Friday, February 28, 2014

Desert call yields unusual sculptures -- prehistoric to contemporary

VISIONARY PHILANTHROPIST AND HIS ARTIST PARTNER CREATE DESERT ART

Bighorn sheep, who roam on the desert, are perched playfully for a stand-off during mating season.

A tyrannosaurus rex awaits your discovery in Borrego Springs.

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

THE DESERT beckoned and we answered the call, delighting in the surprise of sculptural art on the way.
We've been to the desert many times, enjoying the spring flowers and bird life,  favorite places to stay and some wonderful restaurants.
This time, we discovered prehistoric life --  dinosaurs, mammoths, and sabre-toothed cats and tortoises that would have charmed Darwin.
An ancestor of our modern birds picks up his prey and flies.
Beautifully crafted metal sculptures -- including elephants, eagles and even a desert jeep with passengers --   are positioned to suggest roaming the deserts of San Diego County, near our home here in southern California.
Outside of the town of Borrego Springs lies Galleta Meadows, inspiration of the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Dennis Avery.
An imposing Indian chief joins the ranks of prehistoric and modern life.
HE CALLED these massive steel sculptures "Sky Art," probably because he placed them on the desert scrub to jump out at the tourist and draw the eye skyward.
Framed by the blue desert sky and mountains of the Anza Borrego desert, the giant sculptures catch the eye and tickle the imagination.



This tortoise is worthy
of a Darwin nod.











Avery, a visionary land owner of Galleta
Meadows Estates in Borrego, conceived of the idea of adding “free standing art” to his property. He commissioned Ricardo Breceda of Temecula, California, to create the metal sculptures you see today. Breceda operates Perris Jurassic Park along I-215 just south of Perris.

Keller takes an imaginary ride in a desert jeep.
The late Mr. Avery. 
MOST OF the animals depicted are from various prehistoric periods. However, there are a few that represents modern time, such as Desert Bighorn Sheep that Borrego Springs is named after (“Borrego” in Spanish means sheep). There are also a few that are more fictional, such as the 350-foot serpent that was erected in July of 2011.  Cleverly, it appears to slink under the highway, so its slithering length is on both sides of the road!
HOW WONDERFUL to come across these sculptures, installed remarkably since April of 2008.  The surreal menagerie -- a gift of Avery -- sit on private parcels of Galleta Meadows Estate -- open to the public and accessible from Borrego Springs Road.
A pack mule and a miner's supplies seem to be taking a rest.
THE ARTIST Breceda, is a master welder who uses scrap bars, wire and metal then pounds the materials with various hammers for life-like texture and skin.  We counted more than 60 camels, sloths, saber-tooth cats, wooly mammoths, raptors, wild boars, bighorns and tortoises, along with giant birds large enough to carry off a small pig.
All are peacefully co-existing over a span of several square miles.  The wild horses and bighorns may be modern desert dwellers, but some of the vertebrates date from the Pliocene-Pleistocene era up to five million years ago.
A padre and his faithful dog preach the gospel in Borrego.
ALTHOUGH AVERY died in 2012, his widow, Sally Tsui Wong-Avery, continues to sustain his generous  gift.  Her husband and the artist added humans to the collection in 2010, including a missionary, explorer and field workers -- all of whom shaped desert life. The local chamber has published a helpful "Village Guide" with directions on discovering the llamas, mammoths, grasshopper, tapirs, peccaries, and more.
I took pleasure in discovering Galleta Meadows and this intriguing art because galleta means cookie and that, as we know, is my nickname!

THERE'S MUCH more to discover of the desert's spring gifts and plenty to do in Borrego Springs -- from buying delicious dates and grapefruit, to enjoying a fine meal, discovering nature close-up on Palm Canyon Trail and learning to identify a few cacti. We'll look at that next week, but first, we salute the lively current theater scene in San Diego, with a look at a trio of fine productions.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and tell your friends about our Wednesdays and weekend posts at: www.whereiscookie.com


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Phoning home -- or not -- here are some tips for communicating abroad


From the moment  you arrive in a new airport, you'll experience myriad adjustment challenges, including getting acquainted with new technology involving phone, e-mail, texting, GPS and more.
Here in Barcelona, we used a mobile broadband connecting device to access GPS.

