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Every savvy American traveler knows the U.K. is usually the cheapest European point of entry. Now, after touring your favorite city (or pub), why not explore other parts of Europe, or even the world? A great UK-based website that any foreigner can use, LastMinute.com offers all kinds of package deals for weekend getaways or halfway-round-the-globe jaunts.
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Greetings! We left off last week after my last full day in Italy. What an incredible trip it was. I learned so much about that wonderful country -- especially the food. I left the next morning at 6 a.m. for the 90-minute drive to Milan’s Malpensa International Airport. On the way there I spotted license plates from all over Europe. That made me want to stay and explore, instead of going home. It was frustrating being so close to incredible cities by car or train -- Nice was only two hours away, Venice three and Rome six -- and not visit them. I realized 4 days is way too short to come to this part of the world. Next time I’ll stay longer!
At Malpensa I felt sad about leaving all over again, when I saw all the cities listed on the monitor. But I was excited to go home, because my niece and nephew were coming to visit me for the Easter holiday. I was lucky to be flying up front on Continental. Not only could I enjoy a comfortable flight, but I had access to their club lounge. The President’s Club in Milan ( called Sala Pergolesi) is shared with 25 different airlines. It’s only okay in terms of design and snack/drink selection but I didn't really care since I had only 10 minutes. My main reason for being there was to check my email using their internet ports. I was bummed when I couldn’t log on using the free internet cords and my only other option was to use the wireless. But that service had a fee, and it didn’t make sense to buy the minimum of one hour. Instead, I packed up and took off to Duty Free, to spend some left over euros.
FLIGHT TO NEWARK
My 8-hour, 18-minute flight to Newark was smooth. It never got dark, since we left at 10:05 a.m. and arrived at 1:25 p.m. We flew directly over Geneva and Paris, which was way cool. I waved and daydreamed. The food wasn’t too good this time around -- except the Irish chocolates served with my meal. They were incredible!
Newark was as unfriendly as it always is for international arrivals. I don’t know what’s up there, but it starts with the airport not giving international passengers a free luggage cart. Nearly every other airport in the world does (including the U.S.). In addition, the attitude of TSA agents at the security recheck point for reconnecting flights is obnoxious. They are rude, overpowering and have no patience with visitors who don’t speak a lot of English. It’s amazing people even want to stay in America after that “welcome.”
It also really irks me that the Transportation Security Administration seems to have different rules at every airport (even though TSA denies it). If the rule says “You are not required to remove your shoes before you enter the walk-through metal detector” why did the agent punish me when I kindly declined her request to take off my shoes and belt? I fly all the time, wearing the same belt and sneakers, so I know they don’t trigger alarms. I didn’t give any attitude and I didn’t beep going through, but still the agent rudely took me aside – leaving my belongings wide open to thieves -- and made me take my shoes off so she could put them through the machine. Then I had to wait for an agent to wand me. You can’t reason with these people -- or better yet smack (unless you want to go to jail). Fortunately Continental’s President’s Club put me at ease. I found a nice desk and finally checked email (using high-speed wireless for free).
My flight to LAX took 5 hours and 20 minutes. I had no checked bags, and I had parked my car at Park One which is the closest off site parking facility, so I was home before most people even got off the plane.
A couple of days later my sister Carol, brother-in-law Tom, niece Amanda and nephew John came out from Florida to visit. They spent two days with me in L.A., before we drove down the coast to San Diego. We first stopped off in Palos Verdes to see one of our cousins, then checked out one of the most picturesque ocean trails in the country. It’s perfect for a picnic, but we hadn’t packed a lunch so we stopped down the road at the old Ocean Trails Golf course (now Trump International). It’s a great place for lunch. Although the Italian-design dining room looks very formal, most customers are dressed casually. The food was good and the service average, but the views of the course were excellent. If you want to play a round of golf, it will be ready in August, and open to the public. The cost for a round of 18 is $195 during the week, $300 on weekends. Trump National Golf Club, One Ocean Trails Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA; tel.: (310) 265-5000.
