Monday, November 13, 2017

A LOCAL GEM

Do you ever pass by somewhere in your town and think, "I can't remember the last time I was here."  I do.  But do I actually act on it?  

When given the opportunity to visit the Norton Simon Museum, located in Pasadena just 20 minutes or so from my home, I signed up -- especially with a private tour and docent arranged through my executive women's group.  Immediately upon arriving I asked myself  "Why has it been so long in between visits?  I love this place!" 

Vincent Van Gogh self portrait
The museum became known as the Norton Simon in 1975 but its origins -- through various iterations -- actually date back to the 1920's.  What I particularly love about the structure is that it is so "manageable."  One doesn't get that feeling of being completely overwhelmed when visiting so many other museums.  You know the feeling:  you don't want to miss anything and you can't really figure out how to tackle it.  Frankly I was stunned to read the museum's square footage is 85,000, for it seems smaller to me.  I suppose with a collection spanning more than 12,000 pieces, a significant space is required.  But the beauty of this museum is it's intimate feeling.  To get a sense of proportion, can you guess the size of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC?  How about 2,000,000 square feet?  That's one heck of a space ..

Above, "Assembly of Sea Forms" in white marble by Barbara Hepworth

Left, "Tall Figure IV" by Alberto Giacometti stands 9-10'; 
With dear friends and fellow members of the Organization of Women Executives. The museum outing was part of our Culture Group.  I chair our Foodies Group (no surprise there).

On this beautiful fall day, the sculpture garden was an absolutely ideal setting.   With magnificent pieces by Henry Moore, Rodin and Maillol, one could really get lost in thought while strolling around the Lilly Pond stocked with ducks.  So peaceful.  

Aristede Maillol's "Mountain"
The magnificent pond
Henri Laurens' "Les Ondines" 

Rather than hearing from me, go and then go back again.  I plan to and soon.  This spot is truly a gem in LA's busy metropolis.  

The museum is open daily except Tuesdays. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

DEAR VIRGIN AMERICA: WE'RE THROUGH

You know how one has that sinking feeling that something just isn't going right?  Well, my suggestion is to always trust your instincts because you're probably on to Something ... 
 
My initial clue that flying round-trip from LAX to Boston on Virgin America was going to be problematic was not being able to check in online due to their website problems.  A phone call to the airlines was required, only to be walked through their myriad choices.  Finally success achieved.

Upon boarding, I was asked by the attendant if my small carry-on needed to be stowed.  He suggested I take the first available bin.  I said, "Would you help me lift this?  I have a sore arm."  His reply:  "So do I."  Upon which the nearest passenger stood up for the assist.  The flight proceeded fine, although another attendant was quite snarky ... where's Southwest when you need them?
Image result for SORE ARM IMAGES
The return was the nightmare.  First, no email received:  "It's time for you to check-in!"  No pre-flight alerts that had been signed up for just days earlier.  Unable to check in online.  Another call to the airlines left me uncertain.  She just didn't exude confidence upon confirming our reservation was indeed there, including exit row seats (extra $$) and pre-paid baggage fees (3 x $25 ea). 

At the airport (we arrived 4pm for a 5:50 departure), we were told 1) It was too late to check our bags because the plane was departing at 4:40; 2) We were still in the record for the now non-existent 5:50 flight but nowhere to be found in the 4:40 flight; and, 3) only a supervisor could do anything.  So where's the supervisor?  He's with another customer; he's on his way; he'll be here in five minutes; he'll be here in four minutes; he's at the gate; he's still on his way, etc., etc.  

Some 45 minutes later, said supervisor arrived.  The only option at this point (east coast flights were still reeling from the various hurricanes) was Boston-JFK-LAX on JetBlue.  We check our bags and clear security. Except at the JetBlue gate, we learned we had missed our takeoff window due to fog rolling in.  With the now-delayed departure, we'd miss our JFK connection.  Another 45 minutes in line at the "Just Ask" counter yielded basically no solutions.  We even considered renting a car, driving to NYC to make the first-out flight from JFK at 6am.  

