About Me

An avid traveler I have had the good fortune to have spent my career in the travel and vacation industry. From Bali to Copenhagen and all points between is where I have been or intend to go. This blog however is specific to the Western half of the United States as I explore this part of the world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Road Trip to Door County, WI with the dawgs.

Driving through East Central Utah

As August 2011 came to a close I was once again on my way up to Sister Bay in Door County Wisconsin to spend much needed vacation time at Madsengaard our family farm.  For the first time that I can remember I drove from Las Vegas to Sister Bay so that I could bring our Cocker Spaniels Jazz and Koko.  During the hot summer months in Las Vegas you cant fly with your dogs in cargo and since they cannot fit under the seat flying was a no go.

Pit Stop in Colorado on the Colorado River

I am not a straight through type driver.  While my daughter Lisa has no problem driving 25 hours straight, even when I was her age that was not an option.  Me, I am more the 8-10 hour driver, but now that most highways in the west are 65-75 MPH it you can cover more ground in that time.  And, because I generally drive at speed limit +8-10 I average about 79 MPH for the trip, according to my trip computer and that is county gas and hotel stops.

East Utah heading toward Colorado

When planning road trips I like to match my stopping points with interesting locations or at least semi-interesting locations that I have never been to before.  Which in the case of some stops are quickly moved to the uninteresting places list.  I decided that I would drive the longest length on the first day with decreasing legs thereafter.  I decided that my first leg would be from Las Vegas to Denver, CO then to Omaha, NE, then to Sun Prairie, WI (near Madison) to stay with Angela, Brad and my granddaughter Alynna for a couple of days meeting my wife and youngest Lisa there.  I would stay for the weekend and head off to Sister Bay the following Monday to get a head start on work that needed to be done on the farm.

Jazz, "are we there yet?"

One thing about having dogs with you on a road trip is finding decent, dog friendly hotels to accommodate us.  Some have policies of non refundable deposits, some dog fees and some both.  However there are some hotels that require neither and I discovered all of this on the petvacations.com website. 

In Iowa, huge blade being delivered to one of many wind farms.

Now if I am staying in a location for an extended period either business or for vacation and need a hotel, I like nicer accommodations... i.e. Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, etc.  When road tripping I look for simple and clean and a good price as it is simply a stop over, not a temporary home.  Petvacation.com helped with several good tips about traveling with pets and educated me well on different hotel policies concerning pets.  I found the most welcoming and widespread brand to be La Quinta Inns and Suites.  No deposit, no extra fees and good pricing.  I had stayed in La Quinta before and found them to be a nice, clean and comfortable value in hotels.  Of course wanting to maximize savings, once I researched the La Quinta's that I wished to stay in I used my Dream Vacation Network Membership to book the hotel stays.  I booked at the La Quinta, Denver Airport, which was quite nice and relatively new.  I also booked at the La Quinta North Omaha which while clean was not a purpose built La Quinta and showed some wear and tear.  But booking with DVN I saved roughly $20 total on two nights... almost half a tank of premium gas for my Infiniti M35X, which by the way is an awesome road trip car.

So, after packing the car, harnessing up the dogs in the back seat I hit the road...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mary Jane Falls Hike, Mount Charleston, Las Vegas, NV


Saturday it was overcast in Las Vegas and I decided a perfect time to drive up to Mount Charleston with the dogs for hike.  Mt. Charleston is the local Las Vegas resident's escape from the heat in the summer among other things.  Only a 40 minute drive from my house I can go from 2800 feet and 110 degree weather to nearly 9,000 feet and 75 degree weather and from a martian like landscape to landscape of evergreen and aspen forests, lazy meadows and towering cliffs and in the case of Saturday's hike about 62 degrees with occasional showers.  Perfect.

To get to Mary Jane Falls you simply take 95 North out of Las Vegas and turn left on 157, also known as Kyle Canyon Road.  You follow Kyle Canyon to a split where the road veers into a left hand u curve or continues straight.  Go straight onto what is Echo Rd and when you come to a split, pavement right, gravel left, go up the gravel road until you reach a parking area with facilities.  Park there as this is the head of the Mary Jane Falls Trail.  It starts off mostly fine and large gravel, transitioning to dirt and rock with a long straight away and then several switchbacks and finally one last straight away.

