The Last-Minute SPG and Marriott Merger Checklist
This is officially the final countdown before the Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards programs become one on this coming Saturday — August 18. The merger and integration process has been years in the making, and hopefully, you are already well prepared for the big transition coming this weekend. However, I can’t possibly be the only procrastinator that is still ticking off last-minute SPG and Marriott to-do items.
To help you (and me), here are some last-minute SPG and Marriott checklist items to be sure and complete as soon as possible…as in, get on this today.
Transfer Points Between Household Members
Marriott’s current rule on point transfers between members is that you can transfer 1,000 – 50,000 points per year to another member for a fee of $10, which is waived for Gold and Platinum elite members.
Starwood has a much more family-friendly policy that permits SPG Members who reside at the same address to transfer SPG points to each other without a yearly cap or fee in 1,000-point increments. SPG members must have shared the same residential mailing address on file for at least 30 days prior to requesting the points transfer.
Since we haven’t heard anything to the contrary, at this point, I’m betting that the policy in the new combined program is more similar to the current Marriott policy than the more generous SPG policy. If you want to combine points with a household member via the SPG site, I’d do that today.
The good news is that functionality is still live as of when I tested it this morning, the bad news is that transfers are not instant. This means you may not have the points moved from one account to another before the new combined program is live.
Last Call to Purchase SPG Points
I know lots of us have August 18 circled in red on our calendars to make bookings at high-end properties that are decreasing in award price. Being able to book St. Regis level properties in Maldives, Bora Bora, Al Maha, Kauai, Punta Mita, Manhattan and more for “just” 60,000 Marriott Rewards points per night is going to be exciting, but you need to have the points in place to grab that availability while it is (hopefully) still there.
If your combined SPG and Marriott point balance is short of what you need to book the stays you want, you can still purchase SPG points as of today. SPG allows you to purchase up to 30,000 points per year, which will convert to 90,000 Marriott Rewards points. Marriott only lets you purchase 50,000 points annually, which isn’t even enough for one night at those high-end properties.
The bad news is that SPG points are not discounted via a sale right now, so they are quite expensive at 3.5 cents each (the equivalent of 1.17 cents per Marriott point). That is cost-prohibitive in many situations, but if you are looking to book five nights and enjoy that fifth night free at a super high-end resort, it could be worth topping up to the 240,000 Marriott Rewards points you will need for that stay, factoring in that SPG points transfer to Marriott at a 3x ratio. For reference, Marriott Rewards points sell for 1.25 cents per point.
Be Careful Transferring Points Between SPG and Marriott
I may have made an error this morning trying to prepare my Marriott and Starwood accounts for this weekend. To get ahead of any potential tech integration problems that may or may not happen as they combine the programs, I transferred my SPG points into my Marriott Rewards account. I thought the transfer would be almost instant, as it had been in the past, but that was not exactly the case.
When my SPG points didn’t appear in my Marriott account within an hour, I asked other TPG staffers if they had also experienced a slow down in points transfers and there was a nerve-racking report of a recent transfer that took days. Yes, days. Before having a full-on panic attack that I just royally messed up my August 18 strategy, I checked the Marriott app. Thankfully, the points transfer was reflected in the Marriott app, though I don’t know how that plays into trying to book award stays.
Given all that, I would be very careful in transferring points right now from SPG to Marriott (or vice versa) as they may end up in Neverland for a period of time. Hopefully, that time period is just minutes or hours.
If you do decide to transfer SPG points to Marriott , you can do so by logging in to your SPG account, selecting “Redeem Starpoints”, then “More Options” and finally “Transfer Starpoints to Marriott Rewards”.
Month-Long Blackout Coming for Marriott Travel Certificates
While we are still guessing as to exactly what will become of the existing Marriott Vacation Travel Certificates, we do know that from August 18 to September 18, 2018, you will not be able to modify your certificates for existing reservations or use them to make a new reservation. In other words, these are your final few days to use a certificate for roughly the next month. We won’t learn exactly how the old certificates work in the new program until the new program is live.
Be Ready for August 18
If you haven’t already read our post on 6 Tasks To Complete Before Marriott and SPG Combine, head there next. That article talks about lifetime status, the full award chart for the combined programs, making Marriott Air + Travel Package purchases before they are devalued and identifying which properties to book before and after the August 18 pricing changes.
Hopefully, you have already done most of those tasks, and are now in the final stretch before the go-live date of the combined program. If so, you just need to prioritize which of those booking and rebooking tasks you hope to complete this weekend versus which can wait until later.
We know that Marriott hopes to have the new program up and running at some point on August 18, but we don’t know exactly when during the day. All systems will be down while they cut over, and we will be tweeting and posting through the day as functionality returns.
I recommend making an organized list of properties and dates you want to book as soon as the new program is live so you have all of that information in one place as soon as the hot high-end properties are available for fewer points than today. Repricing a stay at the Aloft Wichita for the new lower rate can perhaps wait until things are all ironed out later in the week, but if you want St. Regis Maldives for 60k points per night, I’d be ready this weekend with dates, back-up dates and points ready to rock and roll.
If you are running behind in prepping for the Marriott and SPG loyalty programs to become one this Saturday, you still have time, but you need to get busy right away in order to maximize your points and perks both before and after the August 18 cutover.
- 10 Marriott and SPG Properties Families Should Book Before Award Prices Skyrocket
- Crunching the Numbers on New Marriott Award Rates
- 60k Points to Book St. Regis Maldives, Bora Bora and More
Featured image courtesy of St. Regis Punta Mita
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August 16, 2018 at 11:01AM
“To My Younger Self”
Don’t cry so much. Don’t bite your mom’s nipples when you’re breastfeeding. Pee in the toilet. Grow teeth. Don’t hit your younger brother on the head with a hairbrush. Learn to read. A, B, C, etc. Practice. Don’t draw on yourself in black magic marker and walk around naked when your parents have friends over. Don’t tell your cousin about vampires. Don’t eat an entire thick paper magazine subscription card. Don’t throw your clothes in the bubble bath. Be confident in yourself.
