Category Archives: Vacations

Phoenix at The Phoenician

I recently returned form a wonderful trip to Phoenix, Arizona and had the chance to check out The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale. The location could not have been more perfect. Situated on Camelback Mountain, it is an easy drive to shopping areas and the Old Town.

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When first arriving, you are greeted by a winding entrance through the 250 acre property leading up the mountain. The golf course and casitas entice the view until you reach the main resort. You are greeted by the valet who escorts you into the main lobby with expansive views of the surrounding area from the balcony.

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All of the 538 rooms have been recently renovated to a calming contemporary style with large bathrooms containing both a separate tub and shower. Depending on your view from the balcony, you could have the pool view or the mountain view. Either are breathtaking.

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A local favorite dining option is at their J&G Steakhouse, an award-winning restaurant inspired by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It is perched atop the main building with again, expansive views of the destination. There are also private dining rooms available for groups and small functions.

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Further exploring the resort, we came across shops on site which included a cute little ice cream shop that served Sweet Republic Ice Cream, a local artisan creamery. Their custom “Phoenicain Crunch” was wonderful! They even can put together a picnic basket if you would prefer to enjoy the outdoors.

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Along the back of the property, there is a fantastic cactus garden. Guests can explore many of the different varieties of local flora and fauna as they walk the paths. There are guided tours if you would like a more in depth exploration but there are also signs by many of the cacti. One of the holes of the golf course will send the players through this area as well.

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Adjacent to the main property, there are also the Canyon Suites. This is an exclusive 60-room boutique hotel located at The Phoenician, providing guests with a Five-star experience from arrival to departure. There is private check-in and hotel amenities although you are also welcome to use the main resort areas as well. There are also great meeting spaces here overlooking the mountain. It is even possible to have the mountain lit if you are having an evening event. Guests also have the opportunity to test drive one of six available Porsche luxury vehicles for a period of time up to two hours.

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The golf course is a favorite, not just of travelers but locals as well. This championship course has 27 holes for the most discerning golfer. Views range from sweeping skyline to mountain landscape. Golf Digest has even ranked them in the top 75 courses in North America! Designed by Ted Robinson, Sr. and Homer Flint, The Phoenician’s three diverse nine-hole courses create 18-hole combinations for the challenge and fun any golf enthusiast will crave.

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Moving on to their spa…. “Absolutely Incredible” is the first term that comes to mind. With 24 treatment rooms and 22,000 square feet, this space is dedicated to a peaceful retreat for your mind, body and soul. Along with many, many treatment options, there is a guided meditation every day at noon in these unbelievably comfortable, leather gravity chairs. Unfortunately, I just missed this experience but did get a chance to experience their comfort.

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Last but certainly not least is the pool area. This large centerpiece of the resort has many different areas which makes it feel a bit like intimate spaces rather than one large swimming area. There is even a children’s splash pad complete with a water slide and cabanas for parents to relax in close proximity.

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Overall, this spectacular resort is truly an oasis in the Phoenix sun. From the newly renovated rooms to the plethora of resort amenities, this property has a bit of something for anyone’s enjoyment.

Click here for more information.

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Delta is Flying to Cuba

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Did you know that Delta is going to start booking flights to Cuba from the US this summer? Its true! They will be flying from New York, Atlanta and Miami to Havana.

“Today has been a long-awaited moment to celebrate Delta’s historic return to Cuba, and we thank Secretary Foxx, his team and the other U.S. officials for granting us the authority to provide Havana service from Atlanta, Miami and New York,” said Nicolas Ferri, Delta’s Vice President – Latin America and the Caribbean. “We look forward to providing the market with excellent customer and operational performance that will reunite families and support a new generation of travelers seeking to engage and explore this truly unique destination. Additionally, I’d like to commend the effort of our cross-divisional teams at Delta, who are working diligently to address the unique logistical challenges to reestablishing daily scheduled Havana service.”

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Flying Out of CAK During the Republican National Convention?

