Enjoying the Diversity of Charlotte

Written in cooperation with Hotel Planner.

For many, when they hear the mention of Charlotte, North Carolina, the first thing that comes to mind is NASCAR. Long the hub of the racing industry, Charlotte boasts the amazing NASCAR Hall of Fame museum along with Charlotte Motor Speedway.

However, this landlocked city has much more to offer than merely car racing. From family fun to civil war history and bountiful gardens, Charlotte has so much to offer. And with a huge selection of lodging choices at your fingertips, booking a vacation has never been easier.

Family Fun in the Sun

What can be more fun than a day spent at an amusement park that also doubles as a water park? Carolina Harbor Waterpark is part of the 398-acre Carowinds amusement park, hugging the border of North and South Carolina. Enjoy fun for the entire family as you ride the rides, wander the grounds, and then cool off in a variety of different water park features that range from kiddie wading pools to tidal waves for the big kid in all of us.

image via Flickr by jamesnaruke

Exploring the Past

Civil War history ranks high among things of interest for travelers to the south. This tumultuous period in our country’s history continues to intrigue. Charlotte offers up one very unique addition to the mix in the Levine Museum. This colorful, interactive museum focuses on the history of the south post-Civil War, both in general and specific to Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont region.

Get out Into Nature

Set on the banks of Lake Wylie, the 380-acre Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens are a delight. The spectacular gardens feature multiple fountains and a glass conservatory. With miles of trails to wander, you can take your time to look at each unique section of the property, such as the Four Seasons, the Cottage, or the Scroll garden. A grand finale might be the 8000 square foot orchid conservatory, which is the only glass house in North Carolina.

image via Flickr by erh7777

A Modern Touch

When you’re done with the great outdoors and exploring the past, head to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. This delightful museum, only the second in the country designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, is housed in a building as impressive as the artwork that it contains. The collection includes works by all the important artists of the mid-20th century, including Miro, Picasso, and Warhol. It is a breathtaking example of the power of art.

Discovery

Young and old alike will be thrilled to check out the Discovery Place Museum and IMAX. This science and technology museum offers up an interactive, hands-on approach to learning. With several locations and over 70 years of encouraging learning, Discovery Place is a fantastic option for the whole family.

Overall, the Charlotte area offers up everything you look for in a vacation: hotel options, great food, southern hospitality, and sightseeing that includes everything listed here and more. Outdoor activities abound, including hiking and white water rafting. Plus, in the end, you can always check out the NASCAR scene!

Travel with an Easy Mind

Written in cooperation with MedjetAssist.

Travel can be hard. It can be stressful and exhausting. You can’t do anything about long travel days, endless lines at security, or the challenges that come with arriving in a new city or a new country, where you’re unsure of your footing.

Where you can make your life easier is by resting securely in the knowledge that when you become a member of MedjetAssist, you’ll have protection in case a situation arises. No matter where you are, things can happen. People fall, accidents happen, political situations implode, or the unexpected occurs. A bit of added protection makes all the difference when any of these things arise.

Pre-Trip Planning

Prior to departure, gain confidence in your journey with MedjetAssist’s pre-trip planning tool. In addition to the normal channels, MedjetAssist offers access to essential information for over 260 countries and cities. You can easily prepare your very own guide for your holiday with country information, visa requirements, local laws and customs, and even health advisories. Head off on your journey a step ahead in terms of on-the-ground knowledge.

image via Flickr by Chadica

Peace of Mind

As a member of MedjetAssist, you can rest assured that in time of crisis, you will have around-the-clock service. The company’s services extend beyond medical transportation and include 24/7 support to assist with questions ranging from wrongful detention to political issues. MedjetAssist’s fully trained staff can give you peace of mind that no matter what’s happening, you have someone on your side.

Travel Industry Approved

The world is a fascinating and diverse place that’s meant for exploration. After you’ve completed the planning and started the adventure, you don’t want to worry about the unthinkable occurring. Industry insiders fully support additional layers of protection via membership services such as MedjetAssist. Do your research, and then make sure to contact a travel professional to get an informed take on the valuable addition MedjetAssist would be to your travel insurance needs.

Worry-Free Transport

When the unexpected happens, the last thing you want to think about is whether or not the hospital requires up-front payment or how you will get home safely. With a MedjetAssist membership, these worries dissolve. Membership gives you the security in knowing that your initial medical costs are covered and guarantees safe and comfortable transport back to your home facility.

image via Flickr by matt512

The world of travel is a bit of a dream. The ability to step off a plane or boat and onto foreign soil to find an entirely different type of life is a breathtaking experience. Everyone hopes for the best, but it’s never a bad idea to prepare for unplanned events.

