Mr. President–Team Phun! Welcomes You In India

12 Jan

photoBob is off today for 2 1/2 weeks to India, with three high school mates. As fate would have it, the President of Our United States will also be in India at the same time as Bob and company. Thus Bob was inclined to mail this letter to the White House before his departure, because why not? (As of this writing, Mr. Obama has not yet replied, but I’ll keep you updated.)

January 5, 2015

To: President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Regarding: India visit

Dear Mr. President,

It has come to my attention that you and I (along with three of my oldest and dearest friends) will be in India later this month.

My traveling companions, Mr. David Wertzberger, Mr. Erik Kuefner and Mr. Douglas Wendt, and I (hereafter referred to as “Team Phun!”) were all delighted to hear that you accepted the invitation of Prime Minister Modi to attend the 2015 Republic Day celebration in the world’s most populous democracy as Chief Guest.

The odds are astronomical that our paths would cross at such a distant and exotic locale. And when one is so very far away from home, a familiar face is always a welcome sight. As such Team Phun! extends to you the invitation and opportunity to take a break from dignitaries, official events, and what I am certain is stifling protocol, to join us on our travels.

Team Phun! has arranged a mini van and driver through Mr. Ashok at www.i-love-my-india.co.in. His reviews on Tripadvisor are stellar. He’ll be driving us for about 15 days throughout Rajasthan and we have plenty of room. Of course, the invitation extends to the First Lady should she be with you. While it is a boy’s trip, we can certainly “clean it up” in her presence.

Mr. President, we know you’ll be busy. Heck, we’ll be busy too. But my guess is you’ll never be more than an hour’s helicopter ride from us. So whether it’s for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days, you are encouraged to join us. Once you hop into the van you can loosen your tie and be assured that what happens in the van stays in the van. You’ll be free to relax, share some jokes, and let off some of the steam built up by being the leader of the free world.

I really think you would enjoy traveling with us. We have lots in common. Each of us is happily married to a delightful, smart and strong woman, each of us is a proud American, and each of us voted for you in 2008 and 2012. We all have kids. In fact, I have two daughters, Emily Kate and Sarah Margaret who are just a bit older than your Malia Ann and Natasha.

It is our intention to learn as much as we can about India’s rich history, culture and cuisine and, acting as ambassadors, to have a ready smile for everyone we meet. Upon our return we aim to share our experiences with friends, family and co-workers in the hopes of making our big world feel both a little bit smaller and a little bit friendlier. Team Phun! welcomes you along for the ride.

As an added bonus, your Chicago Bulls play our Golden State Warriors at about 9am India time on Wednesday January 28th. I’ll have my iPad and with wifi we can get it with my DishAnywhere account. We’ve been waiting nearly 40 years for a Warriors team like this and we intend to catch as much as possible of their run to the NBA Championship. We can watch it over breakfast. Go Dubs!

Here is my contact information and our itinerary. Let’s make it happen!

Robert Bestor
Work: 541-482-7383
Email: bob@travelessentials.com

1/14 – Arrive Delhi
1/17 – To Agra
1/18 – Taj Majal
1/19 – Jaipur
1/20 – Pushkarand
1/21 – To Udaipur where Mr. Kuefner has relatives
1/23 – To Jodhpur via Ranakpur and Kumbalgarh
1/25 – To Jaislmer
1/27 – To Bikaner
1/28 – To Mandawa
1/29 – To Dehli and fly back home

Our itinerary is flexible. We may also try to fit in a camel safari in the Great Thar Desert. Though we may not have a working phone while in India we will have email access. You can reach me at the above phone number until our departure date.

Please contact me with any questions or concerns you may have.

On behalf of Team Phun! and Sincerely,

Robert Harmon Bestor III

Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones…

30 Dec

by Nancy Bestor

photoI’m not a regular contributor to review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, but I have posted a handful of reviews, almost always when I have something positive to say. Once or twice though, I have posted a less than stellar review of an establishment, and frankly, I feel bad when I do so, even though my reviews are 100% honest. I am also a big reader of other traveler’s reviews of hotels, restaurants, tourist sites and music venues. The information is almost always helpful, although I do take everything I read with a grain of salt. The photos are equally, if not more, helpful, as a hotel’s own photos always make rooms look bigger and better than they are, right?