Don’t tell your younger brother not to lick the pole when it’s freezing outside, because then he will do it—otherwise it never would have occurred to him. Don’t lie to your parents and say that a first-grader saw a mountain lion on the playground, causing your school to go on lockdown, and the secretary hid under her bulletproof desk in such a way that her butt stuck out. Don’t cry when the boys drop your elephant pencil into the hollow fence post in the alley. Tell someone what’s happening at school. Say “The boys are beating me up.” Say “I got a bloody nose because Parker threw me against the fence.”
Don’t lie to Lily and say that your parents got mad at you for letting her borrow money to buy a red tank top from Wet Seal, only because you’re jealous of how good her boobs look in it. Try to enjoy yourself with Jordan. When he calls you from college, say things other than complaints about your friends on the Mock Trial team making backhanded comments.
Don’t die. There’s no reason to. Why would you die? Be confident in yourself. With age you’ll learn that you shouldn’t. You’ll like being alive. You’ll look back at your younger, dead self and say, “She’s so beautiful. She didn’t know what she had.”
Don’t haunt Jordan. What did Jordan ever do to you, besides say that he wanted to “pursue other friendships,” a.k.a. “date other women,” the night before you flew to Morocco by yourself? I feel like it would be healthier not to apologize to him when you run into him at Grand Army Plaza. Like, maybe the apology led to regrets and desires to haunt him.
Don’t roam the earth looking for your wishbone necklace. It’s probably somewhere between the floorboards of Corey’s studio. Though maybe not, because he keeps the floorboards so clean, and you only met him a short time before your death. Don’t howl and moan, making gusts blow and trash fly and beams shake. I know it was a nice, simple necklace, of a flattering length on your clavicle, but wasn’t it only $30? And could you even wear it anymore?
Don’t lie beside Jordan and his new girlfriend, watching them sleep, imbuing their bed with a subtle chill, making them alternatingly get up to close the window, only to discover that the window isn’t open. Don’t breathe on the blankets, covering them with a frost imperceptible in the darkness. Don’t fall asleep yourself on their floor like they’re your parents and later wake up to the smell of coffee and the echoes of a podcast.
As your mom waits for the train in Penn Station, reading the Times on her phone, held up close to her face, her eyes narrow and her hand tucked neatly beneath her black purse, sit beside her if the seat is free. Slide your fingers between the strands of her long hair until she closes her eyes blissfully, no matter how terrifying the article she’s reading is. When she’s replanting the azalea bush, barely sweating, because she never sweats—unlike you, before you were ectoplasm—try not to weep. It won’t make a difference, and you never know when she’ll catch a sense of your grief.
You will fly next to Corey as he rides his bike across the Brooklyn Bridge, something you could never do when you still had solid legs. That’s O.K. You will perch on his desk at work and poke him in the ribs so he yelps and his co-worker looks over from a solitaire game. You will sit on his chair and wrap your legs around him like a barnacle on his body, and when he gets up, you won’t slide down to the floor. Instead you will hover. You could follow him into the men’s room, but maybe you’re feeling lazy. You will sit on his bookshelf when he’s doing calisthenics in his studio, in shorts and no shirt, making loud, audible exhalations. You will spoon him every night. When he’s cooking, you will hand him things. You will make sure the stove is off. When he’s thinking, “What was that called?” you will shout the answer into the studio in your loudest phantom voice. You will wish he could hear you, even if he still says that you gave fake apologies. You will ride in the passenger’s seat as he is driving home, but, just in time, you’ll switch to the couch in his studio so you can remember what it was like to see him walk through the door.
And then one day you’ll know you have to release your tight grip on phantasmagoric consciousness, and when you do, you’ll float up into the ether—or is it down? Or sideways? Are you spinning or tumbling? Are you moving or staying still? Is it infinitely large or infinitely nonexistent? And what would the difference be? And would you be O.K. with not remembering enough to miss it all, to miss them all, to miss yourself?
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August 16, 2018 at 10:10AM
Erdoğan, Trump, and the Strongman Politics Devastating Turkey’s Economy
The usually bustling open market in the Kadıköy district of Istanbul was half full on Sunday. Shop owners had increased their prices twenty per cent over the past two weeks. The cost of a package of eggs had risen by fifty per cent in a week; the price of bananas imported from Latin America had doubled. Aynur Keskin, a homemaker with two school-aged children, bought a few items and shook her head, dismayed at the rising inflation, a result of the country’s ailing economy and the plummeting Turkish lira. “I was thinking of going abroad for a holiday, but that’s a dream now,” she told me.
Mesüt Taşkıran, the owner of a Kadıköy grocery store, told me he has started hoarding money and limiting his personal spending. “If things continue to go higher, we might have to shut down,” he said, referring to his shop.
For years the Turkish economy has been on a downward spiral, due to burgeoning international debt and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policy of keeping interest rates artificially low. In the last several weeks, a dispute between Erdoğan and President Donald Trump has accelerated a drop in the value of the Turkish lira, which fell to a record low on Monday of 7.24 to the dollar. (A year ago, a dollar could buy three and a half lira; two years ago, three). By the end of the day Wednesday the value had rebounded slightly, but investors, business leaders, and Turkish government officials still feared that the economy might crash.
