Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

I was inspired by a movie I watched this week which is one of my absolute favorite foodie movies – Tortilla SoupThough there is a lovely storyline – one of my favorites about the movie is the Martin cooks throughout the movie, particularly for their traditional Sunday dinners!

The movie Tortilla Soup – “Three grown sisters, Maribel (Tamara Mello), Leticia (Elizabeth Peña) and Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) try to cope and live with their father Martin (Héctor Elizondo); a veteran chef who is slowly losing his sense of taste. Martin has one simple rule: be at home for Sunday dinner and attendance is both mandatory and non-negotiable. A rift in the family develops when the sisters develop relationships and an obnoxious woman (Raquel Welch) sets her sights on Martin’s affections.”

I have made tortilla soup so many times and each time it is a bit different depending on the mood and inspiration at that moment. Here is one of my favorite recipes in which I was influenced by a recipe I found on the site – “A Spicy Perspective

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Tortilla Soup
Rate this recipe
40 ratings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Category: Recipes

Cuisine: Mexican Cuisine

Author: Dynie Sanderson

Tortilla Soup

You can never go wrong with any variation of this simple and flavorful tortilla soup recipe. Even if you can’t visit your favorite Mexican vacation destination right now, enjoy a little south of the border fiesta in your own kitchen.

Ingredients

  • • Olive oil for sautéing the vegies
  • • Medium Chopped Onion
  • • Cilantro
  • • Minced Garlic – 1-2 cloves
  • • Chicken Broth – I use Organic
  • • Diced Tomatoes
  • • Chicken Breasts
  • • Ground Cumin
  • • Chili Powder
  • • Cayenne Pepper
  • • 2 Bay Leaves
  • • Sliced Carrots
  • • Monterey Jack Cheese or a combination of Jack and Cheddar or Pepper Jack Cheese
  • • Avocado
  • • Tortilla Chips

Instructions

• In a large stock pot, combine the onions, cilantro and garlic. Sauté until somewhat soft

• I like to brown my chicken breasts first, but you can add them directly in to the simmering broth

• Put the broth into the pot and add the carrots, the chicken the spices

• Also add in your diced tomatoes

• Once the chicken is cooked through, pull it out and shred it, then put it back in the pot and simmer a bit longer.

• Simple as that, its done. Serve in deep bowls and top with cheese and tortilla chips

• Garnish with fresh cilantro and fresh sliced or cubed avocado, you may even want a lime wedge

• Enjoy with a cold bottle of Modelo or Pacifico or a refreshing Margarita!

https://www.napafoodgaltravels.com/tortilla-soup/

Mexican Style Meatloaf

Mexican Style Meatloaf

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Mexican Style Meatloaf
Rate this recipe
61 ratings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Category: Recipes

Cuisine: Mexican Cuisine

Author: Dynie Sanderson

Servings: 6-8

Mexican Style Meatloaf

This tasty south of the border Mexican-Style Meatloaf was Inspired by a recipe I found on allrecipes.com and my husband’s famous meatloaf, and a bit of my own influence and flavors.

Ingredients

  • • 16 oz. package of grass fed or organic ground beef
  • • 16 oz. fresh ground pork
  • • 16 oz. ground lamb
  • or you can just use all ground beef or any combination of the above that you like. We like the flavors of using all three, however when we can get lamb we do 32 oz of ground beef and 16 oz of ground pork.
  • • 1 cup of crushed tortilla chips
  • • ¾ cups of shredded pepper jack cheese
  • • 1 medium sized onion
  • • Mexican seasonings – here is what we like to use we adlib and make our flavor profile. Make your own combination to taste. You should have at least a tablespoon full when combined:
  • o Badia Complete Seasoning - Sazon Completa
  • o Badia Sazon Tropical
  • o Goya Adobo con Comino (with Cumin)
  • o Cumin
  • o Chili powder
  • • 2 Eggs beaten
  • • ½ cup of milk
  • • Salt and Pepper
  • • Minced Garlic – about 1 tablespoon
  • • Cilantro
  • • Your favorite taco sauce
  • • Fresh salsa and/or Pico de Gallo, sliced jalapeños

Instructions

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C)

• Combine all of the ground meats together, tortilla chips, pepper jack cheese, chopped onion, minced garlic

• In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk and a ¼ cup of your taco sauce together. Once mixed add it to your meat mixture until it is fully integrated.

• Press the mixture into a 9x5 loaf pan and then top with more of your tomato-based taco sauce

• Bake in the preheated oven until cooked through 45 minutes to an hour or when your meat thermometer reads from the center 115F degrees.

• Let it sit for 10 minutes then sprinkle with chopped Cilantro and serve along with your favorite condiments, such as Pico de Gallo, fresh salsa or as my husband likes it with plenty of habanero sauce and sliced Jalapenos.

https://www.napafoodgaltravels.com/mexican-style-meatloaf/

Someone’s In the Kitchen with Dynie – What to Cook Today

Someone’s In the Kitchen with Dynie – What to Cook Today


What to cook today when you have a lot of time on your hands like right now! And you are homebound for a while longer. Let’s get cooking!

What to cook today while at home during  “Shelter-in-Place”

The pantry is stocked, the refrigerator and freezer are full, and the wine cooler and wine cellar have plenty of wine. This is all good but what to do with it all? Now that we are currently all staying at home nesting, we are finding that we can’t watch food movies all of the time because it is making us really hungry or binge-watch our favorite shows all of the time because my eyeballs are going to fall out from staring at the TV too much, what else do you do? It’s time to dig into that pantry and fridge, look for new and innovative recipes, or your old favorites, and start cooking…

Last week, we started on our mission trying new recipes almost every day. Since all of my favorite hardcover cookbooks are in a box somewhere and when was the last time I actually used a hardcover cookbook, I relied on Mr. Google and my daily incoming recipe emails to get me inspired.

