Archive for December, 2014

2014: Looking Back at a Year of Travel


Elephants at a watering hole on Nambia’s Skeleton Coast

It’s time to look back on my travel stats for 2014.

Total number of commercial flights: 109
Total number of miles flown: 164,129
Total number of countries visited: 19
Total number of airlines used: 19

Countries Visited:

Turkey, France, Germany, Panama, Bahamas, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Canada, Italy, Austria, United Kingdom, India, Netherlands, Fiji, Mexico, UAE, Seychelles, South Africa, Namibia

I rang in 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey and will be ushering it out in Seattle, Washington.

Emirates wins best carrier for 2014

Commercial Airlines Flown:

Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Copa Airlines, Caribbean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Air Berlin, Jet Airways, Emirates, Vueling, Fiji Airways, South African Airways, Air Namibia, Virgin Atlantic Airways

Best Airlines: Emirates

I had the chance to fly in Emirates First a few times this year and it’s always been a great experience. I also watched my favorite two films of the year, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, during Emirates flights.

Best US Airlines: Alaska

I’ve spent a lot of the past year shuffling up and down the west coast of the United States. Alaska has made those journeys both pleasant and easy on the wallet. Why? In-flight wifi, 30 minute baggage delivery guarantee and $50 upgrades plus 2 free checked bags (because of my MVP Gold status).

Most Disappointing Airlines: Virgin Atlantic

I flew Virgin Atlantic long haul from Cape Town to Heathrow in December. It was fine. Just fine. I don’t get the cult like following. The crew was very friendly, but the cabin was old and I found the lighting “too Serbian disco.”

Most Surprising: Fiji Airways

Fiji Airways had great cabin design and the right touch of South Pacific charm. The crew also knows you want to sleep from LAX to Nadi.

Best National Park Visited: Haleakalā National Park on Maui

I saw some spectacular sunrises in 2014. The most memorable was the sunrise at Haleakalā on the Hawaiian island of Maui, but the pastel sunrises of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast were also incredible.

Purple sunset in Punta Mita

Best Sunsets: Punta Mita, Mexico.

The most vivid hues come after the sun dips, and this purple sunset I caught overlooking the Mita Mary boat at the St. Regis Punta Mita mid-November was one for the history books. Check out more of my Punta Mita sunsets here.

After dark at Rome’s Colosseum

Two of my favorite travel memories of 2014 came from evenings I almost did not go out, but rallied.

In Rome, I bumped into my social media friend, luxury travel agent and affable Aussie Brent Wallace of Where Brent’s Been on Instagram. We realized we were both in Rome and decided to meet up for a drink. Sharing a spur of the moment cocktail with him at the bar at the Palazzo Manfredi was one of the highlights of my trip to the Italian capital. Palazzo Manfredi’s General Manager, Bruno Papaleo was also a delight to meet. If you don’t stay at Palazzo Manfredi, make a point to get a meal at their rooftop restaurant, Aroma.

Moonlit Colosseum

I wandered around the Colosseum after my drink with Brent and shot these images. They are some of my favorite photographs of 2014.

Young lovers in Rome

Best Food: Paris

I ate well in 2014. But I ate exceptionally well in Paris. Perhaps my favorite meal was the one I had at L’Escailler du Bistrot. The truth is, I almost skipped it because I was too full from previous meals. I went anyway because I liked the people I was traveling with and meeting there. Turns out a few of them also almost skipped this one. We’re all glad we did not. Once again, I’m glad I rallied.

The shellfish tower at L’Ecailler du Bistrot in Paris

Left: tapas at L’avant Comptoir Right: Empty oysters

I also had a memorable meal of tapas while standing at the bar at L’Avant Comptoir, which I preferred to it’s fancier sister restaurant, Le Comptoir.

Enjoying wine at the bar at L’Avant Comptoir

Favorite US City Visited in 2014: Nashville

I did not see this one coming either.

I first flew to Nashville in January to visit a friend who moved there. She showed me the town and I shot it for a HipStop: Nashville piece. I fell for it’s charm, genuine warmth and music scene. I told my husband I wanted him to come visit when we could see a concert at the Ryman Auditorium. We had the opportunity when we scored two tickets to the Foo Fighters Sonic Highways show at the Ryman on Halloween. Once again, I really enjoyed the city.

Nashville’s hipster bowling alley: Pinewood Social

Left: the view from a honky tonk Right: The photo booth at the Crying Wolf

The view from behind the mic at the Ryman Auditorium

In addition to flourishing foodie scene, Nashville has the best bathroom I visited in 2014: The Men’s Room at the Oak Bar.

Sometimes you have to have photo shoot in a bathroom. This was one of those times (photo by Rebecca Adler)

Best US Hotel: The Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California

Hot tub steam + Pacific Coast Sunset at the Post Ranch Inn

I took a solo trip to Big Sur in February and stayed at the Post Ranch Inn. It was a great trip and the view from the hot tub of the sunset was sublime and paired nicely with a glass of the California Pinot Noir they had in the mini-bar. The Post Ranch Inn is everything I love in a non-chain hotel, and luxurious but not over-the-top.