Image result for IMAGES FOR ALERTS

And then our savior appeared from the heavens in the form of the JB gate attendant.  To summarize, we split the reservation so son Sam and daughter Hannah could leave that evening on a non-stop JB flight, arriving at about 1 a.m. -- at least they could get back to work.  The hubby and I would get a room at the airport ($230 for 7 hours) and fly out the next morning at 7 a.m.; arriving around 10:30 a.m.  Where the hell were our bags?  JetBlue had the tags and promised delivery to our home Monday afternoon, which promise they kept. 

Thaftermath?  All of these gory details were conveyed to VA via their website.  Full disclosure:  I did receive a schedule change back in July, found in my trash email.  Yet VA kept us on the non-existent 5:50 flight which they confirmed to me multiple times and never transferred our reservation when they changed the schedule.  Thus we wouldn't have gotten on the 4:40 flight no matter how early we arrived.  After two weeks of back-and-forth emails, we were provided $500 in credit toward future flights.  I can hardly wait to experience the airline again.  My Twitter wrath is below ... of course, the promised email never arrived.

 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

VETERANS "STAND DOWN" AT 3RD ANNUAL EVENT


It's likely not much of a stretch to say that most everyone you and I know appreciates the men and women of our country who serve in the military.  Many people have a family member who served and possibly paid the ultimate price for that service.  


So when a lifelong friend (and early supporter/fan of Travel with Teri B) asked me to attend and write about the 3rd Annual Stand Down event for veterans, to which she has devoted countless hours and about which she would like more people inspired, I said yes without hesitation.


Marcie Polier Swartz is an astute businesswoman, philanthropist and the founder/CEO of Village for Vets (click here for her inspiring story).  She could spend more of her time tending to her magnificent produce garden and chickens at her nearby home, or traveling the world, but instead made a choice to help underserved vets, whose numbers are way too high.  
Those of us who travel LA's infamous "405" freeway (from the north valley all the way to Orange County) have no doubt passed by Wilshire Boulevard and likely noticed a large expanse of land directly west that is simply known as the "VA."  But have you ever walked the property?  I really hadn't until I attended this event with camera in hand.  

For the Stand Down event (military speak for "at ease"), tents were set up offering countless services from housing to pet care to solar panel installation to haircuts to job opportunities.  It was staggering to see.  It was filled with both on-site residents plus many who live independently and traveled long distances to benefit from the offerings.  


Marcie had cautioned me that mostly the vets just "want to be heard," so I was careful to strike up conversations instead of just snapping away.  It was easy.  The main topic of the day was the Dodgers, about which I can converse with ease (plus I was in Dodger gear as were countless others on the eve of World Series Game 3).  Once we got chatting, I asked how long they served, in what capacity, and how they were doing.  And I made a point to thank them for their service.  
From upper left:  dressed-up volunteer; pet service van; Operations manager Martin Gomez; kitty post-treatment waiting to be picked up.  
Above, a dog gets spayed in the mobile unit; 8-year Army vet Grace holding Star who had just been treated 

Angela, a 24-yr Dept of Defense and Army vet, looking for job candidates to fill positions at the VA hospital.  Starting salary: $37K!

Room filled with donated women's clothing offered to vets
 
From upper left:  Greg is a disabled 4-year vet of the Navy; getting haircuts; Jersey Mike's subs could not compete with In-N-Out, where the line was huge!
Everything is donated -- everything.  Shout out to these companies.  
When I left, I immediately called the hubby.  "You have to come with me next year, but be prepared"  knowing how he wells up at the sight of a uniform.  We'll be there.  Hope you will too.  You will be moved beyond belief.

To learn more, go to:  

info@villageforvets.org

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

THREE SISTERS; PART TWO

am one of three girls who are collectively known to many as the "Michaels Girls" -- a reference to our maiden name and to many just how we are forever linked.  Three girls very close in age.  We celebrated Margie's 65th in December 2015, and it was just so much fun we decided to revisit another night away with great food and shopping, of course, in celebration of Janie's big day a few weeks ago.
Circa mid-'90's 
Booking a weekend night in September is a whole different deal than a midweek night in December; thus the options were a bit more limited.  Many resorts require a two-night stay in September, and a bunch of others had no openings.  So, in spite of knowing we could encounter very hot temps, the decision was made to head back to the desert for an overnight stay at the Hyatt Regency in Indian Wells.   
 
