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Touring LA: A Teen Approved Itinerary


There aren’t many family trips I can take my teenage boys on where they aren’t rolling their eyes or in a boredom induced coma.  In fairness to them, we have dragged them through places like the Hermitage Museum in Russia, a three hour Vatican Tour and a weekend in Bruges, Belgium, which they refer to as “the most boring city in the world.”  I guess I can see where I may have lost some travel planning credibility through the years.  It certainly came as no surprise when I announced I was booking a trip to LA this summer that the reply was, “We’ve done enough family vacations” and, “We’re not sightseeing are we?”  Luckily for them, they have a mom who is super cool (they’ve never confirmed that) and managed to plan a trip that in their words “didn’t suck.”  This is the highest praise a teenage boy’s mom can receive.  Here are some of their top picks:

Up Close to the Hollywood Sign
Cool, right?  We hired a driver to take us on a little known route that only the locals know about.  We parked the car and took a short walk to a spot with a perfect view of this LA icon.  There was limited complaining, they considered it cool enough to even take their phones out to Instagram/Snapchat it, and I think I even heard one mumble “cool,” but I could be wrong.
Warner Brother’s Studio Tour
Even though this would come under the category of “sightseeing” my kids really enjoyed seeing all the behind the scenes stuff from their favorite movies and TV shows.  We saw the Friends actual set and learned a lot about the film industry.  This one was a real crowd pleaser. 

Peterson Museum
Peterson Museum is one of the world’s largest automotive museums.  The museum has over 100 vehicles on display.  We recognized many of them from movies and television.  One of my sons even said this was his favorite excursion we did in LA. 

Fairfax Avenue
If you’re not a teenage boy, then this won’t mean much to you but think teen boy’s version of Rodeo Drive.  This street contains pop up shops featuring all their favorite brands like Huff, Supreme (Okay, I only know two).  My boys loved being there in person and being able to buy a few things from what many consider to be the coolest street in LA.  The only thing they found uncool about being on Fairfax was that they had to walk up and down this hip street with their parents in tow.  As cool as we claim to be, a few of these edgy shops felt the need to alter the music selection when they saw my husband and I walk in.  Most appeared to have a hard time finding a song that would meet parental approval, and one shop owner seemed to go through his entire playlist.  Whatever last bits of street credit my husband and I were clinging to were left there on Fairfax that day. 

My kids also enjoyed Santa Monica Pier (what’s not to love).  They also enjoyed our quick stop on trendy Venice Beach, though by that time it was late in the day and we were reminded that they are moody teenagers by them asking, “Are we leaving soon?” as if I had brought them to a flea market.  Along with these teen friendly sites, there’s always the usual standbys to entertain teens like bikini clad girls, endless sunshine and if all else fails, Pok√©mon Go.

You can get the full Hollywood starlet experience by booking a home exchange through International Vacation Home Exchange.  IVHE offers many luxury homes throughout the Los Angeles area.  Who knows, you might even end up next door to Pharrell making it the ultimate teen friendly trip and maybe even restoring a little street credit along the way. 




Thank you to travel writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_


Country Focus: England


Thatched roofed homes, a picturesque countryside, ancient castles and a bustling capital city are all things visitors to England can be sure to enjoy.  There is so much to see and do throughout England while you take in all the character and charm that this country has to offer. 
London is said to be the most visited city in the world and is considered one of the cleanest and safest cities to visit.  The Tube, the underground public transportation system, is easy to navigate and very user friendly.  It’s a convenient way to get to all the top attractions London has on tap.  On most visitor’s list is a trip to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard, which usually takes place at 11:30am weekday mornings (though the time can vary).  Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye are iconic landmarks to visit, as well as, Tower of London where the Crown Jewels exhibit is located.  These are just a few of the many sites more than 17 million London visitors enjoy each year.  London is also home to many well-known museums to explore and, as an added bonus, most London museums do not charge an entrance fee. 

Venturing outside of the city and exploring the English countryside with all its alluring character is a must-do for any visitor to this country.  If you head to South Central England, you’ll find an area referred to as the Cotswolds.  This is true quintessential England at its very best.  Known for its rolling hills and meadows, quaint villages and cozy pubs, it holds all the charm that comes to mind when people think of England.  Just outside the Cotswolds is the historic city of Bath.  Bath is best known for its Roman built baths and Bath Abbey.  You can stroll the cobblestone streets where you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants.  Not too far from Bath you can take a self-guided tour of Stonehenge which is not to be missed on any trip to England. 
Head to the Southernmost part of the country to explore the sleepy seaside towns in the Cornwall area.  If you are a surfing enthusiast, you can “hang ten” in Newquay or any of the surrounding towns known for their impressive waves.  Head north of London to visit the Lake District with its many outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery. 

