Sunday, November 30, 2008

London Bridges: Mom-Daughter Getaway

My recent mom-daughter getaway in London was fabulous! I won’t bore you with the details of my work happenings for the first few days I was there, trust me, there were enough boring details of tax rules and accounting laws for all of us ;) I got in on Tuesday morning, headed straight to tax classes (yippie) and went non-stop until Friday afternoon. Mom arrived on Thursday, so once she adjusted to the time zone (just in time for my last Friday session), we hit the streets of London! Just in case you want to cheat, here are the photos:

As I mentioned, I had a few meetings left at the office but Mom was ready to sightsee. We walked together to my office and she ventured on her own for breakfast and city photos. On your own getaway, it’s important to remember that it’s OK to separate! Many times, you’ll learn more about the city when you are forced to venture alone, and let’s face it, not everyone will always want to see the same sights. Mom took advantage of the alone time and visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is actually right across the street from my office. I’ve passed by the Cathedral many times and it took Mom to visit once to learn that this is the church where Lady Diana and Prince Charles were married. Way cool!

After my meetings, we headed straight to Oxford Street! Oxford Street is the busiest shopping area in London. Picture New York’s Time Square on steroids – there were people and shops everywhere. The one thing I love about London, there are many familiar stores that are in the States, so you never feel TOO much like a fish out of water. For example, there are plenty of English and European based shops on Oxford Street, such as French Connection or Harrod's, but you look up and there’s Gap or Nike and you feel at home. We landed in Primark, a discount shopper’s dream. Women stock up on fashion basics and trendy pieces at Primark – I got tights for 2 pounds, sweaters for 8 pounds...and could have gotten cool skinny jeans if I were brave enough to try them on. Apparently they have the best prices in lingerie in town but the dressing room lines…oh, the lines. Shopping overseas can pose an issue, as the sizing is different and you don’t have the option to return. Despite the “too crowded dressing room”, we did an appropriate amount of damage….as did the other tons of women with bags and bags of trendy finds :) Luckily, the dollar is SLIGHTLY better against the pound than it was earlier in the year.

Up and at ‘em! We had 3 goals for the day – visit the Borough Markets for breakfast, shop at a London street/flea market (we chose Camden Market) and don’t be late for our 7:30 theatre show of Wicked. We are professional tourists, so we accomplished it all ;)

Borough Market is an outdoor “foodie” paradise. Anything you can think of: meats, seafood, breads, cheese and wine…and everything in between, can be found here, supplied by local vendors. We sampled hot, mulled wine (yes, on a Saturday morning), caramel fudge, sausages, and for curiosity, a Bacon, Cheese, and Bubble Bap. We saw signs for Bubble and Bap combinations at cafes everywhere throughout the market, so we figured, when in Rome, do as the Romans do….or something like that. Here’s another tip – don’t be afraid to eat as the locals eat., as it will give you the best idea of what the local culture is like. So what’s a Bacon, Cheese, Bubble Bap, you ask? Bacon = thick cut, bacon, salty, really more like country ham. Cheese = thin cut parmesan-type of cheese, Bubble = potatoes cooked with cabbage….and all that goes on a Bap, which is similar to a kaiser roll, and it’s intended to eat as you walk around the market. Not a bad combination, quite tasty and filling actually.

Off to Camden Markets. One thing I should mention, London has a great underground subway system (affectionately called “the Tube”) which is probably the most inexpensive way to get around town and has stops near pretty much everything. So we tubed it to the popular Camden area. Now, I’ve read about Camden and have seen photos but nothing prepared us for the crowd and excitement we found after we hit the street. Camden is a historic former timber yard, established in the 1970's for young artists to be exposed to the public. It's geared towards the music, youth culture. The area spans for blocks and has everything from vintage and gothic fashion to household items (rugs, décor, candles), jewelry and the famous CyberDog. Only photos or video would offer the best description of our CyberDog visit but no cameras allowed, as we were quickly told by security when I whipped mine out :) Just picture a dark clothing store, with neon, glow-in-the-dark punk clothes that reminded us of the Jetsons. Camden also has its fair share of food vendors – any cuisine you have a taste for can be found here. We didn’t do any outrageous shopping but the area was perfect for people watching.

All the Camden Market excitement wore us out, so we headed back to the hotel area for Fish and Chips. Most pubs offer lunch of fish and chips (many actually claim to have the most famous fish and chips :)), so it’s not hard to find one that serves up the popular lunch.