By getting a MedjetAssist membership and your regular travel insurance, you can roam the world worry-free, knowing that you have coverage for any range of situations. Travel with your mind at ease, knowing that you are protected as you float the Ganges, share a life-changing experience on safari in Africa, or visit the Great Wall of China.

 

A Restless Mind

What drives us, we nomadic types? What causes us to leave stable jobs, lovely homes, friends and family, to throw ourselves out into the world? To force discomfort upon ourselves by the mere act of having no home base, no tribe to reach to for comfort? To live a life outside our comfort zone, both mentally and literally?

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A Taste of Britain

Written in cooperation with InterContinental Hotels Group.

The British are known for their dry sense of humor, their room-temperature beer, Shakespeare, and their conquering of many a foreign land. They are not, however, revered for their national cuisine. Intriguingly named dishes consist of a variety of items we Americans may find off-putting, but a trip to London wouldn’t be complete without trying one or two of these favored dishes.

A trip to London requires certain elements: a conveniently located IHG hotel, theater tickets, a tour on a double-decker bus, and a trip past one or two of the many royal palaces. Dining options abound, offering up nearly every ethnic cuisine and high-end restaurant you can imagine, but a visit to London should certainly include some very traditional British food.

Black Pudding

Image via Flickr by m.mate

Not a dessert but a savory treat, black pudding is blood sausage combined with oatmeal, salt, and some fat. While the description may not entice you to try the dish, it’s actually quite delicious as a light lunch with some chips or a salad.

Faggots and Mash

I’ve found that the terms used by the British cause frequent, and often hysterical, misinterpretations. A perfect example is faggots, a must-have comfort food. They’re meatballs made with liver, lungs, heart, and pork belly, served with potato mash and that quintessentially British food, mushy peas. While I can do without mushy peas of any sort, the faggots are quite a delicious change from a typical meatball.

Carb Central

Image via Flickr by pablocabezos

I love a good sandwich loaded with vegetables, meat, and cheese. A chip butty was a revelation. This sandwich is made with chips, accented with vinegar and ketchup, and served between two slices of white bread. Mushy, salty, and absolutely not a healthy choice, this sandwich is utterly delicious after a night on the town.

Breakfast on the Go

Image via Flickr by IainCameron

Originally invented as an easily transportable meal for workers, the Scotch egg sounds a bit strange, but it offers all the components of breakfast. It’s a boiled egg wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs, and fried. Scotch eggs are unusual, but they’re also tasty and mobile.

Pot Pie

Stargazy pie was almost my undoing. While I like fish and pot pies, I’m not a fan of fish looking at me from the middle of my pot pie. This classic Cornish dish features an egg and potato pie in a lovely pastry, but it also includes fish, seemingly jumping out of the pastry. While it’s delicious, I give this dish a thumbs down for presentation.

While I’ll never grow to appreciate Marmite or feel delight over the idea of jellied eels or any number of other British favorites, travel is as much about the food as it is about the people and the sites. Step outside of your comfort zone and try one of these dishes during your next trip to London. You may find a new favorite. If not, you’ll never be far away from a kebab shop.

San Francisco Revisited: Five Spots You Never Knew Existed

Written in cooperation with Hotel Planner.

The city of San Francisco is by no means undiscovered territory. One of the most loved and visited cities in the nation, the City by the Bay is a perennial favorite. Everyone is aware of major attractions like Alcatraz Island, Embarcadero Wharf, San Francisco’s sourdough, and Lombard Street’s famous curves, but here are five of my favorite little-known sites that you shouldn’t miss on your next visit.

Visit the South Pacific

Image via Flickr by Doug Letterman

Recreate the exoticism of the South Pacific with a visit to the Tonga Room. Fans of Jimmy Buffett will recognize the name, but others may have missed this explosion of bamboo, seashells, and tiki figurines. During World War II, tiki bars opened all across the country, with San Francisco jumping on the trend relatively early. While it’s now considered a bit kitschy, the Tonga Lounge, which opened in the luxurious Fairmont hotel in 1945, was once the place to be seen. Even today, the pool in the center of the restaurant, where the band plays, is a unique feature.

Sleep Like Royalty

When you visit the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel, ask to take a peek at the hotel’s luxurious penthouse suite. Spanning a staggering 6,000 square feet and costing a whopping $18,000 per night, this suite has housed the likes of Prince Charles, Mick Jagger, and Alfred Hitchcock. It features a two-story library, a cornucopia of design styles, and a dining table that seats 60. One of its main claims to fame is the secret passageway that John F. Kennedy supposedly used to allow Marilyn Monroe to enter.

Step into the Sunset District

Image via Flickr by Ed Bierman

Located in the quiet and relatively undiscovered Sunset District, the 163 mosaic-tiled steps are worth the effort to climb. Completed over the course of two years, the gorgeous steps lead to beautiful views of the city. They also pave the way to the neighboring Green Hairstreak corridor, along with the beautiful succulents and native habitat designed to sustain the local butterfly population.