In the past decade, Turkey’s growing economy attracted a flood of foreign investment. But recent diplomatic rifts between Turkey and the West, declining tourism, and Erdoğan’s authoritarian consolidation of power—which was cemented in June elections that granted him sultan-like powers—caused many investors to pull out and sell off their Turkish debt, slowing the economy’s pace and accelerating inflation. Debt in foreign currencies, most of it in dollars, now represents around seventy per cent of the Turkish economy. American investors now own more than fifty per cent of publicly traded Turkish stocks, according to the Institute of International Finance. “The government’s policies have caused the problems,” Yüksel Gönül, an employee at a dairy store, told me. “But we are the victims.”
Erdoğan and Trump have been exchanging public taunts—and economic sanctions—over Turkey’s two-year imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical American missionary accused of espionage, links to terrorist groups, and involvement in the failed Turkish coup in 2016. Brunson, who faces up to thirty-five years in prison, has denied the charges.
On July 25th, Turkey moved Brunson to house arrest, a concession that Trump deemed inadequate. The following day, in a tweet, Trump announced that “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.” A week later, he implemented sanctions against Turkey’s justice and interior ministers, freezing their U.S. assets and barring them from doing business with American citizens. Turkey responded by sanctioning the officials’ American counterparts, before Trump announced, on Friday, in another tweet, that the U.S. would be doubling its tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum.
Turkish analysts told me that Trump’s tweets enraged Erdoğan and his aides, and even offended Turkey’s opposition parties, most of which bitterly opposed Erdoğan in the June election, to the extent that they sided with the government against Trump. Erdoğan, in a defiant speech addressing an assembly of foreign ambassadors, said, “The bullies of the global system cannot roughly, shamelessly encroach on our gains that were paid for by blood.” On Tuesday, Erdoğan announced boycotts of U.S.-made electronics, and urged Turkey’s eighty million citizens to stop buying iPhones in particular, calling Trump’s sanctions against Turkey an “explicit economic attack.” The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, during a concurrent visit to Turkey, accused the Trump Administration of using “sanctions, threats, blackmail, and diktat” against Turkey, Russia, and Iran. In an Op-Ed published in the Times on Friday, Erdoğan wrote that “Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives,” perhaps hinting at an alliance with Russia. “Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.”
Elmira Bayrasli, a professor of international affairs at Bard College, told me that both Presidents were trying appear strong to their core supporters at home. “What you’re seeing right now is Donald Trump using any opportunity to show his leadership ability and his sense of power. Erdoğan’s doing the same thing that Donald Trump is doing—scoring cheap political points,” Bayrasli told me. “Erdoğan’s a shrewd politician. He has a pulse on the Middle East, and the mood is people are tired of being pushed around by the West, especially [amid] the growing anti-Islamism since 9/11.” Matthew Bryza, a former American diplomat and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, who now lives in Turkey, said that, following the NATO summit in Brussels, in early July, Trump and Erdoğan “were very close to an agreement.” But, after Erdoğan placed Brunson under house arrest instead of releasing him, “the U.S. side lost patience.”
Brunson has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, doing missionary work and running an evangelical church in the coastal city of Izmir. He was detained on charges of being linked to both Fethullah Gülen, an elderly Islamist cleric, living in exile in Pennsylvania, whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the failed coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., a separatist group that has battled Turkish forces in the country’s southeast for nearly thirty-five years. Erdoğan has repeatedly demanded that Gülen be extradited to Turkey, but the Obama and Trump Administrations, in concert with the Justice Department, have said that Turkey’s evidence against him is insufficient.
In Brunson’s indictment, two unidentified witnesses, code-named “Fire” and “Prayer,” claim that Brunson was proselytizing Christianity to members of the P.K.K., so that they could receive asylum in the West. He was found to be in contact with members of the Gülen network, and expressed displeasure, in a text message to a friend in Canada, that the coup had failed. Brunson was also accused of holding regular meetings with members of the American military at Incirlik Air Base, in southern Turkey. In a court appearance, on April 16th, Brunson claimed innocence, saying that he simply wants to “do Jesus’s work.” “I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for twenty-five years,” he said. “I want truth to come out.”
Turkish officials have expressed surprised at how important Brunson is to the Trump Administration, considering that several other Americans, including the NASA engineer Serkan Gölge, are also jailed in Turkey. Turkish officials suspect that Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, who have strong political support from evangelical Christians in the U.S., believe that Brunson’s release could increase Republican voter turnout in the midterm elections in November. “Given the highly visible role of Vice-President Pence, the Turks believe there was a political calculation about garnering more of the evangelical vote,” Bryza said.
The result has been a standoff that has further impacted Turkey’s ailing economy. Atilla Yeşilada, an economist in Istanbul with the financial-consulting company GlobalSource Partners, said that the dispute allows Erdoğan to blame the U.S. for his government’s failing economic policies, which includes appointing his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, a former corporate executive who became a member of parliament in 2015, as the financial and treasury minister last month, a move which resulted in Moody’s and other agencies further lowering Turkey’s credit rating. “People raise their fists at the U.S.,” Yeşilada, who had predicted that the financial crisis would worsen because of the Turkish economy’s dependence on imports, said. “Almost everything has an import component in Turkey. Turkey cannot close the doors on the world like Iran. We depend on the world.”
Meanwhile, Erdoğan has called on the citizenry to trade in their dollars for lira (“to protect the honor of the Turkish lira”), and the Central Bank has restricted sales of foreign currencies. In the Kadıköy market, as in the city at large, businesses continue to close, including the local outpost of the Turkish electronic department store Bimeks. Serhat Yıldız, a forty-eight-year-old manager, said that the chain has shuttered a hundred and thirty-eight stores in the last two years, as business has declined. “Everybody who’s buying in dollars and selling in Turkish liras will be affected,” he told me. “A lot of people are going to lose their jobs.”
