Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Las Vegas: Giving Thanks for the Garden Fairies

Thanksgiving in the United States has become synonymous with both travel and giving thanks.  Today while giving thanks for our latest travels in the Southwest, I’m adding a special thanks to the ‘garden fairies’ at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. 

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Bellagio Fountains looking toward Paris Resort to the left Cosmopolitan to the right

While the dancing fountains may be the tourism icons at the Italian-inspired resort on at the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Blvds., it is Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens that draw us back each time we find ourselves anywhere near the resort.

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The Conservatory and Botanical Gardens keep more than 100 horticulturalists (those folks, who create such magical settings that I’ve named them the garden fairies) busy year round as they celebrate the changing seasons with a vast array of designs that include bridges, buildings, ponds, towering sculptures and some 10,000 potted plants.

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There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were celebrating Autumn as we joined in the steady stream of tourists visiting the gardens this week. 

More than five million visitors each year stroll through the Conservatory, its glass ceilings towering 55-feet overhead.

That’s somewhere between 15,000 – 18,000 visitors a week.

Each seasonal display offers some form of animation that usually delights and sometimes startles the wee ones; this season it was the friendly talking tree who moved its eyes, changed its colors, smiled and spoke to guests in the garden.

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Each of the four seasons is celebrated in this Conservatory as well as an annual tribute paid to Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year celebrated in 2010

The horticulturalists, designers, engineers and electricians begin planning for the next season some three months in advance of its seasonal debut. Once decided upon, it takes seven 24-hour-days for those creative folks to install the new display that fills the 13,573-square-foot area. 

Getting ready for spring

It is even fun to visit while the change over  is taking place. We are reminded, during those times, of what vision and hard work can produce.

Summer celebration in full swing

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And those potted plants . . . They are ordered from Southern California and delivered a few days before each installation. They are stored in a 40,000 square-foot-warehouse until they are placed in the gardens.

At the end of each display the old flowers – almost 90% of the Conservatory -- are recycled into mulch which is used on the resort’s grounds.

A trip along the Conservatory’s winding paths wouldn’t be complete without a stop to admire what ever the latest floral art work might be. . .we were lucky on one visit to see it under construction.

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If You Go:

Vegas60Seattle 052The Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are in the Bellagio Resort, 3600 S. La Vegas Blvd.

It is open to the general public free of charge, 24 hours a day. Live musical performances are a new addition since our last visit and take place from 5 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning.

Now head over to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler’s Sandbox for more armchair travels.

Good wishes from the two of us to all of you who are celebrating: 
Thanksgiving Day
may your smile of contentment as big as this fellow’s! 

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

When it floods in the Valley of the Sun. . .

. . .you are reminded that travel doesn’t always go as planned.

Even the best researched and well-thoughtout trips and travels can be derailed by events and circumstances beyond our control.  Take Mother Nature for instance. . .

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Pinnacle Peak - Wednesday on the left, Friday on the right
On Thursday she packed one whale of a punch in this area of Arizona known as “The Valley of the Sun” by dumping rain –  at a record-breaking pace and quantity – in a two day period.  Media reported that 1.7 inches fell as compared to the last record rain of 0.5 inches back in 1973.

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That is steam from the hot tub in the middle of this photo. Chilly? Yes!

It was interesting but after two days, we sun-seekers-from-Seattle were ready for more of those 70- and 80-degree temperatures. The weather reports assure those temps will be back by Tuesday – we’ll be gone by then.

So when it rain dampens your plans you can either sit around counting lemons or make lemonade!  If you find yourself here during inclement weather here are some ‘inside’ tips for ‘making lemonade’ and guaranteed to keep you entertained:

Visit a Museum:

There’s no better place to learn about the art and culture of the American Indians in this area, than the Heard Museums – the original, at 2301 N. Central in Phoenix, or the extension at 32633 N. Scottsdale Road.
There’s also the:
* Phoenix Art Museum,,
*Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA),,
* Musical Instrument Museum,,
* Arizona Museum for Youth,
* Children’s Museum of Phoenix, www.childrensmuseumof

Say SPA-ahhh!

