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Where can you find people from Moab and Mongolia in the same place?  How about Taiwan and Temecula?  Ecuador and Ketchikan?  If you said a Carnival Cruise, well…you might be right.  But the definite answer is the LA Times Travel & Adventure Show, held each spring at the Los Angeles Convention Center and featuring over 100,000 square feet of space crawling with enthusastic tourism reps from all over the world.

In today’s economic landscape, tourism is what is keeping many countries afloat, and for a lot of places the one thing they can rely on.  Support for the industry, combined with a spirit of togetherness that is tangibly prevalent within the travel community, is what makes the LA Times Travel Show such an important event.  And that support is clear – with speakers like Samantha Brown, Rick Steves, Andrew McCarthy (yes, the actor – he’s a travel writer!), blogger JohnnyJet and LA Times photographer Mark Boster, the schedule was packed with passionate people who have built their livelihoods around exposing travel and tourism to the global audience.

The LA Convention Center’s West Hall organized exhibitors’ booths left to right – domestic travel moving to international, arranged alphabetically inside of those categories.  I was surprised and impressed to see tourism boards and travel companies from all over the U.S. in such multitude.  At least half the states in the country had booths (Alaska and pals stretched almost half an aisle) and California destinations covered every attraction from San Diego to the redwoods.  Granted, it is easier and less expensive for a U.S. company to participate in the show since it is here in LA, but nevertheless I was pleased to see our strength of presence on such a prominent, visible stage.  Often times we think that exotic, interesting, multicultural or immersion travel cannot happen unless we cross our borders, fly overseas or trek through a jungle.  Exploring the country we live in – which is so wonderfully diverse in every way imaginable – is vital not only to understanding and appreciating our home but also to supporting our own economy.

Alaska Represents!

So what would an adventure show be without a few action spots?  Attendees could climb a 2-story rock wall (hosted by Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite), zipline across the length of the West Hall (thanks to the tourism reps for Ecuador), scuba dive with Malibu Diving (splashing everyone within a 10-foot radius of the pool) or learn to Bollywood dance, as some of the travel media did at Friday’s press preview. 

next stop - Travel Bloggers Dancing with the Stars?

The “Global Stage” featured music and dance acts – and Maui’s booth got into the spirit with a luau (minus the mai tais – booo).  And what did California Tourism have?  Pirates. (gotta be honest, I’m not sure I get that one)

aloha!

gimme a break, that sword was REAL

But the best fun was soaking it all in – walking around, meeting people from Nepal, Morocco, Nicaragua, Israel, Tahiti, Greece and even my own backyard – Mammoth, Santa Ynez, Big Bear Lake.  Cruise lines like Oceania and Silversea, tour companies like Tauck and Adventure Consultants and vendors like Mahatma Rice (free tastings!) and Distant Lands bookstores (hawking Rick Steves stuff).  Feeling inspired from all this visual stimulus?  AAA manned a massive piece of floorspace with dozens of travel agents ready to help you plan a trip anywhere in the world, right then and there. 

why wait? plan now!

Airlines, railway lines, eco tour guide companies – all were there to share their products and destinations.  It seemed almost every booth was giving away a dream trip or exotic vacation, and though I fear the junk mail coming my way for all I entered, who cares?  It was an unbeatable experience.  Everyone was friendly and excited; there were no sales pitches, no pushy attitudes, just travel professionals and passionate attendees asking questions, learning, visiting and interacting.  If only this were the model for the real world stage!  It was exhilarating and heartwarming to see the passion for tourism – the thirst of so many to see beyond borders and step outside of the proverbial box.

I walked away with a bag stuffed to the brim with brochures, business cards, tour books and guidebooks.  I also left with a newfound respect for the travel industry and the people who patronize it.  Up until now I had focused so much on the blogging community’s interest I had almost forgotten that the rest of the world also craves experience, authenticity and the moments of wonder that come with seeing new places.  Whether its driving to Wyoming or trekking through Tibet, the market for tourism is burgeoning with opportunities to really live on this planet of ours.  Now if you’ll excuse me – I have a LOT of reading (and trip-planning….) to catch up on. Cheers, adventurers :)

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from the Emerald Isle, taken between 2009 and 2010.  I love being Irish (hi, Grandpa!), but today we truly ALL are.  Guinness says so (see photo above).  So sláinte!

