special type of getaway where you need a guide? If you’re thinking of diving in the Caribbean, exploring Antarctica, checking out all the Christmas markets in Germany, or hiking in the Andes…regardless of the time of year, you’ll need some type of guide. Start looking now at who offers what packages and what appeals to you and your budget.

If you’re planning weekend getaways instead of a longer stay, start looking at where you want to go and what’s going on that weekend. Maybe there are festivals, wine harvest events, concerts, sporting events, or performances which would be fun to attend. Accommodations might already be booking or booked. 

Check the calendar for events in the area where you want to go.

Regardless of when or where you are thinking of going…a little advance planning now will help you have a wonderful time on your winter getaway. 

Let me know where you went…