Here are a few helpful items for travelers if you are flying out of the Akron-Canton Airport:

  • We suggest building in a little extra time. Travelers should  arrive at CAK at least 90 minutes prior to their flight departure.
  • We offer a variety of transportation services from CAK including buses, limos, taxis, and rental cars. You can find out more here: http://www.akroncantonairport.com/ground-transportation/rental. Travelers also have the option of catching an Uber or Lyft.
  • There are five parking options at CAK that fit every budget. Complimentary door-to-door shuttle service is provided from our long-term and economy lots. Here’s a more in-depth look at our parking options:  http://www.akroncantonairport.com/parking
  • If travelers are not checking a bag, they can easily print off a boarding pass at home or at one of our mobile kiosks. We offer this amenity for Customers flying American, Delta, United or Southwest. This could save a little more time.

Hope these are helpful!

Mission Trip to Nicaragua

FullSizeRender1On Friday, May 13th, my husband Skip and I arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport at 3:45 AM to catch a flight to Managua, Nicaragua.  It was going to be our first mission trip ever!  Unfortunately, mechanical problems delayed us and 3 others for 13 hours at the airport.   When we finally arrived in Houston, we missed our connection by 5 minutes.   Stuck overnight at the airport, we headed to Pappadeux’s Seafood Restaurant in the terminal for what would be our last real meal before heading to Managua.   We over-nighted at the Holiday Inn, and left the next morning at 5:00 AM to board our flight to Manauga.

Upon arrival, we were met at the airport by a friendly Spanish couple who drove us on our two hour scenic and mountainous drive to the town of Chacraseca, Nicaragua.   The old and very hot rickety van finally made it to our destination.  However before we could settle in, we met with the locals who were preparing their carts for the annual procession.   It  was the Feast of St. Isidro which represents the farmers.  We helped decorate a horse-drawn cart with balloons, flowers, and ribbons and began parading down along the dusty road to the beat of a small band, singers and the omnipresent fireworks.

The procession had its fill of livestock, with decorated horns, and scarfs wrapped around their necks.  Walking in a hot 100 degree temperature along the muddy road to the church, I looked into the faces of the people that I met for the first time.  They were welcoming us with love and hope. The purpose of our trip was a partnership program with the people of this village, to help tear down a concrete block bread oven to make room for a community center,  to interact with students in the schools, learn about their culture, their hopes, and dreams, and to unite our church with theirs.

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I knew this was the beginning of what was always in my heart.  It was a hands on labor of love in a whole new culture that I have never before experienced.   These beautiful people who had nothing welcomed us with no expectations.

Back at the Casa de Paz, or Peace House, after the long two travel days, it was time to set up my sleeping quarters. The small room for the ladies had 3 bunk beds and there were 8 women. I opted to sleep on the porch in a cot outside under a mosquito net.  At least the nightly temperature was in the low 90’s, vs the heat inside.  The thin cot was workable, and although I kept my arms and legs covered to avoid any bites, a few insects manage to make it through. I was so tired, I just fell asleep, but was quickly awoken at 4:00 AM to what sounded like fireworks, and a series of explosions. (I was reassured that the Nicaraguans were still celebrating the feast). However an hour later, the rooster at the foot of my bed started crowing, and nestled by my head was a stray dog trying to get my attention… so needless to say, I had very little sleep that night. Most mornings were like that and although the rooster was very cute, I didn’t want to become too friendly with it, since it would most likely be tomorrow nights dinner. Although I spotted a Scorpion on the wall, and some ugly looking bugs crawling by, there was such feeling of peacefulness.

IMG_1956We were served rice and beans at all three meals, along with fruit or some other peeled vegetable. Our favorite cook, “Estelle” walked 3 miles to work every day and cooked our meals in a wood burning stove. The other women who cooked for us, brought their children to work, and we all fell in love with one little boy in particular who would rest in a hammock while his mom continued to work. Despite the fact that I barely ate anything, I didn’t lose any weight.  (Maybe it was the chips and granola bars I took with me).

IMG_17481The next day, we had a firsthand look at the efforts of Just Hope with its micro loan program which helped women become self-sufficient.   We stopped at a Ferreteria (a hardware store), where our donations helped the business to sell these items for a small profit and also visited the home of a women who has established a business by making about 100 tortillas daily and selling them to the locals.