The Southeastern coastline is home to the White Cliffs of Dover.   It’s here that you will find the iconic chalk cliffs that face the English Channel towards Continental Europe.  On your travels, be sure not to miss any of the famous castles that are dotted around the countryside.  Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Leeds Castle are among the most famous castles located outside of London.

With so much rich history and breathtaking countryside to explore, you’ll want to put England on the top of your travel list.  Gather up your mates and start making plans for your unforgettable trip to “Old Blighty.”



Thank you travel blogger Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros

Christmastime in Northern Utah


I have lived in several American states, and I have never seen a place take to the holidays more than Utah.  In the cities, Christmas decor abounds and in the mountains, both locals and foreign sophisticates take to the slopes to enjoy “the greatest snow on earth” (I’m told this is because there is an unusual amount of “powder” snow which falls because of a somewhat dry climate.  I, myself gave up skiing in junior high when I broke the rope tow by getting my glove caught in the pulley which then propelled me to land on the tip of my ski that then broke.  The crowning insult was when a cute high school boy came to help me up and all turned to see who brought the whole operation down).

Park City
World-famous because of the Sundance Film Festival in January, Park City offers holiday delights as well.    Rocky Mountain Christmas “Where Every Day’s a Holiday” sells Christmas decorations year-round on Park City’s Main Street and most of the shops offer unique, alpine-themed gifts. 

Read for a sleigh ride and dinner?  Snowed Inn Sleigh Company provides sleigh rides pulled by two draft horses to a cozy restaurant.

Santa is right at home in the cold temperatures, and keeps hours at the Park City Center during December.   Also adding to the fun is the yearly Snowfest with the l tree-lighting ceremony, live entertainment, and s’mores.  Take a break from skiing to enjoy the cheer.

Midway and Surrounding Area
Midway, first settled by Swiss immigrants, still celebrates its heritage with a European-style Christmas. 

Maintaining its old character and charm, Midway is a winter wonderland complete with artistic Ice Castles.  These fairy-tale fortresses are worthy of The Snow Queen or Father Christmas himself.

Nearby Soldier Hollow, where the 2002 Olympic cross country championships were held, offers cross country skiing and other festivities.

The Nutcracker
An annual tradition in Salt Lake City, Ballet West’s, “The Nutcracker” ceaselessly delights.  Entrancing and dreamlike, the dancers never disappoint.

Lights on Temple Square
I have traveled more than most, and have never seen a more spectacular Christmas light display than on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  Particular and detailed care is given to lighting each branch in a tree; the effective is stunning and artistic.  This year, several trees were lighted with both white and yellow bulbs creating a result I have never seen before.

Festival of Trees
Founded for charitable contributions to Primary Children’s Medical Center, this festival features elaborately decorated Christmas trees.  The locals are very creative, and the result of hundreds of fully decorated Christmas trees is happy and festive. Also available are holiday decorations by local crafts folk.  There are few places “craftier” than Utah.

Cathedral of the Madeleine
The Cathedral of the Madeleine has a long and venerated Christmas tradition in Salt Lake.  The cathedral itself is stunning, and free Christmas concerts are offered to the public.  Midnight Mass is worth the wait in any weather.

FM 100
The radio station, FM 100, is also a Utah holiday tradition.  The station plays non-stop Christmas music with an apex of the 100 hours of Christmas (commercial free).  I, having spent most of my life in Salt Lake City, thought every city had such a tradition.  When I moved to sophisticated Manhattan and spent my first holiday season there, I kept asking, “Where is the Christmas music on the radio? Where are the Christmas sweaters?” It took me a while to realize that no stylish Manhattanite would be caught dead in a holiday sweater, and it was considered the duty of those other than the radio stations to provide Christmas music. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find it in myself to toss my somewhat tacky Christmas sweater.

This is the Place Heritage Park
When the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, you can imagine it was a momentous occasion. This is where Mormon prophet Brigham Young reportedly said after a long journey, “This is the place . . .”  (where the Mormon pioneers would settle).  Not only is there a This Is the Place Monument, but an entire pioneer village with nineteenth-century, enchanting pleasures.

At the park, enjoy a “Candlelight Christmas” complete with carolers, a village decorated like a Currier & Ives card, and shopping.

Ready to visit Northern Utah for a quintessential Christmas?  See IVHE’s luxury home exchanges in Utah, and see how this works.











Thanks to travel writer Sona Schmidt-Harris – You can follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

New England: A Year-Round Destination


Having grown up in New England, summer vacations always consisted of road trips to see all the natural beauty that was offered right in our own backyard.  I remember piling in the station wagon, AAA Trip-Tik maps at hand, a quick stop to pick up a few canisters of film and extra flash cubes, and off we were to enjoy the beauty of one of our bordering states. On a road trip in that part of America you would barely finish your first article in Tiger Beat Magazine and you’d already be crossing state line.