Thus I was disheartened to read a story in the Oregonian reporting an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that says a business owner can claim defamation if an online review has opinions as well as “factual statements” that a business owner can prove as false. This somewhat ambiguous ruling makes me worry that reviewers will be less likely to post negative reviews of establishments, for fear of being sued. I understand that reviews might not always be honest, but I feel like this works both ways. I don’t always trust bad reviews, but I don’t always trust good ones either.

Now that there might even be a legal deterrent, it appears my Mother was right again: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I guess I‘ll be keeping my negative reviews to myself from here on out.

Peace On Earth, Goodwill to Men

30 Dec

by Nancy Bestor
shanghai
Reading the world news on my computer every morning can be discouraging. I’m able to take my pick of stories about melting ice caps, famine, war, and destruction, to name just a few. It’s enough to make me feel like nothing is right in the world. But if I see the glass as half full, and look a little harder, I can also find stories about UPS truck drivers who give mini trucks to big fans, or nine-year-old Caine, who built a cardboard arcade in East L.A.. It’s stories like these that remind me that even in the midst of bad events, good things are happening in our world, and you can find joy in many different places.

turkeyIt might be easy to look at other countries, particularly those more foreign to us, and think there’s nothing but hardship and sadness there. But I daresay the countries that we don’t readily understand are often the ones that have the most to offer us. It’s the places that I’ve known little about—Turkey, Vietnam, and even Thailand back in the day—that when I visited, moved me deeply. I’ll admit to being somewhat ignorant about the Islamic religion, but I can tell you I got teary when I heard the call to prayer outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. And it was after our trip to Thailand when we saw how happy Thai people could be with so few possessions that Bob and I came home and promptly put our house on the market. Learning about and visiting other cultures has made a lasting impression on my life, and I’m hoping on the lives of my daughters too.

Rick Steves writes in his book Travel As A Political Act that “the great vbike helmetsalue of travel is the opportunity to pry open your hometown blinders and bring home a broader perspective.”

I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more I realize I still have so much to learn, and I still have so many places in the world I want to visit. And if I can’t get out to a new place every day (or every month, or gasp, even every year), I’ll just have to look harder to find good stories in the news, because they’re out there, I know it.

Happy New Year, from me and my family, to you and yours. May you find beauty and joy everywhere you look in 2015.

All Airports Are Not Created Equal

30 Dec

by Nancy Bestor

When our family travels, we are almost always “blessed” with layovers lasting several hours at connecting airports. It may have to do with the fact that our hometown airport—Medford, Oregon—is very small, and thus our outgoing flights don’t always mesh with ideal travel schedules. Whatever the reason, I’ve spent countless hours wandering around airports, people watching, browsing bookstores and luxury gift shops (who buys a $10,000 watch at an airport anyway?), and basically trying to while away the hours until my next flight. Thus, I’ve discovered that while some airports—San Francisco, I’m talking to you—offer just the basics like food, drink and shopping, others have put quite a bit of thought into this travel dilemma, and offer lots of fun ways to relax and pass the time.

rocking

One of my favorites is the row of rocking chairs in the Seattle/Tacoma airport. There’s something wonderfully relaxing about being able to rock a chair while gazing out the window at planes silently taking off and landing. I realize the only difference here is a chair that rocks as opposed to a chair that is stationary, but it is far better than it may seem at first glance. Bravo Seattle.

On a recent trip we spent several hours in the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Among other things, Taoyuan features a Mind Garden, with library books, relaxing bean-bag chairs, and a free cell phone charging station, where you can plug in your phone inside of a very cool locked charging station. This airport also features a live bamboo garden, with coin operated massage chairs tucked behind, a free x-box gaming station, and a Hello Kitty Lounge. You had me at the Hello Kitty Lounge Taiwan.

mindgarden

The first time our family traveled through Narita Airport in Tokyo, I remember being impressed by the free kids gaming room among other things. Now this airport features the Nine Hours Capsule Hotel, if you need to catch a few winks. And I thought the kids gaming center was cool.

After sampling some of the great amenities at classier airports, I’m fairly irritated by those who still charge for wireless internet—New York airports offer 30 minutes free—then charge by the hour thereafter. I’m also irritated when the old school airport chairs have armrests between every seat so you can’t stretch out for a nap if you have an extra long or even an overnight layover.

IMG_1414

If you’re not going to offer me a rocking chair or a Hello Kitty Lounge, I feel like the least you can do is give me a comfortable chair while I wait for my next flight.