Many options await, so do a little

homework, take some time with a phone overseas



STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

BEWARE OF ROAMING charges and other surprises if you're planning to use your phone abroad.
A mobile broadband connecting
 device can help you communicate.
After some crazy, high wireless bills, we've done some homework and find that for our needs, it is easier and cheaper to text and e-mail than to phone home while abroad. You can phone with your own device, but it's costly.
ON THIS LAST, most recent Europe trip the rental car agent in Barcelona suggested a device to give us internet service in our small, non-GPS foreign car. The device was 10 Euros, or about $14-$15 a day, but worth its weight in gold.  We connected our smart phone by wi-fi to the device and in turn to the internet, allowing GPS mapping and texting and e-mailing for our five days in Spain's Costa Brava.
We don't have global phone service where you can take any phone anywhere, navigating a dozen or more band widths.
If you're in the same boat, a good starting place for questions is with your carrier's web site.  Get a human being to explain what services they offer abroad, and how much you might expect to pay. You'll hear numbers and letters and bands and a language that sounds foreign.  Ask the tech person to "translate."
A pause to connect
in a foreign airport.
A GPS while abroad is a good idea, but there are options.
MOST US cell phones are either not GSM (quad band) phones, or they are locked GSM phones. So -- to avoid roaming charges, you must have an unlocked GSM phone so you can buy SIM cards for it for other countries (like using a local calling card in another country-- more SIM tips below). If you absolutely must have phone conversation, do your homework and make a plan before you touch the "send" button.
Otherwise, you might receive a bill that will knock your socks off.
Starting in 2006, mobile broadband access became increasingly available at the consumer level using "3G" and "4G" technologies -- HSPA, EV-DO, HSPA+ and LTE.
Check out your options
before you leave the U.S.
All the four major wireless operators in the U.S. can provide international roaming in parts of the world, but some carriers are more limited by where they can offer service based upon the available technology.
 *In the U.S., wireless operators use two main cellular technologies: GSM and CDMA.

*GSM, or global system for mobile communications, is used throughout much of the world, including in Europe where  There it is considered the norm.  Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as many parts of Asia and the Middle East also use this system. Japan and Korea are different; we address that below.
 In the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile USA operate GSM networks. As a result AT&T and T-Mobile have the most extensive networks abroad.
*AT&T HAS roaming agreements in more than 190 countries throughout the world. Its triband and quadband phones work in most parts of the world, except in Japan and South Korea, where you'll need a special phone that either supports CDMA or uses the 3G standard UMTS in the 2100 MHz frequency band. Sony Ericsson, Nokia, and a few other phone manufacturers now offer multi-band GSM phones that also include support for UMTS 2100. This coverage also extends to some cruise ships. More about that....
 Sometimes you'll see 
a sign signalling cell
 phones aren't allowed.
 * WE SPENT a couple hours talking with Verizon, which is our carrier, before this recent trip.  They offer a few "world phones" that have both
Often, a remote port or mountain range can block cell reception.
CDMA and GSM radios built in. These include, the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, BlackBerry Storm, and the Samsung Renown. The timing wasn't good for us because of our current contract.  But Verizon does offer an option for travelers who don't have a GSM/CDMA Verizon handset and who are traveling abroad to a country that does not use CDMA. This program, called Global Travel Program, is offered to current Verizon Wireless subscribers without a daily rental fee or security deposit.
THE PROGRAM is designed for customers traveling on short trips that last less than 21 days. Customers may call 800-711-8300 to speak with a Global Services Activation specialist to request a global phone.
Being on water, even in Seattle, can mean roaming charges. 
* IF YOU ARE satisfied with e-mailing and texting abroad, we recommend that.  Sure, you can talk to anybody anytime.  On a ship, though, you will go through the ship's satellite communications.  It will be expensive. We prefer to buy an internet package, sold by the minutes you expect to use.  Most ships are now set up so you can use your phone or laptop in your stateroom and nearly every line also offers a computer center now.
* Between our shipboard package, and our internet connectivity on land, we were connected via e-mail, text and GPS at a reasonable cost.
*OTHER OPTIONS for phoning abroad include buying your own cheap phone and some minutes, or taking your own phone and buying a SIM card. (A dizzying array of options await with SIM. Again, it depends on how "techy" you are. Our favorite travel warrior, writer Rick Steves, has a wonderful essay on mobile phone and SIM cards in Europe.  Google him and his travel communication tips.)
The trick is not to be a slave to technology, but to have communication enough to make you happy and relaxed and able to enjoy being far away without worry about home or office.

