Anyone who has been following my blog for a while or who knows me knows that my personal travel is spontaneous and last-minute. Not only do I hate planning but I also don’t like being over scheduled. I’ve also found that when I invest so much time preparing for a trip that my expectations are very high and usually never met.
In the beginning of December I read an article about people doing mileage runs at the end of the year to get to the next tier of their airline frequent flier programs. Having status with airlines takes a lot of pain out of flying so I looked at my mileage summary and learned that I was 8,000 miles away from the next tier. I started searching for flights that would bring me to the next status level. I found a few that would bring me close to the mileage I needed but not cross me over the mark. I also realized unlike many of the people doing mileage runs who just want the points, I wanted the experience of touring a city. My best bet was to travel to Europe so I started searching for flights.
I ultimately choose London for a few reasons. The first and foremost was that I love London and can never get enough of it. The second was that London feels like the US and after my experience in Peru, I realized that I wanted to go some place where I blended in and would be left alone. The third reason was I realized that it had been 7 years since I was in London which is way too long to be away from a place I loved so much.
I booked a flight and was able to secure a room at the Waldorf Hilton for 3 nights with hotel points. The pictures on the Hilton site looked great but I really didn’t have any expectations of the hotel. I figured I wasn’t going to spend so much time in the room so all I really needed was a clean accommodations where I could have a good night sleep.
The Waldorf Hilton at Night – Picture taken from the Hilton site.
I love warm weather destinations during the holidays. I’ve been to Australia, South America and Hawaii during the holiday season and love it. Maybe it is because I’m not a fan of snow or maybe because it’s harder to be festive dressed in shorts and flip-flops. Either way it seems that they try a little harder to bring the holiday spirit to warmer climates.
Here are a few of the pictures I took of holiday decorations when I was in Waikiki last week:
Santa at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. All of the Christmas trees at the hotel are pink!
I’ve stayed in the Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki in the past and had a great experience. Read about that stay here: http://talesofatraveler.com/hilton-hawaiian-village-in-waikiki-hawaii/
This time I was put in the newly remodeled Ali’i Tower which completely exceeded my expectations. A few of my favorite things about the Ali’i Tower are:
- Concierge service exclusive to the Ali’I Tower.
- Private pool and gym for tower guests.
- Newly decorated rooms with upgraded products.
- A 13th floor. I’ve never stayed in a hotel with a 13th floor before!
Christmas tree in the lobby of the Ali’i Tower
One of the places I always stop in when I’m in the Hawaiian Islands are the ABC Stores. ABC Stores are convenience stores that are like little mini super markets with affordable prices. Since many tourists stay in hotels and would usually have to pay inflated prices on sundries sold in gift shops, the ABC Stores are a great way to find everyday products and gifts without having to pay unreasonable prices.
ABC Store in Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center
ABC Stores reportedly sell more macadamia nuts, sun care products, souvenirs and visitor related items than any other store in Hawaii. The stores are packed with reasonably priced products including water, food, sunscreen, and gifts.
The stores are located in most of the tourist areas and are great place to check out on the islands.
The Westin Moana Surfrider hotel on the beach in Waikiki is one of my favorite hotels in the area. I’ve had the good fortune of visiting the Westin during the holidays for the last two years in a row.
A few of the things I love the most about the Westin Moana Surfrider (besides the great location) are:
- The porch in the front of the hotel with rocking chairs. It’s so nice to sit in a rocking chair and enjoy the beautiful Hawaiian weather.
- I’ve always see at least one wedding party every time I was at the hotel.
- The coffee shop attached to the hotel. The ceilings are high and once inside you feel like you were just transported to a plantation. Unfortunately there was a fire the day I was there and the coffee shop was closed.
- The Beach House restaurant with the great view. The food is fantastic as is the service.
- The decorations during the holidays. Can tell the difference between the Christmas trees from 2011 and 2012?
This is the front of the Westin Moana Surfrider Hotel. If you look closely at the picture you can see the rocking chairs.
Anyone who knows me knows that ice cream is usually the last thing in the world I want to eat. As long as I can remember, I never liked it. As a child, when we went to Disneyland with my Dad, we always got a frozen treat when we left the park. My brother would get an ice cream and I would get a frozen banana—never ice cream.
After flying all day from Los Angeles to Charleston through Washington Dulles I was ready for a nice dinner as soon as I dropped off my bags at the hotel. There are so many choices for great food in Charleston that it was really difficult to pick a place for dinner. I ultimately choose Magnolias which is a local restaurant that has been in business since 1990 and is part of the HGMI Hospitality Management Group. I didn’t have a reservation and the restaurant was pretty packed for a Monday night but fortunately I was able to sit at a table.
Tis the season. Thanksgiving is typically thought of as the start to the holiday season. Although decorations have been up in many places since Halloween, I decided to stick to the old guidelines and follow Nordstrom’s lead by not posting about the holidays until Thanksgiving. I read an article the other day on Yahoo that 45% of people would not celebrate Christmas if given a choice. I’ll take that a step further and say that if given a choice I would avoid all holidays. I’m not a traditional or sentimental person and I would rather spend my time doing something else.
I love traveling during the holidays and seeing the traditions of others around the world. It sounds funny doesn’t it considering my previous admissions? I’ve been to a few different countries during the holidays and no other culture goes as crazy as Americans when it comes to the holidays. Does that surprise you? It feels less commercialized and more heartfelt in other places which is probably why I like it so much.
I love to photograph Christmas trees and last year in Peru I found a few that were unique so I thought I would share them to help get everyone in the holiday spirit.
I found this tree in Lima Peru and it is a part of the square near the Presidential Palace. You can read more about the area the Christmas tree is in here: http://talesofatraveler.com/beautiful-lima-peru-part-1/
Southern California and the Sacred Valley in Peru are two very different worlds. If you’ve been reading my stories then you know about some of the adventures I had in Peru. There were few “aha moments” that made me really think about the world I live in and gave me the opportunity to laugh at myself and my world. Most of those moments came during my travels in the Sacred Valley.
The Sacred Valley is rich archeologically but poor financially compared to Western standards of living. A large majority of buildings in the area are only partially complete or in different phases of completion. I would guess this is because everything is done with cash so when someone has money they can add windows, a door or even a second floor. If there is no money then the structure just sits as is. Many homes don’t have running water, electricity, heat, or even a cooking source so it is very common to drive down the road and see smoke outside a house since this is where people cook if they have the man power to walk to the woods and find wood. Unfortunately so much of the wood in the local area has been harvested that it could take miles of walking to find enough wood to make a fire. The people who live in a city can walk to a community oven and pay 3 soles ($1 dollar or less) to have someone cook their food for them.
Door in the city
There are so many beautiful sites around the Sacred Valley in Peru. One morning I decided to visit the ancient Inca site of Moray. The ride was about an hour from the town of Ollantaytambo and the drive was beautiful. I was with a friend and we decided to hire a taxi instead of joining a tour.
When we arrived at Moray we were approached by a man who asked us if we had tickets. He was the administrator of the site and since there was no official entrance, he had to catch each person as the cars drove in. We walked over to the ticket office and paid the 10 soles ($3.30 US) for admission. The entrance was up the hill and it wasn’t until I got to the top of the hill that I was able to see the enormity of the site.