We visited the schools and brought them supplies, and led them in songs and dances. Meanwhile, back in the center of town, the others donned dust masks, safety goggles and wielded shovels, sledge hammers and a pick axe to remove debris and take apart a concrete  oven.  We all went different ways; some to the clinic, to the families homes, the schools, the upcoming farmland, and to the church.       Many of the homes only had dirt floors, and no plumbing; but one thing in common is the loving family bond that was shared.

IMG_2065We visited the town of Leon, and also a beachfront restaurant where we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  The dark volcanic sand and numerous shells were glowing. There we met children who with a “pinky-finger” promise, asked us to buy their goods.  They also waited for us to finish our dinner so we could box left overs and they could take them home. Of course, we ordered extra meals, and knowing this, the last of my fruit snacks and goodies were pre-packed for them. I received a parting gift of shells from a young man whom I gave my boxed food to. In Spanish he said to me  “Nunca me olvides”……..translation ……”Never forget me”.  (I never will).

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We traveled to a Coffee Plantation called Selva Negra where we spent one night.  It was a beautiful balance of an organic farm, coffee plantation and wildlife forest area.  It is tourism at its best in Nicaragua. There was also horseback riding, long hikes in the forest, solar cabins with beautiful views, white swans on the lake, and being in the mountains, it had a welcoming cool temperature.

IMG_22611To sum it up, I am so appreciative for what I have, for all that I take for granted, for my family and friends.  Reality check: America… a wonderful place we live in.

One of the best gifts we received, was to bring back to Cleveland Ohio with us Padre Tomas from the church in Nicaragua.  He stayed here for 3 weeks.  It was an awesome journey.  He had never been to the United States before, and our fellow missionaries, our priest Father Sal Ruggeri from St. John of the Cross, and many others showed him respect and love.

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Vacation Around Greece

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I recently returned from a 10 day romp through Greece, and I can’t wait to go back! The streets are lined with healthy lemon, orange, and olive trees. The smell of honeysuckle is in the air. You can feel the pulse of the city just walking down the street taking in all the sights.

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April is the beginning of the tourism season so it wasn’t very crowded. This time of year the temperatures are venturing into the upper 60’s & lower 70’s. To be honest, it exhausts me to imagine vacationing when it’s any warmer over there. The sun can really take it out of you if you aren’t careful over when outside. There is a reason most homes have marble floors and huge roll-down shades on their balconies & windows.

Athens is a wonderful, thriving city! The view from downtown in any direction is full of hillsides crammed with houses & buildings, tightly packed together. On a typical day it may take you over an hour to get from one end of town to the other by car. Most citizens use public transportation to commute. Athens is the only city in Greece with a Metro System – It’s fairly cheap and easy to use, with color coded routes. Most major tourist destinations like the Acropolis are easy to travel to using the metro. If I can use the Metro System so can you.

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Stores and banks close mid-afternoon for the day. Some of the chain stores may have extended hours. Restaurants and small shops may close between 12pm – 3pm for siesta, and then reopen for the dinner crowd. Credit cards are widely accepted at the museums & in most restaurants located within the tourist areas. That said, expect to pay cash euros if you shop for souvenirs in the Planka (market) at the foot of Acropolis hill. In general, the Greeks do not haggle on prices, but if you offer a lesser price they just may take it. If they don’t bite on your offer, just accept the originally stated price and enjoy your purchase. Haggling over prices is considered rude. The Planka area is known for is pickpockets. Be aware of your surroundings and you should be fine.

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The Acropolis admission just increased from 12€ to 20€ per person. This pass includes entry to the Theatre of Dionysus, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Keramikos, and the Temple of Zeus within a 4 day validity period. Archeological sites tend to close at 3pm in the early season, but they may extend hours as late as 5pm during the high season. Early morning visits are recommended to avoid crowds and the midday sun. A trip to the Acropolis involves a lot of uphill walking even if you arrive via the Acropolis Metro stop. I was so glad I wore comfortable shoes with good tread. Take your time getting up there, and motivate yourself knowing there is a fruit slushy store across from the ticket booth at the entrance… no joke, it was the best 4.50€ I spent that day 😉

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2.5 hours North West of Athens is the historic site of Delphi. This was a wonderful day trip that allowed me to see the Greek countryside as we ventured into the mountains. Again, it is advisable to set out early morning, and stop midway for a lite bite to eat. (Fruit or pastry with Greek coffee is a no brainer) We passed through a picturesque little town called Arachova right before we arrived in Delphi. This was a nice destination to stop on the return trip so we could treat ourselves to a nice big meal & some shopping.