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August 16, 2018 at 10:10AM
Update: California Fires: What Travelers Need to Know
It’s been a record-setting year for wildfires in California, especially Northern California. Among three major blazes, one threatened Yosemite National Park and another became the largest in state history.
The Ferguson Fire was centered near Yosemite, which reopened Tuesday, welcome news in a state that generates $132 billion in travel spending.
“The fires affected about 700,000 acres of the 100 million acres in California,” said Caroline Beteta, the president and chief executive of Visit California, the state tourism office. “That’s less than one percent, largely in national forests with no tourism infrastructure.”
Following are updates on three major fires near popular tourist areas. Because conditions continue to change, visitors can check the fire map, which is frequently updated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, for information including road closures.
On Tuesday, Yosemite reopened its tourist hub, Yosemite Valley, where two famed rock formations, Half Dome and El Capitan, are visible. In the south end of the park, the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees reopened Monday.
“Everything the everyday tourist would be looking to do, they can do again,” said Laura Wattles, a spokeswoman for the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.
Lodging in the park also reopened, though the Victorian-era Big Trees Lodge near the Mariposa Grove will remain closed until Aug. 30. Aramark, the company that manages the hotel, has stated that anyone with a reservation during the closure will have their deposit refunded.
Even as its quells and air conditions improve, authorities expect the forest to continue to smolder, creating lingering smoke. The federally run Wildfire Air Quality Response Program forecasts moderate conditions for most of the park except for Yosemite Village. There, air quality is rated as between moderate and unhealthy, according to the site. It recommends that sensitive travelers reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.
The gateway communities around the park have started a social media campaign, using the hashtag #YosemiteNOW to show current conditions, and, said Ms. Wattles, “cool off some of the major headlines that could make people needlessly shy away from the destination.”
Sixty-seven percent contained as of Wednesday, the Carr Fire near Redding in northern Shasta County covers over 207,000 acres, including sections of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. In addition to many homes, it burned Whiskeytown National Recreation Area on Whiskeytown Lake, which is now closed indefinitely. Cal Fire has not predicted a containment date.
The area’s lakes, including Shasta and Trinity Lakes, are popular outdoor destinations for camping, hiking and boating. Most of the region’s tourist attractions, including Lassen Volcanic National Park, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, home to 129-foot Burney Falls, and Castle Crags State Park, with 6,000-foot granite spires, remain open.
Some areas closer to the fire, including Mount Shasta and Redding, are experiencing unhealthy smoke levels.
“We’re limiting the physical activity we do outside,” said Laurie Baker, the chief executive of Visit Redding and the Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, the tourism group covering eight of California’s northeastern counties. “Where we might go on a four-hour hike, we’re waiting, most of us, until September. By then the air quality should be fine.”
The largest fire in state history, according to Cal Fire, the Ranch fire in northern Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties covers over 314,000 acres, most of it in Mendocino National Forest. It is 64 percent contained and still threatening Lake Pillsbury, where residents have been evacuated. Together with the smaller, fully contained River Fire nearby, it is also known as the Mendocino Complex fire, now nearly 364,000 acres.
Despite that name, much of the fire is in Lake County, home to Clear Lake, a popular bass-fishing destination and the largest natural lake in the state (the larger Lake Tahoe is shared with Nevada). About 110 miles northeast of San Francisco, it is a popular destination for boating, fishing and an emerging wine industry distinguished by sauvignon blanc.
“A good part of the Ranch Fire is in the wilderness area that does not impact our small communities,” said Melissa Fulton, the chief executive of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce. Those include small towns and resorts around the lake.
The smoke outlook for much of the area remains moderate.
West of Lake County, Mendocino County is best known for its rugged coastline, part of California’s so-called Lost Coast, home to redwood forests and wineries. The county is roughly 4,000 square miles with a relatively sparse population of about 88,0000. The fire area is roughly 80 miles east of Mendocino, the popular coastal town.
“Our battle has been to remind people that Mendocino is a huge area and this is nowhere near anything visitors might encounter,” said Alison de Grassi, director of marketing and media for Visit Mendocino County, the county tourism board. “There are no walls of flame to drive through.”
Cal Fire predicts full containment of the Ranch Fire by Sept. 1.
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August 16, 2018 at 10:09AM
36 Hours: 36 Hours in Istria
Spend enough time on this verdant peninsula and someone will tell you: “I have a friend here who has lived in four different countries and never moved.” A 100-year-old Istrian, for example, would be able to say that she was born in Austro-Hungary (which ended in 1918), came of age when Istria was part of Italy (until 1947), spent most of her adult years as a Yugoslavian, and, finally, starting in 1991, became Croatian.
This peninsula in the northern Adriatic is made up of about 90 percent Croatian territory (the rest is Slovenian with a tiny sliver going to Italy). Istria may be a microcosm of 20th-century southeastern European history, but it’s also a magical, 21st-century playground for those who like sun, beaches, hill towns, Roman ruins, local wine, truffles and top-notch dining. Italophiles will feel at home here as most of the population is still bilingual, speaking Italian and Croatian. The stunning seaside towns of Rovinj, Porec and Pula may attract most visitors but the inland medieval hill towns of Motovun and Groznjan and their artsy communities and restaurants serving truffle-laden pasta dishes are certainly worth a visit.
1. 3 p.m. AN AFTERNOON BEER SOAK
When the San Servolo brewery first began producing beer, or pivo, in 2013, little did anyone know that people would be soaking in it five years later. The newly opened San Servolo Resort and Beer Spa, next to the brewery, just outside the hilltop town of Buje, offers guests and non-guests the chance to have a 45-minute soak in hoppy beer while drinking unlimited amounts of lager from the bathtub-side tap. For this reason, it might be a good idea to book a room at the hotel. After a beer bath, spa guests can sweat it out in the sauna or go for a swim in the pool (which is filled with water, not beer). The spa (including the beer bath) is 525 kuna for guests (or about $82), 700 kuna for non-guests.