Scottsdale2013 169Every major resort in this valley has some drop-dead, beyond-belief luxurious spa. Even  if you aren’t staying at the resort, you can certainly use the spa. Some offer day passes and others offer extra time in the facility with a treatment.

I can tell you a day spent at the Scottsdale Fairmont Princess spa is so pleasant – for both men and women – it could snow outside and you wouldn’t care!

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The waterfall therapy spa pool is sheltered but outside at Scottsdale's Fairmont Princess 
I took advantage of a discount package at the Four Seasons where we are staying and had a manicure/pedicure that carried me through two hours of pure pampering (I should have waited until the rains came though – I did it on a sunny day last week).

So popular are the area spas, that Scottsdale Tourism offers a down-loadable spa guide at:

Explore Old Town Scottsdale

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Western art lines Old Town Scottsdale

Okay, if its raining you’ll need an umbrella and coat to dash between the galleries, cafes and souvenir shops that line the streets of the old city. But the area is compact. Pick up a walking map and then don’t miss my favorites, the 1933 adobe Mission Church and the olive trees along the route – they were planted back in 1896.  Another favorite -- and a good place to take shelter and spend some time browsing (and buying) books --  is The Poisoned Pen Bookshop, right in the heart of Old Town.

So, which of those ‘inside tips’ did we pursue? None! We spent the morning working out in the resort gym and in the afternoon lit the fireplace, grabbed our books and leisurely did absolutely nothing – another nice option when you travel!

See you back here next week on Foodie Tuesday and again on Travel Photo Thursday! And if you’ve not yet signed up to receive our posts regularly, you can do so right here on the home page,

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Simply ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ in Scottsdale

It never fails. There comes a time – usually as each of our trips is drawing to a close -- that we want to shout, “Slow down, you move too fast!” It is happening again this week in Arizona.

With only a few days left in Scottsdale  Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” seems to say it best. . .

“Slow down, you move too fast; gotta make the mornin’ last

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Daybreak - 6 a.m.
Just kickin’ down the cobblestones

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Old Scottsdale - Art Walk
Lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy. . .

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Hello lamppost, what’s cha knowin’?

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I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’.

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Prickly Pear Cactus Blooms

Ain’t cha got no rhymes for me?

