Category: Vacations

Feel like leasing a private plane? Download the JetSmarter app first

Posted on August, 25 2014

If you want to avoid the hassle of commercial air travel, you can always lease a private jet. Don’t know where to look? Try this new travel app for fliers with deep pockets.

Name: JetSmarter

Available: iOS, Android

Cost: Free

What it does: It wants to be the Uber of private aviation. The JetSmarter app lets you book a seat on a private plane from your smartphone for flights around the world. Find deals at a steep discount or book your own charter flight.

What’s hot: I was surprised by how many options there were and how easy it was to use and compare planes and prices (I know very little about private jets). If you’re looking to charter a flight, plug in your dates and departure times, let the app search for planes, then review your options. For a weekend L.A.-San Francisco round-trip flight, I found five options for booking a turbo-prop, four options for “entry-level” jets and dozens more options for bigger jets — even airliners. The deals are marked with a green tag. Click on the price to get to plane information and pictures. An additional click on the “tap for more info” link takes you to a list of amenities.

What’s not: The $ 6,999 annual membership fee. You would have to put this app to good use to make that fee worth it. And wouldn’t that be fun.

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Category: Vacations

Learning the wonders of the sharing economy in trip to Denver

Posted on August, 23 2014

Meet my friends Joanna, Jo and Brenton, and Beth. They really helped me out on my recent trip to Denver.

Joanna lent me her car. Jo gave up his room and crashed in Brenton’s room so I would have a place to sleep. Beth invited me for a lovely dinner.

Thing is, I didn’t know any of them before my trip here last month.

These trusting souls are part of the sharing economy, also called collaborative consumption or peer-to-peer sharing, which may be the hottest trend in travel since the birth of frequent-flier programs.

The concept is simple: What isn’t being used can be shared or lent — a spare room, an extra car or even expertise — maybe for a fee, maybe not. (A headline on Time Inc.’s Money blog recently snipped, “Can We Stop Pretending the Sharing Economy Is All About Sharing?”)

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Category: Vacations
Category: Vacations

Foreign Briefing: Warnings issued for Mideast, Africa and Ebola

Posted on August, 18 2014

The U.S. State Department has issued several new warnings — none surprising but all important — as trouble plagues the Middle East and Africa.

Iraq: In an Aug. 10 warning, the agency warns travelers “against all but essential travel to Iraq.”

Saudi Arabia: The Aug. 8 warning asks travelers to “consider the risks of traveling” to Saudi Arabia. It cites a July 4 border crossing attack by Al Qaeda and more threats to Saudi and U.S. interests.

Pakistan: Travelers are asked to defer all nonessential travel in the warning issued Aug. 8.

Nigeria: An Aug. 8 warning tells travelers to stay away from the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe and advises travelers to be aware of safety and health issues. Ebola has been reported in Nigeria.

Liberia: On Aug. 7, the State Department warning asks that travelers defer all but nonessential trips to Liberia because of Ebola.

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Category: Vacations

Las Vegas: Citing health, Celine Dion cancels Caesars shows, Asia trip

Posted on August, 13 2014
 Las Vegas: Citing health, Celine Dion cancels Caesars shows, Asia trip

Citing health reasons, singer Celine Dion announced Wednesday that she is canceling her Las Vegas performances at Caesars at least through next March as well as a tour through Asia that had been planned for the fall.

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Category: Vacations

Israel: FAA ban silences some traffic to Tel Aviv, and tourism suffers

Posted on July, 23 2014
 Israel: FAA ban silences some traffic to Tel Aviv, and tourism suffers

With a  second day of flight cancellations snarling plans and silencing some air traffic to Tel Aviv, one tour operator reports that life — but not travel-related business — is proceeding as usual.

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Category: Vacations

Train travel connects the destination dots in Europe

Posted on July, 19 2014

My wife, Laurel, and I had laid out an idiosyncratic European itinerary for our trip last fall: to London for theater, to Paris to scout Ernest Hemingway’s long-ago haunts, to Friedrichshafen, Germany, for the Zeppelin Museum, and finally to Hamburg to sail home on the Queen Mary 2.