2) 6:30 p.m. ON THE ROCKS
Hidden down some steps on the southern side of Rovinj’s Old Town is Valentino, a cocktail bar that mostly attracts a foreign clientele. The appeal here is that seating is on lounge chair cushions situated on rocks just above the Adriatic Sea. Add some cocktails and you’ve got a recipe for possible disaster. Yet once you take in the view and ambience, you’ll be happy to pay more than you like for a drink. The average drink — the Aperol spritz is very popular here — costs 90 kuna. Steer clear of the recommendations of the servers who have a proclivity for voluntarily recommending some of the most expensive options on the drinks list.
3) 8 p.m. MONTE-ASTIC
It’s no surprise that Croatia’s first Michelin star was awarded to a restaurant in Istria. There’s the Italian influences in various pasta dishes, and the longtime emphasis here on local, artisanal products (long before it became fashionable). Monte, in the Old Town of Rovinj, is proud of its star. The restaurant makes its own olive oil (a few miles away, near the Lim fjord), and sends out creative Italian and Istrian-inflected dishes from one of three multicourse options that might include Adriatic tuna tartar, oxtail and lobster dumplings, and fennel ice cream. Most of the wines from the excellent list are from Istria. Six courses are 849 kuna, not including wine.
4) 9 a.m. TRUFFLE HUNT
Croatia, specifically Istria, wasn’t always on the truffle map. Italians from Piedmont would cross over the border to buy white truffles from Istrians, then quietly transport them back to northern Italy to sell them as “Italian.” But all that changed on Nov. 2, 1999, when a local Croatian truffle hunter, Giancarlo Zigante, and his dog, Diana, unearthed a nearly three-pound white truffle, at the time the biggest one ever found. Suddenly, the world was aware that the prized white truffle could be found — and purchased for much cheaper prices — in Istria. Get a taste of these white truffles and go on a truffle hunt at Prodan Tartufi, near the town of Buzet, where the Prodan family and their dogs take visitors on an hourlong hunt and then cook up a truffle-laden meal that includes truffles with eggs, truffles with sausages, truffles with cheese, and more truffles. The experience and meal costs about 475 kuna a person.
5) 1 p.m. SLOW LUNCH
Housed in a 600-year-old former olive mill at what is basically a countryside intersection, the 17-seat Toklarija is one of the great Istrian dining experiences. The eccentric chef and owner, Nevio Sirotic, puts the “slow” in “slow food,” with lunches lasting for three or more hours. But the rustic, fireplace-lit dining room invites you to stay a while. Sirotic sources nearly all his ingredients locally, including in the restaurant’s back garden. The multicourse meal might, depending on the season, include dishes such as wild asparagus salad, prosciutto-filled ravioli, and a super-slow-roasted suckling pig that is so tender you can leave your knife on the table. They don’t take walk-ins, so reservations are a must, as they only prepare enough food for diners they’re expecting that day. The six-course tasting menu is 450 kuna.
6) 4 p.m. THE ART OF THE STROLL
Groznjan still has an abandoned feel to it. After World War II, many of this hill town’s longtime residents fled for Italy, leaving few inhabitants. By the late 1960s, artists and bohemian types had settled in. Today the charmingly ramshackle village, with its chunky cobblestone lanes, is crammed with galleries. At Galerija Il Punto, the artists Gordana Kuzina and Edvard Kuzina Matei sell their handmade jewelry and paintings of local land and seascapes (including images of Groznjan). “We moved here 15 years ago to sell our work,” Mr. Kuzina Matei said. “We couldn’t afford Zagreb anymore so we settled here and love it.” Galerija Gasspar sells the work of several local artists, including Burhan Hadzialjevic’s intriguing, otherworldly glass sculptures and bronze and stone sculptures by the English-born local artist Gail Morris.
7) 6 p.m. GETTING MEDIEVAL
Just 10 miles across the lush Mirna River Valley from Groznjan sits Motovun, possibly the most picturesque hill town on the peninsula and the birthplace of the racecar driver Mario Andretti. The diminutive walled town is mostly filled with shops selling local products but it’s a delightful pit stop to walk the medieval walls (20 kuna) and pick up some local products. Try OPG Vivoda, just before the town gate, a small shop run by the family of the same name who produce olive oil (one liter bottles for 110 kuna) and herb-infused brandy called travarica on their nearby farm (one liter bottles cost 130 kuna).
8) 8:30 p.m. ISTRIAN SUSHI
Celebrating its 20th year in 2018, Damir i Ornella, in the seaside town of Novigrad, is one of the great Istrian dining experiences. The menu focuses mostly on crudo. Damir works the front room, carving up raw branzino and de-shelling scallops at a tableside cart and then sprinkling the just-pulled-from-the-sea morsels with local olive oil, squirts of lemon and dashes of salt and pepper before serving. Ornella is in the kitchen cooking up the occasional seafood-laced pasta dish. The menu changes daily based on what their fishermen catch that morning. The five-course tasting menu at this seven-table spot starts at 500 kuna a person before wine.
9) 9 a.m. BEACH BLANKET BABYLON
Hit the beach in Pula. Saccorgiana, south of the city center, is a quiet cove beach. The pebbly beach — you won’t find any sand strands around here — is more comfortable than it seems for sunbathing. There’s also a waterside trampoline, and Zeppelin Beach Bar, for beer, wine and soft drinks. The free parking near the beach is also a plus.