COMNG UP:  Okay, enough with technology.  We're pausing from phones and rental cars to take you to the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California, for delightful sculpture. Remember to explore, learn and live.  We post Wednesdays and weekends, so please tell your friends about: www.whereiscookie.com

Friday, February 21, 2014

When renting a car abroad, think small and don't be shy

Keller prepares to take the wheel of a rental car  on an autumn trip to Olbia, Sardinia.




STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER



Roundabouts are the norm in much of Europe and the United  Kingdom. 
 Here, a Dali sculpture in Figueres, eastern Spain, decorates the curve.
DRIVING WHILE abroad can be a delightful way to discover new terrain at your own pace. We've made friends in rental cars, gleaned information and tips, discovered off-the-beaten path treasures. But renting a car successfully, getting the best deal and returning the auto safely take courage and know-how. Wednesday, we laid the groundwork for getting your rental agreement before you leave the U.S.  We also talked about ways to prevent extra charges -- from dents that you didn't cause to gas that you didn't use.
Here are more tips to help you renting abroad:
 Go small:  Tight, narrow streets laid out for horse and carriage, centuries before cars, are common in many European, South American, Middle-Eastern and Asian cities.  Parking areas are small or non-existent so think small, to allow you to maneuver better. In a traffic jam, you can sometimes back or turn your way out in a small car.  Not so with a large car which will also be much more expensive.

Driving a rental car in the Middle East may yield more than cars!
 WHEN MAKING reservations for your car pickup -- particularly at an airport -- remember that the company's fleets are often stocked with larger cars, for use by business travelers on expense accounts.  You might receive a free upgrade for a subcompact booking and could still end up with a car size to maneuver easily.  European cars are smaller than their American counterparts.  If you're only a couple or threesome, no problem. Small may not suit large or tall Americans, or those carrying lots of luggage, or traveling with a group or big family. Consider all that.

Safely delivered to her Costa Brava hotel, Cookie prepares to celebrate!
Parking in large cities calls for ingenuity as these Roman cars attest.
 In many countries, manual transmissions are the norm. So we pay a higher price for an automatic. If you are comfortable with a stick shift, you will save money. Remember, though, that driving overseas is much more taxing than driving at home. FIRST, YOU probably have no idea where you're going, roads are often narrow, winding or  poorly paved, or precariously constructed on mountainsides or ocean cliffs. Road signs and street markings are different. A recent drive from Barcelona to Spain's rugged Costa Brava was spectacular but yielded some frightening moments. Another drive from Florence south to Sienna was breathtaking but terrifying. Many Italian drivers have lead feet and we were passed and honked at by many aspiring Mario Andrettis!
 Neither of us likes to drive with a stick shift. So if not all  drivers in your group are comfy with a manual transmission, get an automatic and suck up the higher price. Remember, too, if you're in England, Australia or other "left side of the road" countries, driving has additional challenges. Navigating those roundabouts calls for clear thinking and determination. Be sure everyone's comfortable with driving on the left side of the road -- it can be challenging.
Navigating a busy Rome street calls for clear thinking, then action.
     BE AWARE: many countries have a minimum and maximum age for renters. Drivers under 25 or
over 70 may face surcharges or not be permitted to rent at all.
  International driving permits:   If you're traveling in an English-speaking country, you can get by with an American driver's license. Check with the consulate or embassy of the country you're visiting to find out policies on international drivers.  Many countries will ask that you also obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). This is basically a paper that translates your into into 10 languages. It is recognized by over 150 countries. If you are renting a car abroad, you may be asked to present one along with your regular state license. You must be at least 18 years old to get an IDP. The car rental agencies can give you information country by country.
car europe

TWO AGENCIES in the U.S.
  are authorized to issue IDP's: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the National Automobile Club. Fakes are also available on the web so beware!
Get your IDP before leaving home: it must be issued in your home country. An IDP is not a license; it's merely confirms and translates the license issued in your native country. If you are stopped by officials abroad, you must present your home country's license and IDP where needed. Be careful to obey local tolls, rules and lights. Any citation issued abroad will find its way for payment through your rental car company.
Finally, check with your auto insurance before you go to determine if you are covered while driving abroad.  If not, we recommend purchasing minimum insurance.  You might be the world's best driver, but if someone smashes into you in transit, or in a hotel or restaurant lot, you'll be covered. It's worth a few extra Euros for the peace of mind.
 To GPS or not?  We'll answer that in the next post.


