These are some of my favorite airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc that make traveling even more enjoyable.
In all the years of my travel, only one airline stands out from the rest, Singapore Airlines. From the moment I boarded my first flight from NYC to Frankfurt almost 20 years ago, Singapore Airline has consistently provided excellent customer service. Every time I board one of their air crafts, no matter what class seating I’m in, I know that I will be embraced by their friendly and courteous staff for the duration of the flight.
Furthermore, in the world of airline mergers and cutbacks, Singapore Airlines is one of the few companies that still provide little perks reminiscent of the glory days of travel. Every international travel starts with a friendly greeting from the flight attendants, hot towels to wipe your hands, and even a goodie bag for children including a colorful headphones and toys.
Also, there are over 100 channels of latest released movies, Vegan/Vegetarian Meal upon request, and flight attendants who come by regularly with all your favorite snacks and drinks.
With airline industry being so lackadaisical about customer service or in some cases, completely lacking, I find Singapore Airline’s continuous striving to provide excellent service noble and commendable, and I for one am their number one fan.
Most often, your first encounter at the airport sets the mood of your trip. If you arrive at an airport that’s chaotic and in pandemonium, the chances are, the rest of your trip will follow suit. However, there’s nothing better than arriving at an airport that is clean, well-organized, and welcoming, and Incheon International Airport (ICN) in South Korea provides a great start or a great ending to your travel experience.
As South Korea’s largest airport, Incheon Airport, in my opinion, is the best airport in the world. Year after year, it has received a five-star rating from Skytrax and has been selected by the Airports Council International as the world’s best airport in air service quality; however, you only have to step foot in Incheon Airport to experience its awesomeness.
It’s not only the cleanest, the most organized and architecturally spacious airport I’ve seen, but it has some of the best selection of restaurants and shops, comparable to any restaurants in Seoul. The airport is easy to get around, has great multilingual signage and staff, and the every staff member I’ve encountered were friendly and helpful.
Also, the airport offers free internet access and laptop computers, and there are not only great rest areas but seven gardens to help you relax while waiting for your flight. There’s even a Korean Culture Museum in the airport and a spa, complete with a sauna, showers, private sleeping rooms, meeting rooms and a snack bar, and customers are free to lounge around the facilities as long as they like. And as this is South Korea after all, one of the shopping Meccas, the world-class shops at Incheon Airport offer some of the best and finest duty-free items in the world.
Aeropuerto Internacional Madrid-Barajas (MAD) is one of the main international airports in Spain, and unlike the airports in other European hubs, MAD is located within the city limits of Madrid, less than 10 miles from the center. It also has a great selection of food choices, especially the tapas bars, and much like the city of Madrid itself, the airport offers a great variety of retail and entertainment stores.
The ground floor showcases fashion, retail, multimedia equipment, supermarket and everyday needs; the first floor is designed entirely for personal goods shopping, and the second floor is designed for leisure, cafes and restaurants. Although I didn’t get around to all 200 stores, as advertised in the airport website, I’ve had some of the best shopping experiences at this airport.
Going through the airport is one of the most difficult aspects of traveling with children. 10-15 minutes of wait in line can seem like an eternity when you have a toddler who has just learned to walk, and he or she wants to explore their immediate world at that very moment as you are heel-to-toe in line with hundreds of strangers. Then, the thought of being confined in a tiny space of an airplane for 12-hours on an international flight with that same toddler can deter (m)any parents from traveling all together.
That is until you arrive at San Francisco Airport (SFO). In my opinion, San Francisco Airport is one of the best airports for one simple reason; it is the most child-friendly airport in the world.
From spacious lounges and waiting areas to the award-winning museum program, its great variety of eclectic food and beverage options to unique Kid’s Spots and play areas, SFO provides an array of entertainments for your little ones to expel their energy before a long flight – so much so that every time we fly out of San Francisco Airport, our little boy is more excited about being at the airport than the flight or the destination.