We were headed to San Diego to spend Easter weekend with my Uncle Joe’s immediate family. Since neither Uncle Joe nor any of his children (Dennis, Clement, A.J. and Sasha) live in San Diego, they decided to meet at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara. It's perfect for both golf and little kids. The hotel is in Carlsbad, which is in northern San Diego County about 30 minutes from downtown. There are 329 rooms (including 44 suites), and each guest room has a balcony or terrace. The place is nicely designed, with Spanish Colonial architecture and beautifully manicured landscapes.
NOT THE TYPICAL FOUR SEASON’S
My brother-in-law Tom was disappointed it wasn’t right on the ocean. There were ocean views, but the beach was a solid 10-minute drive. After checking in we were shown to our rooms. When the bellman opened the door to the room Tom looked at him with surprise, then said, “This costs $520 a night?” The bellman was speechless. Tom then asked if Aviara (a Native American word) translated to “big rip-off.” We were all speechless. I can’t blame him, though, because the room was nothing special. The only good thing I saw was the nice, oversized marble bathroom. It had a tub and separate shower, with L’Occitane bath products all around.
After Tom complained that the room did not cut it, the hotel allowed Tom to upgrade at a discounted rate (though by his expression it didn’t seem like he got a great deal). The bellman moved their bags to a much nicer and larger suite, with a separate bedroom and two bathrooms. This is what the $520 room should've looked like. Unfortunately, the hotel did not live up to the Four Seasons brand name. Although the service was good, we never expected to have so many problems. We made two repair calls in the first 5 minutes alone: there was no pressure in the shower, and the TV was fuzzy. Beyond that, it seemed as if the hotel was nickel-and-diming us -- not good when you charge top dollar. Wouldn’t you think high- speed internet would be free? Heck, I’ve stayed at $49-a-night hotels where internet is free -- why can’t this Four Seasons include it like their property in Chicago?
Also, the hotel really pushed its residence club (time-share ownership) on guests, which seemed totally inappropriate. Every time I walked by the residence club sales office (conveniently located between the restaurants and guest rooms), the two salespeople put on their fake-friendly used-salesman smiles. After the first few times I realized there was no way they could always smile like that, so I tiptoed up and spied. They weren’t smiling, but as soon as they saw me, they smiled. Busted!
KIDS LOVE THE HOTEL
Although the hotel didn’t live up to its name, it is a great place for families (provided they have money to burn). Kids love it, starting with their special rooms for kids. They brought in kids’ robes, stuffed frogs, rubber duckies, and spelled the kids’ names with little sponges. They also bring them bedtime milk and cookies (I wouldn’t have minded one of those bad boys myself). For infants they childproof the guest room, and bring in cribs at no extra charge. The hotel also provides high chairs and strollers, a complete set of baby bath products, and a children's DVD library. Parents love this kind of stuff and the fact that they have a professionally organized children's program and 24/7 babysitters (reservations are recommended). For more info click here .
To say the least the kids were happy -- and that was before they saw the ultimate amenity: the oversize pool! (Don’t worry, adults – there is also a quiet pool for folks who want to get away from shrieking kids.) There is also a fun game room -- but no arcade games. I think that’s a good thing. Instead there are board games, billiards, ping pong, puzzles, and shuffle board. This forces kids to interact with other children. Another attraction are separate kids’ buffets in each restaurant, filled with food kids like. Nice job!
GOLF & OTHER ACTIVITES
For golf lovers, this top-ranked Arnold Palmer course is a favorite. The carts even include on-board computers that tell you exactly how far your ball is from the hole. Too cool! The cost is $185 for a round Monday through Thursday before 3 p.m., $115 after 3. On weekends it costs $205 before 3 p.m., $120 after. Golfers should inquire about golf packages, which offer better deals. The Aviara also features six tennis courts, a large fitness center, yoga and a slew of spa services (spa packages are also available).
