Destinations, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Tips and Tricks, Washington, DC

Don’t Go It’s A Tourist Trap

Don’t you hate it when you ask for travel advice and someone tells you not to go to the one place that you have always wanted to go because it is a tourist trap? Whether it is The Empire State Building in New York, The White House in Washington, D.C., or The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, tourists spots are popular for the simple fact that tourists want the experience that they have to offer. It’s no wonder that tourism is a multi-million dollar business.

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Standing across the street from the touristy La Bodeguita del Medio in Cuba.

I get that we want people to have an authentic experience when they visit a destination, but I always encourage first time visitors to do all of the touristy things just in case you don’t get a chance to go back again. The next time you visit the same destination, I say you should explore the off the beaten path hidden gems. I grew up in San Francisco which is one of the most touristy destinations in the United States. Whenever family and friends visited San Francisco they wanted to go on the cable cars, view the Golden Gate Bridge, and go to Fisherman’s Wharf. I was always happy to oblige because my hometown is a beautiful city and I love to show it off. I am also a big fan of the hop on hop off buses like Big Bus which lets you visit all of the touristy spots in one day at your leisure. Click on the link to book your tickets in advance.

The next time someone tries to dissuade you from seeing a popular tourist destination just politely thank them, then ask if they can offer helpful tips for getting around the long lines and the crowds.

What touristy spots have you been told not to visit during your travels? Share them in the comment section. Remember to like, subscribe, and share!

Destinations, Hotels, Philadelphia

How I Spent 48 hours in Philadelphia

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Travel back in time when you visit Old City Philadelphia © Dec 2017, D. Bell

It is amazing how being away from a bad situation can provide you with much needed perspective. Last year during my winter break I planned a quick jaunt to Philadelphia. I had never been to Philadelphia and I didn’t really know anyone there, however I spent the first few days of my break mulling around my apartment not doing much. I was determined to end the year by going somewhere. I had to get out of  Washington, D.C. which was where I lived at the time. Someone had posted about the Kimpton Hotels brand and I dreamed (no, literally) about their Fiji soaking tubs. I know some people get really grossed out by hotel bathtubs, but I always bring my own cleaning products when I travel so I cleaned it well before I used it.

I can’t deny that the trip to Philly was rough. First I scheduled and missed a couple of buses. The bus that I finally made was late because the driver had to go all the way to Baltimore to get his license. I kid you not! To add insult to injury there was high drama on the bus, but I was determined to get to Philadelphia. Word to the wise, never take Greyhound if you have another option available. There are other bus companies that provide much better service.

When we finally pulled into the bus terminal in Philadelphia, it was too late to sightsee so I requested an Uber (I could have walked but it was freezing and I had no idea where I was.) Once I was checked into my hotel room I headed upstairs to have a cocktail at the hotel’s swaggy rooftop lounge. The lounge only offered small bites and I was voraciously hungry so I headed back down to the main floor to eat dinner at the Red Owl Tavern.

After a full day of stressful bus travel I was exhausted, so I headed back to my room  recorded a room tour, took a shower, and went to bed. The nighttime views from my 9th floor corner suite were stunning! On one side there’s a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge  and on the other side there’s Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. In the interest of full disclosure, the bell atop Independence Hall rings every hour on the hour. You can see the nighttime view from my room by watching my room tour video on Youtube.

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Kimpton Monaco Hallway © Dec 2017, D. Bell

When I woke up the next morning I looked out of the window and I thought I was Alice in Wonderland trapped inside of a giant snow globe! Snowflakes whizzed past my window and everything below was blanketed with a fresh white coat of snow.

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A snow covered Independence Hall as seen from my hotel room © Dec 2017, D. Bell

While it snowed outside I took a long luxurious soak in the Fiji soaking tub. It was everything I imagined it to be!  All of my cares and worries melted away and the stress that previously had my  muscles tight and knotted seemed to dissolve. When I emerged from the tub I felt like a new woman. I brought my own bath salts, but the products provided by the hotel, Atelier Bloem, are quite amazing and have a refreshing clean scent to them.

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Fiji Soaking Tub in King Corner Spa Suite © Dec 2017, D. Bell

I did a little sightseeing after lounging around the room all morning. I visited Independence Hall but because of the inclement weather there weren’t many tourist out. I crossed the street to visit the Liberty Bell where a line of visitors waited patiently in the cold to get inside of the building where the bell is housed. I was starving afterward so I grabbed a pizza from down the street to bring back to the room for dinner. I relaxed in my room for the rest of the evening.

