Puerto Vallarta Viewpoint – Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, Scenic Overlook

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Shaped like a horseshoe, the Bay of Banderas sits in the State of Jalisco and offers over 50 miles of beautiful shoreline, ranging from jagged cliffs to sandy beaches. In its heart sits the city of Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta is famous for many things, including its beautiful old town, El Malecon, the wonderful beachfront boardwalk, and its spectacular sunsets.

 

Needless to say, a viewpoint overlooking the Bay of Banderas and the colonial city promised to be spectacular, especially when you imagine the sun dropping into the ocean!

However, the day we set out to find the scenic viewpoint over the city, the so called Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, was cloudy and hot.

It hadn’t been easy to find information on how to get there beforehand, but with a bit of persistence, a sense of adventure, and a lot of sweat, we made it to the top. It was worth every drop of sweat, despite the cloudy skies!

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To make it easier for those wanting to visit the viewpoint after us, here is how to get there:

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From the Malecon, take Calle Aldama to walk towards the hilltop. Once you get to Calle Emilio Carrenza, take a left.

This is what it looks like where you turn left into Calle Emilio Carrenza. It is the beginning of the steeper, more dirt road part, of the ascent:

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Walk up the cobble stone pathway towards the white house, all the way to Calle Abasolo. There you turn right. From here it is a straight shot to heaven!

You’ll come by some awesome street art, as well as local houses. No need to worry, the people are really friendly and many of them offer water for sale.

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Calle Abasolo ends at the staircase which will take you directly to the viewpoint.

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On top, you will see the cross which gives the viewpoint its name, as well as the viewing platforms.

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A few tips for the road:

  • Wear sturdy shoes, the road is not always paved and it can get a bit slippery on the dustier slopes.
  • Have a sense for adventure, keep an open mind, show respect, and appreciation for different cultures.
  • To put safety into perspective,  my daughters and I, no man in tow, felt completely safe at all times.
  • Bring water, or have a few pesos to buy water from the locals that live there. I am sure they will appreciate it greatly!
  • Don’t forget sunscreen, hat, and bug spray.
  • If you are physically fit it will take about 20 minutes from bottom to top.

We’d love to hear how your experience was, if you end up going on this little adventure, just comment below!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. She is also a Puerto Vallarta Specialist. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

Where to Honeymoon in September, October or November?

It used to be, that the summer months were the most popular, but lately, couples are choosing more and more to get married during the fall months.

With September being peak hurricane season, many ask where should we honeymoon in September or October? Is it safe to travel to the Caribbean during hurricane season? What do we have to expect from hurrican season? And, are there any alternatives?

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Of course, choosing a destination has a lot to do with the time a couple has available as well as their budget. It also has something to do with what they ultimately want to experience.

Some couples aren’t worried about hurricanes and don’t mind a daily afternoon rain shower. That is mostly what you should expect during hurricane season. However, every now and then a hurricane forms and eventually takes one path or another.

Nowadays, hurricane tracking is fairly reliable and a hurricane’s path is predicted days before it actually happens. This can be both, great if indeed the hurrican takes a certain path and the chosen destination is affected, upsetting if you change your plans, only to find that the hurricane takes a different path or has weakened.

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The most important thing to have in this situation is solid travel insurance. If you have a “cancellation for covered reasons” policy, chances are that you are only covered if the hurricane hits. Meaning, that if the hurricane is supposed to hit tomorrow, but you are traveling today, you have no option to cancel because “fear of a hurricane” is usually not covered.  If you want to have the flexibility to decide not to go because you are worried a hurricane might affect your honeymoon, you need a so called “cancel for any reason” travel protection plan.

But, which Caribbean island to pick during hurricane season? If you want an all-inclusive experience, go with Jamaica, the Negril side to be precise. The island’s Blue Mountains offer a natural, protective barrier to the other side of the island. They also catch most of the rainfall. If an all-inclusive honeymoon isn’t on top of your list, pick one of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Curacao or Bonaire). These are usually out of the hurricane belt and less prone to stormy action.