This hike was an opportunity for me to forgo my big hiking boots and try out a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves, a barefoot trail shoe that I recently purchased.  I brought my big boots with me as backup in case barefoot hiking didn't work for me but they weren't needed.  Wow these shoes were comfortable and lightweight.  It almost felt like I was hiking up the trail in my bare feet and my calves were a lot more involved in the hike without the restriction big boots sometimes have on full foot extension. 

So I had my barefoot running and hiking shoes and my Cockers Jazz and Koko had the big bare feet that this breed has and off we went.

Jazz and Koko anxious to get started.
It took about one hour to reach the falls from the head of the trail and that was with water breaks for myself and the dogs.  The first half was nice and gradual, the switchbacks were not so bad and the final climb was probably the steepest.  But you know you are close when you hit the final switchback at the cliff face and can begin to hear the water fall and feel the cool moisture cascading into the canyon.

For hikes in the west I always have my camelback with me so that I make sure I remain hydrated and have extra water for the dogs beyond their own water bottle and travel dish.  I also packed a protein bar and two white peaches that seemed extra tasty and juicy upon reaching the summit. 

From the dry and dusty aroma of Vegas to the peat and evergreen scent that greets you at altitude, Mt. Charleston is truly a welcome and close by escape.  The views are amazing and the trail has a good amount of happy and sociable people getting a bit of fresh air.  I had thought about having the dogs off the leash but after hiking the first few hundred yards it was evident that about every other group had dogs with them and I wanted to avoid any potential problems, most especially on the narrower parts of the trail.

Mary Jane Falls
The falls at the end were a nice treat, still running at a decent volume even for August and I could still see snow tucked away in different nooks and crevices within the cliffs.  Beat the August heat and make your way up to Mount Charleston.  Even if you aren't a hiker, a picnic or lunch at the Mt. Charleston Inn are well worth the trip.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bali, Indonesia: Walk, Ride or Drive... that is the question.

Early Morning in Seminyak on Jalan Kayu Aya
The first thing you should know about Bali is that the roads through towns and cities and even highways are relatively narrow and in questionable condition.  Often times there is only room for one way traffic, though somehow these narrow lanes manage to support two way traffic even if that means using a sidewalk or grass.

I am more the adventurous type and found the easiest way to get around is on a scooter or motorcycle.  After my first day I was prepared to ride up into the mountains but when no less than 7 people told me I was crazy to do so I was convinced.  Their primary concern was that many people have become victims of large (for Bali) transport trucks flying up and down the inner highways.  Though after experiencing those same roads in a car, it wasn't nearly as scary as it was made out to be.

Me getting around near Nusa Dua (can't escape the golden arches)
Adventure aside, if you can ride, this is the best way to get around Bali.  Flying half way around to world for business, fun or both to wait in traffic is not cool.  Think LA in some areas.  With a motorcycle you are through the traffic pretty easily.  Maneuvering between cars is not so bad when they are stopped or moving at 5 kph.

Also, if you decide to ride around Bali, carry cash.  While there are a decent amount of ATM's, enough vendors don't take plastic to make carrying cash necessary.  With the exchange rate, even if you are carrying a Balinese fortune it doesn't really translate into that much in US dollars.  Motorcycles and Scooters can be rented for roughly $30-$50 (30,000 to 50,000 rupiah) per week which is a killer deal.  You can rent 150cc Scooters up to 250cc motorcycles.  I recall reading an article around the same time about motorcycles in India having very manly names like Talon and Lion and Bali isn't different in this respect.  The hot motorcycle during the time I was there was the Honda Tiger (250) and it may still be today.  You won't find anything bigger than this to rent because they aren't allowed to be imported.  I did spot a Harley or Ninja now and again but after inquiring they are apparently black market or were imported as parts and rebuilt in Bali which is apparently a loophole in the law.
When cruising around Bali you will eventually need gas and there are two types of stations.  The more traditional gas station and the street vendor.  The few actual gas stations that I used were very nice.  They reminded me of the early days of auto transport in the United States.  The stations I saw were all well done, very clean and each pump had a smartly uniformed attendant standing almost at attention next to each pump, all lined up in the same holding position ready to serve. 