Saturday night consisted of our London theater experience – Wicked was the highlight of my trip. Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, the story based on the “behind the scenes” and childhood of the Wizard of Oz witches was awesome. I’d never read the book but the production is so well put together that you don’t need to have read it. Mom and I picked up program books and tees. It was so good, that I’d actually see it again. I purchased tickets in advance but if you aren’t choosy about seeing a particular show, Leicester Square's tkts booth sells day-of bargains for most of London's hottest shows.

EARLY morning up for our tour. Almost a little too early for us to be on vacation but we were determined to see as much as possible during our getaway weekend. Again, we tube it over to where I think the tour is supposed to depart. Keyword is THINK. I got mixed up with Victoria tube Station and Victoria Coach Station, i.e. the bus station… 7 blocks away. And it’s started to snow….no worries. Victoria Coach Station reminds me of a cleaner Penn Station in NY…minus the public restrooms that cost to use :) We venture and find our tour’s departure gate – attitude and flexibility are essential when traveling in a new place. The tour didn’t seem as organized as I’d have expected of a “luxury” tour, but we had fun, nonetheless. In hindsight, I recommend NOT doing a Sunday tour, if Royal destinations are the highlight. (I’d also recommend not doing a walking tour in the cold and rain :) In London, Sundays are centered around church services, so we weren’t able to tour the insides of many of the buildings, the Changing of the Guard is more sporadic on Sundays, and shops are required to close by 6pm. BUT we did sneak a peek at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, learn a bit of Royal history and have a fab meal at Hard Rock Café. Despite the snow, rain and slightly unorganized tour, it was a great last day.

Another EARLY morning up to catch our flight home. Traveling overseas is great but after a week of being in a different time zone, we’re both ready to see family and eat American food. Our flight leaves at 8:50am, so we reserved a taxi at 6am, to arrive at the airport by 7am with time to shop in the duty free shops.
5:55am – checkout and wait in hotel lobby
6:00am – no reserved cab
6:10am – lobby receptionist doesn’t show reservation. Nice.
6:15am – cab arrives. Drives us to Paddington Station, to pick up Heathrow Express train.
6:45am – depart on Heathrow Express. Note: Express. (15 minutes, we should be at terminal)
7:05am – “Express” train slows and comes to halt. They have detected a trespasser on the train tracks. WTF??
7:20am – Express doesn’t stop at Terminal 4. Look up our Terminal…Terminal 4. Must wait for another shuttle.
7:35am – Arrive at terminal. Yay! Only my boarding pass doesn’t print…we’re scheduled to board at 7:50am. Clerk helps me print pass.
7:45am – At counter to check luggage. Of course, my bag is too heavy. Whip out credit card, only cannot pay at counter. Must pay at “cashier”, way on other end. Clerk slowly handwrites a few receipts. No worries.
7:55am – Cheery cashier, rips up my 10-minute-to-print boarding pass and proceeds to handwrite several receipts for my baggage fee. She must have missed that we have already started boarding AND I still need time to duty-free shop.
8:15am – Finally cleared security and they are doing last call for boarding. Quickly purchase a few “souvenirs” for hubby and hop on plane!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Girlfriend Getaway: Holiday Shopping/Spa Weekend

Hey Divas - the holiday season is upon us! This came across my inbox from Colesville Travel and I thought I'd share:

Girlfriend's Getaway Shopping/Spa Weekend
2 Outlets – Vanity Fair and Philadelphia Premium Outlets
Sheraton Reading Hotel, Reading, PA
December 5 - 7, 2008

It's time to get away! Would you like to relax in luxurious accommodations? Or would you prefer to dance the night away? Maybe you just want to relax and be pampered at the spa? How about a little retail therapy - outlet shopping? Why choose when you can have it all!
Join us for a Girlfriend's Getaway Weekend!

Our weekend package includes:
· Overnight Accommodations for TWO nights
· Roundtrip motorcoach transportation
· TWO Relaxing Spa Services (OPTIONAL)
· (2) Breakfast Buffets at Market Street Café'
· (1) Italian Buffet Dinner
· Free Admission to Goodnites Lounge
· Girlfriends Getaway Gift (compliments of Vanity Fair Outlet Village)
· VF Factory Outlet Coupons
· Transportation to VF Factory Outlet
· Transportation to PHL Premium Outlets (Sunday) (opened November '07)
· Dinner at Old Country Buffet on Sunday

There's Plenty To Do, Without Ever Leaving The Hotel
At the Sheraton Reading Hotel, you'll never be bored. Relax in the area's largest heated pool and Jacuzzi. Work off stress and tension in the fully equipped, 24-hour fitness center and sauna. Head over to Goodnites Lounge for great music and dancing. Enjoy a good laugh at The Reading Comedy Outlet.