The next day I needed to check out by noon, but not before I indulged in one more luscious bath in the amazing soaking tub. I planned to stay in Philly to watch the early fireworks show at Penn’s Landing but the temperatures were too frigid so I decided to change my bus reservation so I could leave about an hour and half after my scheduled check out time.

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Corner Newsstand in Philadelphia © Dec 2017, D. Bell

I still managed to have enough time to have coffee at the Cosi down the street from the hotel then wander the streets of Old City until I reached Penn’s Landing. I hopped on the SEPTA for $2.50 and rode the subway down to 30th Street station where I got on the Mega Bus and had an relaxing and uneventful ride back to Washington, D.C.

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They still used tokens. I think they were being phased out © Dec 2017, D. Bell

I definitely want to go back to Philly once the temperature begins to warm up.  It’s an often overlooked tough little city with a lot of moxie and great architecture. The vibe of the city is primarily working class and unpretentious. People for the most part are chilled. It felt like a mix of New York, Jersey, and Baltimore.

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Eagles fans on the SEPTA enjoying a cold brew on a cold day © Dec 2017, D. Bell

Philly has the history of D.C. but the personality of New York. I love it! I want to experience the other areas of the city and I want to see how it operates during a typical work week. This trip was the highlight of my year and I am so glad that I bit the bullet and decided to go. I had two other trips booked and planned earlier in the year but I canceled them. I think it was a bit easier to navigate this trip because it was still relatively close to home. Want to see more photos from my visit? Click here.

I would love for you to follow and subscribe for more travel related content. Please leave a comment below. 

~Ciao!

Airports, Destinations, New Mexico, Spas and resorts, Washington, DC

Day 3: Unavoidable Travel Delays

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Sunrise over the southwest

There is something about living in major cities that causes people to become harsh, detached, and abrupt toward one another. It is most noticeable when you visit places that operate at a slower pace. This was my experience when I traveled back to Washington, D.C. from Albuquerque, New Mexico. TSA is typically the worst part of traveling for me because I tend to make a lot of rookie mistakes. I eventually plan to purchase the TSA pre-check for future travels. I posted earlier about how on the way to New Mexico I was subjected to a body search – twice. Read about that experience here. While I know that Albuquerque isn’t as busy as the airports in D.C. I didn’t want to risk being held up at security yet again. So I woke up early to pack and drive back into Albuquerque.

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Porch of the historic hotel at Ojo Caliente

Once everything was packed I headed into the lobby for my morning cup of coffee. It was quite early so there was only a group of four elderly guests lounging around, presumably for the restaurant to start serving breakfast. After getting my coffee, I headed outside to sit on the porch and sip my coffee.

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Fire pit still lit

The fire from the previous night was still burning and the intoxicating scent of piñon wood hung heavily in the air. I decided to get one last set of pictures of the property.  While snapping my photos I heard a low meow. I thought I was hearing things because I hadn’t seen any animals around the property during my stay. Sure enough, an adorable cat managed to sidle up beside me,  hopeful that I would have something for it to eat. I petted the cat then went back to taking pictures. The cat eventually lost interest and sauntered towards the parking lot.

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My new feline friend

The front desk didn’t open until 8:00 A.M.  I was anxious to get on the road so a helpful staff member offered to see if they could check me out early. They were and I was on the road to Albuquerque by 8:00 A.M.

I arrived in Albuquerque about 2 hours later and pulled into the rental car drop off area. I was greeted by a friendly guy named Harold who informed me that the car would be checked in then he would drop me off at the airport. He caught me off guard since I was expecting to catch the shuttle back to the airport. During the short drive to the airport Harold informed me that he had moved to Albuquerque about 5 years earlier from Los Angeles after he got divorced. He said he enjoyed the change of pace in the New Mexico. He asked if I was considering moving to the area and I gave him a firm, no. We parted ways and I made my way into the  airport terminal.

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I ordered the Ranchito with organge juice

I ate a bland breakfast at the first restaurant that I saw before entering the security gate called Tia Juanitas. I can not recommend it. While it is pretty hard to mess up breakfast the food was basically just edible an overpriced at $15. I got the same breakfast at the resort the day before for a couple of bucks less. The server managed to upcharge me by asking if I wanted avocados. She never mentioned that it was an extra charge and I didn’t think ask if it would cost extra. Well it was an extra $1.50. I didn’t even eat them. The meal did the job though which was to keep my stomach from growling.