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Whichever destination you choose in the Caribbean, or along the Pacific Coast, there never is a guarantee though. Weather patterns have been changing and are no longer as predictable as they once were.

For those who want to stay away from hurricanes altogether I suggest a trip to Europe. Fall in Europe is the best, and depending on where you go, you can still enjoy a beach vacation.

Here are some of my top choices:

IRELAND

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Great for nature lovers, couples on a tighter budget, couples afraid of long flights, and couples worried about language barriers.

How long does it take to get there? A quick 6- 7  hour flight from the East Coast will take you there.

ITALY

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Perfect for romantics, history buffs, art lovers, music lovers, food lovers… need I say more, the country screams amore and passion. Fall is less crowded, the weather mild, prices lower.

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 8 hours from the East Coast

GREECE

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For a laid back, sunny, island hopping experience. Sipping ouzo, nibbling on olives, watching a donkey go by. The perfect setting for a romantic, relaxing honeymoon. However, keep in mind that once October hits, many hotels, shops and even ferries shut down

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 10 hours from the East Coast

PORTUGAL

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Douro River – image courtesy of Viking River Cruises

For a romantic river cruise along the Duoro River where vineyards abound and harvest season is in full swing. Lisbon is also one of the most stunning cities in Europe!

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 6 hours from the East Coast

PARIS, LONDON & AMSTERDAM

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For a three city power pack cultural experience. Each unique, each worth a visit. Super easy to connect via high-speed trains. Track Royals in London and have High Tea at Kensington Palace, stroll book stalls along the Seine in Paris and enjoy dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, and ride a bike in Amsterdam and check out the Anne Frank museum.

How long does it take to get there? Expect between 6 – 7 hours from the East Coast, depending on which city you fly in and fly out of.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

 

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of  AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm, specialized in creating and customizing honeymoons. You can contact her at stefanie@aavromance.com

 

 

Mask Making in Venice

Venetian masks are world famous and a symbol and tradition of Venice. There is no avoiding them when in the city, as every street vendor and souvenir shop carries multiple versions, from the cheapest mass production piece, to the more expensive, unique and handcrafted version. Nowadays, masks are mainly worn during carnival. However, as long as the Venetian Serenissima Republic lasted, until 1797, they were part of the everyday Venetian life. During those days, Venetian nobles put on the masks to be whoever they wanted to be and turn their life into and aventure, gamble, and add a little bit of spice and risk to the everyday life.

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A few of today’s mask artisans open their workshop doors and offer classes. They can range from the actual making of the mask with paper mache, to learning the decoration techniques used. It is a wonderful experience for both old and young.

I wanted to do something special, memorable and had setup such workshop for my children and myself. We had picked a small mask making shop owned by Giorgio Galasso who has been making masks for the past 20 years.

Arriving at his shop is like stepping back in time. Instructions say find the San Zulian church, follow the wall, turn into a small square, and there you are. No street name, number, and most definitely not a place Google Maps knows how to find.

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The artist’s workshop is tiny and although Giorgo says he accommodates up to 5 people in the summer, it seems like 3 are plenty. Giorgio is an older man, long black grey hair, the features of his face almost like a mask. He wears a black framed set of reading glasses, and you immediately feel like you are working with someone who truly knows his craft.

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In broken English he explains that before you start, you have to make a plan. You start with a vision of your mask which you then complete in several steps. He works with my two children, aged 10 and 12, as well as myself, and easily succeeds in making us feel confident in our abilities. We spend a good hour decorating our masks, learning about the different techniques, and materials used. One of my daughters works in the window and becomes the attraction for many passersby, who oftentimes end up entering the small shop, and buying one of Girogio’s masks.

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Once done the masks have to stay in the shop for about an hour to dry. We head for lunch and pick them up on our way back to the hotel.

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We were truly pleased with the result. It is a unique and memorable souvenir to take home from Venice. The masks will always remind us of  the experience which is one we will never forget.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Long layover at Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX

15 hours at LAX – oh how I was dreading spending my time at the airport!