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Kaleidoscope planter
Do-it-do-do, feelin’ groovy. . .

~~~~   ~~~~ ~~~~
I’ve got no deeds to do, no promises to keep

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I am dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep

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Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.

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Life I love you, all is groovy!”

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That’s it for this Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and Oh,The Places I have Been Friday at The Tablescraper. Click the link to each of those sites for some great armchair travel!

Note: ‘59th Street Bridge’ is the colloquial name of New York City’s Queensboro Bridge. If you’ve never heard them sing the song, click this link:YouTube. Guarantee it will make you smile!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Travel Tuesday: A serving of Australian Pie

The one ‘must do’ on my list for Australia was to sample its famous pie.

Not the fruity dessert variety we know in the United States, but the hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind they make “Down Under” in both New Zealand and Australia. A dish so popular that Wikipedia claims that Australians, on average, consume 12 and New Zealanders, 15 annually.

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I had my pie and ate it, too at Hamlets Pies  a small storefront on the pedestrian Corso in Manly, a wonderful beachfront town just a short ferry ride from Sydney. (I’ll tell you more about this postcard perfect town in a future post but today’s focus is food and I don’t want to detract from this little shop that has been serving up pies for more than 25 years!)

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Similar to the United Kingdom’s meat pies, the Australian and New Zealand versions of the pie typically include a minced meat, gravy, onion, mushroom, cheese, potatoes and crust (I know, it sounds like starch and calories. . .it was, but sometimes you just have to seize the moment  ~ and all the calories that comes with it!)

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The pies are most often sold as take-away food so the shop had but a table or two for on-site dining.  A freezer case was filled with boxed pies and the display case filled with the fresh-baked, hand-made-on-site pies.

Think adult candy store.  So many choices. . .garlic prawn, pumpkin, feta and coriander, chicken, bacon avocado. . . We chose the traditional meat version for our introduction:

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It was a beauty, this pie whose beginnings can be traced through history, beginning with the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Luckily we’d decided to share one as it was a hefty little fellow that satiated the hunger pangs for both of us.

The only disappointment was that we only ate one during our five-day stay. The good news is we have an Australian Pie Company back home in the Seattle suburb of Burien!  This eatery, which looks much like the one we visited in Manley, has been baking up pies since opening in May 1998.  I’ll be heading there to pick up some pies real soon!

For those in (or visiting) the Seattle area:  The Australian Pie Company is located at 425 SW 152nd St. (across from Burien Town Square), 98166, phone 206-243-4138. Check it out at

In Manly, Australia: Hamlets Pie Company is located at 13 on The Corso.  You can find them on FB as well.

And for you Foodies who like to cook, here’s a link to a recipe for Australian Meat pie.
For more foodie news, head over to Inside Journeys where we are linking up today at Foodie Tuesday.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scottsdale: Living in (Affordable) Luxury

This isn’t a timeshare solicitation – no 90 minute presentation required to visit our home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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Sunset - Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale
However,  this  is a tale about timeshare life in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. . .in the northeast corner of Scottsdale . . .in the shadow of Pinnacle Peak.
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Hiking Pinnacle Peak

Our place – the Residence Club at Four Seasons Troon North --is an easy walk to Pinnacle Peak park, the starting point for hiking the path that leads along its rocky face.

It is a short drive to recently opened trails at Tom’s Thumb and Brown’s Ranch.

Since our purchase three years ago, we’ve had a home here  for two weeks each year – we choose the dates in our season (late spring,  fall or early winter). This year we opted for November, a time when temperatures are ranging from 70F – 90F for daytime highs while back in Kirkland they are hovering at 40F – 50’s.

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View of the Four Seasons Residence Club - Scottsdale
We now own timeshare homes in Arizona (Four Seasons) and Hawaii (Marriott). Both locations provide, quite literally, ‘million dollar views’ – we’ve checked nearby home prices at both places.

Hawaii and Arizona have been favorite  ‘getaway’ destinations for years, but we aren’t quite ready to put down permanent roots in either location. The timeshare is ‘semi-permanent’ but with the option to trade what we own and head to some new location.  A perfect lifestyle for these two nomads.

Sadly, “timeshare” or “fractional ownership” still has a ring of distain to it. The horror stories abound from those who fell victim of some high pressure 90 minute sales pitch and found themselves owning something they don’t want.