It is also one of the cleanest and most elegant airports I’ve seen, and SFO offers plenty of kid-friendly amenities. There are Family Lanes at the Security Checkpoint, and almost every airline offers early boarding privileges to those traveling with children – who needs a first-class ticket when your child gets you a rock star treatment at the airport?
Sheraton D-Cube City (Seoul, South Korea)
I’m not one of those people who can sleep anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a 5-star accommodation, but it has to be unique, charming and most importantly, has to provide impeccable service.
The moment I walked into Sheraton D-Cube City in Seoul, I knew I’d hit the jackpot, as it surpassed all my expectations of what a great hotel should be.
First and foremost, the hotel is situated in an ideal location directly on top of a subway station, Sindorim. As in all cosmopolitan megapolis, it’s not necessary to stay near the tourist sites or in the center of the city when you have a good access to public transportation. What’s more important is staying near a subway station; so that you can have easy access to getting around in the city, and Sheraton D-Cube, situated on the 40th floor of a commerce building directly above a major subway line, provide a convenient access to all the sites in the city.
The hotel and all its amenities are topnotch; comparable to any 5-star I’ve stayed in, but what makes the Sheraton D-Cube stand out from the rest is its staff and their level of customer service. Even in South Korea, a country well-known for hospitality and generosity of its people, Sheraton D-Cube’s staff is exceptional. Even before arriving at the hotel, the professionalism and the timeliness of the correspondence was excellent, and my questions and requests were handled with care.
Then, once we arrived at the hotel, we were blown away by not only the stunning architecture and the beautiful design of the building, but also the impeccable customer service. From the moment we entered the building we were greeted and treated by every member of the staff as if we were VIP’s. It was the most unforgettable experience I had while traveling.
Lutétia Hotel (Paris, France)
I’m a sucker for historical places, and as with the reality of life, history is filled with good and bad. Staying at a hotel where the German army stationed themselves during WWII may seem morbid, but I must admit, I was fascinated by the history of Lutétia Hotel long before I arrived in Paris. So, when my company decided to have our quarterly meeting at the Lutétia, I was absolutely delighted at the prospect of spending a week in this historical monument.
The Hotel Lutétia, located in the Left Bank of Paris, is one of the best-known and one of the most historical hotels in Paris. It was built in 1910 in the Art Nouveau style to designs by architects Louis-Charles Boileau and Henri Tauzin, and it has always been one of my favorite buildings in the city. Its location is absolutely ideal, as it’s convenient to walk to some of my favorite attractions in Paris, most of which are in the Left Bank. And although the rooms are a little small in comparison to other hotels at same price point, its charm and the friendliness of the staff more than makes up for it.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Georgetown, Malaysia)
No country embodies a wonderful diversity in landscape, culture and people of Asia like Malaysia. It has everything that one can hope for in vacation destination, a great mixture of cultures, history, people and some of the most delicious food I’ve had in SE Asia! Also, one of my favorite travel experiences was staying at the beautifully restored Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, which was like staying overnight at a living museum.
Favorite Restaurants & Meals:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the best meals I’ve had were in France. Then again, I don’t expect anything less than greatness from cuisine that has been deemed by the UNESCO as being an intangible cultural heritage.
Many people mistakenly think French cuisine is extremely rich and sophisticated, and while some French cuisine does fit this bill, the food of France is diverse in both flavor and complexity. Regional French cuisine can range from peasant-style dishes to upscale haute cuisine or from simple Salade Nicoise to Coq au Vin pairing wine with meat, and at its heart, French cuisine reflects a long tradition of treating food and cooking as a fine art to be mastered and taught to others.
The region of Bourgogne is well-known for its haute cuisine. Although most of the restaurants offer reasonably priced, well-prepared tasting menus, our favorite meal was at Le Fleury in Beaune. You can sample some of the region’s specialties as well as the staples of French cuisine that we know and love, such as Escargots, Boeuf (Beef) Bourguignon, and Confit de Canard. Also, the impeccable presentation as well as the lovely ambiance of the restaurant made our dining experience unforgettable.