The Albuquerque airport is pretty small so there was no need to catch a shuttle and jog along a moving walkway to get from point A to point B. There was a sign at the security checkpoint that stated that no gate is more than 5 minutes away. I decided to dress in loose comfortable work out clothes and I was able to breeze through the body scanner this time. Unfortunately my carry-ons needed to be searched. Never mind the fact that my bags were packed exactly the same as they were on the way into New Mexico. I was glad that I had loads of extra time which kept me from stressing out about the hold up.

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Looking a bit travel worn

Since the charging port in the rental car didn’t work (read more about that here) I needed to find a place to charge my phone. I found a corner nook table with wall outlets behind it in the food court, plugged in, and began tapping out my blog series. If you haven’t yet read the previous two posts go here and here.

My flight to Denver from Albuquerque was bumpy but otherwise uneventful. However, upon arrival in Denver I learned that my flight into D.C. was delayed. I tried to talk the airline staff into getting me on a earlier flight that will land at National airport, to no avail. To top it off, all of the sit down restaurants in the concourse had lines. I wandered to the end of the C concourse and found a table at Vino Volo where a well deserved glass of wine was poured. I also had a delicious warm roasted chicken salad to accompany it.

20180416_163141My flight boarded a little early and we actually made it into D.C. on time. I had booked a Super Shuttle since I was flying back into Dulles. Unfortunately there was a lot of confusion about which exit passengers were to meet at and we spent nearly an hour rounding up the other passengers – all women – all going to different parts of the city. Fortunately, I was the second passenger to be dropped off and I was able to make it home before 2:00 A.M. While it was nice to be home, I really enjoyed my stay in the Southwest and I look forward to going again soon. If you are looking for an amazing spa resort experience I highly recommend checking out Ojo Caliente as a perfect rustic desert retreat.

Missed part 1 and part 2? Click on the links.

Destinations, Hotels, New Mexico, Spas and resorts

Day 2: Enchanted with New Mexico

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I woke up early Sunday morning feeling refreshed and excited. I decided to go for a short walk around the property to get my bearings and take photographs of the high desert landscape. Breakfast at Ojo Caliente isn’t served until 7:30 A.M., but my mind was on coffee first and foremost. I went out into the lobby area where a coffee station set up at the bar, but unfortunately there was only decaf available. The staff was in the process of brewing more regular Iconik Coffee.  I patiently waited for the carafe of coffee to be brought out then eagerly filled my cup with the brown steaming liquid. The coffee was bold and strong, just the way I like it. With my cup in hand I headed up toward the Posi Trail where I enjoyed my coffee while taking photos of nature’s amazing art work. Around 8:00 A.M. I started to get hungry and headed back down the trail for breakfast.

After breakfast, I came out of the hotel and saw a man setting up a table along the main path. I went over and met Vincent, a Santo Domingo Pueblo who was there selling handmade jewelry. His pieces were absolutely beautiful! He even brought the stones and shells that the jewelry was made out of to show customers. He informed us that his signature for each piece is having a small piece of opal at the bottom of his jewelry. Most of his statement pieces were around $75 or $80 so I purchased two pairs of turquoise earrings from him since I had given myself a budget of $40.00 to spend on jewelry.

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Vincent Aguilar makes handmade jewelry from natural stones

After purchasing my earrings I decided to head back to my room since the chilly morning air was starting to warm up. I wanted to enjoy the spa and all four of the mineral baths before it got too busy.  Since it was a weekend, lots of day trippers visit the spa. Most of the pools were pretty full, but I managed to spend a little bit of time in the main pools.

As it got closer to noon, the crowds grew and I decided to reserve a  private pool. I thought the private pools were only $12, but that was actually the cost for a private tub. The private pools are an additional $45 for around 50 minutes. It was worth the money to have the whole pool to myself. At night the staff will light the Kiva fireplace in your pool area for you upon request. When my time was up in the private pool, I decided to take a nap and unwind for the rest of the afternoon.

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Around 5 or 6 PM I got up for dinner and enjoyed enchiladas made with blue corn tortillas, southwest chiles, and a side of fresh veggies and beans at the Artesian Restaurant. I also indulged in a prickly pear mimosa which was my first drink that weekend. While I waited for the food to be served, the waitress brought over a basket of warm mini blue corn muffins. They were delicious and sweet! After dinner, I headed back to my room where I confirmed my flight reservations for my return the next day and went back to sleep.