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Four Seasons Hotel Pool with Pinnacle Peak in background
What you don’t hear often enough are the stories from people like us (and there are thousands of us out there) who are making the most of timeshare life – and loving it.

We’ve been asked so often about this timeshare world of ours that today I thought we’d answer some of the questions we’ve been asked:

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Our home in Scottsdale - living area, master bedroom, guest suite
Do you really own anything?

We own deeded Arizona property, a week at a two bedroom, two and a half bath luxuriously furnished condo that has a full kitchen, two adobe-style gas fireplaces, dining for six, huge bathrooms with soaking tubs and showers, and walk-in closet. One of the bedrooms can be used as a stand-alone studio-like suite (with kitchenette) so we ‘lock it off’ and use the small side then move to the large side which results in us getting two weeks use out of one week’s purchase.

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Library at the Four Seasons Residence Club
So, how do you buy a timeshare?  

We purchased our Four Seasons property on the re-sale market as this small development's 44 units sold out quickly after being built. The only way to buy here  is on that secondary market.  The purchase price was half the price of the two of us taking a 7-day Oceania cruise.

(Tip: buying on the secondary market will likely result in saving the buyer money as they are usually priced less than the original purchase price. The flip side is, that as an owner, you are not likely to make money either when you decide to sell.) You don’t buy timeshares to make a return on your real estate investment as with a conventional home.

RdTripAZ2WA2012 019Is that all it costs?

Once a year we write a check to pay for the maintenance, staffing and services. Unlike owning a second home, we don’t need to fret about the pool maintenance, yard care, fumigation (for the southwestern critters), maintenance. . .the Four Seasons takes care of that.

Why own when you could rent? 

Well, if we divide 14 nights into our annual maintenance fee, we are paying $157 a night for a luxury condo, with daily maid service, plush robes, a pool, exercise room exclusively for the Residence Club as well as, access to the hotel’ pools and exercise area  and discounts at the hotel restaurants, bars and spa.  We checked yesterday for discount hotel prices in the area and the best we found for here was $369 per night. 

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One of the sitting areas in Four Seasons Residence Club grounds
Five things to keep in mind when considering a timeshare purchase:

1. Costs beyond the purchase price?  Will you be able to swing  the maintenance fee each year? And if the fees increase, can you continue to pay them? (Ask for a history of maintenance fee increases). Also, as with any deeded property real estate purchase there are closing fees to be paid.

2. What are you purchasing? Deeded property or are you buying into a points system? (Some prefer the flexibility of a points system, we prefer having a title to real property in hand.) Know what you are purchasing and how you can use it.

3. Trade value of the property.  We went with high-end luxury resort properties and as a result have had no problem trading our weeks with other high end properties around the world. (You might get a real deal with a lesser priced property but then find yourself unable to trade it to anywhere else). Do some research and weigh the advantages/disadvantages of the ‘deal’.

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Lobby - Four Seasons Hotel Troon North - Scottsdale

4. Who is managing the property? Is is some company like Marriott or Four Seasons that you’ve heard of before or some unknown company?  Do some research into the company’s performance and reputation before signing on the dotted line.

5. Spend some time at the property. We’ve actually met people who own timeshare property that they’ve never stayed at it – in fact, they’ve never seen it!  Spend a vacation at the property (sometimes prospective buyers can get a deal in exchange for sitting through that 90 minute sales presentation).  Talk to other owners on site. We did that here and the endorsements were so strong, that we couldn’t wait to sign that offer of purchase.

That’s it for today. Thanks for visiting our home in Arizona!
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Hope to see you back here on Tuesday for some pie and coffee, Sydney style!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gratitude ~ For that Woman in Seat 6D

November seems the month in which blog and FB posts focus on gratitude and thankfulness.  So, let me tell you about my seatmate on an Alaska Airlines flight to Las Vegas last Sunday. . .

She was seated in the bulk head row aisle seat  by the time we reached it. Ours were window and middle. Reaching down she moved her legs back and said, “I’d stand. . .but I can’t.”

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New York New York and Excalibur Casinos - Las Vegas

Plenty of room to get in, we assured her, as we stepped over and around and settled in. We often sit in the bit-more-spacious row with seats designated for ‘handicapped’ (and secondarily, frequent fliers) but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a person who needed the seat for its real purpose. ( I can assure you while this lady may have been ‘differently-abled’ she was by no means ‘handicapped’ in mind or spirit.)