Since then I’ve not only married and had a family of my own but have lived abroad for a number of years.  My family and I have traveled across several continents and I was always amazed at how many people around the world have New England on their Bucket List.  I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, but to me it’s always just been home.  We were traveling in Tallinn, Estonia a few years back and I started chatting with a woman sitting next to me at lunch.  She mentioned that she has always dreamed of visiting Vermont to see the fall foliage and hoped to vacation on Cape Cod one summer.  “Now, is Boston a city or is that a state?”  I would get asked that a lot.  Not only in foreign countries but I was asked that a few times while living in the Midwest.  That’s actually not a joke.

If New England isn’t on your Bucket List you’ll definitely want to include it after reading all the splendor that exists there.  Search the luxury homes offered through International Vacation Home Exchange and plan to spend your next home swap exploring New England.

Maine
Maine offers so much to see and do especially for the outdoor enthusiast.  Acadia National Park is a breathtaking national treasure on the coast of Maine.  Throughout the state there are so many quaint towns and lighthouse attractions to visit.  Offering both great skiing, hiking/biking trails and shoreline communities, there is always plenty to enjoy no matter the season.  We all know Maine is known for having “wicked” good lobster, but did you know that Portland has been making quite a name for itself for all types of cuisine?  The Food Network recently named Portland as one of the top 3 culinary destinations in the entire US.  That might be reason enough to plan a visit.

Massachusetts.
Massachusetts is home to beautiful Cape Cod, probably my favorite place on Earth.  Each Cape Cod town offers its own unique charm.  Whether you walk, bike or relax on the beach, it will be a vacation you won’t forget.  Be sure to add a ferry ride to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to your itinerary.  Visiting the historic sights of Boston is only a short drive away.  Venture a few hours west and you’ll be enjoying all the charm that the Berkshires have to offer.

Connecticut
Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium are top attractions in this New England state.  There you can learn about maritime history and visit the whales, sea lions and penguins on display.  Connecticut offers a few casino options with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods as well as museums and shoreline attractions.  This small state is packed with something for everyone.

New Hampshire
There’s a mere 18 miles of shoreline offered in this state but you’ll find it full of rich, natural beauty.  Mount Washington offers every outdoor activity imaginable for you to enjoy.  The 71 square miles of Lake Winnipesaukee, located at the foothills of the White Mountains, offer something year round for everyone to enjoy.

Rhode Island
Tour the mansions to see how the other half lives, visit the beaches or take a walk around Newport. Don’t miss a ferry ride to spend the day exploring Block Island.  There are so many attractions offered in the Ocean State.

Vermont
Last but certainly not least of the New England States is Vermont.  Home to the amazing slopes of Killington, Sugarbush and Stowe, among others.  It’s of course, known for its beyond breathtaking leaf peeping opportunities, and there are numerous lakes to enjoy.  There is no such thing as “off-season” in Vermont.  It doesn’t matter when you visit this beautiful state there is always something magical to experience. 

Well, that’s my “How I Spent My Summer Vacation, circa 1976” story.  That reminds me, I need to call my Mom.  Book one of IVHE’s luxury properties today and start making your own unforgettable New England memories.


Thank you travel blogger Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_

Top 5 Day Trips from London



While it’s no easy task to pry yourself away from all the excitement that UK’s capital city has to offer, you won’t want to miss out on experiencing the charm and character of the English countryside.  With so much to see and do just a few miles outside of the city, you’ll have a difficult time deciding which you like better…city or country. 
Cornwall
Located Southwest of London are the picturesque seaside villages that make up the area known as Cornwall.  This area is a popular surfing destination even though the water is always a bit chilly.  Don’t let that stop you from booking a surf lesson where wet suits are always provided.  If you’re a photography buff, then you’ll enjoy snapping away at the breathtaking harbor views in this popular tourist destination. 
Stonehenge
Don’t listen to the folks who think it’s just a bunch of rocks.  Stonehenge is an amazing ancient Wonder of the World that is not to be missed.  Take the self-guided tour and stare in awe as you attempt to figure out for yourself exactly how and why it was built.  It’s located about 90 miles from central London.  It’s also a short distance to Bath, so while you’re out that way tack on a trip to see the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey. 
Shere, Surrey
While out touring the English countryside it’s nice to take a break from the touristy spots and stop into one of the many quaint villages to see what I like to call “real England.”  Shere is a little village located in Surrey.  I used to live a short drive from Shere and found its duck-filled stream and cozy shops an enjoyable retreat.  If you’re a movie buff, then you’ll recognize this village from the movie Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Jack Black.  Diaz’s character is a LA executive who decides to do a home swap with Kate Winslet’s character who has a home in Shere.  You can have your own “Holiday” experience with a luxury home exchange in one of these quintessential  English homes offered by International Vacation Home Exchange and experience “real England” first hand. 
Dover
Located on the East Coast of England and at the closest point to continental Europe, Dover is a must-see attraction for any history buff.  You can see for yourself the beauty of the well-known White Cliffs of Dover.  Take a tour of medieval Dover Castle which houses the wartime tunnels and learn about this area’s integral part in history.
Lake District
Enjoy the English countryside at its best in this Northwest area of England.  There are endless ways to enjoy the outdoors.  Whether it’s hiking, biking or just taking a scenic drive and stopping off to enjoy a pint at one of the local pubs.  This area is not only known for its majestic lakes and rugged mountain terrain but also for its historic literary association.  This area has been an inspiration to authors and poets such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter to name a few. 