Besides the activities listed above, the resort is right next to the Batiquitos Lagoon nature trail -- perfect for an early morning walk. For guests who don’t want to walk 15 minutes to the entrance, a free shuttle circles the property every 10 to 15 minutes. The lagoon is 610 acres, with a nice 2-mile nature trail. For more info see BatiquitosFoundation.org
The hotel did a great job organizing Easter for both adults and kids. First they delivered baskets to the room -- Guests either have to ship them beforehand or buy a prearranged one from the hotel. (The chocolate I brought back from Italy was a big hit in the adults’ Easter baskets). The hotel also provided guests with directions to local churches, which were standing room only. After church we had a fantastic breakfast buffet, with tons of fresh fruit, eggs to order and all the usual fixins.
Then came the main event: the Easter egg hunt. Kids first colored their Easter bag; then the Easter bunny officially started the hunt, which quickly became a total mad dash. Johnny and Amanda really cleaned up, and had a great time doing so. Later we took family pictures, then went to the clubhouse for a nicely decorated Easter feast ($60 per person). Aviara Four Seasons, 7100 Four Seasons Point, Carlsbad, CA; tel.: (760) 603-6800.
There are plenty of things to do in the immediate area, and a ton more 30 minutes away in San Diego. I can list only a few. One place just down the road from the hotel – and not to be missed -- is the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. They’re open to the public only this time of year (early March through early May). The ranch boasts nearly 50 acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers, which have transformed the Carlsbad hills for over 60 years. The season ends May 8, so hurry! It’s open to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. It costs $8 for adults, $7 for seniors 60 and over, $5 for children 3 to 10. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, 5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA; tel: (760) 431-0352.
If you have young kids, make sure to take them to Legoland. It’s an eight-minute drive from the Four Seasons, and kids go wild about -- especially if they’re between 2 and 12 and like Legos. The 128-acre theme park has 5,000 Lego models, which are really impressive. But the rides aren’t made out of Legos, like I thought they would be, and the hairiest ride is a mini-roller coaster that’s not too scary – even for a scaredy-cat like me. It’s best to arrive right at the 10 a.m. opening, to get an hour or two without having to wait in long lines (some can grow to 90 minutes). The place is not cheap, though: $44.95 for ages 3-55, seniors $37.95. Age 2 and younger are free. I showed my AAA card, and we got a 20% discount. Food is a rip-off too: a very small pizza and small bottle of water set me back $13. It’s also a big toy store, so be prepared to shell out some bucks for gifts. Otherwise, you’ll have a crying child on your hands. Legoland, One Legoland Drive; tel.: 760-918-5346
To offset the high cost of Legoland, a great place to take the kids is La Jolla. Everyone loves getting up close to see the harbor seals (thought not too close -- they bite). My nephew counted 98. And it’s free. After seeing the seals we took a walk on the beach (it was too cold to swim), and explored the caves (be careful of the waves). With my sister calling the shots, you know we hit downtown to shop. And with me in town, you know we ate like champs. We had breakfast at my favorite La Jolla eatery: Brockton Villa Restaurant. Another good breakfast place is the La Valencia Hotel (lavalencia.com). Brockton Villa Restaurant, 1235 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA; tel.: 858-454-7393.
Here’s a 50-second video from the trip. Just remember: San Diego is a great place for the whole family. It doesn’t matter if you stay at the Four Seasons or Motel 6. It’s all about the experience.
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Brooklyn: New York's hipper, cheaper side
When most visitors plan a trip to New York City, they think Manhattan — the Empire State Building, Central Park, Fifth Avenue shopping and East Village counterculture. Many tourists and casual visitors might not realize that right across the East River, another part of the city also offers world-class museums, great restaurants, diverse neighborhoods and trendy nightspots. Click Here To Read Article
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