Looking Sweet Upon the Seat

by Nancy Bestor

DSC00676When we travel to foreign countries, our family likes to do things on our own. We’ve never been super keen on taking group or private tours, choosing instead to find our own way and figure things out for ourselves. Bob, however, convinced Emily, Sarah and I on our trip to Bali that we could benefit from a guided bicycle tour. It would be fun, he suggested, and we might just learn something along the way. He was right, on both counts.

We booked a day-long bike tour with Sobek Adventures out of Ubud. The tour included breakfast, lunch, bike rentals, and transportation, and cost $79 each for Bob and I, and $52 each for Emily and Sarah. It was very well worth it. Sobek’s van picked us up at our Airbnb villa (read more about this fantastic abode located just outside Ubud here) at 8:30 on the morning of our tour. Our driver and our guide chatted with us along the way to our first stop, a coffee plantation specializing in coffee made from beans eaten by a Paradoxurus, (aka an Asian Palm Civet or Luwak) and then cleaned and roasted after the critter poops the beans out. Yes indeed, you read that correctly. We all were treated to a cup of what is commonly known as Luwak coffee. We drank it and it was good. I kid you not. We were also treated to a tasting of a dozen or so other flavored coffees including coconut, vanilla and ginseng and they were all distinctive and delicious.


After this not even slightly crappy stop (I couldn’t help myself) we headed to Mount Batur where we picked up our bicycles. Now my husband is a cyclist, and enjoys a high quality, well-tuned bicycle. These were not those. They did however have seats, brakes, and air in their tires, and since our ride was mostly downhill, that was really all we needed. The four of us rode with our guide Made, through villages, rice fields, and on some very rocky and bumpy dirt roads. Some of the routes we took went directly through rice fields, and locals with bundles of grasses and sticks on their backs eased out of our way and watched us roll by. Without a doubt, this was the best way to really see the 13 miles of back roads and trails that we covered that day.

We took a break from our downhill coasting to look in the gates of a local temple, mostly deserted and stunningly beautiful. Another stop was at a family compound, where seven locals were currently living, including two grandparents, two parents and three children. The family members were all at home, and sat out on the steps while we learned how Balinese live their everyday lives. This was the only part of the tour where I was uncomfortable. Frankly, it felt intrusive to be in their home, and it was never clear to me if we should have tipped the family, or brought some kind of offering to them.


Our final stop of the day was at a restaurant where we had a set menu. It was one of the better meals we ate in Bali, and included a delicious chicken soup with rice, chicken and vegetables. Our tour ended at 2:30 in the afternoon, right back where we started, at our great villa outside Ubud. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone, even a non-active person, as there is almost no work required.

We ended our day with massages in central Ubud. And how fitting it was after spending two hours on a somewhat uncomfortable bike seat on bumpy roads to get a massage on my aching gluteus maximus.

Sit Right Back, And You’ll Hear a Tale

by Nancy Bestor

boatI’ve never been a lover of boats. I don’t know how to water-ski, I’ve never been fishing and I’ve never really had the urge to go sailing. I suppose that makes me a landlubber. But last weekend when Bob and I were out on a friend’s boat in San Diego Bay, sipping a cocktail with the wind whipping through our hair (or, let’s be real, MY hair, as Bob has very little hair), I thought to myself, “this isn’t so bad.” That’s right, I got so comfortable on “The Quartet” that I contemplated changing my name to Lovey…as in Lovey Howell…wife of Thurston….aka “the millionaire.”


Our friend’s boat is docked at the Coronado Yacht Club, and we were fortunate enough to enjoy a boat ride that offered up-close views of the U.S.S. Midway, a pod of sea lions sleeping and sunning on the San Diego Bay bait dock, and near (but not too near) Naval Base Coronado. We finally anchored in an idyllic spot off Point Loma, where we overnighted with views of elaborate homes along the Point Loma shore. In the distance we could see the base and Naval helicopters regularly taking off and landing and I imagined Navy Seals underwater, tracking our EVERY movement. The Quartet’s radio blared out a few messages over the course of our adventure, and although those messages may really have been akin to “there’s great fishing to be had by Shelter Island right now,” I can’t be certain that they weren’t saying “we are tracking members of Isis off the shore of San Diego AT THIS MOMENT.” Of course, I have always had an active imagination.


Everything looks a bit more exciting from a boat. With its different perspective, things like neglected docks, abandoned boats and otherwise indistinctive bridges all take on a nostalgic aura of adventure, history and even a bit of mystery. And San Diego Bay is particularly enticing, partly due to its idyllic blue skies, its beautiful shoreline, and its fish and wildlife scattered throughout. But you don’t need to be out on a boat to enjoy it. We sat one evening on benches in Shoreline Park on Shelter Island Drive, eating snacks and drinking beer while watching the sunset over the boats and Bay. It too was lovely.