Notice the attendant at each pump
The other, more common place to get gas was with street vendors.  The street vendors can be found at intersections around the various towns and they look much like hot dog vendors with a cart and sometimes umbrella. The primary difference here is that the cart or stand is filled with liter bottles of fuel and the liter bottle container of choice is the standard Absolut Vodka bottle.  Ride up, hand over a few rupiah and enjoy full service where they open the cap, insert funnel and strainer and pour the gas, close the cap and wipe any spillage.  In some of my more lengthy explorations these vendors were life savers as my fuel needle dipped toward empty while I was in the middle on nowhere.  And thank you also to Google Maps which was very helpful on my Blackberry in determining where I was.

Full Service
The motor scooter is the primary mode of transportation for the Balinese and it fills the role of sole transport, economy vehicle, cool ride, family transport, off road vehicle and finally work vehicle.  I was at first amazed at the sheer number of motor scooters on the road.  I have watched scenes in movies or documentaries that showed this type of congestion and density of bikes but never have I been in the middle of it.  Beyond that, the versatility of use is amazing.  It was common to see entire nuclear families on a single scooter in the order of child, parent, child, parent all wearing helmets. 

Who needs a 4-door?

And then there were the labor crews that managed somehow to fit all of their tools and equipment on their scooters.

Where there's a will, there's a way.
There is so much to see in Bali straddled on a two wheeler that you wont see staying near a resort or taking taxis and tour buses to your destination.  More detailed coverage of areas I visited will come in a later post but from rural to city there are fantastic places to explore.

Canggu, north of Seminyak

Kuta Square
Beach at Candidasa

As always with adventure comes some risk, and it was my third trip out that I had a painful motorcycle wreck that left me with a very large hematoma

While recovering and as a promise to my wife on the next trip I made sure I was on 4 wheels (though I did sneak some two wheel time in).  I found four wheel to be more difficult than a bike with right hand drive in the car and left lane drive on the road.  I used a Toyota Yaris and on more than one occasion smacked side view mirrors with oncoming traffic on those narrow roads.  I did appreciate the AC though as living in Las Vegas, Bali is a humid and sticky place... any escape from humidity was appreciated.

If you are adventurous, experienced on a bike and like to get outside the tourist corridors or just see Bali on your terms; two wheels is the way to go.  However, if you don't have much experience or are a timid driver firmly plant yourself in the passenger seat of a taxi or friends car and enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Getting there: Bali, Indonesia

Now that we have completed our business in Bali it is finally time to write about what a fabulous place this is.  From my time at RCI developing new business to my current consulting business I have always been cautious about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the competition.  After the fact... no worries.  ;)
The bartenders at Harry Juku playing up for Mr. Ted as I was known

My first trip to Bali was really my first foray into Asia.  I've been to Europe, Caribbean, Central and South America but never Asia.  My first trip out was with business associates David Berg and Craig Harada, meeting my business partner Randy You and Marketing Director Marcus Ito in Bali.  Our client had a single resort called Bali Island Villas that primarily catered to Japanese tourists and we were hired to build a brand, a product and rules for use, setting up sales in marketing in Bali, Japan, etc.  For those RCI members out there it is affiliated so you have an opportunity to exchange.  Follow this link to see The Island Regency Club now.

We flew Cathay for our first trip out and had a layover in Hong Kong.  I was surprised by the airport.  It was like any other airport and that was the strange thing... like any other airport in the States.  From Burger King to Dunkin Donuts many western brands were represented.  It took me a bit to try to find the most authentic Chinese food I could... for an airport. 

Enjoying Airport Chinese in Hong Kong

Notice in the background in the photo, specifically the Dior poster.  Something else that surprised me, all the models in the ads were westerners.  To me that would be like going to Las Vegas Airport and finding only Asian models on all the posters.  The Western Culture really is permeating everything.  I realize that Hong Kong was a former British territory but I saw this same trend in Singapore, Seoul, Bali, etc.  Trying to keep big money westerners comfortable or something else?

