Friday, December 31, 2010

I Remember ... My Favorite Trips to Other Local Regions During Off Season

It is December 31, 2010. Many people write about their journey to other regions (plane delays, crowds in airports, flight time). It is what I discover in the different local regions which create the memories we keep with us ... forever.  Sometimes going to a favorite region during off seasons will bring unusual experiences. 

I, too, am thinking about my great moments of 2010, and look forward to more meeting planning, writing, & adventures in 2011! And I welcome all my new friends from around the world talking with me through this blog, twitter, other social networks, and trips. I find everyone so fascinating. It is local people in communities – around the world – examples of Australia, Canada, USA, Germany, Africa – communities I watch through their eyes and words now. We listen to stories, laugh, share ... together online and on trips.

This year I am grateful to have spent much of my time in local northern California. I am also grateful to find my readers increase 500% this year because of technology; through my virtual networks like Sacramento Connect and Suite101.com (& more).  Thank you!  Even though people may not always comment, you are reading.

Now, on with some amazing discoveries in other regions which I found during December holidays in previous years with some planning and flexibility. My favorite 4 adventures:

Victoria, Canada

After flying to Seattle, I planned to take a sea plane from Seattle to Victoria. Unfortunately, because of the weather and fog, I had to adjust my plans during the trip. Arriving by Horizon Air the next day, this Canadian adventure was created.

Red&White Flag Flying? Got to be in Canada
 
Staying at the distinguished Empress Hotel right before Christmas in Victoria, Canada is always memorable and with plenty attractions to keep one active around the island – even in wintertime.  
 
What fog?
 
My favorite find was the Buchart Gardens; at night.  Imagine yourself sipping hot chocolate while meandering through this fantasy land of lights and magical wonderland in these gardens.    


St. Maarten or St. Martin



A friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve is what brought me to  discover this island during the December holiday week. Although we stayed in town on the Dutch side of the island, I recommend renting a car and drive around the island, shopping on the French side, and snorkeling in the clear waters of the bay.  

My finale was a gorgeous sunset on New Year’s Eve during the wedding ceremony.  Don't forget my several walks everyday on the beach!

Photo Taken by ME

It was my return trip which brought a challenge because of the east coast (USA) snowstorms. Returning flights into Miami, FL were delayed, missed connections, and with an additional overnight stay for me. I barely remember this part – I had the Caribbean sunset in my mind.

Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri

Courtesy of Kansas City CVB

Many people ask me, why is Kansas City, Missouri on your holiday adventure list?  It is because of the historical Country Club Plaza. This is the one of the first USA outdoor shopping districts and is famous for their spectacular holiday lights every year. 

 
Courtesy of Kansas City CVB





And if you are lucky, as you cannot plan what type of weather there might be, you will experience their “White Christmas” with horse-lead carriages, steaming hot chocolate, and walking around the snowy sidewalks while shopping in the midst of their wonderful holiday ceremonies. Love this hometown feeling!

 A Miner's Christmas in California

From my holiday post last year, don't forget our historical gold rush towns in California are always fun with holiday adventures like in Columbia, CA. 


 
Even though there may be a challenge before or after your journey, remember some unusual adventures a favorite region might bring during the off season.   

What is ahead in 2011?  Post yours here too!  The Fun Tour Guru

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Holiday Bonus - Favorite Family Cookie Recipe from Scotland

Cookies help us discover the local region history.  Yep, you may find out quite a bit about the local people in other regions through tasting their cookies. 

One fun and different thing I collect on my trips are personal food recipes from local people in different countries (International) and even different states (USA). This is when you may really get acquainted with how people live and what they do day to day.  Cookie recipes are especially fun to gather and then use during the holiday season. You might even include a picture from your vacation in holiday cookie bags to give to your friends.  


I have the best childhood memories of sitting at our large, round oak kitchen table and watching my Mother, other relatives, and friends assemble, from the beginning, many different types of cookies from around the world. I think now it may have been the actual natural experience working together one whole day before the holidays – this brings a smile to me when I think about these old family holiday memories. 

Sharon Affeltranger, Harpist & Speaker

My featured guest, Sharon Affeltranger, Harpist and Speaker, has traveled many roads internationally.  She still stays in Scotland several times a year where she has played in many harp concerts and programs. 

I always love to listen to her entertaining and fun local travel stories she tells me when I see her between trips.  Today, Sharon shares an old family recipe of a Scottish holiday treat, Shortbread.  Thank you, Sharon, for this gift!    


Aunt Chrisie's Shortbread

Christmas is a cookie making time when we get out all those tried and true old family recipes.  I am sharing one from Scotland that is an all time favorite in our family. 