Slide in the Park

Image via Flickr by jdeeringdavis

The Seward Street Slides are a perfect example of community activism and protecting green spaces. In the 1960s, this area was slated for development, prompting local residents got together to protest with an epic bulldozer-defying sit-in. After nearly a decade of protests, the community won their lot back and turned it into a city park, which opened in the early 1970s. A local teenager designed the Seward Street Slides to encourage enjoyment of the park by young and old. Bring your own cardboard along for this unique experience.

Remember the Dearly Departed

In San Francisco, the most interesting cemetery revolves around furry family members. When military families resided at the Presidio, this cemetery was created as a final resting place for their beloved pets. Tombstones show that the array of species includes dogs, cats, goldfish, birds, and even lizards. Local development nearly caused the demise of the pet cemetery in 2009, but community activists managed to save it from complete destruction. It’s a fitting tribute to beloved pets.

San Francisco will always draw visitors to explore its most popular tourist attractions. Next time you visit, take a minute to head to these lesser-known gems.

Seeking Home in Puerto Vallarta

Written in cooperation with GoodSearch.

Puerto Vallarta is not new to me. I have spent more time here than anywhere else on Earth but home. While some complain about the vast growth of the city over the years, I find that much of what I love has remained constant over time.

For the vacationer, Puerto Vallarta surely has it all: excellent dining, an endless array of activities, world-class hotels, and fantastic nightlife. In addition to all of the well-known and well-documented choices, I’d like to share a few of my insider tips to make your paradise vacation truly special.

image via Flickr by luckylynda74

Old Town

Old Town, or the Romantic Zone if you prefer the new moniker, is not a secret. Nearly everyone at some point wanders across the bridge to check it out. Sadly, few take the time to discover the hidden gems, such as A Page in the Sun. Part used book exchange, part coffee shop, A Page in the Sun has been a Puerto Vallarta institution for over 20 Luisyears. Now in a new and larger location, it continues to draw us in for breakfast and friendly conversation.

 

Weekend Brunch with a View

Many amazing restaurants in town offer lovely views, but for THE best combination of a killer view and a unique experience, take a cab south of town to Casa Karma. This boutique hotel also offers up gorgeous rooms, but we go for the Bloody Mary bar! Each weekend, the Bar at Casa Karma whips up the most amazing “make your own” Bloody Mary bar we have ever seen. You start out with a delicious Bloody Mary, and you can add as many additions as you like — bacon, artichoke hearts, pickled asparagus, pearl onions, blue cheese-stuffed olives, and the list goes on. Admittedly, this is not a traditional take on brunch. You will certainly leave Casa Karma both pleasantly full and happy.

image via Flickr by cogdogblog

A Dress of Many Colors

One of my frequent stops is Luisa’s clothing store. Located on Juarez Street in the Zona Centro, Luisa has been one of the best seamstresses in Puerto Vallarta for years. Her storefront is artistically packed with dresses and shirts and scarves in every color of the rainbow. While you can go in and simply buy off the rack, the normal procedure is that you choose what you like, try it on for fit, and then Luisa will custom-fit that piece for you. Or, if you want turquoise, not green, for instance, she will simply whip up one just for you. She speaks excellent English, is knowledgeable about events around town, and is a joy to work with. Her clothes are well done, comfortable, and ready in a matter of days for a fair price. I am proud to say I have more than a couple of “Luisa originals.”

 

Of Tacos and Tango

To be truthful, for visitors doing research, El Carboncito is not a secret. However, in all of our trips there, we have rarely seen any tourists, so now the word is officially out. I love tacos, and I especially love tacos al pastor, which is meat slow-cooked on a skewer, served up on a freshly made tortilla with a slice of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, and fresh salsa. A squeeze of lime is mandatory.
The very best tacos al pastor I have found throughout Mexico come from El Carboncito, on a small side street in central Puerto Vallarta. Sitting in white plastic chairs, surrounded by chattering locals, eating two, or four, of these gems just makes me happy. For THE perfect evening out, so perfect, in fact, and that it is how we spent our anniversary this year, we walked down to El Carboncito’s for tacos, before heading for mojitos and tango at La Bodeguita del Medio. Technically, it’s salsa, not tango, but nonetheless, this is my favorite bar in Puerto Vallarta. I generally am not awake late enough to fully appreciate the dancing that randomly breaks out, but the live salsa band, excellent mojitos, and friendly staff are enough to keep me coming back for more.

image via Flickr by leduardo

 

My Puerto Vallarta doesn’t consist of the typical visitor’s experience. Having visited so many times before, I have experienced first-class resorts, and done the sightseeing. These days, I want to meander side streets and find the true soul of the city.