These are just a few of the sites that are packed into this tiny island.   There is so much rich history and breathtaking charm scattered throughout the countryside that you could return time and time again and never run out of sites to see. 


Thank you Travel Writer Lisa Medeiros.  Check out lisamedeiros.com and follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_



Visiting Florida After Hurricane Matthew


My lovely home state of Florida (the “Sunshine” state) was recently hit hard by a severe hurricane. My local area, which is a very popular travel destination, was among the hardest hit. There will no doubt be a huge cost to repair the roads, beaches, and local businesses which suffered catastrophic losses due to the tidal surges and strong winds. There is no doubt that Florida took a hit this hurricane season, but don’t let that put you off of our state as a potential vacation spot in the months to come.
                
I’ve written before about the wonders that Florida has to offer vacationers. One thing I might not have made sufficiently clear though is that we Floridians are a very resilient bunch! Personally, I have been through Hurricanes Andrew, Ivan, Wilma, Charley, and Matthew (and that’s only counting the really severe named storms) and have lived to tell the tale. Our communities have done a great job of coming together, with local restaurants providing free food to those without power, volunteers helping to clear the debris, and neighbors watching out for each other during the rough weather. Many from outside of the impacted areas have asked how they can help in the wake of the storm. While donating money and time is certainly much appreciated, there are also other ways you can help; namely, come visit us!
The areas of the east coast which were impacted the most include St. Augustine and Flagler Beach – both known for their popular tourist attractions. The economy of these places is highly dependent on the money brought in from tourism, so the far-reaching impacts of this storm may be much costlier than even the steep price tags to rebuild. We lost a few treasured restaurants to flood waters and the scenic A1A roadway has been heavily eroded and remains closed in some places, but our local restaurateurs and government have already started plans to rebuild.  Many of the impacted businesses are reopened along the historic St. Augustine Bayfront. All up and down the coast, small business owners are reopening their doors and are counting on your visits to recoup some of their losses. It may be some time before all of the beaches are cleared and reopened to the public, but I would urge you not to write off Florida’s first coast when you’re considering your next vacation destination.

We Floridians count on you coming to visit us to see the world renowned Nights of Lights in St. Augustine during the holidays. We depend on the long rows of bikers who ride A1A every October on their pilgrimage to Daytona Beach. Our communities are what they are largely because you bring your families to our beaches each summer to make memories that will last a lifetime. While your first instinct may be to head to areas which were not hard-hit by Hurricane Matthew, I would urge you to consider visiting us instead. The best way you can help the local communities get back to normal is to plan a vacation! IVHE has no shortage of lovely homes along the east coast of Florida which will help make your stay just perfect. Disney is still standing strong, our beaches will soon be as serene as ever, and our unique local businesses will open their doors to serve you. Pardon our dust!



Thank you travel blogger Emma Sledge. 

One of the Most Visited Countries in the World!


There are so many great reasons to visit Italy.  From the world famous attractions, detailed architecture, historic ruins and breathtaking coastline to the amazing food and wine, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most visited countries in the world.  There’s so much to see and do in this amazing country you could spend a lifetime exploring it. 

Italy is home to some of the most vibrant cities around.  The capital city of Rome offers so many sites all within close proximity to one another.  Home to such iconic attractions as the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and, of course, the Vatican.  The piazzas are always filled with the aroma of amazing Italian cuisine where you could sit and enjoy a meal alfresco while sipping on a glass of their fine wine.  Head north to enjoy the center of Italian renaissance with a visit to Florence.  Its top attraction is the ironic tiled roof of the Duomo.  Walk the cobblestone streets to take in all the beauty this city has to offer.  Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy.  This region is known for its wineries, extraordinary landscape and medieval villages. It’s the Italian experience at its best.  Further north is Pisa, with its famous leaning tower and charming town.  Venice is just a bit further North and is a must-do on any trip to Italy.  Be sure to take a gondola ride, see the sites and allow time to “get lost in Venice.”