I don’t see myself buying a boat anytime soon—one reason being that we don’t live near water. But I sure enjoy the opportunity to play the part of a seasoned boater when I can. I’m certain I am believable in my role too, for as Thurston Howell III once said, “No one can pull the wool over my eyes. Cashmere maybe, but wool never.”

Checking and Rechecking

by Nancy Bestor

Last week Bob and I had to make a quick trip to Seattle for the day to attend a meeting. Oh the glamour. Our flights were booked by a third party, and we were sent copies of our itineraries and airline confirmation codes. We checked in online with ease about 12 hours before our outgoing flight, and planned to check in online again before our return flight late the same evening.


We were flying Alaska, and when I attempted to check us in for our return I was only able to check in Bob. The website could not seem to find my return flight, even though it had the same confirmation number as my outbound flight that morning. I figured the website was having a problem, and thought I would just wait and check in when I got to the airport. Bob’s sister Laura, smart woman that she is, said, “I recommend you go ahead and call Alaska.

I’m glad I took her advice! When I spoke to an Alaska agent and he was able to pull up my record, he found that my return flight was booked for one month later. Surprisingly, he changed my return flight in less than five minutes, without any charges. There were two seats remaining on that night’s flight, and he said he was glad I had called, rather than having waited until arriving at the airport. I was glad too!

I learned a few lessons here. When someone other than myself books a flight for me, I need to thoroughly check the itinerary once I receive it. Okay, the truth of the matter is, even if I book a flight myself, I need to thoroughly check the itinerary once I receive it. Hard as you may find this to believe, I do make mistakes too. Then, if the need arises, I should always call the airline if there is something wacky with my ticket or check-in. I won’t procrastinate on this in the future! Finally, having a smart and savvy sister-in-law is a great additional benefit of getting married.

Let’s Keep in Touch

by Nancy Bestor

Our 20-year-old daughter Emily went to Europe by herself for five weeks this summer, and although she has traveled extensively, I was more comfortable with her trip once she decided to buy an international texting and data plan for her iPhone. Her AT&T plan cost $30 per month, and included unlimited incoming and outgoing texts, as well as 120MB of cellular data. AT&T required a minimum of two months for this plan, but since she was gone for five weeks it was worth it. Frankly, to give me peace of mind, it would have been worth it even if she was traveling for just a couple of weeks. We were able to check in on a daily basis, and she was able to use data even if she didn’t have wireless. While most of the time, in her youth hostels for example, she had wireless access, there were a few occasions that her data plan came in handy – perhaps while sitting in the warm sunshine on the banks of the Seine in Paris?


If you’re planning to make a lot of phone calls while in Europe, you might be better off with a European SIM card that you insert into your phone, but Emily really didn’t make phone calls. She contacted hostels for future bookings via the internet, sent texts to friends she was meeting, and to her family at home, and even Face-Timed with us when on wifi to show us her pretty face. Those who are staying in Europe for an extended period would certainly be better off buying a mobile device in Europe, but for short time travelers, an international plan with your local phone provider is certainly worth researching.

Come Fly With Me, Come Fly, Let’s Fly Away

by Nancy Bestor

I’m not an aviation buff. I fly on planes to get me places, and don’t really know the difference between a 737, a 747 or a 787. I feel the same way about cars—they get me around, but I struggle with understanding, or even caring really, about the difference between a 4-cylinder and a 6-cylinder engine. Thus when Bob suggested we stop at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River this summer, I plastered a smile on my face and said I’d be happy to visit. I may or may not have been lying.


Boy was I surprised. With 100 antique aircraft, some dating as far back as 1917, and more than 130 cars, plus motorcycles and jeeps, the WAAAM truly has something for everyone. Each aircraft on display has been completely restored, and amazingly, every single one of them still flies on a regular basis. I was drawn to the pretty ones, those with beautifully colored paint jobs in teals and red, but they are all interesting to look at, and many have fascinating stories to go along with them.


The Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” for example, was the most popular training airplane in World War I. The Pietenpol Sky Scout, built in 1932, has a Ford Model A engine. Other planes on hand flew mail to Alaska, appeared in famous movies, and more!


The car collection is just as impressive. From 1914 Ford Model T’s to 1957 Studebaker’s, it made me wish I had a much cooler car than my 2003 Toyota Sienna minivan, otherwise known as a “mom van.” Lest you think I’m a total dork, back in the day I did own a cherry red 1977 convertible Volkswagen bug. (I like to call those the glory days. But I digress.)