Keller is ready for his close-up on overseas technology.
COMING UP:  You're rented your car and are off to foreign places and discoveries.  Now, how to get technology to co-operate with you overseas. You may have to file a plug to fit into an outlet -- but we can help you avoid checking with an engineer! More on technology wherever you're going.  Travel in Europe with technology, but don't necessarily plan on phoning home.  Remember to explore, learn and live. Tell your friends and check us out Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Renting a car for foreign travel can be fun with advance planning

AVOID TROUBLE BY DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING, PHOTOGRAPHING DAMAGE, OBSERVING LOCAL SIGNS

Renting a car abroad -- here in Sardinia -- calls for advance planning.

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

RENTING A CAR while traveling abroad can be unnerving.
Daunting questions arise: What do you do about a bang or a ding noticed before you take the car out of the lot?
How will you transcend a language barrier?
Do you book at home before you go, or wait and take your chances there?
What about airport rentals versus
A small car is a good idea, particularly in southern Europe.
downtown or hotel rentals?
Can you pick up your car in one town and deliver it in another?
THESE TIPS -- in two blog posts, today and Saturday -- will help you navigate the paperwork and come out safely with a good experience.
 We've had luck renting through Europcar, which we've used in several European cities.
It's a thrill to be on the road and on your own in a new place!
You can indeed pick up a car in one town and drop it off in another, but you must make your desire clear in the contract from the beginning. (Say you're flying into Barcelona and returning to the U.S. from Madrid.  No worries, but let the car people know on-line.)
Maneuvering in close quarters -- here Egypt -- challenges.
  So that you do not squander a moment of your precious time abroad, book in advance. You will save money  by booking on line and printing out the contract. Take some time on the web and look and comparison shop.  Even payment can be made before you leave home.  You'll know the precise amount and won't have to translate Euros or other foreign currency. It's also cheaper, easier, safer and less likely to include hidden clauses. Once you are abroad, exchange rates can change, you'll have unfamiliar rental agreements, possible language barriers and other cultural differences.
 GASSING UP.  You'll get the car with a full tank and save money by filling it up yourself just  before you return it.  Most car companies charge a standard fee of up to $100, depending on the car's size, if they refill it for you.  Hertz charged us for gas, despite the fact that we'd filled up the car minutes before returning it.  We supplied the dated credit credit card receipt showing the charge in Euros for a full tank.  In time, the charge was reversed.

Be sure to fill your tank up just before you return the car; keep a receipt.
IT'S A SHAME we have to be so defensive while renting cars, but it's the way life has become.  Record anything suspicious for the record "just in case."
  We rent the car in the airport and return it to the airport, which is cheaper than returning or renting downtown or at your hotel.  And you save the cab fare to get to your first overnight stop.
If you are unlucky enough to have an accident, take photos.
 WE DOCUMENT with photos any scratches, dings or questionable areas not noted on the contract. This was helpful recently when Hertz also charged our credit card nearly $300 more for a supposed dent incurred, the company said, during our rental. We disputed the charge with photos of a small ding taken before we left the lot.  It proved that we hadn't done it, that it was a rusty dent and had obviously occurred some time ago.  We also noted that part of the "damage" in the bad photos sent us was a tree leaf. If, gods forbid, you do have an accident, take photos of everything while waiting for the officials.
Give yourself plenty of time to get where you're going in unfamiliar cities.
ASK ABOUT  weekend specials, late penalties and gas charges.  Unadvertised discounts and hidden costs may not be explained at the time of rental, and it may be too late once you find out.

 Be sure to know the time for drop-off. Be a bit early. Many rental agencies begin charging for each 24-hour-period from the time of rental, and will bill a full day if you return the car even minutes after another 24-hour period begins.

In Rome and elsewhere, scooters buzz easily about cars. 
  START A FOLDER as soon as you book your trip. Toss clippings and promotional codes you come upon.  If you see a TV ad for a good rental car rate, jot it down.  If you're reading a magazine or newspaper, clip ads and write down promotional codes. Many of the best rates do not show up on agents' computer screens.
  Inquire about senior citizen, AAA, credit card and frequent flier program discounts or add-on offers. Be sure to show your airline or member card for the promised mileage credit before you drive the car off the lot.
THIS WEEKEND: Small or large car, manual or automatic transmission, driver's license and insurance information. More on car rentals abroad. We post weekends and Wednesdays.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and tell your friends about www.whereiscookic.com.