A sincere thank you to all of the workers at the grocery stores around the US and the World. You are all our heroes!

First and foremost, I must thank our daughter, Lauren, who works at Trader Joes for bringing home our almost daily food requests from the store. And, especially I would like to sincerely thank all of the grocery workers around the US and the world for hanging in there for everyone, working long hours and keeping the food supplies available and shelves stocked, during our Shelter-at-Home lockdowns. You are all heroes and so gratefully appreciated!

Many of these recipes you will recognize as they are known to most all of us, however, I have taken a few slight diversions on the recipes in order to use what ingredients and supplies that are available to us.

Tortellini and Spinach Soup

(Inspired by a recipe I found on TasteofHome)

Since we were supposed to be in Sicily the day I made it, an Italian dish was a must! Along with a lovely bottle of Chianti from our travels to Tuscany a few years back.

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Minced Garlic Cloves – 2-4 cloves
  • 1 Can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 box of vegetable broth (32 oz) or 3 cans 14.5 oz.
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • Fresh basil or if you don’t have it dried will do
  • 1 16 oz. bag of dry cheese tortellini from Trader Joes or 1-2 packages of refrigerated tortellini (we only had the dry tortellini, which worked great by the way)
  • 1 Bag Frozen Spinach (which is what we had in the freezer) or 4 cups for fresh baby spinach
  • Shredded or ground Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Cheese rind – Small one if you have it

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat, add garlic and stir for a minute or so. Add the broth and Italian seasonings; bring to a boil and add the dry tortellini, cook for about 12 minutes or so until al dente. Then add in the diced tomatoes and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add your bag of frozen spinach. I like to add in one of my leftover parmesan cheese rinds directly into the soup. It gives it a richer flavor. Salt and pepper to taste. When serving, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Served with your favorite garlic bread and of course a glass of wine or two.

Total time – 30 minutes – Makes 6-8 hearty servings

Boeuf Bourguignon – Julia Child’s Recipe from her famed cookbook – “Mastering the Art of French Cooking

After watching the movie again last week – Julie and Julia – New Yorker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) embarks on a daring project: she vows to prepare all 524 recipes in Julia Childs’ landmark cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Intertwined with Julie’s story is the true tale of how Julia Child (Meryl Streep) herself conquered French cuisine with passion, fearlessness, and plenty of butter.

Well if that wasn’t enough to make us hungry, after watching the movie, I was inspired to cook one of the more famous recipes from Julia Child’s renowned cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, originally published in 1961 – Boeuf Bourguignon!

Servings: Serves 6

Ingredients Kitchen Supplies:

Boeuf Bourguignon:

  • 6 ounces bacon
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
  • 3 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 sliced carrot
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 3 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as a Chianti
  • 2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • Crumbled bay leaf
  • Blanched bacon rind
  • 18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
  • 1-pound quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter
  • Parsley sprigs

Directions

Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4-inch-thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in the lower third of the preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.

When the meat has begun to tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. The recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

For later serving: When it is cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

Copyright © 1961, 1983, 2001 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted by arrangement with the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

Things that I did a little differently – I used a classic Red oval 8-quart Dutch Oven but a 6-quart round one will do like the Le Creuset or any enameled cast iron Dutch Oven. I used 3 medium-sized carrots instead of just one. I only used 12 small onions, and I should have used 18-24 per Julia’s recipe. For the mushrooms, they were small brown Cremini mushrooms, so I kept them whole. One small can of tomato paste instead of 1 Tablespoon. Four cloves of fresh garlic instead of two. As I could not find regular flour in the stores, I used Almond flour which worked just fine.

Two whole bay leaves instead of crumbled bay leaves. I also should have waited to add the small onions into the casserole when I added the mushrooms near the very end. For the wine, instead of a Chianti, I used a bold 2015 Cabernet from our vineyard in Napa – Tadpole Vineyards. I probably should have cooked this dish a bit less than I did as I was going off of a similar recipe that had a longer cook time. I should have listened to Julia!

I served it over a lovely heaping scoop of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with plenty of butter of course. Even with my few diversions in the recipe, the flavors delivered perfectly. The enticing aromas just permeated through the house all afternoon. This is such inviting comfort food.

Mexican Style Meatloaf and Tortilla Soup

It’s ironic how every single time I watch one of my food movies in my collection on iTunes, I always have to make a dish that complements the foodie movie. Here are a few that tickled my taste buds.

Mexican Style Meatloaf

I was inspired to make my version after reading a recipe on “Allrecipes Daily Dish

(Inspired by a recipe from allrecipes.com and my husband’s famous meatloaf) – The suggested ingredients are from or kitchen and pantry!

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. package of grass-fed or organic ground beef
  • 16 oz. fresh ground pork
  • 16 oz. ground lamb

-or you can just use all ground beef or any combination of the above that you like. We like the flavors of using all three, however, when we can get lamb we do 32 oz of ground beef and 16 oz of ground pork.

  • 1 cup of crushed tortilla chips
  • ¾ cups of shredded pepper jack cheese
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • Mexican seasonings – here is what we like to use we adlib and make our flavor profile. Make your own combination to taste. You should have at least a tablespoon full when combined:
  • 2 Eggs beaten
  • ½ cup of milk
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Minced Garlic – about 1 tablespoon
  • Cilantro
  • Your favorite taco sauce
  • Fresh salsa and/or Pico de Gallo, sliced jalapeños

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C)
  • Combine all of the ground meats together, tortilla chips, pepper jack cheese, chopped onion, minced garlic
  • In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk and a ¼ cup of your taco sauce together. Once mixed add it to your meat mixture until it is fully integrated.
  • Press the mixture into a 9×5 loaf pan and then top with more of your tomato-based taco sauce
  • Bake in the preheated oven until cooked through 45 minutes to an hour or when your meat thermometer reads from the center 115F degrees.
  • Let it sit for 10 minutes then sprinkle with chopped Cilantro and serve along with your favorite condiments, such as Pico de Gallo, fresh salsa or as my husband likes it with plenty of habanero sauce and sliced Jalapenos.