IMG_20130926_184516_633The flight attendant stood next to Seat 6D as she demonstrated the safety procedures and escape routes. 

As she pointed to the track lighting that would lead us to an emergency exit, I started pondering  how the lady next to me would ever get to an emergency exit. 

Then a more disturbing question surfaced:

(Would we step over her  to save ourselves or would we take her under our care?  Hmm. . .now that is one about which one must do some soul-searching. . .)

She and I began the usual in-air visiting when she complimented my sandals,

“Oh they are Clark’s Bendables and they weigh almost nothing,” I said taking one off, handing it to her, “They are great . . .(for walking.)” I’d almost foolishly added.

As our conversation continued she told me she’d contracted polio 35 years ago – from the vaccine intended to keep her from getting the crippling disease.  But she didn’t dwell on that, instead we talked travel:


She loved Istanbul and her travels in Turkey. The people there were so kind, she said.

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Street scene - Kotor, Montenegro
But those cobblestone streets in old European cities can be difficult to navigate – but she smiled as she added, “it can be done if you are determined.”

“Cruises are getting better now – in the sense of accessibility – they used to have handicapped rooms that had a lip on the bathroom doorway entrance making it difficult to navigate in a wheelchair – they’ve remedied that now.”

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Our room - Scottsdale Four Seasons - I'd not considered the bed's height before
But beds on land and sea can be difficult. “They make them so tall now” she commented, again grinning she added, “It’s good the sheets are tucked in tightly - I sometimes have to use them as a rope and pull myself up and into bed.”

Cappuccino - Papeete, Tahiti
She passed when the beverage cart came by – while we quickly downed our much-needed early morning coffee. 

Later, she told me the first thing she planned to do upon reaching her hotel was to order a huge cup of coffee.

“ I love my coffee but it goes right through me, though, so I don’t dare order it on a plane,” she explained.

As the plane arrived at the gate, she reached down and pulled her legs back and said, “You climb out over me. I’ll be the last one off.”

I never asked her name, but that really doesn’t matter because I’ll never take another trip without thinking of the Lady in Seat 6D.

When I complain of having walked too much or why we didn’t get that second cup of coffee or when I think the mattress is too hard – I will remember and then be thankful for that brief time I spent with the Lady in Seat 6D and oh, so grateful, that The Scout and I are able to travel as we do.

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday, head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and armchair travel.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Scottsdale: Where Murder, Mykonos and Mission Meet

We met – I think – on Twitter. . . perhaps two years ago. . .

Since then, thanks to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and email  we’ve become what might be described as modern day pen pals.

The Scout and I have also  become hooked on the murder mysteries, set in Greece, written by our far-away friend.

Arizona Spring 2012 131So, learning that author Jeffrey Siger had a stop in Seattle on his fall book tour was pure delight – until we realized that we would be in Arizona.

The travel gods were smiling on us though, as Jeff  is appearing this week at Poisoned Pen Books, in Scottsdale and had a bit of free time today. . .

Enough time for the three of us to meet and enjoy a long lunch in the heart of historic, artsy Old Scottsdale.  Upon meeting, we agreed it seems somehow as though we’ve known each other for some time.

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Jeffrey Siger and the TravelnWrite team

We share a love of Greece; he divides his time between Mykonos and the United States. He gave up a law practice to follow his dream of writing novels much as we quit the 8 – 5 work world to pursue our adventures.

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We lunched at the Mission Restaurant (it’s next door to a Mission built in the 1930’s) and is a place you need to add to your bucket list if you’ve not dined here yet.  We will definitely be returning!

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Guacamole made tableside, Mission margarita and Torta

I sipped my Mission Margarita while watching our guacamole being made table side. Then it was difficult at best to choose from main courses that included pozole, tortas, tortillas, ensaladas, sopas.  We didn’t dare even peek at the dessert menu!

If You Go:

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Scottsdale/Phoenix area: Jeff is appearing at Poisoned Pen Books, 4014 N. Goldwater Blvd. #101, 888-560-9919, www.Poisened,  Wednesday, Nov. 13,  at 7 p.m.
Seattle:  Jeff will be at Seattle Mystery Book Shop, 117 Cherry St., 206-587-5737,can meet him from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15.
Check his website for a full schedule of appearances.

Jeff also contributes to a blog called Murder is Everywhere. A most interesting read.

Mission Restaurant, 3815 N. Brown Ave., Scottsdale, 480-636-5005

That's it for today, Hope to see you back again on Travel Photo Thursday. We are linking up today with Marcia Mayne’s Foodie Tuesday at Inside Journeys.


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