Thursday, January 26, 2023

Seeing L.A. a new way: fun small bus tour offers sights, delights


Hooray for Hollywood, where the famous letters stand in a well preserved forest near
Griffith Observatory.  A day on the road with Hollywood Bus Tours is strongly recommended.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
stroll the famous Santa Monica Pier.



WE VISIT Los Angeles six or seven times a year, but we'd never seen some of her most delightful sights.
So on this last trip, with a quiet day between plays, friends and museums, we booked a half-day jaunt with Hollywood Bus Tours.
Our comfy, small tour bus took us all over the city, to
highlights ranging from Santa Monica to the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood's famous Wall of
Fame includes stars from long
ago, such as the great Italian
opera great, Enrico Caruso.

We were so glad to discover this fun tour.  What a delight the day was.  Our tour guide Jeff, a San Francisco transplant, now a devoted Angeleno, has an amiable nature that set the tone for an easy-going day with congenial, global people.
The drive aboard Hollywood Bus Tour takes curious guests
through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and varied neighborhoods.
Jeff's comfortable, joking nature encouraged conversation and new friendships in a tour both informative and fun.  He took us through Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where we saw dozens of expensive autos and lavish gated homes of stars past and present.
WE TOURED both familiar landmarks and undiscovered parts of the city in our "Taste of L.A." It took us past Hollywood's famous bars and nightclubs, Beverly Hills with its five-star hotels, mansions and parks, Rodeo Drive with its gorgeous shops, and on to both iconic and little known corners.
THE TOUR takes a leisurely look at both the city's hot spots and its quiet treasures which was a pleasure for us.
Los Angeles, "City of Angels," made room
for two more potentials, Bruce Meyers
and Christene "Cookie" Meyers,
at the Griffith Observatory.

Jeff threw in tales about movie shoots and stars' deaths, including that of the great comedian John Belushi who died of a drug overdose at Chateau Marmont in 1982.
While Hollywood is only a part of Los Angeles, it's what most tourists come to see because of its connection to glamour, money and power. It's the show-biz capital of the world, home to famous television and movie studios and well known record companies. Jeff drove us past a half-dozen of these.
EVERYONE KNOWS of Santa Monica Pier, perhaps the west coast's most famous.
Farmer's Market offers shops
and pleasant places to relax.
We walked to the end of it, past the roller coaster and cafes, enjoying an ice cream as we watched fishermen and tourists mingle.
We were thrilled to visit Griffith Observatory, that stately treasure at the city's top. We stopped there for a splendid view of the famous Hollywood sign and the valley that became Los Angeles and hoe to Leonardo DiCaprio, Elvis, Madonna, Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe and countless other stars. The observatory is a popular tourist attraction. Besides those splendid views, it boasts and an extensive array of space and science-related displays, all thanks to its benefactor, Griffith J. Griffith. Admission has been free since the observatory's opening in 1935, honoring Griffith's will.

It's fun to walk the Santa Monica pier to its peaceful end.

WITH LEISURELY stops for snacks, photos or a restroom, we never felt "trapped" in the small bus. We enjoyed Jeff's banter and history lessons, delivered with wry humor and a genuine respect for his adopted town. He has become somewhat famous for his "jokes of the day,"  received each morning from his dad via email, and shared with amused tour passengers. 
While Jeff had plenty of anecdotes about the town's glitz and glamour, he also paid homage to its humble, 
Hooray for Hollywood -- and Hollywood Bus Tours -- which
takes visitors through neighborhoods in colorful Los Angeles.
agricultural roots. He described the Los Angeles of more than a century ago -- long before it became the sprawling city we know today.
 A stop at the famous Farmer's Market, founded in 1934, revealed the city's  long, close connection to agriculture, with rows of beautiful stalls lined with the best produce in the state.
WE STOPPED for a beverage, some sunshine and live guitar jazz at this sprawling, historic market.  Families, couples and singles young and old walked their dogs and lingered between a meal or shopping for refreshments and lovely music.
Besides the pretty displays of fresh produce, the market features an impressive range of trendy shops, cafes and gourmet grocery stores.
WE MADE new friends on this spirited tour, exchanging contact information with folks from Portugal and Berlin, learning new trivia about a city we thought we knew well, and enjoying iconic sights on a sunny, southern California day.
Hollywood Bus Tours with its lively narration and variety offers three tours -- each a memorable way to see the fascinating sights of one of the world's most famous cities.
+1 (213) 986-7688

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers stopped for
a photo in the fortress village of Valenca, Portugal. 