The museum has so much to offer, and incredibly friendly docents are at the ready to answer any questions that might arise. WAAAM hosts Model T driving classes, aviation camps for kids, a monthly open house where visitors can ride in antique autos, an annual “fly-in”, swap meets, and much, much more. It’s amazing what this museum in Hood River, Oregon has to offer. We learned of this museum on Yelp, when we were looking for interesting things to do in the Hood River area, and the eight reviews-—each with five stars-—were the impetus for our stopping by. I highly recommend this museum if you’re in Hood River. It is well worth the $14 admission price. In the end I was very happy that we visited. And that’s no lie.

Go To The Country, Build You a Home

by Nancy Bestor

peaches2I’ll admit, I’m guilty of forgetting just how beautiful my own backyard is. I’m the first one in line when planning a trip to an exotic location like Thailand or Belize, but am slow to explore parts of Oregon I’ve never visited. Thus when our family had a long weekend to vacation together this summer, I figured Eastern Oregon sounded good. We hadn’t ventured much farther than Bend when heading that direction, and thought we could all benefit with learning a little more about our home state. Unfortunately wildfires in the area had something to say about this though, and at the last minute we had to cancel our trip east and come up with a whole new five-day adventure on the fly. So Hood River became our new destination, and what a great choice it turned out to be!


We found a last minute house rental across Hood River in White Salmon, Washington on www.airbnb.com. Our two bedroom house was spacious, well appointed, included a hot tub, and offered stunning views of Mount Hood. We spent time exploring the town of Hood River and lounging in the Columbia River, watching wind and kite surfers speed through the water, but perhaps my favorite activity was our drive along Hood River’s “fruit loop.” The Fruit Loop is about 35 miles of orchards, fruit stands, farmlands and sweet little towns and communities. Summer is the perfect time to visit, because the fruit and vegetables are as picturesque as they are delicious.


We enjoyed peaches, nectarines, cherries, and delicious jams at Packer Orchards & Bakery. We bought locally made jewelry and caught whiffs of lavender at Hood River Lavender Farms. We petted alpacas and caressed the buttery soft yarns and fabrics at Cascade Alpacas and Foothills Yarn & Fiber. We bought corn on the cob and tomatoes at Kiyokawa Family Orchards, and drank fresh apple cider at Fox-Tail Cider. And we listened to live music and ate delicious pulled pork sandwiches and hearty smoked ribs at Apple Valley Country Store and Bakery. This drive reminded me a bit of my childhood, when we would drive out to Brentwood, California and eat peaches. We may have picked peaches too, but it’s the eating that I remember. Imagine that?


It took us a few hours to eat our way through drive the 35 miles, and we stopped at barely a third of the 31 official stands on the Fruit Loop. It’s safe to say our car was heavier at the end of our journey than it was at the beginning. It turns out my own backyard really is beautiful, and it’s pretty darn delicious too.

Meet Ember Hood – Book Collector, Francophile, and Travel Essentials Employee

by Nancy Bestor

unnamed-1The first time Ember Hood flew on an airplane was when she relocated – for nine months – to spend her junior year of college abroad in France. Born in Northern California and raised all over Oregon, Ember wanted to “get out of dodge”, and as an English major and French minor attending Ashland’s Southern Oregon University, she knew that France would be a great place to do just that. At 22 years old, Ember had already taken French for four years in high school, and two years in college, but wanted to improve her French language skills.

“I was totally unprepared to live abroad. I didn’t know anything but that I probably needed some sort of plug adaptor,” Ember said. She took two suitcases, one big one and one carry on, and off she went to Poitiers, 200 miles southwest of Paris, to study at the University of Poitiers. For the first month, Ember lived with a host family – one woman and her two daughters, but after the month long homestay, she rented a room “from a sweet-but-crazy woman” in a house that overlooked a river. (We’ll have to get the scoop on that story at a later date!)


One thing Ember quickly learned is that she was allergic to French mosquitos (who may or may not have said, “Bonjour,” as they bit her). Ember attended University classes in the foreign language education program, with students from all over the world who were also studying French. In music class, the students listened to French songs and read their lyrics, and in literature they read French novels – which Ember admits she was so excited to bring back to the U.S. with her after the nine month exchange that she willingly left many pairs of shoes behind to fit more books into her suitcases.

unnamed-2Some of Ember’s fondest memories of her time in France revolve around food (of course they do, because French food is fantastic!). She ate lots of good cheese and remembers that all French wine she drank was good – and cheap too. Ember took one trip to the Dordogne region with other international students, who were served a traditional meal with food from the region, including duck, foie gras and more. The woman who ran the international program took the students on a walk through the tiny town of their Dordogne hostel, and just down the road was an abandoned little castle in the middle of nowhere. “There are castles lying around everywhere in France,” Ember said. “It’s amazing how old everything is, and I was even more amazed that people spray paint graffiti on these ancient buildings.”


Ember’s advice to someone considering study abroad in another country, or even moving to another country is to just go – don’t worry about it. “I felt super brave after living in France for nine months. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t (really) speak the language. If I could do it, anyone can.”