Tortilla Soup

Again, I was inspired by a movie I watched this week which is one of my absolute favorite foodie movies – Tortilla SoupThough there is a lovely storyline – one of my favorite aspects about the movie is when Martin cooks during the movie scenes, particularly for their traditional Sunday dinners!

The movie Tortilla Soup – “Three grown sisters, Maribel (Tamara Mello), Leticia (Elizabeth Peña) and Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) try to cope and live with their father Martin (Héctor Elizondo); a veteran chef who is slowly losing his sense of taste. Martin has one simple rule: be at home for Sunday dinner and attendance is both mandatory and non-negotiable. A rift in the family develops when the sisters develop relationships and an obnoxious woman (Raquel Welch) sets her sights on Martin’s affections.”

I have made tortilla soup so many times and each time it is a bit different depending on the mood and inspiration at that moment. Here is one of my favorite recipes in which was influenced by a recipe I found on the site – “A Spicy Perspective”

My friend Susan’s version of my recipe that she cooked last night!

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for sautéing the vegies
  • Medium Chopped Onion
  • Chopped Celery
  • Cilantro
  • Minced Garlic – 1-2 cloves
  • Chicken Broth – I use Organic
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Ground Cumin
  • Chili Powder
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • Sliced Carrots
  • Monterey Jack Cheese or a combination of Jack and Cheddar or Pepper Jack Cheese
  • Avocado
  • Tortilla Chips

Directions

  • In a large stockpot, combine the onions, cilantro, and garlic. Sauté until somewhat soft
  • I like to brown my chicken breasts first, but you can add them directly into the simmering broth
  • Put the broth into the pot and add the carrots, celery, the chicken the spices
  • Also, add in your diced tomatoes
  • Once the chicken is cooked through, pull it out and shred it, then put it back in the pot and simmer a bit longer.
  • Simple as that, it’s done. Serve in deep bowls and top with cheese and tortilla chips
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro and fresh sliced or cubed avocado, you may even want a lime wedge
  • Enjoy with a cold bottle of Modelo or Pacifico or a refreshing Margarita!

You can never go wrong with any variation of this simple and flavorful tortilla soup recipe. Even if you can’t visit your favorite Mexican vacation destination right now, enjoy a little south of the border in your own kitchen.

Enjoy!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tying the Knot In the Napa Valley

Tying the Knot In the Napa Valley

Weddings in Napa Valley

Wine County Weddings in Napa Valley have grown into a booming industry over the last 20 years. The wine country region exudes romance with its Tuscan painted hills, miles and miles of rolling lush vineyards, charming boutique hotels and 5-star restaurants. Who wouldn’t want to get married in wine country? What a truly magical place to tie the knot. Lovebirds flock here in droves to find the perfect venue to celebrate their nuptials and create memories to last a lifetime.

Ten reasons to tie the Knot in Napa Valley!!!!

  • The Napa Valley is Gorgeous in ALL seasons!
  • The Cuisine and Wine are internationally renowned!
  • Your family and friends have never been here!
  • You met your fiancé in Napa Valley!
  • Napa Valley was your first trip together!
  • Your favorite wine is from Napa Valley!
  • Bottle Rock is your favorite Music Event!
  • “Bottle Shock” is your favorite movie!
  • Because your honeymoon is in Fiji!
  • And why KNOT!!!!

Weddings Napa Valley

Napa Valley Weddings – Over 90-percent of the wedding ceremonies performed in the Napa Valley are brides and grooms from all over the world. No wonder it is such big business. Weddings in the Napa Valley range from small elopement style weddings to large celebrity style galas; from a La Carte to all-inclusive; from the small pocket-book to money is no object. Big or intimate, your perfect dream wedding awaits in world-class Napa Valley.

 

Vineyard Wedding Napa

Imagine, it’s twelve months before your big wedding day and you really want a Big Fat Napa Valley Wedding, however, you live in Dallas and haven’t a clue on where to start or who to call. The thought is overwhelming at the prospect of doing this on your own, however, the world is virtually at your fingertips; it’s just a Google away. But then you realize with all of the choices popping up on your iPad, you cannot decide whom to call first. This is, after all, is intended to be your perfect magical day, the wedding of your dreams! Your nerves are already fluttering at the excitement of your recent engagement and its only one short year to the Big Day when you will be Mr. and Mrs.! Where to start?

Wedding Planners In Napa Valley

The plethora of wine country wedding information is in abundance and you can rest assured with the assistance of your perfectly chosen wedding planner, your big day will come off without a glitch. And even if you chose not to use a wedding planner and decide to coordinate the details on your own there is plenty of information to get you on your way. No matter who you speak with, they will all have plenty of great referrals and references to suit all of your wedding needs.

Wine Country Wedding Fun

It used to be 20 years ago that weddings in the Napa Valley took place, primarily at hotels and resorts. It has since opened up to a wide variety of venues consisting of high-class resorts, country clubs, restaurants, vineyard settings, select wineries, private estates and more. Keep in mind that due to county regulations, 99-percent of the Napa Valley wineries do not allow actual weddings on-site.

Wedding Venues

For those that have access through personal relationships, it is one of the most exclusive, elite, luxury destinations in California, if not the world, to exchange vows. And for those who
 do not have access to the coveted winery venues due to restrictive laws established to protect the beauty and bounty of our agricultural preserve, there are plenty of world-class resorts such as Meadowood, Auberge du Soleil, Calistoga Ranch, Silverado Resort and Spa, Solage, The Meritage and The Carneros Resort and the recently opened Los Alcobas Resort.

Napa Valley Bridesmaids

David Aten of David Aten Events, a well-known Napa Valley event planner commented, “There is an abundance of talent in the wedding, event, hospitality industry in the Napa Valley. You have some of the best planners, photographers, chefs, florists and hospitality professionals to offer you the world-class wedding of your dreams!”