Our private patio with pool.

Off we went early Saturday morning to be at the gorgeous resort in time for lunch.  The drive was easy (under two hours)!  And, as luck would have it, Amex Platinmum came through again with an upgrade to a one-bedroom villa (a hefty 1,200 square feet) with private plunge pool and (you had me at) butler, just a press of a button away.  Nirvana.  And I didn't even mention the enormous bath!  Just beautiful. 
 
Lunch was delicious (and covered by the generous $100 resort credit) -- birthday girl Janie was off to the spa; Margie swam and worked; and I just hung out.  You know -- do nothing.  It was perfection.  

We enjoyed wine during a late-afternoon visit from cousins who reside nearby prior to heading off to dinner at  La Spiga Ristorante. The restaurant came highly recommended by a friend who makes his home in the area.  It was a perfect evening to dine outside on the patio -- the temperature was not overly hot during the day and dropped a bit more to make for a very comfortable evening.  


From top:  wonderful fresh salad; thinly sliced pears with burrata and balsamic glaze; grilled branzino; and the birthday girl at right.  Not shown is a fabulous ragu pasta .... 
After enjoying morning brunch (included in the rate), it was off to the  Premium Outlets.  I actually start getting a bit giddy with anticipation!  Oh, the (mystery) savings to be had ... As to the outcome of said shopping trip (other than the farewell lunch at In 'N Out), that shall remain safely within the sisters.  
 
After these two wonderful overnights, I look forward with anticipation to January 2019 -- a sisters' trifecta!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

EVERYONE'S FAVORITE: "RESORT FEES" -- BUT IN THE CITY??

Are you the only person I know (maybe on the planet, for that matter) who willingly pays those pesky "Resort Fees" that are tacked on to your hotel bill?  If the answer is "yes," by all means let me know.   If you're one of nearly every other traveler I've spoken to, you find them annoying, antagonizing and the exact opposite of engendering a warm and fuzzy feeling.

 
So why do hotels persist in this practice?  Why not simply bundle the cost into the daily rate?  We all know that services provided are not "free" and the properties do incur costs for providing.  But the practice seems akin to paying legal fees (likely NOT cheap), and then seeing a separate line item on the bill for "Xerox copies"!  Is there anything more maddening?? (That's rhetorical, but this annoyance is way up there).

This added cost is not new.  What is new, as I found out from Chris Kirkham's recent WSJ column, is hotels in major (and some smaller) cities have adopted the practice.  Just when you think you can escape resort fees in New York's Times Square, for example,  you'll have a nice surprise on your bill  -- at least at the Crowne Plaza there.  Yes, $30 per night!  Per the column:  "A hotel employee told him (the guest interviewed for the piece) the fee was for two free drinks at the bar, the gym and a newspaper." Really?  What if you're a teetotaling sloth who doesn't read? Do you get a refund??

Back to the situation at hand, maybe if we collectively got together to "protest" there would be more movement on the part of the hotels.  Many hotels say all of their fees are disclosed up front on their website, but what happens if you book through a third party?  Oh, the problems that could happen.    

Beware the fine print before you lodge a complaint!

As a person who has spent virtually her entire adult life selling to customers, why wouldn't vendors (in this case hotels) want to provide the utmost satisfaction?  Don't they get why people become loyal?  First and foremost, loyalty is acquired by providing products at fair prices with no surprises on the bill!  Someone needs to tell the industry that there's a better way to do things without sacrificing their need to make a profit -- I don't begrudge them that.  Likewise, take the time to fill out those surveys that pop up in your inbox about 30 seconds after you've departed.  I know that the responses are read and very ofter responded to.  Likewise on Trip Advisor -- I always get a response from a hotel when I post my review, particularly if there are complaints.