We had no question about how to connect these disparate map points — by rail, because for us one of the joys of traveling in Europe is that trains can take us almost anywhere. Besides that, we find train travel relaxing and just plain fun.

We pieced together an eight-train (and one boat) odyssey, a three-country journey that would be spread over nine days, feature leisurely stopovers and fine scenery and include three premier high-speed rail services: the Eurostar, the French TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) and the German ICE (InterCity Express).


It would be hard to find a more auspicious place to begin than London’s gloriously Victorian St. Pancras station, built in 1868 and rebuilt in 2007 to house the Eurostar service though the Channel Tunnel to Paris and Brussels.

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Category: Vacations

In Alabama, taking on golf’s green monsters

Posted on July, 16 2014

Our destination was the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Alabama’s collection of 468 often-spectacular holes at 11 locations from Muscle Shoals in the north to Point Clear at the southern tip of the state.

For golf junkies  like us — three journalists and an oil refinery worker — this trip is as good as it gets.

Extraordinary golf courses, plenty of interesting restaurants, good accommodations, hospitality that you read about but almost never actually experience and, perhaps best of all, a price tag that journalists and oil-refinery workers can easily afford.

We made this trip in early June, just after the lower summer rates went into effect , for about $ 2,200 apiece. That covered plane fare on Southwest ($ 399), 14 rounds of golf over 6½ days ($ 797), lodging ($ 462), a minivan ($ 92) and food, including wine and beer ($ 450).

By comparison, I recently received an offer from Pebble Beach for a round of golf at Pebble and one at the Links at Spanish Bay, plus two nights at the Inn at Spanish Bay.

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Category: Vacations

Traveling to Bordeaux? The city has refined its flavor

Posted on July, 12 2014

It was raining when I landed at Bordeaux’s airport, and I couldn’t find the shuttle bus. Claudia, from Santa Barbara and studying at the University of Bordeaux, came to my rescue.

How did she like living here?

“I love it,” she said. “I think it might have been dull, but in the last few years all kinds of trendy bars and cafes and boutiques have opened up, so there’s plenty to do, and in the summer they’ve made a feature out of the riverside where the old port used to be.”

Bordeaux? The port city known for wine and architecture? Had it taken a cue from sister city Los Angeles and reinvented itself?

For years, Bordeaux was known as “La Belle Endormie,” or Sleeping Beauty. Its ocher-colored limestone edifices were hidden under layers of black soot, cut off from its waterfront by derelict warehouses and rusting cranes in the old port, which had moved downriver.

Alain Juppé embarked on a major urban renewal program when he became mayor in 1995 (he now is mayor again), cleaning the historic buildings, pedestrianizing key streets, turning the old docklands into a gentrified urban frontier called Chartrons with loft apartments, boutiques and new museums, and building 27 miles of tramway to connect it together.

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Category: Vacations

Idyllwild: California mountain town fest shows lemon lilies some love

Posted on July, 09 2014

Lemon lilies are true California natives. Tall stalks, big trumpet-shaped yellow blooms, super sweet smell. They’re hard to miss when you’re rambling through certain parts of Southern California’s wild places.

I was lucky enough to be on a trail that started at Buckhorn Campground, about 34 miles north of La Cañada Flintridge, when I stopped in my tracks at the sight of a mini-forest of lemon lilies.

The town of Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains loves them too, so much so that it celebrates what’s botanically known as Lillium parryi with a two-day festival each year. This year’s event will be this weekend.

“The goal it to make everyone aware of them,” said Julia Countryman, festival spokeswoman, “and not to pick them when they go hiking.” She explained that in the 1900s, the hills were covered with hundreds of thousands of lemon lilies.

People started finding and uprooting the plants to take home. But the wildflower didn’t thrive in home gardens because the habitat was wrong. That didn’t stop the lilies from being just about “picked to extinction,” Countryman says.

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Category: Vacations