Establishing your venue is usually your first task and most important, as it will depend on the availability of your desired setting for the ceremony and reception and then, of course, locking in the dates of your perfect chosen venue. Once that is set, determining the wedding details is the next task at hand. With the biggest hurdle complete, the rest will all fall into place.

How to Plan Your Wedding

Here are a few things to consider when planning your wedding: wedding party accommodations, rehearsal dinner locations, reception food and beverages, event venue design and decor, music, florists, officiants, photographers, videographers and rental companies. Based on your style, taste and budget, your event planner will help guide you through this process with recommendations and referrals, or they can handle every single detail, every step of the way. Most wedding planners suggest Pinterest as a good place to gather ideas. Or just check out all of the information and photos you and on the Internet for Napa Valley weddings.

Sunset Wedding Napa Valley

Here are a few Napa Valley websites to help get you started:

VisitNapaValley.com: They have a wedding planning guide that can help you discover the perfect vineyard, luscious garden, posh country club or luxurious resort.

NapaValleyWeddings.com: Wedding Packages, Elopement Packages, Officiants and Wedding Venues.

NapaValleyCustomEvents.com: Over 20 Years in Wedding Planning offering Custom events to suit every wedding need.

Axevent.com: Puttin’On the Glitz, David Aten knows how to put on a “Show Stopping” Event

Just Married Napa Valley

Wedding Photographers:

TJ Salsman – “My approach is documentary photography with a thoughtful, creative eye. I capture moments, subtle and obvious that tell an honest story of a couples wedding day.” www.tjsalsmanphotography.com

Art and Clarity, Janna Waldinger and Lowell Downey – “From the elopement to the large wedding, we listen to our client’s vision, and deliver creative images that reflect the love they share. We reveal the poetic and the heartfelt moments to be celebrated for generations.” www.ArtClarity.com.

Photo Credits: TJ Salsman and Art & Clarity

 

 

 

Our Travels Getting Home During the Rising Global Pandemic – CoronaVirus Covid-19

Our Travels Getting Home During the Rising Global Pandemic – CoronaVirus Covid-19

How Quickly Things Can Change – The Challenge of Traveling Home Safely as the Coronavirus Outbreak Increases and More and More Borders Closing

March 6th This is What Our Vacation Looked Like! The First Days – Dynie and Dana On the Desert Safari with Arabian Adventures – What a Difference a Week Makes

March 15th This is what our vacation ended up looking like a week later. Health Screening and Social Distancing upon our arrival at San Francisco Airport 

It is incredible how much the world around you can change in just a matter of a few weeks with the Coronavirus (Covid-19) continuously exploding throughout the world, from country to country and city to city. We recently returned home to Napa Valley safe and sound after a bit of a travel whirlwind traveling back from Dubai, with a short layover in Rome, and finally six days in England.

It seemed as if every step we took, and every travel decision change we made, with what was rapidly unfolding in front of us each day was different. Maneuvering through our journey was becoming slightly more challenging day by day, but thankfully we finally made our way successfully and safely back home. With a bit of luck and timing on our side, we seemed to have managed to be a day or so ahead of the ever-changing curve. Further details to come…

What was supposed to be a 21-day adventure through Dubai, Sicily and Rome ended up being a 10-day sojourn, “Our Plan B,” on making our way back home safely and healthy to our cozy nest in Napa.

Catania Sicily Photo Taken By Mario Bucolo – Photos of What We Missed Seeing

It all started months back when TBEX announced their March conference was to be in Catania, Sicily. TBEX is the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands, and industry professionals. Each year, TBEX partners with fantastic host destinations in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific to bring the travel industry’s most creative minds together to learn, network, and do business.

Photos of What We Missed Seeing In Catania – Photo Taken By Mario Bucolo

The conference was organized to be held from March 10th to March 14th in the beautiful city of Catania by the coast with majestic Mount Etna towering over this charming ancient Italian city. Late this past October, I registered for the TBEX conference and planned to bring my husband, Dana, with me as we were going to make a three-week adventure around Sicily, Rome along with a 3-day stopover in Dubai on the way there. I know that sounds like a ‘roundabout way to get from San Francisco to Sicily, but the travel logistics worked out perfectly. As this was a travel blogger conference, it was up to us to find our way to Sicily. So, of course, I went the frequent flyer mile route.

As it turned out with using our Alaska Airline Miles going there worked much better flying Emirates than British Airways as there are no fees associated with using your miles when you use your Alaska Airlines miles to fly Emirates. It was a no brainer on that choice, I have always wanted to fly Emirates and, I have always wanted to experience Dubai, which is where the EXPO 2020 will be held. Done!! I booked it in August, and we were confirmed to fly leaving SFO to Rome via Dubai on March 4th. We did make our return booking on British Airways through London from Rome to come back to San Francisco on March 24th. Little did we know what would be in store for us in the months to come.

In our excitement and many months of planning, we created a spectacular itinerary with four days in Dubai, 10 Days in Sicily (4 days for the conference and six days exploring the island), and then Rome for four days. We have a very dear friend, Geoff Westley, who spends much of his time in Rome as he is a well-known classical musician from the UK who does most of his musical production and performances in Italy. What a perfect person and “tour guide friend” to spend four days in Rome with. We had arranged a two-bedroom flat near Campo de’ Fiori. We were going to go to his favorite jazz clubs, hang out with his musician friends, and eat delicious Italian regional cuisine at all of his favorite restaurants. My mouth is still watering just thinking about it and even more so knowing that I missed out on all of this long-planned fun and the food!