LAX

Let me begin from the start though. Picture a small group of travel professionals selected to embark on an educational adventure to Tahiti. Needless to say a trip like that involves a schedule planned into the smallest detail. Resort visits, inter-island flights, ferries, excursions, dinners with hotel executives, networking trade shows… 8 fully packed days.

Because of that, I did not want to miss my flight to Papeete and hence decided to leave the Midwest very early in the morning, for a late at night flight from LAX. I landed at LAX around 8am. It took me a good hour to retrieve my luggage and make it to the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The good news is, I was early enough to catch the Air Tahiti Nui gate agents who had just sent off a morning flight. They allowed me to check-in more than 12 hours prior to my actual flight, thus giving me the golden ticket, the boarding pass, that would give me access to the terminal.

Before doing anything else I had to have some breakfast. I settled for an over priced yogurt/granola breakfast from Larder at Tavern which well, was just okay. Since I wanted to do some work  that day and I had brought my laptop and quickly found a comfortable space with view of the runway.

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10 hours into the layover I have to say, Tom Bradley International Terminal is absolutely great. The amount of daylight you get in this terminal makes you forget that you are inside. The architecture and design is simply stunning.

Here are my top things to do (when not working):

  • Food (I was looking for reasonably priced options)  and found these faves:
    • ink.sack: A great selection of gourmet sandwiches prepared to order. Priced reasonably which is truly a treat at this airport.
    • 800 degrees: Typical Neapolitan pizza, the perfect airport comfort food.

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  • Water (admittedly, I am picky, spring water is a must have). There is definitely a shortage of spring water in the newsstand areas (Dasani and Smart Water is the choice and those price around $3/4 for a bottle). Fiji is the only natural water I could find and it has to be purchased from one of the food vendors. $5.50 (incl. tax) is pretty much the street price.

You will also find Starbucks, pinkberry smoothies/ice cream, as well as Vanilla Bakeshop (selling cupcakes and other sweet indulgences).
In addition there are a lot of upscale dining options, including a sushi bar, Petrossian caviar,  and many fun bars to choose from.

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Shopping options are plenty and mainly high-end

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Wifi at LAX is free only for 1 hour. If you are staying longer you will have to purchase a Boingo Plan. I ended up subscribing to Boingo’s monthly plan which turned out to be less expensive than the 24 hour option. I used it again on my return layover and then cancelled the plan after my return.

Electricity is available all across the terminal, however, make sure to check that the outlet is working. I’ve encountered several that seemed to be malfunctioning.

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I do like to workout and feel the need to move around. I found that it is really easy to walk laps throughout the terminal as well as integrate stairs into the workout.

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Having spent pretty much an entire day at this terminal I can tell you that it is very peaceful and relaxing. At no point did I feel it was noisy or rushed. That is until the evening hours, when the terminal started to fill up with the late night flight passengers. It was still easy to find a spot, but it definitely started to feel more like a terminal. One of my favorite evening perks was the live duo, playing some classic cover songs which sounded great throughout the main hall.

For those traveling with children you will be happy to know that there is a designated kid zone area. However, I was a bit disappointed. It is stuck in the darkest back area with absolutely no daylight whatsoever.

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The one thing I feel would put this terminal over the top, is an outdoor area somewhere. A little bit of fresh air would have made this layover perfect.

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I had originally planned on spending my day at the United Lounge, however I am so glad that didn’t work out, as I am sure, the time in the terminal was more relaxing and interesting. Plus, I got to enjoy the pretty sunset.

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Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

36 hours in Arizona – Road trip Day Two: The Grand Canyon without the Crowds

Day Two of our spontaneous Arizona adventure starts off as early as Day One, it is still pitch black.

This time however, an incredibly vast starry sky above. The air crisp, almost frosty. Leaving Utah we drive South. The sun starts rising in the East, slowly lighting up the seemingly endless landscape and then turning it golden. Another gorgeous day awaits.

the gap, arizona, state road, aavtravelWe pass The Gap and in Cameron turn right, onto State Route 64, the road leading us straight to the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance. Along the way, we see a group of Navajo Indians selling crafts and jewelry. I would encourage anyone to find native people selling their own goods versus buying something at one of the souvenir stores. Not only is it going to cost you less but far more importantly, you get the opportunity to talk to the people that have been living on these lands for 100s of years, are fighting to preserve their culture, and most likely are wiser than many of us.