 

Inis Mór, Aran Islands

 

 

Cliffs of Moher

 

River Liffey, Dublin

County Clare

ruins, Aran Islands

St. James' Gate Brewery

All  photos copyright CGTravelsBlog



Boats kind of make me nervous.  Maybe its because I got chucked off of one in rough waters around Key Largo when we tried to go snorkeling in a storm.  Maybe its because I got seasick on the way to Catalina Island in 8th grade.  Or maybe because I have a numbing fear of the Pacific Ocean, whose cold, dark waters beckon with all the grace and charm of a razor-toothed barracuda.  But ply me with a couple of glasses of wine on a beautiful day, and I could probably find boating bearable, if not actually enjoyable.  Even though “sailing” just sounds pretentious anyway.

Lapse in judgement aside, signing up for an afternoon wine pairings cruise with Corks Away Wine Adventures turned out to be a step forward in overcoming my fear of water-bound vessels, rather than 90 minutes of sheer panic.  Anthony, our captain for the day, met 6 of us on the docks at Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, CA and led us down to the slip where we boarded a refurbished 1961 sailboat.  After assuring us (translation: me) that the boat tipping over was improbable at best, we settled into a triangle of comfortable padded benches, spread blankets over our legs and clinked glasses of almond champagne as the boat pulled into the harbor waters around Naples Island.

They had me at the first free refill.  As we settled into the seats cradling the cool glasses, out came Anthony with miniature wooden treasure chests filled with dried cranberries, almonds and cashews, set on latticed wooden tabletops that proved extremely sturdy what with the rocking motion every time a jet-skiier passed.  Sailing smoothly and slowly past paddle boarders, other sailboats and waterfront mansions (including the Magnum P.I. house – cue the 80’s flashback), we quickly transitioned to course two of the four-course wine pairing schedule – a pinot noir with homemade hummus and warm, sliced pita triangles.  Next came a cabernet, paired with Corks Away’s “specialty” (in all likelihood store-bought, but delicious nonetheless) – provolone-wrapped loaves made of pesto sauce, sun-dried tomato chunks and crispy pine nuts, served with an assortment of crackers.  Aside from the carb-and-dips pattern I was seeing with the menu, it was tasty and fresh.  Also it is impossible to be annoyed on such a glorious southern California day as we were fortunate enough to have.  

Dessert was a port wine served with dense chocolate truffles, drizzled copiously with raspberry sauce and served in colorful clam half-shells – a lovely and surprising presentation after the multitude of plastic trays.  Alas and all too quickly our cruise time was up, and we pulled gently back into the slip, tied up and hopped back onto the dock, where we were presented with 50% off certificates for our next Corks Away “adventure.”

While clearly a homegrown operation – no frills, no thrills – Corks Away was relaxing, which is really all I had hoped for aside from staying dry and out of Long Beach bay.  The staff was friendly and casual, much like the entire business seems to be.  Prices, to my notion, are not cheap, but Corks Away offers deals on LivingSocial, which was where we picked up 30% off a 90-minute cruise for 6 (normally $100).  There was no gourmet cuisine, no fancy explanations about why the items were paired together, no bottle labels flashed around and no program once you’re out on the water – it’s snacking and sipping while spending time with friends in the sunshine, while someone else steers the boat.  Which, sometimes, is a pretty refreshing thing.

Corks Away Wine Adventures
(562) 606-4546
www.corksaway.com
*book well in advance, as most cruises sell out quickly.  Corks Away also offers private and charter opportunities, mimosa cruises, carriage rides through Seal Beach and event bookings aboard a schooner or larger flagship, also part of their collection.  If you’re a wine snob or a vegetarian they have options for you, too :)  Ask for Captians Nate or Shane!

Before we begin, Captain Obvious is compelled to point out a couple of noteworthy specifics relevant to this post, namely:

1). The globe is quite large,

and

2). There are manifold ways to experience it.