The fireplace adds warmth at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn

The organic beauty and indoor/outdoor living vibe of the Post Ranch Inn made it my favorite U.S. Hotel room of 2014.

Favorite work assignment: Shooting Port Antonio, Jamaica for the Snap Magazine.

I’ve wanted to learn more about the recording scene in the Caribbean since I first saw the Police dancing around in an Antigua recording studio in the video for Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. It was a dream come true to shoot Port Antonio, Jamaica and Gee Jam studios for the #music issue of Snap.

You can read it here: HipStop: Port Antonio, Jamaica

River cruise down the Rio Grande with Pablo

Port Antonio is just logistically undesirable enough to keep it really, really special. If you don’t have a chance to visit it real life, I suggest checking out Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode on Jamaica.

Left: lunch on the Rio Grande Right: a baby on Boston Beach

Portrait of Dickie, proprietor of Dickie’s Best Kept Secret

Left: sea splash into the pool at the Trident in Port Antonio Right: Mid-century glam at the Trident

I enjoyed Port Antonio so much I both extended my trip and immediately planned a return visit with my husband.

Best Vacation of 2014: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia

I’ll go into more detail about my stay at Hoanib in January. It was so special I thought it was unwise to publish the posts about a place that affected me so strongly during the holidays, when blog posts often get lost in the holiday shuffle.

The roaring dunes of Namibia

Besides the surreal beauty of Hoanib’s desert landscape, the staff at Hoanib, especially guide Emms, were excpetionally warm and friendly.

When I showed my guide, Emms, the December 2014 cover of Conde Nast Traveler, featuring a cover story on Hoanib and a picture of an elephant, he said, “Oh, that’s Papa G. I guided that photographer. He had a really big lens.”

Emms’ words at once proved him confident enough to deliver  magazine cover shot worthy wildlife spotting, yet put me at ease for having inferior lenses. The images I shot during my stay at Hoanib– both of it’s elephants and  the immense stretches of uninhabited sand dunes– are probably my favorite travel memories of 2014.

Pink morning skies at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

Exploring the roaring dunes of Nambia

Elephants visiting the watering hole (captured on my iPhone 6)

Letting air out of the tires before exploring the Skeleton Coast’s Roaring Dunes

I look forward to sharing more of my experiences in the Seychelles and Namibia with My Life’s a Trip readers in the new year.

Much thanks for all of you who came along with me both in real life and virtually. I look forward to whatever travel adventures 2015 has in store.

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Retro 70s Aviation Fun: The Pan Am Experience at Air Hollywood

One of the lovely stewardesses aboard The Pan Am experience at Air Hollywood

Since I flew over 100,000 miles in 2014, it might seem a bit odd that I spent one of my non-flight evenings aboard a fake flight to nowhere.

My boarding pass for the Pan Am Experience

But it’s not every night you get a chance to “relive the magic of flying onboard a luxurious Pan Am 747” circa the glory days of air travel, even if it’s in a soundstage in Pacoima.

My friend, Mike, rocking 70s polyester slacks, outside Air Hollywood studios

Fortunately Air Hollywood offers the Pan Am Experience a few times a year and I had a few aviation geek friends willing to join me. Upon arriving at Air Hollywood, you’re greeted with a mockup of the LAX sign and a red carpet for “boarding” the event.

Left: red carpet at the boarding gate Right: getting ready to board the Juan T. Trippe

Air Hollywood is an aviation-themed movie studio. They have standing sets of plane interiors and mock ups that get rented out for filming feature films, television shows, commercials, and music videos. This is where you’ll find the plane from Lost and the cabin from Bridesmaids. Check out this list of projects shot at Air Hollywood.

My friends boarding the Juan T. Trippe for the Pan Am Experience

The Pan Am experience is 70s themed. So I channeled my inner Sharon Tate and had my hair teased with so much hair spray I might have been flammable. There is a dress code for the event, since Pan Am customers did not fly with full size pillows and pajama pants that say PINK across the bottom.

Checking in for the Pan Am Experience

Once you’ve checked in for the event, you get to relax and grab a cocktail in the Clipper Class Lounge, complete with a bar stocked with classic cocktails (Tom Collins anyone?) as well as modern faves.

left: enjoying a classic cocktail in the Clipper Lounge prior to boarding Right: Vintage Pan Am playing cards

There is a lot of really cool vintage Pan Am memorabilia on display. Once you board the plane, the evening gets a bit surreal. The crew gives you safety directions prior to fake take off. Once you’ve reached fake cruising altitude, the stewardesses serve Pan Am nuts and cocktails. This experience is just wacky enough that everyone loosens up and starts having a good time.

One of the Pan Am Experience stewardesses working the main deck

After a cocktail or two, you start to forget you’re on a fake plane. The whole experience is fun, unusual and a good time is had by both passengers and crew members alike. On the Main Deck, they show a documentary about Pan Am.