As we enter the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance it is still very early and none of the big tourist buses have yet arrived. Our first stop, the Desert View Watchtower. Built in 1932 it was designed by Mary Colter, one of the very first female architects. The Watchtower was meant to mimic an Anasazi Indian Watchtower. It is a very interesting structure to explore and the views you get from the tower and its surroundings are breathtaking.

desert watchtower, arizona, grand canyon, anasazi, mary coulterdesert watchtower, Indian art, arizona, grand canyon, mary coulter, aavtravelgrand canyon, arizona, south rim, aavtravelInsiders know that for an uncrowded visit to the Grand Canyon, one should visit the North Rim, as it only receives about 10% of the yearly visitors. However, if the South Rim is easier accessible, as it was in our case, entering the East Entrance is a great way to avoid the crowds. Most of the Grand Canyon’s visitors never make it past Grand Canyon Village which is home to many hotels and accessed via the South Entrance. As for the tours that actually travel along the rim, you will be long gone before they make it to the East Entrance.

As we travel West along the South Rim, we stop a couple of times along the way. Most of the time we are alone. It is an incredibly powerful feeling, to experience the immensity of the canyon by yourself. Standing or sitting at the edge, overlooking the ancient rock formations dropping down into the large abyss, sometimes catching a glimpse of the Colorado river winding its way at the bottom of the canyon. Many different shapes and colors. The screeching of a crow, a lizard basking in the sun, and the smell of fresh pine trees in the air. This is the way the Grand Canyon should be experienced.

grand canyon, arizona, stefanie pichonnat, aavtravelgrand canyon, north rim, arizona, aavtravelgrand canyon, arizona, south rim, aavtravel, stefanie pichonnatEventually we make it to the Grand Canyon Village and after exploring some of the hotels, walking along the rim, glancing into a few shops, we end up getting a scoop of ice cream to enjoy overlooking the canyon. As we sit there, our feet dangling over the edge, a steady flow of people walking by behind us, we see something moving below. A young bobcat chasing a bird which eventually seeks refuge in one of the crevices. What a great way to end our time at the Grand Canyon!

grand canyon, bobcat, arizonaDespite the half day only visit, we felt we got to experience an incredible time at the Grand Canyon. If you visit, try to leave the beaten path behind and find your spot. It is powerful!

For us it was time to head on to our last stop, Sedona, but more about that in Day Three of this series.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Indy FastPark Ride & Relax – Best Place to Park your Car at Indianapolis Airport (IND)

honolulu, hawaii, aavtravelWhenever you take a plane to head somewhere, you either get dropped off at the airport or need to find a place to leave your car.

When it comes to parking around Indianapolis Airport there are a few options. If you have an early flight, you might want to choose to stay at one of the many airport hotels that offer so called Park and Fly rates. There are a few things you need to pay attention to when making your reservation:

  • Make sure the hotel’s airport shuttle actually runs during the hours you need it. Some shuttles run 6am – 10pm. So if your flight departs really early in the morning, or comes in really late, you won’t be able to take advantage of the shuttle.
  • Airport hotels can be located around Indianapolis’ old airport, or the new airport. Depending on the direction you are coming from, it makes more sense to stay in one area instead of the other. If, for example, you are coming from Terre Haute, your best options are located in the Plainfield and South Ameriplex area, as these locations will save you a good 20 minutes in additional travel time each way.Ready for take offIf you are looking for a parking solution, you can stay on one of Indianapolis Airport’s official garage or parking lots, or you can choose an off airport solution. The best one, in my opinion, is FastPark Ride & Relax. Here are a few reasons why:
  • The hourly rate is very similar to Indianapolis airport’s Economy Parking. However, if you have an AAA Membership card your receive a 15% discount on the rate!
  • You are picked up and dropped off directly at your car. No need to drag your luggage around  the parking lot or wait. If you can open your trunk with a click, the driver will deposit your luggage right into your trunk when you get off the shuttle.
  • They will even give you a bottle of water when you leave the parking area. What a nice gesture!
  • The parking is covered so you can expect a cleared and ready to go vehicle during those cold winter months. No defrosting and scratching icy windshields. This comes in particularly handy when your landing looks like this!

Snow landing INDHow to get to Indy FastPark Ride & Relax?
If you come from Terre Haute on I-70 follow these instructions:

At the airport exit, stay right towards SOUTH Ameriplex Pkwy

IND Airport Exit coming from I-70WAfter about a mile you will see the first FastPark sign and the rooftops of the covered parking area.

IndyParkRideRelax002Turn right on Stansted Drive, right before Subway.  FastPark IndyIndyParkRideRelax004 IndyParkRideRelax005 FastPark Indy Covered Airport ParkingPark, Relax and have a great trip!

How to plan your time? To be on the safe side, plan about 30 minutes from the time you enter the parking lot to the time you make it to the terminal.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

36 hours in Arizona – Road trip Day One: Antelope Canyon

Whenever I don’t travel for a couple of weeks and don’t have a trip in sight I get  antsy. It’s like this mosquito bite that itches and no matter how much you scratch or put anti-itch on it, it won’t stop bugging you. That is when I usually come up with some spontaneous last minute getaway. These trips aren’t really planned or budgeted for, they just kind of happen. A few miles, a destination of interest and boum, there is your potential adventure.

This particular one lead us to Arizona. We landed in Phoenix late at night, ready to start our adventure early next morning. We were heading North, way North. Our destination: Antelope Canyon.

arizona, sunrise, highway 17, saguaro, aavtravelWe drove North along Highway 17 and later on State Road 89. It is amazing how the landscape and colors change along the way.  Desert isn’t just desert, it has its own atmosphere and color scheme. Some people say the desert is boring. However, I find it highly exciting and full of diversity, and there is something special about driving along a desert road, the promise of freedom. Wherever you can see, vast space, mile after mile, nothing other than the skyline, some hills, rock formations, sand, gravel, tumbleweed and saguaros. Highway 71 Phoenix to Flagstaff Arizona desert Highway 71The drive from Phoenix to Page takes about 5 hours. We stopped in Flagstaff to get ready for what lay ahead. The local supermarket was perfect to stock up on water and supplies before heading North on State Route 89 towards Page. Once you leave Flagstaff, you are pretty much in the wild. Better head out there with a filled tank of gas, water and food.

Route 89 Flagstaff to Page Arizona Route 89Most everybody has seen images of the amazing rock formations and light displays at Antelope Canyon. It is located on Navajo land, not far from Page, AZ, managed by the Navajo Indians. It is a slot canyon, meaning it is much deeper than wide. Antelope Canyon is a baby in terms of age, especially in comparison to the nearby Grand Canyon. When you arrive at the canyon entrance there is not much to see. The entrance is through a narrow crevice somewhere in the reddish rock.

Lower Antelope CanyonThere is a Lower and an Upper Antelope Canyon, both spectacular. Since our time was limited we decided to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. Both canyons have to be visited with a guide and tours are best booked in advance, especially during high-season, or if you are on a tight traveling schedule. We really wanted to visit the canyon on our own but unless you are a legitimate photographer with the adequate equipment as proof, you will have to go with the group. Although a bit disappointed, we quickly realized that it really didn’t matter. There are groups all over the canyon and you are never really alone as they come passing through.

Lower Antelope Canyon EntranceIn order to enter the canyon you will have to go down some steep steps and ladders.

Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon is hands down one of my favorite places ever. It is simply incredible. Once we emerged from its beautiful depth, we headed towards Lake Powell where we spent the rest of the day enjoying a wonderful picnic overlooking the lake.

Lake Powell ArizonaThe sun set fairly early and it got pitch black very fast. The starry sky incredible. We didn’t mind the early night as we had planned a whole other adventure for the next day.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com