10) 12:30 p.m. FISHERMAN’S LUNCH
Set on a pleasant marina in the old fishing village of Fazana, about five miles north of Pula, Stara Konoba is good place to sit outside and watch the boats rock and the fisherman walk by. The Old Tavern, as it’s translated, has a menu that leans toward the sea, as one would expect. Grilled sardines, fried calamari, fish soup and pastas sprinkled with clams, mussels and shrimp are menu standouts. Expect to pay about 250 kuna a person for lunch.
11) 2:30 p.m. THE OTHER COLOSSEUM
There’s more than one reason to drive out to Pula at the southern tip of the peninsula but you really only need one: the first-century A.D. Roman arena is the world’s sixth largest ancient Roman amphitheater of the more than the 200 that still exist, once holding more than 20,000 gladiator-loving spectators. Its sibling in Rome may inspire more oohs and ahs because of its size and majesty but Pula arena’s exterior ring is still fully enclosed. The entrance fee is 50 kuna. Elsewhere, the well-preserved 2,000-year-old Temple of Augustus and other ruins of Rome are scattered throughout the town. Another reason you might visit Pula: It’s home to Istria’s main commercial airport.
Hotel Lone (Luje Adamovića 31, Rovinj; hotellone.com; doubles from 1,400 kuna), a 248-room property whose past life was a drab Communist-era hotel. But the talented Croatian architecture firm 3LHD got ahold of it in 2011 and transformed the property into one of the sleekest spots to lay one’s head in the country, adding clean lines and modern art installations. Some rooms have private hot tubs on balconies. Lone (pronounced Loh-nay) is about a 15-minute walk from the center of Rovinj.
Meneghetti (Stancija Menegeti 1, Bale; www.meneghetti.hr; doubles from 1,400 kuna), is an old homestead set on 30 acres (much of which are vineyards for the property’s own wine) down an unpaved road. The nine rustic rooms and 15 suites have ceiling beams, antique furniture and wine refrigerators.
Villa Tuttorotto (Dvor Massatto 4, Rovinj; villatuttorotto.com; doubles from 740 kuna) is a seven-room hotel smack in the center of Rovinj’s compact Old Town. Service is attentive and warm and most rooms have a view of the sea.
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August 16, 2018 at 10:09AM
Travel Tips: How to Enjoy a Ski Destination When It’s Not Ski Season
Vail, Colo., Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Park City, Utah, may all be mainstay skiing destinations, but trips to their resorts — or those in any other ski spot in the United States for that matter — shouldn’t be confined to ski season. Pamela Lenci, general manager of Caldera House, a new hotel in Jackson Hole, said that top ski locales offer plenty of diversions in the summer and fall, too.
“You can have just as much fun without hitting the slopes,” she said. Here are some of her best tips to enjoy those ski destinations when the slopes aren’t covered in snow.
Hit the Slopes — by Hiking
Ski resorts are a hiker’s haven, according to Ms. Lenci, with dozens of possible treks ranging from easy to strenuous. The slopes that are so much fun when covered in snow are great to explore when the ground is bare, and many resorts even offer hiking tours off-season. Your hotel’s concierge or the local tourist office will be able to give you a list, along with maps, of all of your options.
And there’s beautiful scenery in store for those willing to hit the trail: “You’ll walk through an abundance of colorful wildflowers,” Ms. Lenci said. “They’re a stunning sight.” While you’re up in the hills, she recommended enjoying lunch at a mountain restaurant and then saving your knees by taking a gondola or tram back down, a perk that many ski resorts offer to hikers in the spring and summer.
Take to the Water
The melted snow in ski areas fills streams and rivers with an abundance of water. For off-season visitors, this means that white water rafting, paddle boarding, swimming and float rides all become possible, and even enticing.
Check with your hotel, online at sites like TripAdvisor or a local tourism board’s website for local operators that offer these activities. Don’t forget to research the operator as well, just to make sure they have a good safety record.
Grab a Pole and Cast a Line
Ms. Lenci said that many ski resorts in the United States are in areas with amazing fly fishing in the off season. Snake River, in Jackson Hole, for example, is one of the most renowned fly fishing spots in North America. “You don’t have to have any technical skills to go fly fishing,” Ms. Lenci said. “It’s a relaxing sport that anyone can do.” Best of all, during the spring and summer, local outdoors shops and resorts even offer everything you need to go fly fishing, available to purchase or rent by the day.
Go on a Wildlife Tour
Unlike the winter, wildlife is replete in ski destinations come summer and fall, with high chances of spotting herds of antelope, bison, moose, elk, deer and big horn. You may even get a glimpse of a bear, just don’t get too close.
You can get sightings while out on walks, hikes and bike rides, but a wildlife viewing tour — usually led by a park ranger or naturalist — is another way to see and learn more about the local ecosystem.
Try New Outdoor Adventures
In addition to hiking, the mountains beckon when it’s not time to ski with activities like horseback riding, climbing, biking and ATV rides up dirt roads. Many resorts and parks even offer these activities as destination events during the off season. “There’s actually more to do than during ski season,” Ms. Lenci said.
See the Skies and the Stars
Isolated from city lights and light pollution, large, often-remote ski destinations in the United States are generally some of the best places in the United States to see the stars.
Many hotels, including Caldera House, have star gazing experiences for guests complete with telescopes, wine and blankets to keep warm from the cool mountain breeze.
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August 16, 2018 at 10:09AM
How Your Brain Morphs Stressful Family Vacations Into Pleasant Memories
In 2015, my husband and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for our annual family vacation with our energetic son, who was then 8. There were no mishaps or disasters, but my husband and I spent most of our time bickering and stressed out.
Maybe it was the fact that we two born-and-raised Floridians were out of our element visiting 30-degree Washington in December. It could have been that we planned hours of walking, sightseeing and museum-hopping with no downtime. It went exactly as planned but it wasn’t exactly fun.
But as we sat in the airport awaiting our flight back to the Florida sunshine, all we could talk about was how we couldn’t wait to go on another vacation.
