is closing in on one million couches surfed; no small feat since this free, internet based hospitality service launched in 2004. With more than 230 countries represented and almost 55-thousand cities with couches to crash on, one can travel the globe on a budget, meet cool people and even get some insider travel tips. The mission of the innovative site is: Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time. For a small fee, that includes a personal vouching system, (much like E-Bay) members can coordinate their free accommodations with like-minded folks from Brazil to Belgium, Israel to Indonesia.  I haven’t officially joined but I do recall staying in a lady’s home in Prague soon after the Velvet Revolution. The sheets were the whitest and crispest I’d ever seen and the generosity immense. Tea bags were still precious and used numerous times. Breakfast was a homemade, simple type of pound cake… I’ll never forget that experience. In broken sign language and French, we learned that our hostess was a ‘peepee lady’ at an Opera House. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Culture, Feature, Hostels, Student Travel, Travel, Travel Tips

Most of us have seen so many photographs of the Pyramids of Giza that we may feel we know them and don’t expect any surprises when we actually see the gargantuan tombs in person. I certainly didn’t expect to have much of a reaction when I saw them on my first trip to Egypt earlier this month.

In fact, seeing the Egyptian Pyramids wasn’t even my top priority when I arrived. I wanted to see Cairo, the fabled markets and crowded streets and the legendary River Nile. Even a visit to the Red Sea ranked pretty high on my list. I figured the pyramids would be another stop on my tourist path, granted an awesome stop, but I hadn’t given them much thought beyond that. Continue reading »

7 Comments | Filed Under Africa & Middle East, Archaeology, Cairo, Egypt, Feature, Travel

Maybe I am feeling like a fish with the rain pouring down or maybe I am just having my monthly fish taco frenzy, whatever the reason I am fast becoming a connoisseur of the tasty Mexican treat.

I love Mexican food, but sometimes all the rice and beans and heavy meat can weigh you down. Don’t get me wrong, I love burritos, but I have a hard time not finishing a whole one in a sitting, as much as I’d like to take half home for lunch the next day.

As an East Coast friend said when she first visited me in San Francisco in the early ’90s when our burritos arrived: “That looks like an infant.” She proceeded to place the wrapped burrito by her toned dancer’s belly and question how all that would fit in there. Miraculously it all fit!

Years later in New York City I saw advertisements for “San Francisco Mission Style” Burritos, which of course made me laugh having lived in or near the Mission for more than 15 years. So, my answer to the burrito baby syndrome was to order fish tacos; it seemed like a lighter choice. One of the first places, and to my mind one of the best in the city, is Papalote, a Mexican Grill on 24th street. When my first son was little we ate there once a week because I knew he would get a nutritious meal. The owner knows us well and has seen my son grown on his cooking. Now, my rice and bean aficionado goes to school a block away and we joke that it is because of his favorite restaurant. Don’t miss the fabulous house salsa; it’s a secret but I think it is made with pumpkin. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Family Travel, Food, Mexico, Nightlife, Restaurants, San Francisco, Student Travel

I was understandably jet-lagged and weary when I boarded the evening Delta flight the other night from New York’s JFK to San Francisco International because I’d just arrived on a 12-hour flight from Cairo. So perhaps what I experienced on the flight home was colored by the fugue state I was falling into. But I don’t think so.

The flight was 1/3 full, and of that 1/3, at least half seemed to be friends who were scattered about the plane. They were jabbering in a language I couldn’t identify. My best guess was Russian, second best was some other Slavic language, third best was Hebrew but I’ve heard enough Hebrew to be pretty sure it wasn’t that.

These people kept getting up and wandering around the plane no matter what was going on, starting as soon as we pushed back from the gate. One guy wore a fur-lined cap and overcoat as if he were in Red Square, and he paced up and down the aisle throughout the flight. Another woman did the same, berating (or seeming to) some other guy seated up front. They paid no attention to the seatbelt sign, the flight attendants’ warnings, the captain’s announcements. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Air Travel, Travel

If you only have a few days in Paris and have never been there, why spend all your time with hordes of other tourists trying to get your moment in front of the Mona Lisa? There is so much to see and do in Paris, it is truly impossible to decide a “Must See” from a “Save for Next Time.”