Now that’s out of my system, let’s take a look at (coincidentally) the post with the most hits on my blog ever – which I did a year ago – about my Travel Bucket List.  We have some major housecleaning to do here.  Some items must merely switch positions on the list, others just hafta go entirely (sorry Norway, it’s not you, it’s me!)  I have discovered that even in the space of a year, my attachments, priorities, curiosities and needs can change rapidly and emphatically.  Understandings I have reached, books I have read, people I have come to know and discussions I have shared continue to shape my focus.  I have watched impatiently as my desires take their own wayward routes and lead me inexplicably to wonder about a new place I had not previously considered.  And given my willingness to follow those types of proclivities blindly, I am left with no further choice but to unveil a new list:

10. Bhutan
9. Botswana
8. Vietnam/Cambodia
7. Slovenia
6. India
5. Peru
4. Patagonia
3. Australia
2. Iceland
1. Nepal/Tibet

Now let’s get down to brass tacks. *stands up* “My name is Leslie, and I have Travel A.D.D.”

OH that feels so good to get off my chest.

Now before you judge (me OR yourself, for having the same problem) know that this doesn’t axiomatically mean you are an evil, fickle person.  Truly what do you owe anyone but yourself in your travel goals?  If they change, let them.  Travel can be a means to an end or a journey with no aim at all: its intrinsically malleable nature gives us the freedom to make those snap decisions.

Maybe I’m justifying my problem.  But I don’t think I’m going too far off a ledge, am I?  If having a valuable experience means I take a walk through the country or spend an entire day in an Italian bakery (which I have) instead of going to a thousand museums or taking a tour, fine!  You can’t beat yourself up for changing your mind.  The world isn’t waiting for us, so make the most of your time, your resources and your money and GO WHERE THE WIND TAKES YOU.  I want to go on a voluntourism trip to the Galapagos to save turtles, go on a yoga retreat to the coast of Mexico or at an Indian ashram, take a river cruise down the Danube and hike the trail through the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp.  Next year I may not want to do any of those.  Last time I was in Italy I was supposed to be exploring Perugia’s art treasures and instead I ended up spending an entire day at the Eurochocolate Festival, navigating the town’s narrow cobbled streets with my 2 best friends, staring over the city walls at Umbria below and eating absinthe chocolate (yuck).  And that afternoon was AMAZING.

If I’d been in a museum all day, I’d have missed this view:

There are so many things I want to do it makes my sinuses hurt.  But I think that kind of fervor – even if it makes you change your mind a thousand times, be so spontaneous your friends question your sanity or try a million different things – is beautiful.  The same force that keeps you hungry for your next journey makes you appreciate what it is to be Home.  It enriches your life.  And is that not why we travel to begin with?

This impetus has maxed out my credit card, worried my parents, used up all my vacation time and given me a lovely collection of new allergies.  But I wouldn’t trade any of it because it’s like putting fuel in your car – it keeps you on the road.  Perhaps we should think of it as “continued inspiration” rather than “A.D.D.” (it’s such a dirty word…or acronym, whatever).  One curiosity blends into the next, one awakening leads to another, one trip shepherds you forth into the next.  I tend to think of each adventure as a piece of a greater collection, one which I will spend my life amassing.  Just as I bring prior conventions, a developed openness, and many, many questions to a new place, I also carry a trove of memories, experiences, thoughts and wisdoms from past journeys.  In the process of travel we add to those lessons, and this learning inevitably raises further questions – questions which can only be answered by searching for the next opportunity.  It seems like a vicious cycle but I’d be willing to bet we’d all be more than a little disappointed if there were ever an end.  It’s the discovery that counts.

The only drawback I can find is the danger of this “A.D.D.” propelling us somewhat to live in the future rather than the present.  When your curiosity gets the better of you, it can distract from the current moment.  Travel is fleeting and, for most of us, only a small part of our precious time, that we must live it while we are in it. I try to record my questions and ideas for other adventures and leave them to the page, to aid in planning another trip when I’m back home at my computer, reveling in the delicious anticipation of the next expedition.