A Carry-on is a Carry-on is a Carry-on

18 Dec

by Nancy Bestor

A lot of customers have recently expressed concern over the “new” restrictions for carry-on luggage. Well, here’s the scoop: There are NO new carry-on restrictions. THEY HAVE NOT CHANGED. We’ve been in business for 20 years, and in that time, the maximum carry-on size has always been 22 x 14 x 9 inches. But that doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. Here are the details.

First off, what has led to this confusion? United Airlines simply announced earlier this year that they would begin strictly enforcing their carry-on regulations. Customers with oversized bags would now be required to check them and pay checked baggage fees where applicable. So United has not changed the size of carry-on bags. Instead they have vowed to pay closer attention to make sure travelers bags are in fact, no larger than 22 x 14 x 9. Gate agents have been trained to “eyeball” travelers bags to make certain they are carry-on size. If there is a question, they might ask a traveler to put their bag into the bag-sizing box, located at ticket counters, and gate counters as well.

Can a traveler over-pack a legal 22 x 14 x 9 inch carry-on size suitcase and thus keep it from fitting in to the bag-sizing box? Of course they can! Outside pockets are the biggest culprit for overstuffing. Those pockets should NOT be stuffed out with jackets/clothing/books/etc., if you are worried about fitting your suitcase into the bag-sizing box.

Here’s our experience with carry-on bags on United from our trip to the Caribbean last month. Each of the four of us took a fully packed, maximum carry-on sized rolling suitcase on three separate United Airlines flights out of Medford, Oregon, and three separate flights back home from St. Martin. Three of our bags were 22 x 14 x 9, and one was a wide-body carry-on, measuring 20 x 15.5 x 7.5. On every one of our flights all of our bags fit into the on board overhead compartments. We traveled through Medford, San Francisco and Newark airports and not once were we questioned about the size of our bags nor were we asked to test them in a bag-sizing box. Even though every flight we were on was full, even oversold in one case, and we were never the first to board, we had no problems.

United has also introduced requirements for the “personal” item that all passengers are allowed to bring on board in addition to their carry-on suitcase. This personal item can measure no larger than 17 x 10 x 9. Just like with our carry-on suitcases, however, no one questioned the sizes of our personal items. Each of our daughters carried a school-sized backpack on board, I carried a large tote bag, and Bob carried a large Eagle Creek daypack.

To make sure, we recently headed to the Medford Airport to test several of our carry-on suitcases in the United, Delta and Alaska bag-sizing boxes. In every case, from the Eagle Creek Tarmac and Adventure Series 2-Wheeled and 4-Wheeled 22-inch bags, to the Briggs and Riley Transcend 22-inch and 20-inch Wide Body bags, all the suitcases fit into all of the sizing boxes. Please note that two of these bags, while fitting completely into the box, did stick out over the top of the box. In each case it was less than an inch and if an airline employee called a traveler out on one of these bags, they would really be splitting hairs.

Keep in mind that any traveler can be denied carrying on a complying bag if the airplane’s overhead compartments are full. So the best way to guarantee your bag getting on the plane is to board as early as possible. And one more reminder: don’t put anything in your bag that you cannot live without, just in case you do end up having to check it. So don’t put your medications in it, and don’t put valuables in it either.

I have no problem with United and other carriers enforcing their carry-on rules. If it really speeds up the boarding process, I’m all for it. However, I don’t believe for a minute that this is the reason behind the new enforcement policy. Airlines profits are at record highs and checked baggage fees are one of the reasons. So, if you’ve got a carry-on sized bag (remember, 22 x14 x 9), by all means carry it on and save yourself some money. United Airlines is making enough money off everyone else, they don’t need your $25 too.

Click here to view photos of more bags in airline carry-on boxes.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

29 Oct

by Nancy Bestor

deerI’m always surprised when I see tourists getting up close and personal with “wild” animals. In Costa Rica, I remember a woman feeding an iguana bits of her bread. Bits that is, until another iguana launched itself from a tree branch into her lap and took the whole sandwich. The deer in Nara, Japan are also a hit with the tourist crowd. Thousands of these animals, sacred to the residents of Nara, roam the streets, eating as much as tourists are willing to feed them with special food purchased from carts and vending machines. It was cute at first, but when I saw aggressive deer nipping at tourists hands, and trying to eat their purses and bags, the cute factor was replaced by the fear factor. And don’t get me started on the deer poop. Let’s just say, like the thousands of deer, the poop was also prolific.