After the months of planning our trip around Dubai and Sicily with various tourism groups, food tour companies, wineries, Agriturismos, boutique hotels, restaurants, regional tours, and of course, the busy TBEX conference agenda – our travel plate was full. It would be providing us many, many opportunities for blog posts, features, social media posts, photo opportunities, and numerous stories. As we got a few weeks closer to the conference, our bags were almost packed, the cameras and notebooks set aside, guidebooks, maps, and Italian dictionaries and the necessary artillery of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and zinc spray and lozenges on hand too.

More photos of what we were looking forward to seeing in Catania

In early February, just a few weeks before we were to begin our long-awaited travel to Sicily, the news started talking about an unknown strain of a virus that had popped up in China, with the first cases showing up in December. It wasn’t that impactful at the time we first started hearing about it, and we really didn’t think much about it. After all, we thought it was far away in China and wouldn’t impact us. We went about our day to day activities, and we were getting excited about our upcoming travels in a few weeks as were the other attendees of the TBEX conference.

Less than two weeks before we were set to take off, we were attending the South Beach Wine and Food Festival as a guest of Loews Miami Beach from February 20 to February 24th. I was there to cover the event and the many spectacular culinary events held at the Loews. While we were in Miami Beach for those few days and attending many crowded events, there was really no particular concern about what was happening far, far away in Wuhan, China. Though we did get bits and pieces of news that the virus was now discovered in the Northern part of Italy around Milan and also Venice. At this juncture, we were just nine days from our departure date to fly out to Sicily via Dubai.

On our last day in South Beach, while enjoying the views of the ocean and indulging in fresh seafood, we received a call from our friend Geoff in England who we were slated to meet in Rome in three weeks. It was a casual call and certainly not alarming. He just wanted to let us know that we were all confirmed for our Rome adventure and that the few cases at that time in Italy of the Coronavirus were isolated to a few villages in Northern Italy. He said he had been in touch with his friends in Rome and it was life as usual there. This was the 23rd of February, and he said Rome was untouched and life was going on as usual. “Probably nothing to be concerned about” he reiterated. The virus seemed so far away, and again we really didn’t seem to think much about it or realize it was that big of a thing.

The week of the 24th of February, we were back home in Napa, preparing for our trip, which was just over one week away. In the meantime, the news about the growing Coronavirus was increasing, as were the cases growing in Northern Italy. We still went about our daily activities and carried on with our plans to leave in a week. During this time, there was a growing concern on the TBEX Catania Facebook page, with many of the 400 plus attendees starting to express their thoughts about what was going on in Northern Italy. Were they still going to keep the conference going as planned? At that point, still, no one knew.

This is just what we were looking forward to!

The southern part of Italy, including Rome, Naples, and Sicily appeared to be unaffected by what was going on in Northern Italy. Still, we remained determined to go on with our travels, and we were not particularly concerned with all of the so-called “Media Hype”! Many travel bloggers were posting, “who is going to let this interfere with planned travel?”

As you can see, this group of TBEX Catania Survivors totally enjoying Catania prior to the necessary mass exodus…

Most bloggers said this definitely was not going interfere with their existing travel plans. At this point, we were certainly not going to let it mess up our long-planned adventure to Sicily, even though as we got closer to our departure date, friends and family were advising us to postpone our trip. I certainly didn’t want to miss the TBEX Conference that I was so looking forward to, networking, seeing friends, and exploring Catania and experiencing the culture.

Well, as the next few days unfolded on March 2nd, just two days before our scheduled departure, Rick Calvert – CEO of TBEX made a heartfelt decision and sent out a letter to the hundreds of pending attendees, “We have made the decision to re-schedule TBEX Europe 2020 in Catania until later this year.”

This is part of the message we received from Rick.

“On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States raised the travel warning from level 2 to level 3. This is still in effect, and the CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Italy. On Saturday, Vice President Pence announced during a press conference that the CDC was raising the travel warning to level 4 for parts of Italy. For a level 4 travel warning, The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all travel to affected areas within Italy. 

Taking these travel warnings in mind as well as other countries advising against traveling to some parts of Italy, we are confident re-scheduling TBEX Europe 2020 is the most responsible thing to do for everyone involved.

If you are still planning on traveling to Catania and Sicily in the next week or two, we have been told by our friends in Catania that they would still like to offer several of the Pre-BEX Post-BEX Tours and FAM Trips that were planned to happen before and after TBEX.”

My husband Dana and I read Rick’s message, watched the news at length, in-depth, and spoke to many friends who had their opinions leaning both ways. We cavalierly and boldly together made the decision to forge on with our plans to travel in a day and a half on March 4th.

In hindsight, had we been a fortune-teller predicting what the future had in store in the next ten days or just had a bit more common sense, our decision would absolutely have been different. Had we made the smart decision to cancel and stay home as we should have, we would not have had this story to tell of our ten-day roller-coaster ride traveling with a world pandemic unfolding at warp speed around us with country lockdowns happening every day.

Sadly, but without remorse…we never made it to Catania. We will get there one day I hope in the near future. Here is our journey as it unfolded…

Travel Day 1 – Wednesday, March 4th

Our plane just waiting for us to board on March 4th

So, on Wednesday, March 4th, off we went to San Francisco Airport to board our long-anticipated flight on Emirates business class to Dubai. On the airport shuttle, we ran into a friend, Kelly, who is a flight attendant for United. She concerningly told us that her flight to London was only 1/3 full, and many flight cancelations were happening everywhere.

It still didn’t really affect us; however, we were aware that air travel bookings were trending down at the time due to concerns about the growing Coronavirus.

March 4th – Awaiting our departure in the inviting Emirates Lounge in San Francisco

We headed to the Emirates lounge to await boarding our flight to Dubai. The lounge was quiet and practically empty, and when we finally boarded our flight, we realized that our cabin upstairs on the Airbus A380 was only 20% full. We were just beginning to feel the effects of how the Coronavirus was impacting travel. As soon as we got to our seats, we pulled out our trusty disinfectant wipes and thoroughly sanitized our entire seating area, tables, seat belts, etc.