Time to get off my soapbox and "negotiate" my next stay.  Happy travels!

 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

BOSTON & PROVIDENCE: FALL FAMILY FUN!

When the family (the hubby, me and the kids) had a chance to get together with far-flung relatives (Florida, NY, CT, RI) gathered together in one location for a bar mitzvah, the decision to attend was a swift one.  Three of us are self-employed (and daughter Hannah got clearance from her boss) so it was just about carving out the four days and we were off! 

Boston's Logan Airport offers far greater flying options than Providence, RI, the site of the weekend's festivities.   We thus arrived late Thursday, rented our car, spent the night and next day in the city and drove the 90 minutes to our destination.  

What does one do first in Boston?  Perhaps checkout Fenway -- alas, the Red Sox were out of town. See Harvard, MIT, BU or the other schools?  No.  The answer is to find the best pizza around, which meant a return trip to Regina's in the North End.

After meeting up with Hannah's bestie from LA who makes her home in Boston, we made our way to Regina's after successfully finding parking which is no small feat in any area of the city.  This was a second visit for us and it was just as delicious as before.  We walked around the area for a bit before saying good-bye to the girls for the drive to Providence.  Hannah would take a late-evening train to meet up with us.

From our Regina's lunch -- two girls very happy to be together and the insanely delicious pies
Providence to me is your quintessential New England town -- sophisticated enough to entice students to either Brown University and/or RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), but quaint enough to have that small-town feel.  We found some of each.  

We first met up with the family (Uncle, Aunt -- who traveled with us earlier this year in India -- and cousins on the hubby's side) for Friday evening (Shabbat) services at Temple Beth-El and a light dinner afterward.  The bar mitzvah service was Saturday morning, followed by a luncheon and a party in the evening.  


                     Lots of Stone cousins (and an uncle!)
So what's the first thing unique about this?  The synagogue's roots date back to 1849, more than 110 years prior to the founding of the one my family has called home since 1986 -- LA's Stephen Wise Temple.  LA has one nearly that old -- founded in 1862 as Congregation B'nai B'rith -- which over many years (and in different locations) ultimately became Wilshire Boulevard Temple.  But back to Providence ..

We used the time between events to do a bit of exploring around Providence, and the first stop was at Brown -- one of our country's oldest colleges and the third smallest of the Ivy's.  Downtown Providence is bustling as most state capitals are, with a fair share of shopping and food complexes along the banks of the Providence River.

From top left: An Urs Fischer untitled sculpture (other than Lamp/Bear) on the Brown campus; Providence River; main quad; welcome sign; metal sculpture (artist unknown)

The party was as it should be -- mostly friends of the "man of the hour" Ben Stone.  The music was loud and lively and everyone had a terrific time.  And since it was at our hotel, it was a fantastic commute -- i.e., none!  We likewise gathered the following morning for a lovely brunch and a chance to say our goodbye's.  We headed back to Boston for a few more hours of sightseeing before going to the airport.

Ben's priorities are in order:  sports, family and lots of dessert!

Oh, would that the trip home had been as pleasant as the rest of our stay.  I will spare you the utterly disastrous experience courtesy of Virgin America for another post.  For now, we'll savor the 3-1/2 days of family fun and New England sights as they aptly deserve! 


After parking in the underground garage at the Boston Public Garden, we exited into the Garden and quickly found out we were smack in the middle of a weed festival ... like we'd entered Woodstock (I guess!)  Groovy, man .. 

                     Picture-perfect weather made for a terrific afternoon.

 

Friday, September 22, 2017

GLOBAL ENTRY vs. TSA PRE-CHECK: SIMPLIFIED

Do you ever get confused between Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check? If your answer is "no," feel free to go back to what you were doing (thanks for reading anyway).

If you're like a lot of the rest of us, you're wondering which of the pre-screening programs are a must and can one overdo it?