Along with its exciting cites, Italy also offers many seaside attractions in the Mediterranean.  Explore the wondering coastline of the Amalfi Coast, which stretches from Sorrento to Salerno, and experience the dramatic coastal mountains as they plunge into the sea.  Visit the beautiful beaches of Italy’s two largest islands, Sardinia and Sicily for their breathtaking views of the Mediterranean and abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy. 

Italy also offers its share of winter fun and recreation.  Italy boasts more than 300 ski areas.  For beautiful scenery and a variety of terrain, enjoy skiing the Dolomites in the Italian Alps.  Skiing in Italy is known to have excellent value for money and, of course, great food and wine. 

You’ll not only want to plan a holiday to Italy but you’ll want to return again and again.  Make it easy, and stay in one of IVHE’s luxury homes located in a number of different locations in Italy! No matter what season you visit, you’ll find a warmth and hospitality that will have you feeling like you’re one of the family.


Thank you travel blogger Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros


An Overview of Los Angeles from a First Time Visitor


The vibe of LA was summed up in a few words of wisdom from a bartender shortly after we landed.  He said, “LA is a lifestyle, not a city.  Think about it.”  I not only thought about it as I sipped my Cosmo but decided to make that our mantra as we set out to explore our new surroundings. 

I love exploring new cities and while I’ve been to most major cities around the world this was my first time visiting LA.  I can certainly see what all the hype is about, why everyone wants to live there and why those who move there never leave.  The thing I love the most about visiting new cities is that each one takes on a personality all its own and while LA was pretty much what I had envisioned there were a few things that I didn’t expect.  Here’s my take on the city through the eyes of a newbie.

It’s Very Spread Out
The areas you want to see as a tourist are very spread out.  Much more spread out than other cites I’ve visited, so you really need to rent a car or hire a driver to ensure you see all the sights. 

 Yes, the Sun Always Shines
I chatted with a man who was from the East Coast originally who told me that the weather is so sunny that he actually misses the rain.  I guess it’s true what they say about too much of a good thing.

The Oscar Night Red Carpet is Actually the Road
Adobe Theatre is actually located on a very busy main street.  When Oscar time rolls around, the intersection just before the Adobe Theater is closed off and the famous red carpet is put down in the road leading up to the theater.  The cars and limos drop off at the intersection while the stars get out and walk the red carpet lined with paparazzi.  It was interesting to see exactly where all the Hollywood magic happens on that night.

No One Visits Downtown
I guess living near NYC I just assumed all the action was in downtown LA so I was surprised to find out that’s not the case.  No one actually goes downtown and there’s not much to do there.  I’ve heard they are revitalizing the area so that may change if you plan to visit in the coming years.

You Won’t See Any Familiar Faces on Rodeo Drive
I always imagined Rodeo Drive packed with the Hollywood famed and since I love a good celebrity sighting this came as a bit of a disappointment.  It’s too touristy for them I was told but I did learn that if you want to shop with the rich and famous your best bet is Melrose Avenue.  I had no luck with a sighting there either though I have to admit I’m not the best at identifying them. 

If LA has always been on your Bucket List, then you can live among the stars by booking a luxury home swap through International Vacation Home Exchange.  They offer properties in 70 countries around the world so if you don’t spot a celebrity in LA you might try catching one in London, Paris or one of the many other cities IVHE offers properties.  I just hope your star spotting abilities are much better than mine. 


Thank you travel blogger Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_



Shopping & Eating Your Way Through Boston


I had the pleasure of taking two weekend trips to Boston recently. One was to visit one of my favorite gal pals and the other was college touring with our teenage sons. Since I don’t have daughters, I relish my shopping trip with girlfriends. When I’m out with my husband and boys I barely even window shop and when I do it’s at a blurred pace. So needless to say, one trip was quite relaxing and included lots of shopping with discussions over chardonnay on what’s “coming back in style” while my other trip to Boston was centered around where the next meal was coming from. Both were enjoyable, of course, as Boston has always been one of my favorite cities.

My friend and I enjoyed a relaxing day browsing around Newbury Street and popping into the quaint shops on this tree-lined historic section of the city’s Back Bay.  You’ll find a selection of international shops and local boutiques as well as world class dining.  When I revisited this area with my sons we cruised right past these shops to grab a hamburger at Abe & Louie’s on Boylston Street.  Don’t miss a stop at this sophisticated steakhouse which is truly a throwback to a past era and the clam chowder was amazing. 

A short walk from Newbury Street is The Shops at Prudential Center where you’ll find a variety national chain stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor.  Prudential Center also offers a unique mix of dining options.  Located not far from these shops is Copley Place which offers more of an upscale shopping experience with stores such as Tiffany & Co, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vuitton, to name a few.