Just Boarded our Emirates Flight From San Francisco to Dubai

For the next 15 plus hours, we enjoyed the comfort and service provided to us on our Emirates flight from San Francisco to Dubai. Despite the fact, Dana was a bit disappointed when he visited the business class lounge and didn’t find Jennifer Anniston hanging out there like we have seen so many times in the Emirates commercials on TV!

Travel Day 2 – Thursday, March 5th

Arriving In Dubai Airport – Virtually almost Empty

Customs In Dubai – No Lines

We arrived in Dubai on Thursday evening, March 5th, around 8 pm to find the airport practically deserted. It was a breeze going through customs and arriving at the Marriott Marquis in Dubai, along with no lines to check-in to our room. Our driver to the hotel told us that Dubai that tourism was starting to slow down as a good majority of the tourists to their city and surrounding areas were visitors from China and other Asian countries. They were just not coming into Dubai right now in the growing wake of the Coronavirus throughout Asia.

View overlooking Dubai from the Vault Lounge at the Marriott Marquis on the 71st Floor

After checking into our room, we headed up to the 71st floor of the Marriott Marquis to the Vault Lounge, which displayed an impressive panorama of the stunning evening views overlooking this magnificent city. The growth and building around the city are impressive as they prepare to the world to visit during EXPO2020.

Travel Day 3 – Friday, March 6th

We woke up very early after trying to sleep without much luck. Dana even took off and went to the gym for an hour or so.

Our travel clock and our sleeping patterns were utterly off as we were 12 hours ahead of San Francisco time. So, we found ourselves watching CNN each morning before venturing out to see the sights and sounds of this spectacular space-age city surrounded by massive desert lands. The news was becoming more intense, and each hour something new related to the Coronavirus was unfolding around the planet and was beginning to be a bit unsettling.

Travel Day 3 and 4 – Friday and Saturday, March 6th and 7th

In spite of everything exploding around the world, we were determined to enjoy our adventures in the UAE – United Arab Emirates. We spent two days exploring old and new Dubai as they offer two different perspectives on the complexion and culture of this modern city in the UAE city of Dubai.

We were hosted for the three days we were there by the travel group owned by Emirates, Arabian Adventures, and who had arranged a variety of excursions and activities for us around Dubai. Our various guides for the next few days were very helpful and informative about the culture, history and the growth of this impressive city. Though they too expressed their concern about the current dwindling tourism but did not seem to be as concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus on their country as of yet.

The first two nights, we were hosted by the Marriott Marquis hotel, which is the tallest 5-star hotel in the world. Dubai loves to be the first, the biggest and the best in everything. If they are not they will build it.

The 148th Floor on top of Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Our lovely room was on the 66th floor and offered stunning views overlooking the city. When we visited the 148th floor of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world the next day, souring in height over the surrounding edifices. The 72-story Marriott Marquis seemed minuscule in comparison to this towering pinnacle in the sky.

Travel Day 4 – Saturday, March 7th

The Inviting Nikki Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai

Our last evening, we moved over to Dubai’s beaches and stayed at the impressive Nikki Beach Resort and Spa. On Saturday, March 7th, we spent a relaxing afternoon enjoying the beautiful beaches and pool area while chatting about our trip to Sicily the next day, and at that point, we weren’t even contemplating changing our plans.

Travel Day 5 – Sunday, March 8th

The next morning, we woke up with an entirely different perspective on our pending travel to Sicily and while at breakfast overlooking the white sand beaches and azure waters, Dana and I both looked at each other and almost simultaneously decided, that we had to change our plans and not go to Sicily as we originally planned.

“The Decision Breakfast” where all plans changed! We were happy and sad at the same time. But relieved!

Our decision was based on a number of factors compounded by the growing concerns stemming from the everchanging news and family and friends urging us to change our plans. Our dear friends who travel the world frequently, Chris and Susan, sent us a text on the morning of March 8th, “Do not go to Italy, you might not get out!” This had a great impact on us!

Within hours, upon our arrival at Dubai Airport, while waiting in the Emirates Lounge, my mission was on. With a glass of Moet Champagne in hand, I proceeded to call Alaska Air, where we had booked our award travel to Rome via Dubai with our Alaska points to see what our options were to change our flights. I only had an hour or so to get this setup, which put a bit of stress and pressure on and I needed to get this done.

Moet was a must as I diligently spent several hours getting all of our travel rerouted and rebooked! Emirates Lounge in Dubai

We were flying to Rome out of Dubai, and we were scheduled originally to stay overnight near the Rome airport and then fly out the next day to Catania. We needed to change our flights to fly from Rome to London instead. My work was cut out for me. The race was on…

Luckily, we were able to change our flight on the leg from London to San Francisco and keep our business class seats if we flew on Sunday 15th of March from LHR to SFO. Though if we wanted to change our flight leg from Rome to London, they were going to charge us over $400 each to change it. Yikes, that was a lot of money for a short flight from Rome to London, which was already on our itinerary.

Since we were going to be in London for six days, British Airways considered it a tourist layover, and they wanted to charge us exorbitant travel taxes to do that. Really? As it turned out, I was able to find a flight instead for 92 Euros that few direct from Rome into Gatwick the next day, business class too! I grabbed it, and our travel was finally set to fly into London on the 9th of March. Whew, what a relief. Time for another glass of bubbles. That was a stressful endeavor getting all of that arranged and confirmed.

Now to call Geoff and let him know we weren’t going to meet him on March 19th in Rome as planned because of the growing travel restrictions and the growing number of flight cancelations out of Italy, not to mention the growing number of cases of Coronavirus in Italy.

Though disappointed about our change in plans, he graciously invited us to stay with him as his charming 15th-century country cottage in Petworth, Sussex, about an hour outside of London. He said, just consider my home your home base for the next six days. Our “Plan B” went into action, and we were off to London the next day instead of arriving in Catania Sicily as initially planned.

Mario Bucolo – Our Fearless Leader of the “Catania Survivor Group”

I contacted Mario, who was coordinating the few members of the TBEX group who still came into Catania. We were to be amongst that group who chose to still visit Catania during the planned dates. I advised him of our changed plans not to come into Catania after all, and he wished us luck and said he was sorry he would miss seeing us. We were disappointed too but knew in our guts we had made the right decision. As it turns out, we definitively did!

Our Empty Flight From Dubai to Rome – March 8th

The flight from Dubai to Rome was virtually empty, as was the airport in Dubai. When we boarded the business class area of the plane, we realized we were only two of the eight people traveling in that cabin. There were more flight attendants than there were passengers. Needless to say, we had exceptional service on our Emirates flight to Rome.

Travel Day 5 Continues – Sunday Evening March 8th

Upon arriving in Rome, the airport was like crickets, hardly anyone around, so getting through immigration and customs was a breeze. We had a short and sweet layover Fiumicino, the town adjacent to Fiumicino Airport in Rome.

Waiting for Customs After Arriving in Rome for our Brief Layover

Breakfast at the Hotel Tiber near Fiumicino Airport the Morning of March 9th before Heading to London Gatwick

That was as close to being in Italy as we could get. We had a lovely pasta dinner and a bottle of Montepulciano Abruzzo, realizing sadly that we would be missing out on the next fourteen days of stellar Italian cuisine and wines and Sicily. Though we had to pat ourselves on our backs for making the sound and responsible decision of avoiding travel into Sicily and Rome and heading back home via London.

Fiumicino

Travel Day 6 Monday, March 9th

We arrived quite early to Fiumicino Airport in Rome, expecting long lines and crowds, which was the exact opposite of what we discovered. Hardly anyone at the check-in counters, then through the Fast Track line, but not before we had a health screening. We had to stand on two feet signs on the floor while men in orange uniforms did a green laser-like body scan to test our temperatures. The process for us did not take that long as we were the only ones in line. Though the very next day after the borders were set to close at midnight, it was a very different story.

Getting Screened Going Through Rome Airport to Catch our Flight to London on March 9th

The whole experience for us was very trippy, twilight zone-like as we have never experienced anything like this in our lives, only in movies!

Waiting for our much-anticipated flight into London Gatwick Airport

We were cleared to go and headed directly to the British Airways Lounge, which was also crickets. We sat over in the corner, drank bubbles, and had our last and almost only taste of Italian food in Italy of pizza and an Italian sandwich.

The lack of lines in Rome Airport

Waving Bye-Bye after Our Short Layover at Rome Airport on the Way to London – March 9th

It was Monday, March 9th, and we were finally off safely out of our brief 12 hours stay in Italy to London Gatwick Airport, where Geoff picked us up. It was lovely seeing our dear friend again, welcoming us with open arms, and off we went to his humble abode in Petworth for the next six days.

Arriving in the Charming Sussex Village of Petworth

Arriving at Geoff’s Charming Country Cottage In Petworth – March 9th

That evening while he was preparing dinner, I saw on the WhatsApp messenger for the Catania group that still traveled to Sicily called the #CataniaSurvivors an urgent message from the coordinator Mario –

“Entire Italy is now on lockdown. I suggest you find any way to leave Italy as soon as possible. Every activity for the group is now suspended! Good luck guys!”

The lockdown was to begin on the 10th of March, and many flights out of Italy would be canceled, including the same flight we took on the 9th from Rome to London! We probably would have been stuck had it been another day. Wow, we missed that fiasco by only one day! We just couldn’t believe it. It was time to drink some good Italian wine and celebrate that we made it out of there safely to the UK in the confines and comfort of Geoff’s cozy and charming cottage.

Those that still remained of the TBEX Catania group scrambled to get flights out!

The group of bloggers that remained in Catania were all scrambling to get flights out to anywhere. There were one or two that decided to remain in Sicily and wait it out. Brave souls. They are still there!

A few of them in this photo are still in Catania!

Travel Day 7 – Tuesday, March 10th

March 10th – Enjoying a lovely cup of coffee in Geoff’s kitchen while deciding what to do with ourselves for the next several days before we can get our flight home on the 15th.

We had a leisurely morning relaxing in the Sussex countryside trying to get our bearings as our whole trip itinerary had gone “topsy-turvey” on us. Over a lovely cup of coffee, we had decided to rent a car the next day and venture off to the ancient Roman-inspired town of Bath for several days. We might as well take advantage of our time in the UK and explore the region, which at that time appeared relatively unaffected by what was going on in the outside world or at least the people around us did not seem to be particularly bothered by it.

In actuality, we were supposed to be enjoying our first day in beautiful Catania, where we were to meet up with the other Catania travelers who had also chosen to keep their plans to venture into Sicily. Obviously did not happen.

Our Daily Routine

As we had packed for the warmer climate in Sicily, we were limited in warmer clothing to wear during our five days in the chilly and windy UK weather. We did somehow manage, though, and we were off into the bustling city of London to spend the day exploring, eating pub food, going to the Tate Gallery, and then a dinner in the city.

London seemed to continue to be bustling, with loads of people milling about, the pubs and restaurants were full, it felt like it was life as usual there. Little did they anticipate that less than a week later they too would be on restricted travel and quasi lockdown.

Enjoying Pizza and Wine in London with our New Friends From Sicily, Luciana Di Bella, Rino Marchese, Anja Sadlowska, along with our dear friend Geoff Westley

The closet we got to Sicily was actually during our day trip to London on Tuesday evening at Pulcinella Pizzeria in Ealing which is just outside of London.  We popped in there for a quick bite to eat after our adventures around London that day. We met up with a lively group of Sicilians who currently live in London. While noshing on some authentic Italian pizzas and sipping some great Italian wines, they shared with us all about their small towns in Sicily outside of Trapani and their mother’s food. If we really wanted to try the best authentic Sicilian cuisine, it had to be from their mother’s kitchens. By the end of the evening, our new Sicilian friends had invited us to visit them there. We will certainly take them up on that when the coast is clear of course to travel there again.