UP NEXT: Come with us to discover the charms of a quiet, little known Portuguese village. Most travelers to Portugal don't visit Valenca, often confused with Valencia, Spain. It's an impressive medieval town whose imposing fortress overlooks the River Minho. We spent a few days soaking up the atmosphere of this laid back village. We found intriguing museums, elegant boutiques, and inviting eateries that didn't break the bank. We saw pilgrims on the famous Camino de Santiago -- the way of St. James. A network of paths lead to the shrine of the apostle Saint James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galacia in Northern Spain. As a border town, it's a great place to sample both Portuguese and Spanish wines.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Vegas food tasting tours offer a royal flush of fun, history, yummy bites


A Taste Buzz Food Tour of the Arts District in Las Vegas offered a fun outing for Bruce Keller
and Christene "Cookie" Meyers. Consider Taste Buzz for a refreshing break from gambling. 

A happy group of foodies posed in the arts
district of Las Vegas on a delightful food tour.



Soulbelly BBQ offers tasty
barbecue, craft beer and live
 music in an attractive space.

IF YOU LOVE Las Vegas -- (count me in) but need an occasional break from the casinos, gambling and glitter, here's a winner of a tour.
Taste Buzz Food Tours offers three unique tasting tours in Las Vegas and we highly recommend this lively, thoughtful trio of options. 
We opted for the Arts District tour, to get us off the Strip which we love but know well, so were happy to find something different. We picked a winner with the arts tour which took us to a unique, unexplored part of the city. We learned so much about this area new to us, between the famous Strip and older downtown.

If you think Las Vegas is only a place to lose
money and see great shows, here's another option
 for your next foray to Sin City: a food & art tour.

We felt like locals as we prowled the streets, stopping at a popular wedding chapel, neighborhood bar and several small, high quality galleries. Our touring was divided into four tasty samplings -- appetizers to desserts.
OUR FIRST "bite" was a delicious empanada with zingy homemade salsa and a fresh, flavorful ceviche at Misterio Mezcal. Then strolling past vintage shops, we admired murals and cottages from the 1920s and  '30s, some reconfigured as attractive galleries and shops.
Our spirited guide April described the area as "the real Las Vegas -- an up and coming local neighborhood." It felt very much like that -- a neighborhood coming into its own, adapting to changing times and trends.
Empanadas and ceviche at Misterio Mezcal
delighted our hungry Taste Buzz group.

Our insiders' look took us past small businesses, coffee shops, cafes, breweries, barbecue and other specialty restaurants and the city's oldest bakery, Freed's, a much loved institution since 1959. It's famous for its pastries, cookies and elaborate wedding cakes.
The Vegas food scene seems to be exploding, and our tour confirmed that. We sampled fabulous barbecue at SoulBelly and pizza better than that we've sampled in Naples at Good Pie Pizza.  We walked that off with a stroll past the inventive Majestic Repertory Theater, a proud cornerstone of ALIOS, the arts district. The theater was named for an early 1900s Vaudeville house. Fun to learn this history.
WE REALLY did feel like Vegas locals as April guided us past bright murals, antique and coffee shops and funky bars, chatting and informing as we walked.
The two other Taste Buzz tours offer the same variety 
This gallery offered lovely pottery and wall
hangings for sale and to admire between tastes.

and fun activities as our arts tour -- a blend of sights, history and tastings. One of the other two focuses on Freemont Street and the old Vegas, the other on the newer and more flashy Strip. Each of the three Taste Buzz tours offers four to six local tastes, all  at favorite, highly rated eateries endorsed by loyal locals as well as tourists.
 TASTE BUZZ has created a successful, highly rated mix of food stops, top attractions and insight into cultural landmarks that make Vegas unique.
Bruce Keller pauses at a favorite
neighborhood bar, Silver Stamp.

A beautiful mural is one of many eye-catching
attractions on a walking foodie tour in Vegas.

We learned many fun facts and interesting Vegas history. At tour's end, we truly felt we'd experienced  local culture through art, food and history. Our  cheerful and knowledgeable guide was a delight, lingering at the end to share personal recommendations for more places to eat, drink, and play during our stay.
Going off the Strip for a few tasty hours offered a wonderful trip down Memory Lane with the latest trends in culinary delights.  Taste Buzz offers a trio of top food tours, not to be missed next time you're in Sin City.
More information or to book: 

Keller and Cookie braved the cool and found sunshine on world famous
Santa Monica Pier on a recent fun trip with Hollywood Bus Tours.

COMING UP: We're always on the lookout for the off-beat, the "undiscovered." So on a recent theater jaunt in Los Angeles, we hooked up with Hollywood Bus Tours. What a fun day. We spent a delightful afternoon in a small bus with a lively international group of fellow travelers. We visited famous attractions -- from Santa Monica Pier to Griffith Observatory.  We cruised past stars' homes and hangouts, well known hotels and restaurants and family attractions including the popular Farmer's Market.  Join us, remembering to take time to explore, learn and live. Visit us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:
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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Hop on, hop off bus tours show off a new city to fine advantage

The views from the top floor of "Hop on and Hop Off" buses are usually splendid.
Here, the bus passes under a beautiful ceiling of trees on Las Ramblas in Barcelona. 
Malaga and many other cities offer these popular tours. Check it out next visit!