No trip to Bean Town is complete without a visit to Faneuil Hall.  It’s a must-see for both a gal pal getaway or a teens-in-tow weekend.  The teens will still roll their eyes in boredom but will later admit it was a pretty cool area.  Faneuil Hall Marketplace Shopping Center offers some interesting shops and boutiques.  It’s a great location to dine, shop or just people watch.  You will usually find some type of event or street entertainment taking place.  A must-do dining experience when in this part of town is dinner at the Union Oyster House.  It is considered one of the oldest operating restaurants in the US and has continuously operated since it’s opening in 1826.  There’s good reason for that as the seafood was certainly everything you would expect it to be and it even managed to put a smile on the face of a couple of teenage boys. 

A great way to experience the city and live like a local is through a home swap.  International Vacation Home Exchange offers this city center apartment.  You’re sure to find it a “wicked” good place to stay while you explore this exciting capital city.  


Thank you Travel Writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_


The Pulse of Taipei


On the northern end of Taiwan, sits Taipei, a teeming, breathing metropolis that many overlook.  From its high-end District 101 to its numerous night markets, Taipei offers surprises around every corner.  

I recently sat down with two-year Taipei resident, Bronson Glaittli who gave me a foreigner’s inside look.


Taipei, 101
District 101 is a wealthy district and the busiest part of the city.  Taipei’s financial center and home to one of the tallest buildings in the world (Taipei 101), District 101 always has something happening.  The towering skyscraper serves as a landmark and a place of reference much as the old and new World Trade Centers do in New York City.  There is also an enormous exhibition center.
A great way to see the Taipei (which according to Bronson, who speaks Mandarin, is pronounced closer to “Taibei”) is on a “U-bike” which you can rent for about $3.00 or $4.00 per day.  In fact, transportation in Taipei is excellent and convenient with “Easy Cards” which are good on all transit including the world-class MRT system (you can reach the southern tip of Taiwan from Taipei in just three hours for a satisfying day trip).  Interestingly, the MRT bans food and gum on their trains.  If caught with either, the penalties are stiff.

Night Life and Cuisine
Especially entrancing at night, Taipei features night markets with numerous street vendors selling food, knick-knacks, carnival-type games, and other delights.  Street food is unusually inexpensive and varied, so much so that Bronson said it was normally just as cost-effective to eat out utilizing street vendors as it was to eat in.  You can get a good meal on the street for approximately $5.00.  If you choose to eat at an indoor restaurant, the tip is usually included; however, if it is a western restaurant, prepare to tip.
Also unusually varied is the choice of drink shops featuring fruit juices and all manner of teas.  The passion fruit and mangos are superior, and the pineapple sweeter and less acidic than is found in the West.  The West’s presence, however, is ubiquitous with 7-11s all over the city.

Culture
To see Taiwanese and Chinese treasures, visit the National Palace Museum.  The famous Jadeite Cabbage is housed there.  Considered a masterpiece in jade, both the essence of the jade and a Chinese cabbage are captured in green and white; even the veins of the cabbage are visible.  Unfortunately, the identity of the artist is now unknown adding to its mystery and lure.  There are also ceramics, beautiful calligraphy, and murals.
Regarding cultural norms, Bronson said that it is in the character of the Taiwanese to be very business-like in professional settings, even at restaurants.  The fawning over that Americans are used to does not exist there when dining.  To the Taiwanese, this is simply professional and dignified.  However, if you are invited to a Taiwanese home, prepare to be treated warmly; they are wonderful hosts.


Day Trips
If you need a break from the city, there are densely forested hills near Taipei with Buddhist and Taoist temples hidden in the jungle.  It is advisable to always carry an umbrella as rain can appear suddenly, drop a deluge, and then disappear, a little like Florida.
Other day trips include a visit to the Taipei Zoo, a twenty or thirty-minute ride on the MRT from downtown.  The pandas are especially captivating.  The Maokong Gondola offers beautiful views of the hills and is a great escape from The Big City.  The Beitou Hot Springs, north of Taipei, are home to a former public bathhouse.  Yangmingshan National Park can be reached on foot from Taipei and is famous for its cherry blossoms.

Are you interested in visiting Taipei?  International Vacation Home Exchange has this luxury home exchange available.  See how this works.

Thanks to Bronson Glaittli and Travel Writer Sona Schmidt-Harris – You can follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Lost Your Heart? Find It in San Francisco


Have you lost your sense of romance, place or even hope?  There is no better city to reclaim them than San Francisco.  Bravely and dramatically facing the Pacific and drawing in and attempting to coddle its restless and luring bay, San Francisco calls to the adventurous and aching heart as well as to those seeking comfort and a sense of home.  It is a paradoxical city.  The birthplace of the hippy movement and eclectic crossroads of the American West Coast is now home to some of the most expensive real estate in the United States.  The iconic, Victorian architecture, ever welcoming, is out of reach financially for the average citizen; yet, you do not need to set foot in one of these beautiful homes to feel received.  Very few American cities elicit such a feeling.
Home to just over 800,000 people, San Francisco’s relatively modest population surprises most. Yet within a somewhat small geographical area, there is no place more alive.