We somehow had transformed a stressful experience into a great memory. How do parents do this to ourselves?
“We have two ‘selves,’” explained Dr. Omar Sultan Haque, a Harvard University psychiatrist and social scientist. “The experiencing self and the remembered self. In the midst of vacation stresses, we may be stressed and annoyed by family and children and the indignities of bureaucratic travel, but the remembered self easily turns nausea into nostalgia.”
Even though we think of vacation as a time to relax and recharge, traveling with children comes with a certain level of difficulty. It takes stamina, financial commitment and time.
The memories, however, are typically positive because of the value we infuse into the experience. “We tend to think of these kinds of experiences on the pleasure/pain level, but really, giving a child the gift of a vacation is more on the meaning/moral plane,” Dr. Haque said. The uninterrupted time together ideally allows for sharing new experiences, great conversations and laughter. These are the moments that have parents planning the next trip.
Still, most parents would love to enjoy more of the vacation in the moment rather than wait for the remembered self to kick in. Some small changes go a long way.
“Kids like sameness, security and feeling safe,” said Dr. Suanne Kowal-Connelly, a pediatrician in Freeport, N.Y. “Sometimes trips feel rushed and scary. The plane or car is claustrophobic, parents are typically exhausted and cranky, and the accommodations are beautiful, but they aren’t home.”
Dr. Kowal-Connelly suggested mitigating major stressors before the trip begins. “Plan flight or travel more in tune with your kids’ biological clocks,” she said. A red-eye might be cheaper, but is it worth the chaos of a tired toddler?
Additionally, make it a point to give children undivided attention while traveling. Plan games that you can do together as a family while on your flight or in the car.
[Read more about better family vacations in our guide, How to Travel With Children.]
Just as you think ahead to pack snacks to help keep your kids’ moods stable, you can also anticipate ways to keep your own equilibrium balanced. If you are determined to have the perfect family vacation, you may feel a disproportionate level of distress when things go wrong.
“One way to bring expectations down to a reasonable level is to consider how we think and talk about the trip ahead of time,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College. “If parents position a vacation as ‘the best trip ever,’ then they are setting expectations really high and it won’t take much to be disappointed.”
Small hiccups like bad weather, an afternoon temper tantrum or an unplanned museum closure can be a letdown, but if expectations are reasonable, bouncing back by finding something else to do or regrouping for some much-needed nap time can make all the difference.
Realistic expectations also mean evaluating how much activity children can manage. Too many activities can make children anxious and edgy, leading to meltdowns. “Plan age-appropriate activities, and only choose one or two per day,” Dr. Saltz said. “Children and parents have shorter fuses when overtired, which can lead to arguing or temper tantrums.”
It’s important to think about each family member’s interests and tolerance for the activities planned. Sleeping in a hammock under a palm tree may sound idyllic to one family member and agonizingly boring to another.
Dr. Haque suggested “planned letting go”: leaving unplanned hours in each day to make room for downtime. Vacation is, in the end, about decompression from daily life, and overplanning causes exhaustion, which can make it difficult to deal with one another at the end of the day. “Create space for spontaneity, exploration of new surroundings, and improvisation with family and friends,” he said.
When it comes to vacationing with older children, parents often expect that their preteens and teenagers will put down their devices, disconnect from their friends and their home lives, and fully immerse themselves in the experience. “Children don’t morph into new people just because the family is on vacation,” Dr. Saltz said. “Set some boundaries before the vacation begins,” she suggested. “Understand that older children need to be able to connect with their friends and that they’re going to want time on their phones.”
If you set limits on your kids’ screen time, remember to put down your phone, too. Get into the water with your kids rather than sit in a chair and scroll through social media. And consider reversing the roles when it comes to taking photos. “Sometimes, posing for constant photos can be tiresome for kids, so switch roles and let them take some photos of you,” Dr. Kowal-Connelly said.
Consider going through pictures after the fact, though. “Photos are a step removed from the shared experience,” Dr. Saltz said. “Talking about the experiences and sharing feelings verbally and without distraction is powerful.”
The next time my family visits Washington, we’ll pick a warmer month for starters. Rather than conducting another forced march through the endless Smithsonian museums and trudging to every last monument, maybe we’ll hop on one of those double-decker tour buses or let our son choose an activity. It could be that the best memories come from those spontaneous moments between the lines of our itineraries, and next time, that’s what I’m planning.
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August 16, 2018 at 10:09AM
American Almost Kicked Me Off My Flight For Taking Photos
Saturday evening, I flew American Airlines Flagship First class from New York JFK to Los Angeles. It was my first time flying first class on American Airlines’ three-cabin Airbus A321 used for premium transcon services, and I managed to score a fantastic points redemption by booking through Etihad. Understandably, I was very excited for my flight. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to almost get kicked off of it — for taking pictures of the cabin.
Let’s take a step back. I arrived at the airport with no incident and swiftly checked in at the exclusive Flagship First check-in area. I then headed to the new Flagship First Dining room, where I had a delicious three-course meal and enjoyed unobstructed plane spotting. The pre-flight Flagship First experience certainly lived up to the hype and I was able to snap a ton of photos to remember the moment.
Although my experience onboard was far from first class, @AmericanAir nailed the Flagship First ground experience at JFK! Big fan of the Flagship Bridge which is open to everyone with regular Flagship lounge access. pic.twitter.com/WMZuxMezN2
— Benji Stawski (@BenjiStawski) August 12, 2018
Although I wasn’t reviewing the flight, I headed to my gate early so that I could be among the first to board and take photos of the cabin while it was empty. In fact, I ended up being the first passenger onboard, followed by my companion directly behind. As planned, I took the opportunity to take photos of the empty cabin and my seat, as I normally would when flying a product for the first time.