monkeyOn our recent trip to Bali, we ventured through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary of Ubud. More than 500 Balinese long tailed Macaques (monkeys) live in the Sanctuary, and as stunning as the temples inside the Forest are, most tourists seemed preoccupied with taking photos of the monkeys and feeding them bananas. The Forest boasts Indiana Jones like temples and statues, surrounded by rope-like tree branches. I expected to see Harrison Ford (in his ahem, younger days) hurtling down at any moment. But these fantastic surroundings were lost to many tourists in the shuffle of trying to get up close and personal with the Macaques.

sarah_editNow it’s one thing to hand a banana to a monkey, or even an elephant, as we did once in Thailand. But, in my humble human opinion, it’s quite another thing to badger a monkey into shaking hands with you until it hisses and bears its teeth at you (witnessed in Ubud), or encourage monkeys to jump onto your traveling companion’s head so you can have a perfect photo opportunity (true story). Wild monkeys are just that – wild. It’s true that some may be desensitized and therefore gentler from spending so much time around humans. But I’m here to tell you, when they hiss and try to scratch you with lightning speed I’m reminded that they are referred to as wild for a reason. With the exception of my children, I’ll stick to appreciating wild animals from afar.

It’s The Way You Ride the Trail That Counts

28 Oct

by Nancy Bestor

lake1My sister’s happy place is Lake Tahoe. Her family vacations there about once a year, mostly in the summer, but I haven’t managed to get there for almost 20 years. However, after spending a week hiking Tahoe with my girlfriends last month, I finally understand why it’s her happy place. Lake Tahoe and its surrounding lakes, peaks and trails is one of the most beautiful spots in the US. If you just visit Lake Tahoe to ski, when it’s covered with snow, let me tell you, you’re missing out (cue my sister saying I told you so).

My gal pals and I try and get together for a week every fall to complain about our husbands to enjoy each others company and catch up on our respective lives. Most often we choose a warm-weather destination, like Mexico, where we sit on the beach and drink cocktails and eat delicious and filling Mexican food most of the day. But this year, we were ready to burn calories instead of consume them, and Lake Tahoe sounded like the place to get that done in the great outdoors.

lake3The five and a half hour drive from my hometown of Ashland, OR, and the short plane ride for one of our group traveling from San Diego made it a good location to spend a week hiking, cooking and eating great food, sipping cucumber & basil infused martinis, and talk—and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. We stayed at the Marriott Timber Lodge in South Lake Tahoe, a lovely vacation rental just a short distance from the many hiking trails we would tackle during the week. South Lake Tahoe borders Nevada and California, so if you’re a gambler, there are plenty of places you can stop in to lose your money. Lady luck is not my middle name, so when we weren’t hiking we were sitting in our hot tub, or catching up on our favorite Netflix programs. Our adventures on the trail tired us out though, and we often found ourselves in bed by 10pm (this comes as “shocking” news to my family, as it’s rare that I’m not in bed by 10pm even if I sit on the couch all day).

lake2We hiked several gorgeous trails over the week, including the Echo Lake Trail, the Rubicon Trail, and my absolute favorite, the Flume/Tahoe Rim Trail. Popular with mountain bikers, the 14 mile one-way Flume Trail offers spectacular views of both Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake. The most scenic part of the hike is about nine miles in, so rather than try a round trip hike of 18 miles, we opted for a one way shuttle ($10 each), from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes Shuttle http://flumetrailtahoe.com/. They picked us up at Spooner Lake, the spot we would end our hike, and shuttled us to the trailhead in Incline Village. We saw at least a dozen mountain bikers that day, riding their bikes on the narrow dirt trail that often runs very close to the cliff’s edge. (I’ll stick to hiking thank you very much.) Other than the bike riders, we were all alone under a big blue sky. It was a gorgeous fall day, and the leaves were changing colors ranging from yellow to orange to brown. The lakes were a deep, clear blue and I felt grateful to be hiking in such a beautiful spot, with such great friends.

lake5

We were tired at the end of our day, and the last couple of miles seemed to go on forever. But water never tasted better, and I swear that the homemade sandwiches we made to eat on the trail were as good or better than the delicious Mexican food we’ve eaten on the beach in Puerto Vallarta on other girls’ trips. I think I’ll call Lake Tahoe my happy place too, that is if my sister is willing to share.

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