On the other hand, provincial cooking is the backbone of French cuisine, as many gourmet recipes in haute cuisine were adapted or have evolved from provincial foods. Therefore, great French meals don’t have to be upscale or “fancy” – and most often, are not. I’ve always enjoyed the more provincial meals or down home cooking in France, and some of the best I’ve had were in the central area known as the Massif Central.
As the highlands of Massif Central are ideal for raising cattle and other livestock, the meals in this region tend to be hearty and filling, and consist mostly of meats – Vegetarians beware. The specialties such as Cassoulet, Potée and a variety of saucissons and saucisses sèches (dry sausage) rely heavily on beef, pork and lamb, and the cheeses such as Roquefort tend to be richer.
Lastly, my favorite meal in Vietnam wasn’t in a restaurant. It was on a junk (ship) in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Ha Long Bay is a breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage site situated about 170km (3 ½ hour drive) north of Hanoi, and it is without a doubt one of the most spectacular natural sites I have seen in my life. This densely concentrated zone of stone islands is world famous for its spectacular scenery of grottoes and caves, and resembles a geographic work of art, and the best way to get around and see it all is by a boat.
During our visit, my husband and I rented a private boat, which gave us the option to sail around the bay at a more leisurely pace and choose the course we wanted to go. And the biggest highlight of our trip was the freshly prepared meal we had on the boat, which turned out to be one of the most delicious and memorable meals we’ve had during our travels.
dOCUMENTA (Kassel, Germany)
Every 5 years, the art world gather in Kassel, Germany to celebrate dOCUMENTA, one of the most important art exhibitions in the world that showcases the latest in modern and contemporary art.
For 100 days (usually starts in June) over 150 artists present a wide spectrum of contemporary art, paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos, performance art, etc, from 55 countries. It’s a spectacular event that turns much of this industrial town into a walking museum, and there are displays of art works and exhibits throughout the center of the city, including the Orangerie.
Documenta is not one of these art shows that focus on marketing and sales. It’s not about finding “art work” to display in the new office or that goes with the livingroom sofa. There are no glitz and glam, and most of the exhibits displayed are true reflections and interactions of the world around us. It’s definitely art for art’s sake.
For almost 60 years, it has remained true to intentions of the original curator Arnold Bode, discovering and celebrating modern art, which was banished and repressed during the cultural darkness of Nazism, and it continues to enlighten and enrich the world with its own unique voice.
Weihnachtsmarkt, Christmas Markets (Germany)
There’s no better way to experience the festivities of the holidays than Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) in Germany. The markets take place usually in the center of the town, and you’ll find all manner of stalls selling a wide array of crafts and tasty regional delicacies, sweets, cakes, food, mulled wine (Glühwein) and other delights. Especially, if/when there’s snow, the atmosphere is absolutely magical.
Farolito Walk (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
One of my absolute favorite events in the world is the Canyon Road Farolito Walk, a beloved holiday tradition in Santa Fe. On Christmas Eve, thousands of holiday revelers come out to stroll, admire and sing carols around the displays of farolito lights, lovely little lights made out of paper bags with and tea candles that burn brightly into the night, and the entire neighborhood turns into a beautiful block party. There are also bonfires on the streets where people gather around to warm themselves up, and plenty of vendors who sell hot chocolates and holiday treats. It’s joyous event that I have always loved, and this year, it was even more special being there with my little boy. He was so excited and told me that it was like being in a “winter wonderland”, and indeed, it was!
NYC Marathon (NYC, New York)
One of my favorite events in NYC is the NYC Marathon, which takes place annually on the first Sunday of November. It’s the largest marathon in the world with 42.195 km (26.2 miles) course that runs through all five boroughs of New York City.
It is a spectacular event that attracts not only tens of thousands of professional competitors and amateur runners, but also spectators from all over the world, as the entire city and its five boroughs turn into a giant block party.