Hop on and off tourists enjoy a beautiful, sunny afternoon in a new town. 

IF YOU'RE new in town and want to get a good, basic overview of your host city, you can't beat a hop on and hop off bus tour. 
We try to do one in every city, usually on the first full day of our visit. It's a terrific way to get to know your new town, making notes of  museums, plazas, cafes or parks you want to spend more time with.
It's also a great way to remind yourself of why you've returned to a particular city.
USUALLY, a taped narration in many languages allows you to learn in your favorite language.  Sometimes, there's a live guide -- even better.  Always engaging.  Particularly if you're on a limited time schedule, the hop on and off bus tour gives a great overview so you can feel as if you've learned something about your new town, even in a few hours.
THE HOP ON AND off feature also allows one to budget time for return visits to particular spots if you're staying longer.
Most day tours hit a few major attractions within the allotted hours. But if you take a hop on and off bus tour, you are free to do just what the tour says -- hop on and off and roam the city all day.
A "bus top view" here in Funchal, Madeira, is a lovely
way to see the sights of a new town on a sunny day.

  IF YOU ARE a bus aficionado, the first bus tour you take in the new city will give you a clear concept of how the routes work, what places are near to the hotel where you are staying, what's going on in the street culture and how you can get around in case you want to rent a car or use public transportation.
WE LOVE TO roam without feeling time constraints. But if time is short and you want to get the best bang for your dollar or euro, and make optimum use of your time, we recommend the hop on and off tours.  Consider them an introduction. You'll learn a lot. A bus tour gives a crash course of information, much more than a stroll through town can glean.

Convenience, education and a variety of sights are three major plusses of hop on and off tours. Barcelona's is one of the best!
Just moments off their flight to Lisbon, Keller and Cookie
booked a hop on and hop off tour for the next morning.
We recently took wonderful "hop on"  tours in Barcelona, Malaga, Porto, Lisbon, Amsterdam, London and Paris.
Malaga is known for beautiful beaches, stately buildings, a fine
Picasso museum, palm trees, friendly people, flamenco, fun food

It's fun to sit back, listen and learn,  make new friends and leave the driving to others. If you see something you like, hop off. You'll be picked up at the same spot, usually an hour or two hours later.
TOURS ARE not for everyone, and  not all tours are created equal. But a "hop on and off" experience gives an excellent grounding. Perhaps you're interested in art museums or classic architecture. You might prefer a wine tasting or brewery tour. We've taken dozens of  "hop on and off" bus tours.  One of the best is in Malaga, that appealing southern Spain city known for stunning beaches, lively culture and fabulous food. It's also the birthplace of Picasso and boasts a wonderful museum devoted to him. Our last visit was brief but the hop on-off tour was a great "capsule," a reminder of all we love about Malaga.  It made the best use of our time in this popular Andalusian city, with a return to Museo Picasso Malaga.
This portly gentleman was photographed from
one of our recent hop on and off tours in
Madrid, Spain, on a sunny autumn day.
WE SUGGEST securing a top-floor seat on your "hop on-off" bus so you get a good overview and can make notes on what you'd like to see more of. That’s the beauty of hop on and hop off tours. You pass  the highlights and can return to the places that interest you most.
Check out the options. You can often book a "hop on and off" tour right from the airport when you arrive in Lisbon, London, Malaga, Amsterdam, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris or most major cities around the world, including the United States.
TRUE, THE HOP on and off bus tour is not the only way to discover a city, but there are few better or more economical ways to explore a new or familiar destination. If you're touring more than a single day, you can buy two or three-day packages which save money. Figure $30 to $40 a day and as little as $89 for a three-day pass. Each city is different.
We enjoy the way we "tune out" the rest of the world on a hop on and off bus tour. We turn off our phones and simply relax into the rhythm of our new town. It’s lovely to make notes of what you and your partner, friends, family or tour group might enjoy more of.  Drivers are helpful and knowledgeable, too, eager to share the delights of the cities they call home.
PLEASE check out individual cities tourist bureaus. Good way to begin research.

Northern Portugal is a wonderful place to visit for a few days
or a week.  This charming village, Valenca, is a picturesque
town which boasts centuries old architecture and nice people
STORIES ON TAP: Some fun features await from our recent global wanderings: Playing tourist in Los Angeles, charms of a small Portuguese village called Valenca, a perfect day in Malaga, whether to take a ship's tour or not, munching your way through Las Vegas with a delightful food tour, and much more. We're always looking for new ideas so please email us your suggestions, or comment on this page. Enjoy the holidays and please remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin and insights on travel, the arts, family, nature and more. As always, we welcome sharing of the stories and links:

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Happy New Year! Resolve to travel, make new friends, learn, grow

High atop Sydney's famous Harbour Bridge, with the iconic Sydney Opera House at the far right, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller, right, celebrate their climb with new friends
from Japan, England and Switzerland. One more check off their bucket list.