Craig Harada joining me and David Berg
The flight was great.  After flying internationally, it was truly depressing to realize the state of our domestic airline services.  In the US you have to pay $5 for a crappy, stale cold cut sandwich.  Cathay, Singapore Airlines and Korean Airlines provide open bar, choice of multiple hot meals and snacks both western and eastern, hot towels and a complete entertainment console at each seat from games to over 150 movies from all over the world.  While flying for 24-32 hours depending on layovers, it made the flight very comfortable.  The flight attendants were top notch, better than first class in the US.

I plan on heading out to France in the next 12 months and it will be interesting to compare Atlantic, international carriers vs Pacific as it has been a long time since I flew to Europe.  I did have experience with South American carriers like Copa and they were still nicer than the US.

This was the only layover on our first trip to Bali and wasn't two horribly long for international flights.  Even if you have a long layover, of which I had a few, there are always excellent mini hotels and private shower areas where you can get cleaned up or sleep for a few hours between flights.  After sitting on a plane for 16-20 hours there is nothing like taking a hot shower and wearing clean clothes so pack a change in your carryon.

Hong Kong Airport towers

When we finally arrived in Denpasar, Bali were were greeted by a partially open air airport not too much different from Kauai for instance. Customs on the other hand was super congested with tourists from around the world crowded together in a hot and humid waiting area as perhaps 8 lines were open to check passports.  Entry visa was about $12.

Flight arrivals waiting in the stuffy customs area

I apologize for the blur of the pictures here but I was trying to snap them on the down low as you never really know each countries policy concerning photographs in the customs area.  I didn't want to find out but my urge to photograph the experience led to this compromise.  Then I was greeted with this sign. 
Spicoli beware!
Death Penalty for drug traffickers... what about unauthorized picture takers?  IPhone slides into pocket...

Funny thing about this.  I had to overlook a lot of good timeshare sales executives because I didn't want them to be put to death for their vices.

As for our arrival, our client had a particularly good arrangement for arriving business clients that we integrated into the club as a major benefit to ownership.  We were greeted upon arrival by an agent of the resort, and whisked through the VIP section of customs with all documentation, visa's etc. being handled by our guide.  While other tourists perspired in line for perhaps an hour waiting to get through customs, we got our bags and were through in 10 minutes, escorted to a waiting van where our driver greeted us with cold towels and bottled water that was icy cold. 
I'm not driving... right hand drive
We were driven to the best money changers in the area.  FYI if you don't know already, don't change your money at the airport.  While it may be convenient the conversion rate isn't the best.  I recall that Denpasar airport exchange was about 8,500 rupiah to the US Dollar... about a mile out it was 8,900 rupiah to the dollar.  And in case you are wondering, you can get a meal like this: Fresh sword fish or tuna, veggies, rice a few beers and desert for about 30,000 rupiah or $3 US.  In Vegas I would probably pay at least $50 for a meal like this.  This fish was right off the boat... literally.

Freshly caught and grilled swordfish and Bintang in Padangbai

More Bali to come in future posts... Seminyak, Kuta, Padangbai... people, culture, hotspots and adventure.

The Video above is of Padangbai at an IRC building site.

Out of curiosity I checked Dream Vacation Network for availability next month and found 191 resorts in the most demanded locations in Bali like Ubud and Kuta starting at $41 per night.  Cheap for some eat, pray and love in your life if you can get a good deal on a flight!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, AZ and Jerome, AZ

A couple of months back, my wife treated me to a little weekend getaway starting in Clarkdale, AZ  with the Verde Canyon Railroad excursion.  Now a wilderness/green adventure, it was once the rail line that supported the Jerome copper mine, according to our guide, and was the richest in Arizona during its heyday.  She had scheduled us in a "first class" rail car which essentially provided VIP table like seating, for larger groups couches and coffee table, for couples a nice cocktail table and comfortable seating along the windows with the best views (facing the front of the train, windows on the left provide the best views of the canyon). Ours was called the Flagstaff as each is named after an Arizona town.

We were informed to arrive early as seating was not assigned, only rail car.  There is food available at the rail station as is some shopping to kill time while waiting for the conductor to give the green light to board.  I was pleased to discover that food was also served on our rail car and a good thing too as it helped stave off the affects of the full service bar which we took full advantage of.

The train was set up to have alternating rail cars of different types.  Between each closed car was an open air car that allowed for observation of the canyon while enjoying the breeze and smells of Verde Canyon while mingling with some interesting passengers.  I brought along my telephoto and wide angle lenses and was able to capture a few interesting sights.

One shot I wanted to get heading out was a Bald Eagle that everyone was chattering about... I may have been too involved with exploring the wine menu but by the time I moved out onto the observation car it had passed beyond my ability to see it.  I promised myself that I would keep my eyes open on the way back.  So we ordered a couple of experimental drinks from the bar followed by one of their touted Arizona wines...

If you take this train ride... pass on this particular AZ wine... I would rate it less than okay.  Maybe it was the plastic cups but I don't think so.  The ride was a very relaxing and pleasant 4 hours and I was very glad to experience it.  It isn't often that I ride trains, I think the last (not counting subways and airport shuttle trains) was from Norfolk, VA to Orlando, FL on Amtrak in '90 or '91.  That may have actually resulted in my last ride ever if I had given into the impulse to throw the two Cub Scouts off the train that thought the kick plates that opened the doors between cars was the most fun ever, kicking them over and over again as hard as they could at 12:30 am... not parents, no scout master to be seen, eventually they got board or someone more impulsive actually threw them off the train...

Back to Verde Canyon.  the views from the train were spectacular and I have added a few shots I took, including the Bald Eagle I was able to capture on the way back.

Once we returned to the station we still had some daylight left to go back up to Jerome and do some exploring.  We had come through the town on the way from Las Vegas to the train and it struck us both how interesting this small, historic town was.  First it is perched high on the mountain and it seemed many buildings and houses facing the street had no back yard but rather a sheer cliff providing some excellent views from the shops we visited.

If you do go there from Vegas, once you get onto 40 from Kingman, make sure you take the Rout 89 exit and then 89a route to Jerome if you are a driver and aren't afraid of heights.  What a great climb and decent up and down a very curvy road through the mountains with sheer drop offs to one side most of the way!  No problem for the Infiniti M35x... though the 928 would have been a thrill >;).

Jerome was a great place to explore... it felt like a hidden gem much like the small, quaint and historic towns I used to discover driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and West Virginia.  No chains, unique restaurants, bars and stores and a lot of history.  Worth the trip.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Royal Palms Resort and Spa

I surprised my wife this weekend with a stay at the Royal Palms in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. I booked a Valencia Suite through DVN and was very happy with the accommodations. We were on a second floor overlooking the courtyard and very near to the spa. The scent of eucalyptus met us coming and going from the room. The room was very nice, reminding me somewhat of Pronghorn's private residency club rooms. The tub however was one of my favorites. It was shaped more like a cube than a standard tub measuring about 5x5x3feet deep. Great place to soak after being out in the Phoenix heat.

The overall atmosphere of the resort is great. Service is A+ and the separated walled gardens, pools and hidden nooks and fountains made it an enjoyable place to wander. Our first night we dined at the resort restaurant, T. Cook's.  As our waiter served our lobster bisque we were pleasantly surprised by the presentation.  Chilled lobster in the base of the bowl with the warm bisque poured into the bowl table side.  The last time we had such a presentation was at Manuel's on the 28th, one of our favorite Orlando restaurants which is unfortunately closed now.  Manuel's still holds the record for the very best lobster bisque we have every had.  For years since we have ordered bisque's hopeful that we would one day taste a bisque the equal of Manuel's.  With the presentation we were hopeful but while very good... it fell short of our hopes while meeting our expectations.

However, the high point of the meal was our entrees and the wine I picked to accompany.  Sonny ordered Duck a L'Orange which she hadn't had in some time and I went with the Pork Tenderloin though I was thinking Georges Bank Scallops at one point.  The wine, Owen Roe Sharecropper's Pinot noir '09 was fantastic and paired well with our meals.  I was unfamiliar with Sharecropper's but there was a note from the sommelier on the wine list that it was delightful.  As would be expected at a resort of this caliber dining is not inexpensive.  An excellent option to enjoy a special night out with spouse.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Exploring the West just got a lot less expensive with the Dream Vacation Network

About 2 months ago I became a member of the Dream Vacation Network, a private access technology platform that offers all sorts of travel options for travelers that enjoy a high level of quality in their travels while seeking the very best deals available. There are a lot of tools for timeshare owners as well but as a non-owner I use it like I would Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia or before DVN, Kayak had become my search engine of choice for travel.