Rather than write my own post, I am sharing with you this excellent piece by Katherine LaGrave (online at Conde Nast Traveler):

TSA PreCheck is a government-sponsored program that began in October 2011 and grants approved passengers on domestic and some international-flights expedited screening. PreCheck passengers don't need to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets, which means less time in line-and more time in the lounge. It helps you when you're leaving the country.  Acc
TSA



According to U.S. Customs & Border Protection, "Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States." In short, it allows travelers to bypass the lines at customs and immigration by checking in at a kiosk with an entry pin number-your - "Trusted (Known) Traveler number"- and a fingerprint scan. The kiosk then spits out a receipt, and travelers can proceed to baggage claim, customs, and the exit. Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck eligibility in participating airports. Global Entry helps you when you're trying to return to the U.S.

US Customs and Border Protetion Global Entry Trusted Traveler Network kiosks are seen at Dulles International Airport
Who's eligible?
For TSA PreCheck, U.S. citizens, nationals, and residents. There is no age restriction to apply for TSA PreCheck.
For Global Entry, U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, andcitizens of Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and Mexico. (Depending on the country, visas may be required.) Canadian citizens and residents are also eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS partnership program; the Netherlands has an arrangement for its citizens via FLUX, its trusted traveler program. Anyone under the age of 18 must have parental or legal guardian consent to participate.
If you've got a criminal record; provide false or incomplete information on your application; have pending criminal charges; have violated customs, immigration, or agricultural laws in any country; are currently being investigated by any local, state, or federal agency; or are inadmissible to the United States under current regulations, your application will most likely be denied.
Where can I use each service?
Nineteen airlines work in cooperation with TSA PreCheck, and the service can be found in more than 180 airports across the U.S. The airlines, in alphabetical order, are: Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Cape Air, Delta Air Lines, Etihad Airways, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa, OneJet, Seaborne Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin America, and WestJet. They all participate in PreCheck, which means they meet the standardized system and checkpoint requirements.
Nearly 60 airports around the world have Global Entry kiosks.
If I'm a member, can I bring travel companions through the expedited lanes with me?
Not necessarily. Use of the Global Entry kiosks is limited to program members and does not extend to family members or travel partners. (Want to get Global Entry for a kid? You're in luck.) However, family members ages 12 and under traveling with an eligible PreCheck-approved parent or guardian are also able to participate in expedited screening.
They have different benefits-that must mean they probably cost different amounts, right?
Correct. TSA PreCheck is cheaper ($85 for five years), and Global Entry is $100 for five years. Consider, however, that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, and that extra $15 seems well worth it. While the government itself offers no discounts or reimbursements for either of the fees associated with the programs, several credit cards and loyalty programs  do: For Global Entry, look into benefits for the Platinum Card from American Express, Citi Prestige, or the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card; for TSA PreCheck, read the fine print on the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, and Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example.
What's the application process like? Is one easier than the other?
Not quite-they're surprisingly similar. For TSA PreCheck, submit an online application here, and then schedule an appointment at any of more than 380 enrollment centers across the country. At your in-person appointment, you'll have to give your fingerprints and undergo a brief background check. (Appointments usually take around ten minutes.) Applicants will typically receive written notification within two to three weeks after the in-person appointment; however, some individuals are approved mere days after the appointment.
To begin the Global Entry application process, create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account. (Everyone, regardless of age, must have their own GOES account.) After setting up an account, log in and complete the application. After completing the application and submitting the fee, CBP will review your application. Should your application be conditionally approved, it's then time to set up an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. (Applicants must schedule individual interviews.) Bring a valid passport and another form of identification, such as a driver's license or ID card, to the appointment. You'll have a 15-minute interview with a CBP agent, and if approved, will be given your "Trusted (Known) Traveler number," which you can then begin entering when booking tickets in order to get TSA PreCheck access.
Which is best for me?
Depends. Thankfully, we don't have to answer that question. Use the Department of Homeland Security's interactive Trusted Traveler tool, which only requires that you answer a few questions about your travel habits before generating the best program for you. 

The Tech That Is Making Travel Safer
I hope you got as much info out of this post as I did.  If you're up for more, check out the newest program popping up called CLEAR -- another way for us to ostensibly move faster to our destinations.  Safe (and uneventful) travels!