See? It’s OK!  I have Travel A.D.D., there are no shots for it, and I have made my peace with it.

Alright, enough postulating.  Back to life.  As Jack Kerouac says, “Why think about that when all the golden land’s ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?” ~ On The Road

And hey, Norway – I’ll get there :)

Norweigan fjords

 

 

Hassan Mosque at sunset - Casablanca, Morocco

Photo by CGTravels, January 2009

I think what’s funny about the obvious difference in stature between the boy and the mosque is that it rather distorts the true equality of the greatness and possibility that lies inside them both.

Originally written for and posted on GotSaga as a guest article, January 2011

One of the biggest challenges as a native Angeleno is trying to direct friends and colleagues in Los Angeles where to go while visiting.  Not only am I battling a multitude of frustrating cliches (celebrity-fueled trends, celebrity-frequented neighborhoods, celebrity-owned restaurants, traffic, smog, etc.) but frankly, to narrow down the overwhelming amount of opportunities in this sprawling metropolis is nearly impossible.

The truth is that the cliches DO exist.  But so does a vibrant city teeming with art, music, culture, natural beauty and a wonderfully stubborn follow-your-dreams mentality.  There is nothing more satisfying than hearing a tourist say, “Wow – I had no idea LA had all this!”  And so with that, I present you with a list that will take someone to the far corners of the city, from delicious eats to world-class culture and back –  yes, even to Sunset Blvd. itself.  Los Angeles is a place where you can be whoever you want – why not let go and discover it for yourself?

1.  Catch a concert at the Hollywood Bowl

This iconic outdoor amphitheater has hosted some of the world’s greatest musicians, conductors, orchestras, artists and performers since its opening in 1922.  Nestled into the Hollywood Hills and open during the summer season only, it has become one of the locals’ favorite nighttime spots for entertainment and relaxation, especially thanks to a lenient policy that allows concertgoers to bring their own food and drinks (even alcohol!) into the venue, thereby encouraging a longtime tradition of picnicking.  Once you’re ensconced in your seats (or for the lucky few, a box), sipping a glass of wine under the stars to the classical strains of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the rousing chorus of voices at the annual Sound of Music sing-a-long or the smooth sounds of the Playboy Jazz Festival, you’ll know why there’s no place like LA.

http://www.hollywoodbowl.com

2.  Hike the Santa Monica Mountains

photo by R. Perkins

Forget Runyon Canyon and its overpopulated bevy of dogs, spandex and noise – real rugged outdoor beauty lies just a few miles north in the Santa Monica Mountains that hug the coast along Malibu.  Trails range from the challenging to the near-effortless, with everything in-between.  At Sandstone Peak, the highest point, gaze upon the sparkling Pacific Ocean to your left and the bustling valley below to your right – a view of Los Angeles most people have never seen but will never forget.  Then sign the visitors’ log, return to your car and head down the road a few miles to the secluded Malibu Winery for a glass of crisp chardonnay in their charming outdoor garden.

3.  See the stars (literally) at the Griffith Observatory

photo by neebs

Opened in 1935 and nestled snugly atop Mount Hollywood in the hills above Los Feliz, where it is visible from points all over Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory has become one of the country’s premier venues for the study and exhibition of astronomy and the science of space.  The recently-renovated facility boasts several enormous state-of-the-art telescopes, including the massiv Zeiss Telescope, which is regularly trained on the moon, a visible planet or other night sky phenomena and includes a planetarium with unrivaled projection capabilities and a series of visually stunning exhibits that are sure to make any visitor marvel at the world beyond ours.  Housed in a stunning art deco-style building and surrounded by lawn and gardens, it promises the kind of out-of-this-world experience tourists expect from LA – in the most unexpected way.

http://www.griffithobs.org

photo by mcshots

4.  Surf Zuma Beach

With some of the best waves in the state and a consistently top-notch water quality rating, Zuma Beach is a healthier, less-crowded and more visually appealing stretch of coastline than Santa Monica, Huntington and Manhattan Beaches together.  Leave the crowds (and the inevitable flurry of hungry pigeons they attract) and spend a day at Zuma – it’s a premier spot for local surfers and perfect for beachgoers looking for a pristine piece of coastline where they can truly relax in the sunshine.  And for all you entertainment buffs – it’s where Baywatch was filmed.