A ticket to the Delphi Archeological Site run 6€ for students to 12€ for adults, and admission into the Delphi Museum located at the bottom of the hill next to the Archeological Site entrance is included. This site also closed at 3pm, but the museum was open until at 4pm. After the trek up the slippery stairs of the Archeological Site, past all the temples to the Gymnasium and Stadium, we were ready for a nice fruit slushy. Luckily they have them in about a dozen flavors at the Café located outside the Delphi Museum. I highly recommend a leisurely sip of watermelon flavored slushy before venturing into the Museum. You can breeze through the museum in less than an hour.

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Aegina is a summer vacation hot-spot for Athenians that is known for 4 things: Beautiful Beaches, Pistachios, the temple ruins of Aphaia & the Monastery of Nektarios. We had the pleasure of vacationing there over the weekend. Ferry prices range from 8€ to 16€ depending on the type of vessel you take, and the ride is only about an hour. Once you arrive in Aegina’s port you can rent mopeds or quads to roam around the island. Both vehicles are street legal. Let’s take a guess at what we chose…

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If you ever have the chance to visit Aegina, please load up on the pistachios because they are the BEST pistachios I’ve ever had. They are soaked in lemon as part of the roasting process. I miss them already! The Monastery of Nektarios is centrally located. It houses the tomb of Saint Nektarios, who was canonized by the Greek Orthodox Church during the 1960s. He is fondly known as the Walking Saint who grants miracles to the faithful. They say if you put your ear up to his tiny silver casket you will hear his footsteps. For the record I didn’t hear any footsteps, but we’ll see if my request gets granted. As for the temple ruins, they are located on the highest hill of the island. It was a fun drive getting up there on our quads. The temple has been rebuilt 3 times over the years and it is in good shape. Aphaia is a goddess compared to Athena. Local lore says this temple is the place to visit if you looking for a dose of fertility. Admission here was only 8€.

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Greek food was a wonderful discovery. Forget all we Americans think we know about gyros here in the states. Over there, they serve gyros with either chicken or pork, no lamb. Meals come in 2 styles- shaved as we are used to, or cubed and grilled on sticks. Personally I prefer the sticks, and half of the fun is to fold the gyro in half and then pull the 2 sticks out, leaving the meat inside the gyro. Also expect french-fries in your gyros. If you opt for the chicken option, they will try to serve it with mayo instead of tzatziki sauce. Greek Salads are simply cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta and maybe capers drizzled in olive oil and salt and pepper. These salads are served with most meals and are quite enjoyable.

Greeks aren’t very big on processed sugar, so they drink lots of water, coffee, tea, and juices. My host didn’t even have sugar in her house?! Tap water is ok to drink unless you are on the islands. Baklava and other sweets are a rare treat to the standard diet. A Greek would have a spinach pie for breakfast for example, and look at you oddly for ordering a piece of baklava for yourself. Greece also has several alcohols in addition to Ouzo you should try: Retsina is pine sap wine made popular in recent years. It tastes similar to a chardonnay even though it contains no grapes. Rakomelo is a honey flavored mixed drink made in Crete. It tastes like bourbon, but the aftertaste is all baklava. I just love this stuff! Aegina has Pistachio liquor that is wonderful mixed with other spirits.

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It would be fair to say I will always carry a little piece of Greece with me. It touched my heart in a way I find hard to describe without getting all cheesy. My new Greek friends now consider themselves family… and I gotta admit, I feel the love in return. If you ever journey to Greece be sure to relax and enjoy it! Take part in the hospitality offered. Share some kind words with a fellow traveler or local Greek. Try new foods & beverages. Dip your bread in the olive oil on the Greek Salad plate. Shop at the weekly street markets, and browse the locals produce and meats. Soak up the afternoon sun. You’ll never forget your journey.