Aunt Chrisie, while not really a relative, was a very dear friend who lived in Mallaig and as the song goes "Across the sea from Skye."  It was near here in the Scottish Highlands that Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stewart) disguised himself as the maid of Flora MacDonald and made his escape from Scotland after the debacle at Culloden in 1746.  It is this Scottish history which is captured on the many different types of shortbread tins you may purchase today.

Image by Ivenks, Bershire UK
Shortbread actually began with the medieval “biscuit bread” and since evolved into an expensive luxury which ordinary people prepare as a special treat during the holidays and special occasions.  Shortbread is a unique Scottish treat still passed down through generations.  

Now the secret family recipe for you to try:

AUNT CHRISIE'S SHORTBREAD RECIPE


The "secret" to this recipe is the rice flour as well as the 24 hour wait to taste - if you can!
                                  
4 ounces butter
2 ounces fine (castor) sugar (U.S. equivalent:  a rounded 1/4 cup)
6 ounces flour - about 1/4 of total should be rice flour.  (U.S. equivalent:  1 1/4 cups)
1 ounce corn starch (U.S. equivalent:  4 tbsp.)

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. 
Add other ingredients.
A special treat, dipped in chocolate!
Knead well on floured board.
Pack (hard) into 1, 7" cake pans
Prick with fork
Bake at 300° for 30 minutes and then 250° for one hour.

Cut while hot and sprinkle with sugar.

Let stand for 24 hours - if you can!  It's really better.  





Sharon Affeltranger, Harpist and Speaker, has played in many programs throughout San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California, and Scotland. In addition to playing, she offers engaging speaking and playing programs from 30 minutes to 1 hour featuring various types of music, history of the harp, differences between the Celtic Harp and the Concert Harp and how it is played.

If you are in search of unique background music during dinners, events, or holiday programs, please send a direct email to us and we will be sure to forward the information to Sharon. 
Additionally, we work as a consulting team when creating special Scottish vacations for people to explore off the beaten path.  

Will you share a favorite cookie recipe that you found on one of your trips? Post a comment or email us. 


Happy Holiday ~ create many safe and wonderful memories this year!
The Fun Tour Guru


Remember to help us Build Memories & Fight Alzheimers with every hotel room you reserve at our new website! Lighthouse Travel and Tours

Images
Shortbread image is by Ivenks, Bershire UK 
Shortbread dipped in chocolate is by Lauri Patterson
Bakers image is from Microsoft image gallery.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Update: Historical Attraction in San Jose, CA -Temporary Closure - Dec 2010

For my readers, if you planned to visit this Silicon Valley historic gem, Casa Grande, in New Almaden, San Jose, CA, over the December holidays, pay attention.   It is temporarily closed.  

(I might add this is fuel for reading my blog) as sometimes the local visitors and tourism information centers in communities may now be closed over holidays and even smart phone apps are not updated fast enough to let people know decisions such as these temporary challenges. Who do you ask for updates?

Casa Grande, New Almaden - San Jose CA

What happened was that I saw the announcement for the private re-opening of Casa Grande in November.  When I did a quick search, I found the listing of their intended Yuletide Festivities in December on local event websites. When I drove out to see it, Casa Grande was not open.

Please postpone your day trips this month if you are going. When I called, I discovered the unfortunate news that Casa Grande was not able to open as planned because of additional maintenance - December 2010.  They are targeted to open to the public in mid-January 2011. Again please call to verify. It is definitely worth a visit ~ so keep this on your list.

The restaurant I mentioned in my earlier article, La Foret Restaurant, New Almaden, is open for lunch until 2:00 p.m. and dinner during December.  And, open for dinner on Christmas day.  Always be sure to plan ahead and make reservations.  

Quick updates from someone you trust ~ and more fun December stories coming ~ The Fun Tour Guru

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New York City Christmas Spectacular in San Jose & Oakland CA - Next Week

Part of my job is to search for unusual things to do in our local area (& northern California).  This year I am pleased to tell you that we may get a little New York Christmas and see the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall next week; yes locally in Oakland and San Jose CA.  Outside the Bay Area? No worries, take the train and stay overnight.

Think about this, we may escape on a fantasy trip to New York City without ever leaving California.   And without driving in the snow! No airport hassles.  

Can you tell I am excited about being able to see these shows? And yes, I admit, this will be my first time to see the Rockettes.

Enjoy these amazing performances in person locally. How fun it will be to gather with your friends and family and go see these shows in our own community. Next week!

"New York, New York 
Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today 
I want to be a part of it 
New York, New York"



I am going, will you join me?

Enjoy New York City Christmas Spectacular in local Oakland & San Jose, CA  

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is an arena production specifically designed for large-scale venues and replicates the grandeur of the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall on an entirely different scale.  Audiences are taken on a theatrical journey that the entire family can enjoy together. 