5.  Grab a burger at Bob’s Big Boy

LA’s retro culture continues to thrive even today, and perhaps nowhere is that more prevalent than at the oldest original Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant in Toluca Lake.  Nothing – from the decor to the staff – has changed much since the ’60s, and that’s exactly the way their entire customer base likes it.  Bob’s has been serving up their famous grilled double-decker burgers with secret sauce and signature small sesame buns for decades, and the iconic checkered boy holding a giant hamburger still stands, polished and jolly, on Riverside Drive, beckoning all who drive past to step back in time for a bit a savor the best diner cuisine in the city.  Stop by on Friday “car night” for traditional car-hop service and watch the parking lot behind the restaurant as it fills with restored vintage automobiles driven in by enthusiasts from all over southern California.

http://www.bobs.net

6.  See the masters at the Huntington Library

We all know about the Getty, LACMA and the Norton Simon.  No doubht (but sometimes suprisingly) Los Angeles is one of the best cities for art-lovers in the country, no matter what kind of art you fancy.  But tucked away in San Marino, an affluent suburb near Pasadena, is the grand Huntington estate, which houses one of the finest gatherings of American and British art in the U.S.  Doubling as a research institute, this legacy of railroad magnate Henry Huntington dates from 1919 and features a collection that includes a Gutenberg Bible, original Chaucer manuscripts and paintings by Turner, Sargent Hopper, Cassatt, Rembrandt, Dürer and Gainsborough.  Tour the mansion, stroll through 120 impeccably-groomed acres of themed botanical gardens and then stop for afternoon tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room for a taste of what the good Southern California life was like in its burgeoning days.

http://www.huntington.org

7.  Tour the Kodak Theatre

Far be it from me to prevent any tourist from walking the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, passing by the Chinese Theater and posing with one of 6 Marilyn Monroes who’ll gladly take photos with you along Hollywood Blvd.  But once you’ve discovered which celebrity’s hands and feet match your own, stop inside the Kodak Theatre for an inside look at the current home of Oscar.  Their daily tours take visitors into VIP rooms and onto the incredible stage where the annual telecast happens (and where, the rest of the year, it is fantastically rigged to support LA’s new Cirque de Soleil show) – you even get to see an Oscar statue up-close!  Even as a native there is something magical about walking the very same corridors and sitting in the same front row seats as the modern actors and actresses we have come to love and respect over the years.  Watching the Academy Awards will never quite be the same!

http://www.kodaktheatre.com

8.  Hop a ferry to Catalina Island 

photo from Destination360.com

Technically it’s part of LA County, but in reality it’s a world away.  Once you’ve tired of the bustle and traffic, take a 30-minute boat ride from San Pedro or Long Beach harbors and spend some time on Santa Catalina, one of California’s Channel Islands.  Spend the evening in a cozy B&B in the main town of Avalon, rent a bike and ride through the quaint streets and hike or camp all over the island, among wildlife like foxes, bald eagles and bison.  Catalina also has incredibly clean, clear waters offshore, making conditions perfect for kayaking and snorkeling almost year-round.  Coming face-to-face with harmless leopard sharks and the island’s signature fish, the gentle bright-orange garibaldi, you’ll almost think you’re in Hawaii.

9. Sip a cocktail at the Chateau Marmont

OK, so I slipped something a little trendy in for good measure.  But a list like this just wouldn’t be complete without including the legendary hotel and bungalows, located smack dab on the Sunset strip and teeming with celebrity ghost stories and folklore.  Infamous former guests include Jim Belushi, Greta Garbo, James Dean, Vivien Leigh and Howard Hughes, and today you’re likely to rub elbows with Johnny Depp, Demi Moore or Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom frequent the hotel’s hard-to-get-in restaurant and bar.  This is the stuff LA is made of.  If you can’t get, hop next door to Bar Marmont, where although the drinks are pricey and poorly-mixed, the scene is great and the decor magical – all the way to the silk monarch butterflies that dapple the dimly-lit ceiling.