Have you always wanted to swim with a sting ray? Join
Cookie and Keller at Sting Ray City in Antigua.



One recent Christmas found Christene "Cookie" Meyers
and Bruce Keller aboard a ship awaiting a tour in Capri.


WHEREVER IN the world you hope to be in 2023, consider stretching your imagination, broadening your views, meeting new people, learning something new by visiting a place you've never been.

What are you waiting for? Time, money, inspiration? Remember carpe diem and tempus fugit. So go for it!

MANY READERS ask us how to begin to plan a longed for trip. First, figure out where you'll get the money. Do you have a savings account, an IRA that needs a withdrawal? Have you stashed away a certain amount for "rainy days" or emergencies? Now's the time.  Because we're not getting any younger we've made travel a priority. It consumes 70 per cent of our budget. 

    A visit to a museum is a holiday treat, here
    between Christmas and New Year's at the
    National Gallery in London. 

    If you don't have the funds now, start by setting a goal and saving so much per week. You'd be surprised how quickly $50 adds up. That's $200 a month or $2,400 a year -- enough to plan and take a reasonably priced trip by this time next year.
    ONCE YOU'VE figured how to fund your dream trip, it's time to narrow the destination. If you're flexible, compare prices. Eastern Europe for instance is cheaper than western Europe. Your dollar will go farther on the smaller Greek islands on the Aegean Sea rather than, Santorini or Mykonos which are beautiful but overly touristed.  Croatia is cheaper than Greece for holiday rentals, dining out and drinks. Amsterdam beats Paris for luxury shopping and has one of Europe's best flea markets. Shop around for deals.

    Keller, Cookie, and new friends
    on a food tasting tour in Porto.
     how long you can afford to be gone, budgeting an average cost per day including hotel, air, food, extras such as museums, tours, parks, taxi or bus fares. A survey done by a respected travel agency in 2020 estimated the average cost for a trip abroad to be a reasonable $3,600 for a typical 12 night trip ($7,200 for two.) That breaks down to about $300 per person per day, which is on the low side with $150 per night, food and alcohol at $100, entertainment and tours at $50 per day.
    To keep in this range will take some bargain hunting and likely won't include a cruise unless you book an inside cabin. Cruise lines sometimes offer cheap air as an enticement, so consider that.
    Whale watching is a favorite diversion for us,
    here right at home on a San Diego "staycation."
    This estimate does not include air.  It could be the cost of an entire cruise, though. But you'd likely have to pay additionally for tours and extras unless you find a very attractive package.
    IF YOU'RE going international on any vacation other than a driving trip, you must consider air or a trans-oceanic cruise. If you're driving somewhere close, add in gas or petrol. Because energy prices are rising with the war and stock market flux, many people are shopping for bargain air fares -- and finding them. But you must be flexible with dates.
    If Vietnam is on your bucket list, there are some attractive
    fares right now for air and land tours. 
    Back to the budget. This is the most important step in planning a trip. It will affect
    the rest of the steps in your vacation planning process. 
THE AVERAGE vacation for one person in the U.S. costs about $1,919 per week. A vacation for two people  typically costs around $3,838 per week. (Cheaper than international because there's no overseas air.) A backpacker's average daily budget should be between $40 and $70 USD per day in the east and between $70 and $100 per day in the west. 
    So once you've done that, research flights and dates (mid-week is cheaper to fly, etc.) Choose the top places you'd like to go and look for deals. Research flights and dates. Once you've chosen your destination and booked your air, cruise or train travel,
    If you've dreamed of the Caribbean, Europe or
    Far East, now's the time to start budgeting.
    You can make it happen, here in Singapore.

    WHEREVER IN the world you hope to be in 2023, consider stretching your imagination and your pocketbook.  With a little creativity, you can broaden your views, meet new people, learn something new. Take the incentive to visit a place you've never been.
    All ages take to bikes in exciting
    Amsterdam. Now's the time
    to book a trip to the Netherlands.


Narrated bus tours may have an entertaining multi-lingual
taped narrative or sometimes a live guide. Here, we take
a hop on- hop off tour down Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

UP NEXT: We love city tours and the hop on- hop off bus trend is a fun way to meet a new town. Once you've landed, taken a nap and had a light meal, get going in your new time zone. We find narrated bus tours a fine way to explore -- a wonderful way to discover attractions you'd like to revisit. We enjoyed several bus tours on a recent visit to southern Europe.  Come explore with us as we share  roof-top views of several cities from the top floor of  tour buses.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more. Please share links: