You Had Us At Chocolate

We love food tours.  Giving our tastebuds a bit of employment while exploring an area is a pretty fantastic adventure.  And, Great Food Tours delivers a wonderful chocolate adventure in Beverly Hills, California.  Learning tidbits of history in this famous city while sampling delicious chocolates is a win-win situation.

Our guide, Lyndia, started our tour outside Sprinkles Cupcakes. This small shop is home to the Cupcake ATM.  Yep, cupcake ATM.  We did not order a cupcake from the machine, but we love that anytime of the day or night, we can get our cupcake fix.  According to our guide, the ATM cupcake came about when the owner, Candice Nelson, was pregnant and wished she could get a late night cupcake.  Good news, if you’re in Las Vegas, New York (Upper East Side), Dallas, Chicago or Atlanta, you too can partake in the Cupcake ATM experience, or you’ll just have to visit Beverly Hills.

Cupcake ATM full view

You won’t get money from this ATM machine.

Their cupcakes were tasty, but then we had their ice cream and realized we found a winner.  Directly next door to Sprinkles Cupcakes is Sprinkles ice cream and cookies.  Our sample included a scoop of triple chocolate ice cream.  Serious yum.

Sprinkles ice cream store front.  It is modest to look at, but their ice cream rocks!

Sprinkles ice cream store front. It is modest                to look at, but their ice cream rocks!

The interior of the ice cream shop.

The interior of the ice cream shop.

Double chocolate ice cream heaven.

Triple chocolate ice cream heaven.

We continued our journey to another sugary stop called Sugarfina.  What a find.  The ambience of Sugarfina made us feel like royalty.  We had a few minutes to select our samples, but not really enough time to drool and inspect all the choices available.  So after the tour, we came back for round two.  An interesting tid bit about this stop is the owners traveled the world sampling candies from around the world – and Sugarfina was born.

Sugarfina adorned with a Beverly Hills palm tree

Sugarfina adorned with a Beverly Hills palm tree

Fancy-pants without being over the top

Fancy-pants decor but not over the top

Our samples

Our samples – Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Seeds and Dark Chocolate Orange Peel – sugar at its finest.

Sugarfina samples - labeled

After we flipped out over all the great flavors and cute gift ideas, Lyndia took us to our next stop: Edelweiss Chocolate Factory.

Edelweiss is a gem and one with quite the history.  Starting in 1942, Edelweiss has been frequented by many celebrities since its opening and continues to have its frequent fliers.  Their chocolate stands on its own, but perhaps one of the coolest pieces of history is that Edelweiss is the cause for the adorably famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the factory line at a candy company.  According to our guide, after Lucille Ball was exposed to the conveyor belt in the back of the candy shop, it inspired her to conceive of a comedy skit involving making candy.  She wanted to learn how to make the candy so she worked onsite for three weeks.  Being able to tour their facility made this tour worth the money.

The famous conveyor belt

The famous conveyor belt

A tribute to a piece of history in the making - the famous I Love Lucy episode

A tribute to a piece of history – the famous I Love Lucy episode

One might think the tour would end at Edelweiss, but it didn’t.  We motored on to another fancy-pants chocolatier, Vosges Haut-Chocolat.  This place blew our mind.  We enjoyed endless samples of chocolate in a chocolate palace with decor inspired by  Katrina Markoff’s travels and culinary expertise.  And, man, this place does not disappoint.  Clearly, her concept of “Travel the World through Chocolate” is one that is nurtured by the fusion of ingredients that deliver not only a tasty experience but a sensory one as well.

A sign inside the shop

A sign inside the shop – pretty much sums it up.

Gorgeous decor

Gorgeous decor

Vosges Haut-Chocolat sample

A wonderful piece of chocolate

Incredibly different chocolate experience

Incredibly different chocolate experience

We thought the tour was over.  But, nope….one more stop: Beverly Hills Brownie Company.  Holy brownie – our head was spinning with all the different choices.  We sampled the classic chocolate brownie, which was decadent and a slice of happiness. A brownie lover could keep their tastebuds busy for days without repeating a flavor.  Wow, just wow.

Oh, the choices.

Oh, the choices.

And, that our friends, is how you enjoy some chocolate – in style.

-Peace out,
The Franci

Riley’s Farm – Go Back In Time

Riley’s Farm – Go Back In Time

Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen, California is a property with many layers and definitely worth checking out.  We scored a Groupon to check out Hawk’s Head Publick House Tavern and cashed it in this past weekend. We had a great lunch with good friends while reliving a bygone era. The food was good, but the setting was wonderful.

Hawk's Head Sign

Hawk's Head Building

The Colonial style building housing the Hawk’s Head Publick House Tavern.

From the moment we walked into the eatery, all of us felt we’d been transported to another era.  The Tavern’s menu is limited but offers something for everyone.

Here are some interior shots:

Hawk's Head Publick House

Interior of tavern

Another interior shot

Another interior shot

A coat rack

A coat rack

The wait staff wear period piece costumes and much of the food features apples.

 

Appetizers:

HawksHeadAppetizerCollage

(Left) Stilton Cheese, bread and green apple platter, (Right) Apples and Sausage

Entrees:

(Left) Chicken Pot Pie, (Middle) Shepherd's Pie, (Right) roast beef sandwich

(Left) Chicken Pot Pie, (Middle) Shepherd’s Pie, (Right) Roast Beef sandwich

…and for dessert – something with a little apple.

Apple Dessert Menu

What we chose….

A little slice of apple heaven.

A little slice of apple heaven – Crumb Crust Apple Pie.

Love the costume

Love the costume of our waitress

Riley’s Farm is not open everyday, but they seem to always have something going on.  Schools visit to witness reenactments of  history such as the Civil War, weddings take place on the property, they have a working farm where you can pick-your-own-fruit, enjoy dinner theatre, or simply do as we did – show up for a meal and take in the serenity of the surroundings.

Riley's Farm Map

Hope you get a chance to check out this gem.

 

Walking: Taking It All In One Step At A Time

Walking: Taking It All In One Step At A Time

For us, foreign travels mean using local transportation.  The rules of the road in foreign lands cause unwanted stress, so we find alternate ways to get around.  Sometimes that means utilizing buses, trains, undergrounds, or taxis, but whenever possible we like to walk.  Walking allows us to find unexpected treasures in a city.

A found window treatment as we walked the less touristy parts of Murano, Italy. Just one unexpected treasure.

Since we walk quite a bit on our travels, we began wondering just how much we do walk.  This prompted us to buy a pedometer and track how much walking we do when traveling, starting with our 66-day European trip.

Initially, we only had three goals: (1) wear the pedometer at all times outside of our hotel room, (2) keep it real, that is, don’t jiggle it just so it would increase steps we hadn’t taken, and (3) record our daily totals.  We met all three goals.

But our mere three goals morphed into something we never thought we’d achieve: walking 1,000,000 steps over the course of 66-days.

While in the London Hotel in Milan, Italy, recouping from a 27,447-step day (a little over 9 miles), John said, “You know, we might be able to walk 1,000,000 steps during these 66-days.  It will be pretty difficult and we probably won’t achieve it, but it is possible.”  Whallah, a new goal surfaced.  According to our calculations, we needed roughly 16,000 steps per day to make our goal of 1,000,000. But then another goal grew out of this discussion: to walk 10,000 steps each day.

Good news:  we made our goal; in fact, we walked 1,033,147 steps over the 66-days, which equates to an average of 6 miles per day (daily totals are listed below).

Bad news:  Two of the 66-days we did not meet the 10,000 steps per day goal.

Before departing for Europe, we averaged our daily steps and found that on a typical day we walk around 5,000 steps.  Therefore, this 66-day trek was not always easy. In fact, I had to buy two boxes of band-aids to survive the first two weeks.  Did you know they make expensive cushiony medicated band-aids for certain shapes of blisters?  Until this trip, I didn’t.

Another obstacle was walking in the heat.  Some days might have had higher step totals if the weather was cooler.  But, the real challenge came when on the ship during “at sea” days.  We took many laps around the walking deck to meet the goal.

Here’s our walking totals:

JUNE
07 – 0 tracked (travel day)

08 – 4,322 (evening in Venice, Italy)

09 – 26,667 (Venice, Italy)

10 – 12,224 (Venice, Italy)

11 – 19,128 (Venice – Padua – Verona)

12 – 19,033 (Verona to Lugano, Switzerland)

13 – 11,976 (Lugano)

14 – 27,447 (Lugano to Milan, Italy)

15 – 16,953 (Milan)

16 – 14,755 (Milan to Ljubljana, Slovenia)

17 – 16,604 (Ljubljana to Zagreb, Croatia)

18 – 12,348 (Zagreb)

19 – 11,075 (Zagreb to Budapest, Hungary)

20 – 12,845 (Budapest)

21 – 14,324 (Budapest to Vienna, Austria)

22 – 16,903 (Vienna)

23 – 11,419 (Vienna to Krawkow, Poland)

24 – 21,114 (Krakow)

25 – 10,238 (Krakow to Prague, Czech Republic)

26 – 12,739 (Prague)

27 – 11,248 (Prague to Berlin, Germany)

28 – 20,049 (Berlin)

29 – 14,743 (Berlin to Amsterdam, Netherlands)

30 – 22,076 (Amsterdam)

END OF JUNE TOTAL: 360,230 steps

JULY
01 – 18,793 (Amsterdam to Bruges, Belgium)

02 – 17,463 (Bruges to Luxembourg, Luxembourg)

03 – 16,744 (Luxembourg to Paris, France)

04 – 24,002 (Paris)

05 – 30,102 (Paris)

06 – 21,139 (Paris to London, England)

07 – 19,003 (London)

08 – 11,776 (London to Leavesden, England)

09 – 20,846 (Leavesden to London, England)

10 –  17,681 (Edinburgh, Scotland)

11– 17,846 -(Edinburgh)

12 – 15,559 (London, England)

13 -10,018 (London to Perth, Scotland)

14 – 10,547 (Perth)

15 – 11,149 (Perth to Drumnadrochit, Scotland)

16 – 17,976 (Drumnadrochit)

17– 10,027 (Drumnadrochit to Glasgow, Scotland)

18 – 14,243 (Glasgow)

19 – 13,729 (Glasgow)

20 – 13,907 (Glasgow to Liverpool, England)

21 – 18,633 (Liverpool to Dover, England – board Ryndam ship)

22 – 15,130 (Ryndam – Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

23 – 12,332 (Ryndam – day at sea)

24 – 10,101 (Ryndam – day at sea)

25 – 10,167 (Ryndam – Lisbon, Portugal)

26 – 15,347 (Ryndam – Gibraltar)

27 – 13,513 (Ryndam – Cartagena, Spain)

28 – 15,309 (Ryndam – Palma de Mallorca, Spain)

29 – 28,795 (Ryndam – Barcelona, Spain)

30 – 30,155 (Ryndam – Barcelona, Spain)

31 – 18,395 (Ryndam – Monte Carlo, Monaco)

END OF JULY TOTAL: 520,427 steps

RUNNING TOTAL: 880,657 steps

AUGUST
01 – 7,123 (Ryndam at sea)

02 – 12,079 (Ryndam – Civiticchia, Italy)

03 – 8,772 (Ryndam – at sea)

04 – 20,559 (Ryndam – Ibiza, Spain)

05 – 10,258 (Ryndam – Almeria, Spain)

06 – 15,505 (Ryndam – Cadiz, Spain)

07 – 14,433 (Ryndam – Portimao, Portugal)

08 – 10,563 (Ryndam at sea)

09 – 14,728 (Ryndam at sea)

10 – 22,748 (Ryndam – Dover, England)

11 – 15,722 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

12 – 0 tracked (travel day)

END OF AUGUST TOTAL: 152, 490 steps

TOTAL FOR ENTIRE 66-DAYS: 1,033,147 steps

Do you use a pedometer when traveling?  What type of transportation do you prefer to use when traveling internationally?  What are your thoughts?

Peace out, Trenquilla

The Boy Can FLY!

The Boy Can FLY!

An experience exists in Newport Beach, California that will satisfy anyone who has ever wanted to fly.  Jetlev Southwest is a company that provides a jetpack experience using water-propulsion to lift a mere human into flight.  See for yourself…

THE CREW:  Holy Jetlev, this crew rocked!  The crew members put their full attention into the care of the customer.  Even though some people were nervous about having this experience (raising my hand – John was fine with it), the crew explained the flight procedures with confidence and presented the “you can do it” no-fail attitude.

The Jetlev crew on their way to set up for the day.

THE EXPERIENCE: I stood on the beach trying my best to assess this experience from an observer’s point of view and it was then I realized I made the mistake of being too scared to tackle this experience. My fears involved breaking body parts and drowning – this coming from a girl who has jumped from a plane.

John getting prepped to fly.

The first few minutes of the experience John worked out the kinks in figuring out how to maneuver the jetpack.  Moments later as he jetted into the air, I envisioned his wetsuit as the color red, which would have a carbon copy of Iron Man jetting around the harbor.

John rising above it all.

John made the Jetlev experience look easy, rewarding and fun.  Watching him propel from the water and into the air brought serious satisfaction. I found it fascinating that he was able to purposefully submerge under water like a submarine, walk on water, fly like Iron Man and, well, jet straight up into the air.  I can only imagine the fun he was having, but I inferred it was pretty good when I witnessed the smile on his face.

John flying and smiling!

As John came back to shore, one of the crew members asked, “So, how was it?”  John smiled, and without hesitation stated, “It was GREAT!”  Yep, this experience was worth every penny.
JOHN’S TESTIMONY: It was a neat experience and the equipment is really impressive. The pack is very light – about 20 pounds – but the pump is based in a small “boat” and uses a 33 foot hose to move 1,000 gallons a minute through the two nozzles.  In addition, the equipment is very intuitive and super sensitive. It wasn’t a rush like skydiving or bungee jumping, but it was unique. The highest it is possible to get is 30 feet and it doesn’t look like they let me get more than 20 feet up, but it never felt very high – except for perhaps the last time when they dropped me in the water.
No fear with this one, unless you have concerns about being in the ocean. You will get dunked and get a mouthful of salt water every once in a while. There is a learning curve, but after the first few minutes you can work the kinks out and have a good time. There is a person on a headset constantly giving directions. The folks running this do an exceptional job.
Check out our Rocket Man’s experience on YouTube (http://youtu.be/GCBbs9_bPRA)- and then book your own experience!

Peace out, Trenquilla

Full of Hot Air

Full of Hot Air

Groupon, TravelZoo, Living Social and many other places offer some great opportunities for experiences at an excellent price.  Apparently they also can offer crooks an opportunity to scam hundreds of thousands of dollars.  So, let us tell you about the scam.

In November 2010, TravelZoo was selling $89 balloon rides (“Regularly $180”) through So Cal Hot Air Balloon Tours in Temecula.  TravelZoo sold more than 4,400 of them.  We bought two for us and two as a Christmas gift. When John tried to book our flight, the company told him they could not schedule the tours until their Web site was updated for accepting online reservations.  Finally, on March 12 the Web site was working and immediately filling up.  We scheduled a flight for June.  We drive down before dawn only to have the flight canceled due to low clouds. We are worried because our vouchers expire Aug. 2011, but the company’s paperwork and the representatives explain that the expiration date is automatically extended to the next flight when they are the ones who cancel the flight.

With very few openings we have to reschedule for November.  That one gets canceled due to “high winds.”  John receives the news with a call from a woman at the balloon company who asks him to call the next day so they can find an opening.  He checks online and there are zero spots in the next six months, so he assumes they have some openings not shown.  He calls in and gets Thomas Brundage, the owner.  John tells him why he is calling and Thomas tells him to book it online.  John asks how we can get a refund and the guy goes nuts.  He is cursing, complaining about “the lowlifes” who don’t pay full price, and goes on like this for about 15 minutes.  It was impressive.  However, John gets the sense that he is eventually going to calm down and book us and sure enough he finds an opening in February.  John calls TravelZoo and asks about a refund because he gets a very strong feeling that something is very wrong.  Clearly the company oversold the vouchers and can’t fit everyone in.  John also figured they sold so many because they were desperate for cash and grew afraid that the cash is now gone and the company will disappear.  TravelZoo says they cannot help because the coupons are expired and the company is still willing to take us.

On Jan. 31, we get the dreaded news – the company is out of business.  They actually shut down in mid-December and January and were to start flying again on Feb. 2.  The company’s calendar showed every day, seven days a week from Feb. 2 to Aug. 31 was fully booked.

John calls TravelZoo for help and is again told they will not help.  We don’t like getting ripped off and recognize that this is something that likely affects a large number of people.  John sends an e-mail to a friend at the newspaper he used to be an editor for, and doesn’t hear back.  He then tries the Temecula area paper and nada.  So, he posts on Facebook hoping one of his reporter friends knows a good story when they see it.  Armando Barragan, who works for ABC Channel 7 news, is da man.  He gives the information to a reporter and she does a solid job turning the story around.  Within a couple hours of ABC contacting TravelZoo, John gets a phone call telling him they will gladly refund his money.  Better yet, they send a message to ABC saying they will refund every customer ripped off by So Cal Hot Air Balloons.  They were slow, but TravelZoo did the right thing.  As one large entity they will have a much better chance of going after the crooks and will ensure their reputation for protecting customers.

A couple days after that, we see an article that explains that this company may have ripped off more than 15,000 people – about a million dollars worth – by selling discounted flights through many Web sites.

The bottom line is that if you have any companies making it difficult to use your vouchers, make sure to get your refund before the expiration date on the voucher regardless of proposed arrangements the company makes.

This one bad experience will not stop us from taking advantage of some great opportunities, but it does serve as a warning to be more cautious.

TV story and newscast: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news%2Flocal%2Finland_empire&id=8533635

Follow-up story: http://www.dailydealmedia.com/127blowing-hot-air-%E2%80%93-balloon-ride-fraud-in-california/

The original TravelZoo page: http://www.travelzoo.com/local-deals/Los-Angeles-Area/Restaurant/174

Peace out,

The Franci

Blog-almighty…I’m back

Blog-almighty…I’m back

I can hardly believe it’s been two months since I last posted.  The truth is we have been working on researching working overseas, specifically the UAE.  Besides checking out blogs, reading articles, and devouring three books concerning the UAE culture, we’ve been collecting all those important documents that you know you put in a safe place…only to learn safe is too safe. 🙂  Only one mantra ran through my mind whenever I felt a rush of panic seep into my soul, “Keep Calm, Carry On.”  It worked. I found all documents needed.

As for our exact plan, nothing is final yet, but we will likely start a new adventure August 2012.  In the meantime, we are working toward minimizing our possessions and getting organized.

We have experienced a few outings in-between the digging through boxes and research.  Two I thought I were spectacular involved visiting an olive farm and attending a theatre production called “I Love Lucy Live On Stage.”

Graber Olive House – we found this place simply by buying a can of their olives in our local Ralph’s grocery store.  We noticed they are a local company residing in Ontario, and they give free tours of their olive packing process.  Great olives, great people, and a great tour.  I will be a fan forever.  (Tip:  The Graber Olive House has two stores. The best deal may be their Orchard Run olives.  These are the usual ripe, flavor packed Graber olives but of various sizes – and only available here.  At less then $4, they also cost about half of what a can of their olives will run you in the grocery store.)

Inside yummy goodies galore occupy shelves – yum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Love Lucy Live On Stage is a hoot.  For two hours the audience is transported back to an era where they are part of a live taping of the “I Love Lucy” show.  The production shares nostalgic radio commercial spots as well as fun moments on the I Love Lucy show.  The production is still running, so if you are in Los Angeles (or are just a Lucy fan), take a few hours out and enjoy a Lucy experience.  (Note: the theatre has a first come, first served seating policy.)

–Peace out, Trenquilla