Goodnites Lounge & Nightclub
Make any night good at Goodnites. One of the area's most popular nightclubs, there's always something special going on. So stop in and have a good time! Dance the night away Friday or Saturday night to all the latest dance hits!

Quad - $230.00 per person ~~Triple - $240.00 per person ~~Double - $255.00 per person ~~Single - $355.00 per person

*All rates and prices are per person and include tax and everything listed above.

To reserve your space, contact: Cynthia Amin Hall Phone: 301-989-1654 (office)
Email:, Website:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

London Bridges: Mom and Daughter Style

I'm headed back to London for business mixed with pleasure - this time my Mom will be joining me for a weekend fit for an English Diva ;) The cool thing about traveling with Mom, rather than hubby (no offense) is we can do all the tours and sightseeing that may be too "cheesy" for men. We can eat...or not. Sleep...or not. And of course, the shopping and people watching is way better when shared with another diva!

Currently on the agenda:
Work for 4 days
Flea markets
Sat evening theatre, Wicked
Walking tour of top attractions

With the sliding economy, I had to be extra resourceful on making our dollar stretch. Budget Travel's Expensive Cities on the Cheap offers great tips on enjoying all that London has to offer without breaking the bank. London's tourism site also offers a wonderful listing of free and affordable performances, restaurants, sites, etc. Visiting London on a budget CAN be done!

Stay tuned for a full update on our Mom and Daughter getaway, in London. Feel free to check out the recap of my last London adventure, which includes my hunt for a lost Krispy Kreme donut ;)


Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama Inauguration Travel Plans: Getting There

Fellow Divas - There's no doubt that many of us will be traveling to the Nation's Capital for President-elect Barack Obama's Inauguration celebration on January 20, 2009. Since I'm in the heart of DC Metro and have been getting tons of info already regarding the historic event, I figured I'd share everything I find to make your travels to and within DC easier. I'm still in awe of the history made on Nov. 4 and there's no doubt, Jan. 20 will be the largest historical event of the decade!

Getting to DC

While it may seem obvious, if you haven't booked airfare for Inauguration weekend, do so ASAP! With the hype surrounding this weekend coupled with the holiday season, rates are bound to sky rocket. Book your flights NOW! The closest airport to Washington, DC is Ronald Reagan National (DCA) but depending on the rates, Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) are also close enough for them to be an option.

Train is great if you are on the East Coast - if you are in NYC or Philly, the Acela Express is a breeze.

Car - either yours or a rental, driving may be the most affordable, especially if the low gas prices hold. Driving is actually perfect if you plan to bring the whole family and need to cut back on the expense of flights.

Bus - there are PLENTY of churches and organizations planning bus trips. Keep your ears peeled for one being organized in your city. Try Inauguration Road Trip's super cool Road Trip for Change website to connect with transportation from all major cities.

Metro - DC's underground train system will be the best way to transfer in/out of the city for all Inauguration events. Buy or load your SmartTrip tickets early to avoid the lines! Info on using DC's Metrorail system can be found on

Hotels - By the time you read this, every hotel in DC and 25 miles out is sold out....or too expensive to even consider. If you are lucky enough to find something "affordable", book it ASAP! Check here for hotel rooms that may be available:

Family/friends - Think of everyone you know in the DC Metro, Richmond and Baltimore area. Don't be too shy to call on family, friends (even those long lost college alum) to bum lodging for the weekend! Just be sure to offer a donation to the hostess ;)

House rental - There are plenty of folks renting out their homes, apartments, and timeshares for inauguration visitors. Visit these sites for private rentals OR if you'd like to share your place:
Craigslist DC

Several sites have dedicated Inauguration packages...don't scream at me when you see the prices ;)

Stay tuned for more info, including planning tips for Inauguration activities.

Obama's Inauguration Travel Plans: Activities

Now that you're all set on the travel front, check out the various activities going on during Obama's Inauguration celebration!

**Just in case you haven't locked down all of your travel plans, check out the Getting There post for travel tips.


Helpful sites:
Barack Obama's official site:
Official Site regarding Inuagural history:
Private site, Inuagural events info:
Private site, Inuagural events info:
Text alerts on activities:

Saturday, January 17 - Obama, Biden and their families will travel by train to Washington, DC and will host events along the way in Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. (Details to be Announced)
Sunday, January 18 – An official welcome event will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to kick off the inaugural celebration. The event will be open to the public. (Details to be Announced)
Monday, January 19 - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - To honor Dr. King’s legacy, Obama, Biden and their families will participate in activities dedicated to serving others in communities across the Washington, DC area. Additional events will be held throughout the week. See the schedule of events.
Inaugural Eve Concert for America's Children - A free youth concert will be held at the Verizon Center. The concert will be free, but tickets will be required. (Details to be Announced)
Do I need tickets to attend the swearing ceremony?