Here’s a time lapse video I made of the event from the Upper Deck:

Pan Am Experience Upper Deck Time Lapse Video

First glimpse of the Upper Deck

Next comes the meal service, which is better than actual airplane food but “airplane food inspired.” There’s shrimp cocktail and Heirloom tomato salad. For the entree, passengers have choice of roast chicken in peppercorn sauce, Chateaubriand tenderloin, or vegetarian pasta. I went for the beef since it seemed the most 70s.

Left: Meal service begins Right: shrimp cocktail appetizer

The whole event is an evening of retro aviation themed goodness.

Chateaubriand tenderloin with demi-glace sauce

The cheese and fruit card with Port wine for dessert

Some of the Pan Am Experience Crew

Air Hollywood Founder & CEO, Talaat Captan, was on hand to give us a tour of some of the other sets at Air Hollywood after our Pan Am Experience was finished.

Captain Anthony in the cockpit for the Pan Am Experience

Left: a standing set at Air Hollywood Right: a cabin set

The highlight of my evening was meeting Otto the Pilot from the film Airplane!.

Meeting Otto the Pilot from Airplane!

You can buy tickets for upcoming dates of the Pan Am Experience here. Even better, book out the entire plane for a unique private event or party.

The Pan Am Experience at Air Hollywood

13240 Weidner Street
Los Angeles, CA 91331
Phone: 818.890.0444
Fax: 818.890.7041

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Sunset Time Lapse in the Seychelles at Maia Luxury Resort

Obligatory feet-in-the-sand selfie

I recently spent a few days at Maia Luxury Resort. Located on a private peninsula on the west coast of Mahé island in the Seychelles, Maia Luxury Resort is surrounded by natural beauty including a private beach and the Indian Ocean.

Maia’s location is most gorgeous during the golden hour before sunset. The light is warm and the clouds take on pastel hues.

I made this time lapse using the TimeLapse app on my iPhone 6 using the sunrise & sunset preset:

Clouds at Sunset at Maia Luxury Resort, Mahé island, Seychelles Time Lapse

I still prefer using this app over the native time lapse feature on the iPhone 6 camera because it offers presets for situations like clouds, traffic, and sunrise/sunset and will shoot and speed up accordingly.

The private beach at Maia Luxury Resort

This gives me one less thing to think about so I could focus on dipping my toes in the warm waves of the Indian Ocean.

A friendly snail  I met in villa 208 at Maia Luxury resort

One tip for shooting sunset time lapse videos… don’t stop shooting as soon as the sun disappears. Let the camera run for a few minutes. Usually this is when you get the most vivid hues, and you can always trim the video if the afterglow is less than gorgeous.

Sunset stroll at Maia Luxury Resort, Seychelles

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The Last Bookstore: a Photo Essay from Downtown LA’s Bank District

Arches cut through books at the Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles

Good brick and mortar bookstores are few and far between these days. Fortunately Los Angeles has a few, including The Last Bookstore.

The Last Bookstore puts the crime section cleverly in a bank vault

The Last Bookstore combines two things I love: books and re-purposed buildings. Located in Downtown LA’s Old Bank District, The Last Bookstore is over 16,000 square feet of inspired space filled with books, records, and pop up galleries filled with the works of local artists. Best of all, it smells like books.

One section of the bookstore is organized by color of the book spines

The Crime section tucked away inside an old bank vault. There’s a section arranged by the color of the book spines. And there are plenty of nooks and crannies where you can grab a chair and read. 

Comfy seating chairs at The Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore has become a hot spot for everything from intellectual hipster weddings, holiday parties, and movie shoots (that steamy “library” sex scene in Gone Girl was shot here).

If you get a chance, check it out.

The Last Bookstore

453 S. Spring Street, ground floor
Downtown LA | 213.488.0599
Mon-Thurs: 10 AM-10 PM
Fri-Sat: 10 AM-11 PM
Sun: 10 AM-6 PM

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The Emirates First Experience… in GIFS

A smiling air hostess aboard an Emirates flight from DWF to DXB

I’ve flown a few legs on Emirates in First Class recently. Since nothing is going to top the video my husband and I made back in 2009, I needed to come up with another way to capture the experience.

The Emirates Flight Crew at DFW airport GIF

I thought it might be fun to do GIF post.

2004 Dom Perginon prior to take off GIF

I shot these images as stills on my iPhone 6 and then turned them into GIFS using the Giffer Pro App ($3.99)

Dates before take off on Emirates First

Emirates is known for hiring very attractive “brand ambassadors” as flight attendants. Here my husband enjoys one of the dates offered to Emirates First prior to take off.

Arabic coffee pour with a smile GIF

Small cups of arabic coffee are poured prior by an Emirates flight attendant. I love their I dream of Jeannie style hats. Giffer Pro also offers fun filters which help compensate for bad airplane light.

The Emirates First shuttle at Dubai International Airport

Giffer Pro also allows you to turn video into a GIF, like I did with the video I shot on my iPhone above.

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