“Sir, you can’t be taking pictures,” the purser immediately yelled at me.
I calmly responded explaining that I was excited to fly the first class product and just wanted to take a few photos of my seat while the cabin was empty. The purser then accused me of photographing the crew, so I let her to scroll through the photos, zoom in and confirm that I wasn’t trying to photograph any crew members. After all, I didn’t want any crew members photobombing my pictures just as much as they didn’t want to be in them.
“Either you delete all of the pictures you took or I’m going to take your camera away,” the purser threatened.
My jaw — as well as of the other crew members listening — dropped. I knew I was abiding by the airline’s policy on the matter, but since I didn’t want to start a scene, I deleted the photos and headed back to my seat. Although I followed exactly what the purser asked me to do, my companion and I still overheard her telling the captain about me, which I assume was because the purser wanted me kicked off.
After tweeting about the incident, I found a way to retrieve the deleted photos from my camera’s memory card. As you can see, they’re nothing out of the ordinary:
These were the deleted photos in question. Thanks @AirlineFlyer @WandrMe + others for helping recover them. One of the photos has the back of an FA, but it’s the back, so FA unidentifiable if that’s the concern. pic.twitter.com/JaxgMS94dg
— Benji Stawski (@BenjiStawski) August 12, 2018
“Thanks so much, Benji, and we appreciate the additional information. American allows picture and video recording for personal use. We know taking pics and sharing them on social media is a fun part of the travel experience. We’re so sorry you’ve had this experience today as we know you were very excited about being right up front today on this beautiful bird. We’ll forward this to our team.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time someone’s gotten in hot water for taking photographs aboard an American Airlines flight. TPG editor-at-large Zach Honig almost got arrested for taking photos (with permission) while reviewing business class aboard the airline’s 777-300ER and TPG writer JT Genter found himself in a similar situation while reviewing Main Cabin Extra on a Dreamliner.
While the majority of crew members aren’t like this, it’s a shame to see how paranoid some are about cameras — and it’s only gotten worse since incidents like the infamous dragging of Dr. Dao off a United plane and a flight attendant egging on a passenger to fight him were caught on tape.
First class aboard the three-cabin A321T is equipped with American’s best premium seat. Between being fully flat and offering direct-aisle access at every seat, American crews should be proud of the product and should want people photographing it. For instance, when I flew JetBlue Mint for the first time, the flight attendant could tell I was excited and offered to take a picture of me. Heck, even United recently relaxed its policy, giving passengers more flexibility when capturing experiences on board. Yelling at a passenger, let alone in first class where transcontinental fares typically cost upwards $1,549 one-way, for taking photos isn’t right.
Wow thats a grumpy purser – I was recently on BA new 1st product 787 and FA offered to take photos of me in seat/cabin. She was thrilled to show me all the features/amenities/foods/drinks.
Customer experience matters beginning to end! AA failed you
— Suzanne (@philatravelgirl) August 12, 2018
Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the last situation like this, so if you ever find yourself in my shoes, just let it go and comply with the crew members’ demands. As a reminder, iPhone users can always resort to the “Recently Deleted” folder, and there is software which can recover photos off a camera’s memory card. Additionally, while my photos were completely for personal use, if you’re a blogger (or vlogger) and plan on posting about your experience online, you may want to consider requesting permission before photographing on planes.
Featured image by Jianqiang Li / EyeEm / Getty Images.
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August 16, 2018 at 10:00AM
Photo Friendsies at the Song Museum
What’s a Friendsie?
A Friendsie is when you would gladly take a selfie, but you have your friend do it because they can get better angles. I noticed this in spades all over China. While I did see a lot of selfies, I saw an equal number, or greater, of Friendsies. They would go out in groups of two or three and just take photos of one another all day long. Note that the word Friendsie doesn’t exactly exist yet, but I’m kinda inventing a new “name” for it. Elodin would be proud.
Daily Photo – Photo Friendsies at the Song Museum
We visited the Song Museum north of Beijing one day. It’s a very contemporary and modern museum with clean white lines and elegant shapes. Inside the museum was the usual fair, but the outside of the museum was teeming with a hoard of girls taking photos of one another. Groups of two or three would all spend hours just taking photos outside the museum of one another in different poses. They were all stylishly dressed and quite avant-garde. Of course, I got into the fun and started taking photos of the whole scene as well, then sharing the photos back with them on WeChat (the most popular social network there).
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August 16, 2018 at 09:09AM
News: Millennium Hotels signs Chelsea FC partnership
Millennium Hotels & Resorts has signed an exclusive three-year partnership with Chelsea Football Club ahead of the Blues’ first home game of the season.
Franck Kermarrec, senior vice president, Millennium Hotels & Resorts, commented: “We are delighted to be the official hotel partner of Chelsea Football Club for the next three years.
“We believe that this is a strong partnership that will not only enhance the perception of both brands on a global platform but will also add to the breadth of services we offer here at Millennium Hotels & Resorts, creating memorable guest experiences that set us apart from other hoteliers.”
As the partnership develops, Millennium Hotels & Resorts will be offering a range of exciting promotions to guests including once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, such as; training ground meet and greet experiences with players, hospitality box access, VIP travel packages for European away matches and signed merchandise, to name a few.
Chris Townsend, commercial director at Chelsea Football Club, added: “We are extremely proud to announce a significant new partnership with Millennium Hotels and Resorts, which is one of the largest of its kind in the Premier League.
“We have built a strong relationship with the brand and their hotels close to Stamford Bridge, so to formalise this into a global partnership is very exciting.
“Millennium Hotels and Resorts boast some exquisite properties around the world and we look forward to welcoming another leading brand into the Chelsea partner family.”
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August 16, 2018 at 08:08AM