To be seated in the "official" ceremony section, you need to contact your local Congress member for tickets and they are distributed a week before the event. However, there will be plenty of "non-ticket" space for the public to view, with bleechers and big screen televisions for families to watch. Don't be fooled into buying tickets - see important notice from The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) below:

E-mail received from the JCCIC..."Ticketing Information for the 56th Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremony

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) has issued the following information regarding the availability of tickets for the 56th Presidential Inaugural Ceremony on January 20, 2009:

Tickets to the 56th Inaugural Ceremonies will be provided free of charge and distributed through Members of the 111th Congress. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies does not provide tickets to the public. Members of the public interested in attending the Inaugural Ceremonies should contact their Member of Congress or U.S. Senators to request tickets.

The public should also be aware that no website or other ticket outlet actually has inaugural swearing-in tickets to sell, regardless of what they may claim. Tickets will not be distributed to Congressional offices until the week before the inauguration and will require in-person pick-up.

'Any website or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth,' said Howard Gantman, Staff Director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. 'Tickets for the swearing-in of President-elect are all provided through members of Congress, and the President-elect and Vice President-elect through the Presidential Inaugural Committee. We urge the public to view any offers of tickets for sale with great skepticism.'"
Those who come to witness the swearing-in ceremony will be able to watch and listen to the ceremony on large screens that will be set up along the National Mall.

Inaugural Balls

There are several balls that take place during the week. Of course, the biggest is the President Ball at Washington DC Convention Center i.e. the hardest to get tickets for, even for the savviest of divas ;) Don't fret - many States and organizations have balls that are open to the public.
**Read our posts for updated Ball and Party info: Balls and Parties and Balls and Parties, part 2

Inaugural Parade
For F*R*E*E and being in place at the crack of dawn, everyone can attend the Parade! President Obama, First Lady Michelle and a host of family, military regiments, marching bands, etc. will stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue! BE CAREFUL PURCHASING ANY TICKETS ONLINE, most of the sites are taking advantage of the hype.
Here's a link for the proposed route:
**The public will not be allowed to lineup along the parade route before 7 a.m.**

Stay tuned - much more info will be posted.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Traveling to the polls: Tips for the long wait

I made my way to the polls this weekend to early vote in Virginia. I figured I’d have a long wait, 4 hours to be exact, so I prepared myself with a fully charged Ipod, comfortable shoes, magazine and a great attitude. 4 hours IS a long time to wait in line but honestly, I’d have waited longer -very few moments like this arise to change the course of history.

If you haven’t already voted, I urge you to take time on Tuesday, Nov. 4 to do so. Prepare for a wait – this election has drawn crowds like none other and tomorrow is sure to bring record turnouts! I got a list of tips this morning from on making your day at the polls a party. I love the idea of turning your poll line wait into a party, so thought I’d share:

How to Start a Party at the Polls
You can do this while you're waiting in line yourself, you can come back after you've voted, or you can go to other polling places in your area where you hear there are long lines. Here are some ways you can make the wait easier and more fun for voters:

Bring water, food, snacks. A lot of people might not have realized how long they'd have to wait. A little food and water can help give people the energy they need to power through. Cook something the night before, buy some bottled water to share. Healthy snacks are good, but you can also use the opportunity to get rid of extra Halloween candy.

Bring some folding chairs. Some people may need a break from standing; you can give them somewhere to sit.

Rain? Bring umbrellas, ponchos, plastic bags. Help people stay dry.

Tell jokes, juggle, provide some other kind of entertainment. Are you a comedian, dancer, or street performer of some kind? Put on a show! Make sure it's family-friendly.

Play some music or bring a boombox. Play an instrument? Bring it to the polls and play some songs. Bring a boombox. Take requests. Avoid music that might be offensive or abrasive to some people. Keep in mind that not everyone may like your music, so pay attention to how people are reacting; you don't want to drive anyone away.
La Diva's note: Just bring your headphones ;)

Be prepared to cover up campaign t-shirts, buttons, etc. Some places have rules against campaigning within 100 feet of the polls. Wearing a t-shirt or button can be considered a form of campaigning, so if you're wearing gear from a particular candidate, be prepared to cover it up or change into different clothes if someone asks you to.

Above all, have fun, and spread it around. Help everyone out, not just people supporting your candidate. This is about making sure everyone has the right to vote. Voters disagree on many issues, but we should all be able to agree that participation in our democracy is an exciting thing. Help bring a festive spirit to the polling place.

You can find more tips on Color of Change’s website.

Don’t take anything for granted – head to the polls, vote for your favorite candidate and make a difference!