http://www.chateaumarmont.com

10.  Shop vintage

London it isn’t, but Los Angeles may just be second-best in the world of great vintage discoveries.  From Ventura Blvd. to Melrose, from Silver Lake to downtown, LA is a mecca for time-worn treasures from any decade.  Exploiting its status as a haven for designers, as well as being the world capital of film, LA finds often include chic retro cast-offs from the likes of Chanel and Christian Dior as well as items once worn for film or television.  But perhaps the most charming of all are the enormous collections of denim, boots, hats and blouses that evoke the carefree days of the sixties and seventies that put a blonde-haired, hippie California look on the stylish map.

photo by Stephanie Schneider

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly….”  Famous last words.  Oft-uttered by those faced with tertiary helpings at a holiday meal, trying on an expensive piece of jewelry, or offered anything gratis, anywhere.  On vacation, as Cameron Diaz succinctly put it in The Holiday, you are supposed to “vacate your life.”  Things like not exercising, saving money, getting reasonable amounts of sleep and perhaps most of all, indulging the palette (not to mention the stomach) are thrown asunder in favor of sweet, beautiful gluttony in all its forms.

thumbs up from a Regent Seven Seas kitchen

Nowhere is this glorious release more prevalent that on a cruise ship.  An all-inclusive life is just as tiring. but only because all those hours on the lido deck are so dehydrating.  Say “cruise” and one automatically dreams, as I admittedly do, of endless Vegas-style seafood buffets, tourists in Hawaiian shirts with farmers tans giving our country a bad name as they stroll ignorantly among foreign natives at various exotic ports of call, and nightly shows that involve Copacabana-esque dancers covered in feathers coaxing the recently-retired on stage for a little one-two-step.

I dream of these things only because I, the self-proclaimed world traveler, have never once set foot on a cruise ship (unless brunch on the Queen Mary counts, but I doubt it).  And so I must live vicariously through my mom and aunt, two sisters who have sailed the world’s seas together in just a few years – from the Bering Straits to the northernmost Scandanavian cities of the Arctic Circle, from the balmy shores of Greece and Italy to the sparkling waters of Australia and the engineering wonder that is the Panama Canal.  And they have done it all on the luxurious decks of Regent Seven Seas’ stately but small Voyager.  With each return home I have voraciously scanned their photos, vicariously living on a deluxe cruiseliner and wondering what a hedonistic life at sea, even a temporary one, must feel like.  So when I saw the food….

…I was shocked.  Beautiful? Sure.  Creative? Certainly.  Delectable? So I hear.  Portion-control? 100%.

Regent Seven Seas may hand out menus as long as your arm, display tables upon tables of carved chocolate and pastries and a wine list that could tire even long-winded Ovid himself, but they’d be loathe to spoon out the plates of victuals an American might normally expect from a dining establishment.

THANK GOD.

mmm...cookie

Luxury cruise food is a whole different ballgame.  Order a cookie sandwich – it’s about the size of a small macaron, artfully drizzled with sauce that is decorative, not dumped.  Craving sliders? How about ones that are actually bite-sized, the way God intended.  Filet mignon?  6 oz. at best, cleanly presented alongside al dente vegetables that perhaps, just PERHAPS have not been doused in oil and butter. You are distracted from the angry ogre inside your tummy growling for satisfaction by a visual buffet of ice sculptures, exquisite florals and oddly-shaped dinnerware.  The ocular feast is just enough to distract your stomach, so that instead of wolfing down overloaded plates you are rubbernecking around the room as you gently fork fresh fruits, vegetables, tender meats and lightly-sweetened aperetifs.  To use a hackneyed phrase in all its glory: it’s quality, not quantity.  Tricking the mind into slow consumption and thereby a realization of fullness and gratification is the key.  Add to that the oozing charm of a world-class staff and a tableside visit by a chef who may just happen to be 30-ish and roguishly handsome, and you have the recipe (pardon the pun) for a perfect meal.  No over-indulgence or pleasure of the purely guilty kind, unless you count joy as a sin.

Now the bar…that’s a whole different story.

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