More importantly, it is an event that brings together people from all walks of life in celebration of the human strength and perseverance.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Sure, I love lounging on a white-sand beach, but nothing beats the feeling of cold wind on my face as I swoosh downhill, waves of powder snow parting like feathers, blue mountain sky beaming above, and of course, the spectacular scenery that surrounds you when you’re on top of a ski slope. And some of my most memorable vacations have been skiing or snowboarding in the midst of the majestic mountains, where the hills truly are alive with snow – lots and lots of snow.
As with fine dining in France, there is an abundance of excellent museums in Germany, and to select a few favorites is as difficult as trying to narrow my list of favorite meals. However, Brücke Museum and Jüdisches (Jewish) Museum in Berlin, Germany stand out as being the most memorable.
Located in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, Jewish Museum is an architectural masterpiece. Its complexity in design and the poignancy of the content makes this museum a must sees in Berlin.
The Brücke Museum, whose collection is entirely devoted to the works of Expressionists, exhibits around 400 paintings and sculptures as well as several thousand drawings, watercolors and prints from all creative periods of the Brücke artists. Founded by renowned artists Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel, the Brücke art movement demonstrates the birth of modernism in a unique way and is an important part of German history. This movement, apart from its artistic achievements also came to express a new awareness of life and freedom from rules and oppression by bourgeois society, and it had an enormous effect worldwide.
Housed in the former Korean Supreme Court building, Seoul Museum of Modern Art (서울시립미술관) is a beautiful space perched up on top of a hill behind Deoksugung Palace. The interior space is great for contemporary exhibitions, and temporary installations include works by artists from South Korea, Asia, and beyond. It is not only one of the most innovative museums I have been to, but also it happens to have a wonderful little cafe on the 3rd floor that has a beautiful view of the city – not to mention, a great cup of coffee as well.
Favorite Outdoor Markets:
Without a doubt, Annecy is one of my favorite towns in France. Situated about a 1½ hours outside of Geneva, Annecy and the lake that surrounds it, Lac d’Annecy, is as picturesque as they come with a breathtaking view of the lake and the French Alps.
However, my favorite thing about Annecy is its open air market. The Annecy (Sunday) market is located on the cobbled streets around the ancient part of the city, known as vielle ville and is spread out throughout the loveliest part of the medieval city. Although I have been to a lot of wonderful open air markets in France, after wandering through the colorful stalls in the winding streets of this idyllic mountain town, I have to say, the market in Annecy is one of the best.
Situated in our favorite neighborhood, Prenzlauerberg in Berlin, the outdoor market on Kollwitzplatz offers some of the best delicacies and local produce from the region. As you stroll around the leafy, cobblestoned streets, admiring the refurbished Altbauten, you can sample and purchase a great selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, organic meats and fish, hand-made pastas and a variety of home-made oils, jams and other local specialties.
Also, Kollwitzplatz is one of the most attractive squares in Berlin, and it happens to be city’s mecca for young families. Around the market, there are playgrounds, multitude of family-friendly cafes and restaurants, and plenty of ready-made food and drinks that will surely satisfy all foodies.
What more can I say about Central Park that hasn’t been said. It’s FABULOUS! Immersed in lush and wild nature with a massive skyline as a backdrop, it’s truly an urban oasis that defies all logic.
For most New Yorkers, the park is a sanctuary. Especially for me, it was a place where I’d retreated to whenever my life in the city got too much, and I needed to regroup and recuperate. Also, some of the best and most memorable experiences I’ve had were in the park – like serendipitously meeting my husband.
It’s a place where we always go back to reminisce about our wonderful past lives in the city as well as creating beautiful new ones with our son who absolutely adores every corner of the park.
After all the places I’ve seen in NYC, I can honestly say that the Highline (from Gansevoort St to West 34th St, btw 10/11th Ave) is my favorite. It epitomizes the city that is constantly evolving and recreating itself. Not only the design and the atmosphere of the park unique and innovative, it has transformed a neighborhood which was formally known as the “Death Avenue” into a trendy, upscale, and more importantly, family friendly area.