Chinatown
For a sojourn into the truly exotic, all you have to do is visit Chinatown.  Chinatown has the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.  Restaurants, shops specializing in embroidered linens, and Asian pharmaceutical-type stores with remedies of pungent, dried roots for all sorts of ailments transport you into a lively dream.  Bring your walking shoes for a vigorous stroll up and down hills.

Little Italy
Home to numerous cafes and restaurants, Little Italy is a favorite destination of both San Franciscans and tourists.  There is a bright and open feeling to many of the cafes—a strange contradiction in that it is the birthplace of the restless Beat movement.  City Lights, the bookstore and publisher that first introduced Allen Ginsberg’s visceral poem, “Howl” still thrives.  Founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetic dream breathes in the 21st century.

The Financial District
To experience the rhythm of the city, go to the financial district on a weekday.  Busy, well-dressed sorts walk quickly to their next appointments; however, California being California, there always seems to be time for a quick jog at lunch.

Sausalito Ferry
The Sausalito Ferry takes you across San Francisco Bay to where else?  Sausalito.  Even if you don’t disembark in Sausalito, the ride across the bay is worth it.  You get a closer view of the infamous, former prison Alcatraz in the middle of the bay (truly eerie). 
Sausalito itself has a long tradition of drawing artists, and a walk through town yields sightings of many eclectic, creative treasures.

Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf offers tasty and fresh seafood most of its lively day.  For a reasonably-priced and fun lunch, buy off of the street and watch the human parade go by.  For a more sophisticated meal, try dinner in one of the Wharf’s many restaurants overlooking the bay.

Ghirardelli Square
Even if you’re not a fan of Ghirardelli chocolate, Ghirardelli’s famous square is both energetic and one of the best places in the city to sit down with a good cup of coffee and look out onto a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Would you like to visit swank and funky San Francisco? International Vacation Home Exchange offers these premium luxury home exchanges in the San Francisco area.  Read how this works and testimonials.

Thank you to travel writer Sona Schmidt-Harris -  You can follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Reconnecting With Nature on Holiday


After spending a relaxing afternoon tubing down the Delaware River recently, I was reminded of how rewarding it is to unplug from technology for a while and enjoy all that nature has to offer.  The only thing better than getting outside for a few hours on a sunny afternoon is spending an entire week long holiday appreciating the outdoors.  Companies like International Vacation Home Exchange offer luxury properties around the world to help you do just that.  Whether you choose a log home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming or a luxury beachfront property in Anguilla there are many ways to be at one with nature.  Here are a few of my favorites. 

Biking
Whether your idea of biking is enjoying the rough terrane on a mountain bike or an easy glide on a beach cruiser, biking is one of my favorite ways to get out and breathe in some fresh air. 


Kayaking
Kayaking has always been one of my favorite activities.  We even own our own kayaks including  two tandem kayaks we used when our boys were younger.  They would always argue about which one “had” to ride with mom.  I may only be 5’ 4” but I did a pretty good job of keeping up with my 6’ 4” husband though my kids would disagree.  

SUP
No, that’s not short for “what’s up” but rather an acronym for “stand up paddle boarding”.  This activity has gained a lot of popularity in recent years.  I’ve tried my hand at it on the ocean a few times when the waters were calm.  It’s definitely a full body workout and mastering the balancing takes some practice but it’s great fun once you get the hang of it.

Al Fresco Dining
If rigorous outdoor activities aren’t your thing then there are many other way to enjoy nature.  Enjoying a nice meal on a beautiful day while dining Al Fresco is always one of my favorites.  If you are lucky enough to take in a scenic view than that’s an added bonus. It actually doesn’t matter what the view is when you are dining outside as long as you get to enjoy the warmth of the sun of your face while being cooled by a nice breeze.  Remember to leave your iPhone at home even though you might risk insulting the chef by not taking a picture of your plate when your food arrives. 

Watch a Sunset
You can enjoy the outdoors by doing something as simple as watching the sunset.  I have yet to actually experience the phenomenon of the green flash known to occur just after the sun sets but I always keep an eye out for it, maybe you’ll have better luck.


Walking
Last but certainly not least is just taking a simple walk.  A nice walk either in the early morning or just after dinner on a lovely evening is one of the best ways to enjoy nature.  Again, be sure to leave the technology behind while you appreciate the beauty of the trees, flowers, a hummingbird or whatever other wonders of nature you might come across. 