I do understand why a first time visitor would want that photo in front of the Eiffel Tower or to say they had been to the Louvre. However, if you sprinkle in a few smaller, lesser known museums you will get a flavor of a neighborhood and a taste of Paris that you won’t find at the famous hotspots.

My all time favorite is the Rodin Museum. Continue reading »

7 Comments | Filed Under Feature, Films, France, Museums, Paris, Travel Tips, Wine Tours

I saw him moments after descending from the bus before boarding the boat for the Temple of Philae in Aswan. It wasn’t the white stubble of his beard and close cropped gray hair that caught me. It wasn’t his erect posture in the flowing galibeyah gown or his flashing eyes or the smooth texture of his brown skin. It was the white cotton shirt in his hands.

Simple embroidery decorated the shirt pocket. A buttonless slit ran from near the pocket to the collarless neckline. Cut like a t-shirt but elegant in its whiteness in the desert sun, the shirt flapped like a flag in his brown fingers. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Africa & Middle East, Egypt, Feature, Markets, Travel, shopping

It’s impossible to resist the lure of spice markets. The vibrant colors, the sculpted displays, the strange and exotic nature of the herbs in baskets always draw me in.

The gnarled, web-like fists of Rosa Santa Maria mystified me.

“It’s good for luck, and smells good in the home,” one shopkeeper said.

The overflowing barrels of dark red whorls?

“Hibiscus.” Continue reading »

6 Comments | Filed Under Africa & Middle East, Egypt, Markets

As rain pours down, I know the dry creeks and reservoirs, thirsty plants and animals are all happy, as are the avid skiers in Northern California. The slopes may be less crowded this year, but for many, even if the economy is taking a beating, the call of the snow is just too powerful.

I have skied downhill many times and do love the thrill, but have come to appreciate cross country skiing greatly, particularly since having kids. When they were young I pulled both my boys in sleds, wrapping them in blankets, like little Russian Princes, with snacks and toys in the sled. They both took naps while I, in a complete sweat, trudged through the glorious snow; I absolutely loved that feeling.

Now they are a bit older and are interested in skiing on their own. Recently, I read an online missive in one of my mom’s groups. The message linked to an article by Gigi Stahl about skiing with your preschooler or kindergartener and I thought it was quite helpful and funny. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, Cross Country Skiing, Family Travel, Lake Tahoe, Northern California, Skiing, Snowboarding, Winter Fun

In just about any tourist town the local markets sell trinkets, and one of the great mysteries of the modern world, perhaps even of the ancient world, is how so many shops can survive or hope to survive selling the same merchandise.

“Alabaster” pyramids, “jeweled” boxes, stylized cats, hookahs, sand paintings in vases, papyrus paintings, decorative plates, pharaohs’ busts, cotton head scarves and belly-dancing wraps, the list goes on and on. Almost every shop sells the same merchandise and their only hope for business is to befriend visitors without being pushy. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Africa & Middle East, Egypt

On his 40-year tour of the neighborhood many millennia ago, Moses passed this way and found a burning bush at the base of a mountain and heard the voice of God. I sat on the terrace of El Mawardy Café and saw my own burning bush atop the hill at the end of town. I don’t think I heard the voice of God but I did hear the Muslim call to prayer, the laughter of children getting a treat a few tables away, the honking of a car horn.

Maybe the voice of God was speaking quietly, because my friends and I were sitting across the street from where a terrorist bomb exploded in 2005, destroying an entire row of shops and killing many people. The shops have been rebuilt, the neighborhood is friendly, especially in the evening when the shadows soften the harsh sun and the lights of shops cast a festive glow over the streets. A crescent moon and resplendent Venus added to the spell. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Egypt, Travel