That being said, the savings and availability I have experienced with Dream Vacation Network are unbeatable. As a qualifier I have only booked 4 trips so far but the money I saved essentially made one of the trips free. The first booking was to Anaheim at a boutique hotel next to Disney Land for my wife and my birthday weekend. It was pet friendly though we left our Cockers with friends for this trip. When I first looked up the hotels in the area I did a lot of comparisons between DVN pricing and availability and Kayak, Orbitz, etc. I saved about $15/night over the best rates I could find anywhere else on the web. The Hotel Menage was quite nice and we had a view of the pool and of the Disney fireworks that went off at night. Though I must say, other than the trip up to Solvang, one of the highlights of the trip was a restaurant we discovered called La Vie En Rose. What a spectacular atmosphere, food and service. We were greeted upon arrival by the owner Louis Laulhere who was snappily dressed and greeted us at the foyer with a broad smile and warm welcome. The restaurant felt like it should be in a small village in the french countryside. The food selection, presentation and taste were excellent. We will definitely visit again!

The next trip I booked was for a family friends graduation from Marine Boot Camp at MCRD in San Diego. We stayed at a Doubletree Club Hotel that was very nice and conveniently located near the base. Again I saved roughly 20% on the accommodations and since I drove from Las Vegas did not need a rental car. Since I seem to be on a savings and eating theme, I would have to say that the most enjoyable meal we had while in San Diego was actually in Bonita California at a little hole in the wall seafood spot called TJ's Oyster Bar. Thank God we got there early. There was probably only seating for 20-30 people including tables outside and shortly after our arrival there was a line out the front door and down the sidewalk. I ordered a clam ceviche and a diablo shrimp plate while my wife ordered a garlic shrimp plate. Both were excellent with generous portions and just the right amount of spice. We found this restaurant through trip advisor and the recommendations where spot on.

I booked a trip to Orlando to visit family which since it is in the east I wont spend much time on other than to say DVN really seem to be member focused. While I can book hotels, resorts, car rentals, cruises (haven't tried yet) etc. to book flights you are redirected to a public access website Kayak that searches all the others for the best pricing. The concierge at DVN explained to me that there isn't much margin to discount airlines so it isn't offered directly on the site. However, she explained that I could book the flights on Orbitz for instance and e-mail or fax the itinerary back to DVN and receive one credit for every dollar I spent. I already receive one credit for every dollar I spend on the site itself, but to receive credits for money I didn't spend on the site is a good deal... especially now that I have:

Total Reward Credits: 744

Total Reward Credits Including Pending: 6,795

Including my pending credits I have enough for a weekend car rental. Timeshare owners can deposit their timeshare weeks for credits that can be used to book anything on the site. Having been in the industry for over 15 years you would think that I would own a timeshare but one of the benefits of being in the industry is that I can stay in timeshares as a perk of my occupation.
The last trip I booked was for Scottsdale for which I saved several hundred dollars at a resort that provides free cook to order breakfast and free happy hour. I look forward to heading out there this weekend with my wife though I dread what the temperature will be like. After all it is hot in Vegas but Phoenix will probably be much warmer.
I have to say though that the DVN site really makes me want to do some more traveling, even for weekend getaways. It seems like every week they have multiple super specials like groupon for travel that based on the few comparisons I have done save upwards of $400-$600 for 5-10 day stays which is pretty substantial. Priceline has their negotiator but you have to bid first and hope you get what you want. With DVN all the negotiations have been done ahead of time and I just pick and choose what I want.
Since I just got my Asus transformer tablet from Amazon I can download the app for their MUVE application and manage my account from there!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Dusting off the blog.

It has been far too long that I have left my blog fallow and have neglected an enjoyable outlet and coverage of some great experiences. When last I wrote I was still with RCI traveling around the West. Since then I have started my own business, Quintessential Consulting Group and continue to travel, at times traveling so far West I ended up in the East, specifically Bali, Indonesia. All before the bruhaha of Eat, Pray Love. More to come.