As the park expands from lower Manhattan to 31th Street in Midtown, it provides some of the best views of the key monuments, the Empire State building, Chrysler Building, and on a clear day, the Statue of Liberty.
There’s an eclectic mix of art installations as well as tasty food carts, art vendors and musicians, and the great thing about the Highline is that it enables you to have and enjoy an urban experience in the midst of (man-made) nature.
Jardin de Luxembourg is absolutely mesmerizing, and even after all these years, it remains to be my favorite place in Paris, and each time I’m there, I’m enchanted by it as the first time I was there.
La Place des Vosges is one of the loveliest outdoor spaces in Paris filled with quaint cafes, shops and galleries, and especially on Sundays, it’s one of the few places in Paris where the stores are open.
Favorite Places for Children:
San Francisco is a great city for people of all ages, but it is especially a wonderful place for children. Mainly because throughout the years, San Francisco has managed to hold on to its small town atmosphere, and unlike other larger cities, there are relatively few tall buildings and vast number of recreation areas and parks.
Also, there are tons of activities and things to do with children, so much so that if you spent a month in San Francisco, there are enough activities to fill up each day with different things. It’s a place where you can linger for hours in a quaint neighborhood cafe surrounded by breathtaking views, kick back on one of the many picturesque parks, or hangout in a children’s museum which happens to have the best view of the city, and unlike many metropolises where children are treated like nuisance, in San Francisco, almost every activity, restaurants and even cafes are catered to the needs of families, making children feel as comfortable as the adults.
In all the years my husband and I’ve been traveling with our son, we have never been to a place like Seoul, South Korea where children are embraced and cherished by almost everyone we met.
There’s really no better way to experience the generosity and kindness of the locals first hand. No matter how crowded the street gets, people will literally get out of your way if they see a stroller; strangers will vacate their seats for you on the subway or elders will tell the people sitting next to them to get up to make room for a child; people will offer to help you carry your shopping bags or help you carry the stroller up and down the stairs when you go through the subway station or the underground walkway. It’s a country where the people take to heart the proverbial saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.” and throughout our stay, we experienced so much kindness from everyone we’d encountered.
Also, the city is full of fun museums and activities for children, and best of all, the admission to most of these places are FREE of charge. In fact, there were so many wonderful places to see and things to do with children in Seoul that we couldn’t cover all the places that were recommended to us by friends. We’ll definitely have to return to Seoul soon to see them all.
Favorite Wine Regions:
Bask in the beauty of the Santa Ynez Valley, Foxen Canyon Road is not as well-known as Napa and Sonoma, but the scenery around it is absolutely breathtaking. Also, nearby towns offers a great selection of restaurants and wineries, and my favorite thing to do is to stroll through the charming little town of Los Olivos, sampling wines and checking out the galleries and shops along the way.
Every wine connoisseur is familiar with the name Saint Emilion as being a producer of some of the finest wines in the world, but I’ll always remember it as being one of the loveliest towns in France where I had the pleasure of spending the day just strolling and having some of the best meals of my life. Also, as the town itself is not well-known, my husband and I were one of the few tourists in the city, and there’s something wonderfully enchanting about being in a medieval city that is nearly deserted.
Although there isn’t a shortage of great wine wineries in France, Alsace wine route located in the far Northeastern corner of the country is one of my favorite. This region not only produces some of the finest (white) wines in the world such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat, but also is home to some the most picturesque villages and scenic countryside. You can also find charming B&Bs, often run by the vineyards themselves, excellent cuisine that is distinctive, and multitude of wine cellars offering tastings. Alsace is, as the French say, the terre de fête, the wine-tourism hot spot, geared to serious eating, amazing drinking and good times.
I’ve been told that every village or town in Veneto, Italy has 7 churches and 7 vineyards, referring to their passion for religion and wine, and although I appreciated the beauty of the churches and their commitment to religion, I must admit, I enjoyed the wine more.