…continue day 3

Airports, Destinations, Hotels, New Mexico, Spas and resorts, Washington, DC

Day 1: A missed flight and an armrest fight

 

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What do you do when you get a bonus 3 day weekend off of work? You book a trip of course! I had a couple of unused Luv vouchers from Southwest Airlines that were going to expire soon and I needed to get out of town to shake off the deep winter funk that I had fallen into. While scrolling through Facebook one night I saw pictures that a member of a Facebook travel group had posted and I instantly knew I had to go there. In all of my wildest dreams I would not have considered taking a vacation in New Mexico yet I was surprisingly drawn to the natural beauty of the rugged landscape and the tranquility of the natural mineral hot springs. I checked air fares and locked in a fare that was exactly the right price for the 2 Southwest Airline Luv vouchers that I had acquired. I then made a reservation for the hotel and resort and pretty much forgot about the trip until it was almost time to go. I told about 2 people at the most that I was going on this unusual adventure.

I normally get a bit jittery about travel (since the events of September 11) which I wrote about in another post, but I felt really good about this trip. No nerves, no jitters, just pure excitement about embarking on a new adventure. It had been about 4 years since I had been on a “real” vacation, so I was long overdue.

Saturday morning I woke up excited about my first trip to the Southwestern part of the United States. While I hadn’t fixated on it, I had been looking forward to getting out of town for weeks! I got up early, cleaned my apartment, then called an Uber to drive me to Dulles Airport. Well, like I said before it had been years since I last flew so I couldn’t remember which airport was the closest when I booked my ticket. I was a few minutes behind schedule but I was hopeful that it wouldn’t have a big impact on my quest to get out of town. Well it did make an impact but thank God I didn’t try to catch Metro because Metro does not go all the way out to Dulles  so that was travel faux pas number 1 on this trip.

The Uber driver dropped me off in front of the airline and everything seemed to be going well until I got to the security line. It slowly snaked along and at least 5 wheelchairs jumped to the front of the sluggish line. Had I been able to go through the security line without a hitch maybe this post would have a different ending. Alas, it was not be be and as you have probably guessed by now I missed my flight due to security stopping me to give me a full pat down. As you can imagine I was not only annoyed but I felt quite violated.

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I finally made it to my departing gate and it was empty. The plane was sitting on the tarmac, but the doors had been secured. I asked the lone gate agent what I could do and she was able to find another flight at the same price but leaving from DCA. I just had to make my way from Dulles to DCA in time. So, I had to catch a $5 shuttle to the Metro Silver line which would take me directly to DCA.

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When I finally got to DCA I was really short on time and to add insult to injury I entered the wrong security area, walked all the way to the end of it hoping it would lead to the gate that I needed. It didn’t so I had to walk all the way back out of that security area,  down a long corridor and enter security…again. If you are keeping count this was my 3rd security check of the day and I had been stopped at each one. After finally getting through this final security check I didn’t bother putting my shoes on and I half skated, half hobbled to the gate as they were announcing my name for the final boarding call. The gate agent checked me in while I attempting to catch my breath and put on my shoes.

The first leg of flight was pleasant. I had a short layover in Dallas where I ate a light dinner before boarding the second leg of my flight. The second leg from Dallas to ABQ was an hour and some change long but it was an absolute nightmare. Between my hostile seat mate and the turbulence I couldn’t wait to get off of the plane. I was going to share what happened in this post but I decided against it since I eventually reported it to the airline. After the airline investigated the situation they issued me a $150 Luv Voucher. You know what that means…another trip to plan!IMG_20180414_161718_061

Well, you would think that would be the end of my travel whoas, right? Wrong! I still had a 2 hour drive from ABQ to Santa Fe! I didn’t realize that the resort would be so far out. As I drove the sky became blanketed in darkness…on an unfamiliar road…in a state I had never visited before…by myself! I hoped that the car that rented from Dollar would have a GPS. It did not so I had to use Waze. I almost brought my car charger on the trip but then decided against it. I did have the USB cord, but for some reason the USB outlet in the rental would not charge the phone enough to keep Waze going. So I was out on a long, dark, lonely road with no GPS trying to figure out how to get to a resort that was tucked back into the hills of the New Mexico desert. Good times!  I will say that I was mesmerized by the clear black sky that was filled with stars. I hadn’t seen such a clear sky in years. God’s artwork!

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I finally pulled into the parking lot of Ojo Caliente at exactly 9:00 P.M. and checked into my room. Since there are no showers in the historic hotel, I took a shower in the shower room and I still had enough time before closing for a relaxing soak and steam in the bathhouse. I could feel the tension of the day’s travel snaffus melting away. I took another shower and knew that I would have an amazing night’s sleep.

…continue day 2