That should be enough to keep you busy for a week.  As much as technology has greatly enhanced our lives, it’s always a good reminder to take a “tech break” and give the beauty of nature your undivided attention, not to mention, it’s the only foolproof way to keep your phone out of the lake. 


Thank you to Travel Writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on twitter @lisamedeiros_

Eastern Tennessee: A Haven for Nature Lovers


I was not familiar with Virgin Falls when we began hatching a plan to travel there. I was certainly not familiar with Sparta, TN, the rural town, home to just over 5,000 inhabitants, that sits nearest to the falls. I was born and raised in the southeastern US, so I at least had some level of familiarity with Tennessee in general. However, my limited expertise pretty much began and ended in Memphis, so this trip was going to be something entirely new for me. IVHE has previously highlighted what a great spot Tennessee can be for nature lovers and fans of the outdoors, but I was not as yet familiar with this reputation. The area to which we traveled was a reasonable eight-hour drive from our Floridian home, being just over the boarder of North Carolina and into Tennessee. This made the actual travel portion of our journey fairly simple. My husband and I, along with another married duo, made the trip to this out-of-the way locale in White County. Thankfully for us, our friends had previously visited the area (in fact, they were the reason we found out about Virgin Falls in the first place), so they served as our guides in the mountainous regions.

We made plans to camp at the falls for a couple of days, but decided on getting a hotel room for the first night so that we could begin our hike into the mountain at first light and not risk getting stuck in the dark on a steep trail. It was the dead of winter, but we were lucky to find Tennessee having a mild time of it. There were a few patches of ice and decidedly chilly temperatures, but no snowfall to reckon with as we made our way. We pulled into Sparta quite late at night, and I'll admit that the drive through the winding mountain roads put me a bit on edge. The fog was incredibly thick and frequent signs warned of falling rocks - a phenomenon we were all too aware of as we drove over the evidence of smashed rocks already in the roadway. Thankfully, we made the "perilous" journey safely and tucked in for a few hours of anxious sleep. We were all quite eager to get on the trail, but the rest did us a world of good before our big trek.

The trails themselves were a sight to behold. I'm sure that no matter what time of the year you visit, these falls and the surrounding state park are gorgeous, but I was particularly impressed with the stillness of the woods in the wintertime. Our drive from the hotel to the park area was even remarkable. I'll admit, Sparta grew on me in the daytime, after the fog had burned away and the scenery was more visible. The fact that there were no more signs in this direction which mentioned falling rocks helped enhance my experience, I think. We had quite a bit of gear between the four of us (for the record, I told my husband he was over-packing), so it was a bit of a physical undertaking to get ourselves and our packs to camp. However, we were all at least moderately experienced hikers, so it was manageable. We took frequent rests, but were still able to make it to our camp and get set up before nightfall. We got a prime spot, in a cave directly underneath Big Laurel Falls. The rush of the water created fantastic white noise for our first night of sleep, but the trade-off was the sheer amount of bat guano coating the cavern floor all around us! If you could get around that, and didn't mind leaving your hiking boots outside of the tent, it was a killer location.

We took day hikes to the much taller Virgin Falls and explored the well-marked trails in the area. The chilly temperatures were far from a burden, making the physical exertion of the hike much more enjoyable. Going into this trip I did not have many preconceived notions of Tennessee, outside of the bigger cities, but I can assure you that the more rural part of the state is a sight to behold. We met plenty of hikers who were visiting the falls for the day, along with a couple of fellow campers. Everyone in the area seemed to know how pristine this spot is and what a great day trip it makes. 

While staying in the state park definitely constitutes a "primitive" camping experience (no toilets or potable water available), and we were all very happy to see a real restaurant at the end of our hike back to civilization, the scenery and serenity make the trip well worth it. You needn’t go so far as pitching a tent in a cave to enjoy the wilderness of the area either, with an abundance of scenic rural areas just a short drive from civilization. I would gladly sing the praises of Virgin Falls to anyone looking for an outdoorsy vacation idea. Even if you're not much of a camper, the trail lends itself well to a reasonable day hike, with lots of picture-worthy spots to stop and rest along the way. The state park educated visitors on the surrounding landscape and provides several different routes of varying difficulty to hike, so that everyone from the most advanced hikers to novice outdoorsmen will find a suitable trek. I would have easily overlooked this particular little dot on the map in East Tennessee, but if you're planning a trip to the area (including the western part of North Carolina, just across the border) I'd encourage you to put Virgin Falls on your travel itinerary! If you’re looking to go off the grid for several days, or just hoping to stretch your legs in a uniquely pristine environment, the mountainous areas of Eastern Tennessee have plenty to offer you.

IVHE will help to make your trip a little lighter on the bat guano, with lovely luxury accommodations throughout the area. Take a look at our available properties to see what might suit your tastes for potential Tennessee accommodations.

Thank you to travel blogger Emma Sledge.  

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