Friday, December 31, 2010

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

It is the one-off in the moment interactions I discover with people in other local regions which create my best memories.  Sometimes going to a favorite region during off seasons will bring more of these unusual experiences. 

I think about my super past year moments and look forward to more future adventures! I love all my new friends from around the world that I meet through this blog, twitter, other social networks, and trips. Everyone has a story. We read these stories, laugh, share ... together online and on trips.

Check our these amazing discoveries in other regions which I found during December holidays in previous years with some planning and flexibility. My favorite four 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 I created my Canadian adventure.

Red & White Flag Flying? Must be in Canada
 My stay at the distinguished Empress Hotel right before Christmas in Victoria, Canada was affordable and memorable and I found several attractions to keep active around the island – even in wintertime.  
What fog?
My favorite find was the Buchart Gardens at night.  Sipping hot chocolate while meandering through this fantasy land of lights and magical wonderland in these gardens made for a perfect holiday evening.

St. Maarten or St. Martin 

My friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve is what brought me to  discover this island during the December holiday week. We stayed in town on the Dutch side of the island.  Three activities I recommend and what we did: rent a car and drive around the island, shop on the French side, and snorkeling in the clear waters of the bay.

Photo taken by ME

My finale day was a gorgeous sunset on New Year’s Eve during the wedding ceremony.  I will never forget my frequent daily walks on the beach!

Photo Taken by ME

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

Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri

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

A bonus, depending on the weather, is to 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. Best hometown feeling!
Courtesy of Kansas City CVB

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. 

Remember about these unusual adventures a favorite region might bring during the off season.    

These are my favorite places to return in the off season.  Do you need more ideas?   

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Share your favorites in the comments below !  The Fun Tour Guru

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Holiday Bonus - Favorite Family Cookie Recipe from Scotland

Cookies help discover the local region history.  Yes, you may find out quite a bit of information about the local people in other regions through cookie tasting. 

I collect personal food recipes on my trips from local people in different countries (International) and different states (USA). It is through these recipes people 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.  

My favorite childhood memories are 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.

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. 

Sharon Affeltranger, Harpist & Speaker
 I 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.

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.  

Image by Ivenks, Bershire UK

Shortbread is a unique Scottish treat still passed down through generations.  

Now the secret family recipe for you to try:


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.

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.  

A special treat, dipped in chocolate!

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.  

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

Group Trips and Tours now ~ Lighthouse Travel and Tours

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 or by phone at 800-745-3000. For more information please visit or

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 our own winter wonderland with 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 guide.

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. 

Your favorite Silicon Valley town has special holiday celebrations during this time.  

Los Gatos, Santa Clara, San Jose are my recommendations.  

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.

Casa Grande and Mining Museum

Our Silicon Valley hikers already know this area because of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.  There are many historical 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.

Winter is perfect time to visit - please contact the venues for actual times they are open.

Casa Grande and Mining Museum
21350 Almaden Road

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.

  Update: the Chef retires. Congratulations to this great Chef. And the last day of service is planned for Sunday, March 26, 2017. Please follow there website for additional notices. 
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?

Did you like this article? Please review the items in this sidebar and share with your friends.  Comment and talk with us below! 

Happy Holidays ~ to everyone! The Fun Tour Guru

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who's Buying What? as Silicon Valley Changes

Image by 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