Family Friendly Shows

Children thrill as Santa takes the audience on a magical sleigh ride to the North Pole, while parents marvel at the unparalleled precision dance of the Rockettes.  



Where, When, & How to Get Tickets

Nine shows will be taking place this week between the Oracle Arena (12/16 and 12/17) and HP Pavilion (12/18 and 12/19) with tickets starting at $37. 

Tickets are still available at the Oracle Arena and HP Pavilion at San Jose ticket offices, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000. For more information please visit www.coliseum.com or www.hppsj.com.


Every week I venture out, there is always something new on street corners of this area. Happy Holidays ~ to everyone! The Fun Tour Guru




Monday, December 6, 2010

What Holiday Activities are there to do in Silicon Valley in December?

Yes, Silicon Valley transitions into a winter wonderland, too, with quite a few of our traditional activities through the local town communities for people to enjoy with families and friends.  You may get a list of things to do from my Silicon Valley Tourist Information article to keep handy.

If you live in surrounding regions, remember it is an inexpensive train ride into downtown San Jose (Capital Corridor) and stay at one of the hotels located along the light rail in Santa Clara and San Jose.  Many of our hotels and motels have shuttles - ask them if they pick up from the train station.  Your weekend plans might include one day of riding the train into San Francisco to window shop on Union Square and then on the second day ~ explore favorite local places in the south bay.

All things new in Silicon Valley this year, or are they old? 

If you are looking for something a bit different to add to this winter wonderland, drive out to San Jose’s village – New Almaden – and see the historical 150 year old Casa Grande and Mining Museum – newly renovated mansion and museum AND the 
French restaurant, La Foret.

Will these places be added to the Silicon Valley Concierge 2011 Best Awards at their annual Hospitality Event, let’s see possibly, Best Kept Secret, Best Restaurant, or Best (Historical) Attraction? 



Casa Grande and Mining Museum

Our Silicon Valley hikers already know this area because of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.  There are many historcal remnants along these trails to discover. We are so fortunate and a huge thank you goes to the to the Santa Clara County Parks – this region has been saved with their efforts. 


I saw the announcement of the grand re-opening November 13, 2010 Event for Casa Grande in the Mercury News – and of course, what did I do?  Yes, I went to see it. New Almaden has a historical presence from the Quicksilver Mines (Cinnabar) and was valuable during the Gold Rush Days because the element is used to extract gold and silver.

I cannot begin to tell you all of the amazing local history stories in this short article - I suggest that you call one of our active local tour guides for a walking tour for more in depth information.

December is perfect time to visit from 12:00 to 4:00 pm every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – December 10 – January 2, 2011. (except on Christmas Day – Dec 25) because you may sip hot spiced cider, munch on delicious cookies, and enjoy the holiday d├ęcor in this exquisite historic building.



Casa Grande and Mining Museum
21350 Almaden Road
408-323-1107

La Foret Restaurant

Next, I found this extraordinary french restaurant to have dinner or Sunday Brunch right down the street from Casa Grande.  It used to be a 1848 creek side boarding house - now La Foret Restaurant, a historic building which sits on the banks of flowing stream – the setting reminds me of a European restaurant in the Tuscan hills that I went to on one of my trips.



Oh, and it is open for lunch now, December 1 – 24 and of course it is a haven for meeting planners – to make that extra special event for groups.  The restaurant is listed with the 50 best French restaurants in United States and open for dinner on Christmas eve and day. 

When do you want to meet me for lunch? 

La Foret
(408) 997-3458
San Jose CA 95120

Every week I venture out, there is always something new on street corners of this area. Or, are these old places?

Happy Holidays ~ to everyone! The Fun Tour Guru



Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who's Buying What? as Silicon Valley Changes

Image by Suite101.com writer, Flynnies
 
Is Silicon Valley transitioning back to Apples?  












I just read this intriguing report that the deed was signed in Santa Clara County where Apple Computer purchased the HP 100-acre campus in Cupertino.  This confirms as to why HP made a previous announcement to consolidate operations in their Palo Alto headquarters.

Now I am not the expert, trends seem to be in favor of apples and electric cars these days – as I think about the old GM plant purchase by Tesla. This is good news to keep up with, although still ends with conservative note as companies are recovering from prior demand losses. 
Electric cars in USA? Yes.


What is else new on the horizon?  Our streets throughout this south bay region are forever changing and we find new discoveries because buildings change their signs overnight – this is what keeps innovation exciting and fresh on our streets.   With this, Silicon Valley and San Francisco  corporate meetings are on a rise again.

What do you think about the trends?


~ Latest thoughts around Silicon Valley from the Fun Tour Guru