Travel Day 8 – Wednesday, March 11th

Our Cute Little Rental Car

We were off to the Enterprise rental car agency in Haslemere and then off on our adventure through the quaint winding roads along the emerald-green countryside to Bath, with Dana driving on the opposite side of the road with a left-hand stick shift mind you. He did quite well as you can see, we made it through our 3-day driving adventure safely.

Travel days 8, 9 and 10 – Wednesday to Saturday, March 11th to March 14th

Details of our time cruising around southern England will be in a subsequent story about our adventures there, so stay tuned for that. A quick snapshot – We made the best of our three days venturing around Bath and Portsmouth, sightseeing, going to pubs drinking local ales and sipping on gin and tonics.

 

A stop in a pub in Bath for an Ale and a Gin and Tonic! One of the best G and T’s I have ever had!

Best Gin and Tonic I have ever had. I would go back there just for that!

The Roman Baths are a well-preserved Thermal in the city of Bath, Somerset, England

We also noticed that very few people along the way seemed to be concerned about what was going on in the world. It was pretty much life as usual in the English countryside. We spent 2 nights in Bath and one night in Portsmouth before heading back to Geoff’s home in Petworth.

Headline News – March 12th

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers the latest updates

On March 12th, we discovered while watching the morning BBC news that President Trump had just issued a 30-day travel ban suspending most travel from Europe, preventing citizens from European countries to travel into the US with the exception of the UK and Ireland. US citizens, green card holders, and diplomats were exempt from this declaration. The news also shared that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita announced they had been infected with the Coronavirus. The stress was continuing to mount. It was difficult to relax and enjoy our time visiting the bucolic countryside in southern England.

Travel day 10 – Last Day in England – Saturday, March 14th

We made it back to Geoff’s home, after our 3-day adventure around Southern England, to enjoy the last evening preparing a lovely supper and indulging in quite a few bottles of fantastic Italian wine. Yet another milestone took place as that afternoon, the day before we were to leave, President Trump added the UK and Ireland to the existing European travel ban, which was to take effect midnight on the 15th. Luckily, we were ok to travel home….

Travel day 11 – Finally Our Journey Home – Sunday, March 15th

March 15h – Heading to Check-In at London Heathrow Airport – LHR – Still No Lines!

British Airways Lounge at London Heathrow

Our flight was scheduled to leave from Heathrow on British Airways at 3 pm, our only concern was what if it were to cancel. We made it to LHR early, arriving just before noon, not knowing what to expect when we got to the airport. The crowds were somewhat light but much busier than it had been as this was the last day that passport holders from the UK could actually fly into the United States.

We anxiously awaited our 11-hour flight in the British Airways lounge. Once we boarded the plane, we knew we were safely on the home stretch. We disinfected our surrounding seating area, toasted and took a lovely sip of bubbles, took a deep breath, and gave each other a big hug knowing we had survived our Plan B journey to get home along with lots of stories to tell and memories we will never forget.

Upon landing and arrival stateside at San Francisco International Airport at 7:50 pm there were just a few more hurdles and steps we had to take before we could get into our UBER to head back to the safety of our sanctuary we call Home, Sweet, Home.

Waiting to Deplane from our British Airways Flight at SFO – March 15th

Before we could actually deplane, we were advised that only ten people could disembark the aircraft at a time. This was to keep the social distancing in check while we turned in our health and travel documents to the half a dozen screeners waiting to interview us as we passed through on the way to customs and passport control.

The Health Screening Process Upon Arrival into San Francisco just after Deplaning

Dana and I cleared easily but not without the stress of the anticipated experience. We were given an information card on self-quarantining and were sent on our way. Next was customs, where the lines were quite long, at least an hour plus wait. Luckily, we had Mobile Passport, and we were the only ones in line to go through to the customs desk for Mobile Passport. Whew, yet another aha moment!

The Long Customs Line of People Arriving in San Francisco – March 15th

Mobile Passport Saved us at Least Two Hours in Customs!

It was a quiet Sunday night, so virtually no traffic, and in an hour, we were home! Voila! We have never been so relieved to walk through our door and into our welcoming living room. Time for a glass of wine or two or three and more big hugs, then totally exhausted from the journey sinking into our couch and enjoying a delicious plate of scrambled eggs and bacon! Yes indeed, it was Home, Sweet, Home!

March 15h – We Arrived Home!

We Made It! Happily Home Cooking Eggs and Bacon

As the pandemic of the world continues to unfold around us and the “Shelter in Place” order now in effect in Napa Valley, all around the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world, we expect more of the unexpected in the days to come. In the meantime, we are in the confines and safety of our home for the next three weeks. Stay tuned…

Sending best wishes to all! Be Smart, Be Safe, and Be Well! Wishing this global nightmare will soon be behind us…

Dynie and Dana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus and Travel Being Prepared and Being Smart

Coronavirus and Travel Being Prepared and Being Smart

Well, as you might imagine, this story dated March 3rd is old news! We went and then we changed our plans on March 9th and came back 10 days early.

Read the story of our journey back home going through empty airports, flying on empty planes, going through health screenings and riding just ahead of the curve to get back home to our safe haven in Napa Valley.

Our Travels Getting Back Home During the Rising Global Pandemic – Covid-19

Should we stay, or Should we go! Well, we decided to Go! Up, Up, and Away!

To Travel or Not to Travel – Being Prepared, Being Smart and Don’t Be Afraid! Off We Go!

Well for the last couple of weeks the question of the hour was should we still embark on our long-planned travel journey across the pond and beyond to our 4 days in Dubai and our 2 weeks in Sicily and then Rome for 4 days to see old friends. After much deliberation and very little hesitation, we decided to carry on with our travel plans. So off we go!!

How to travel safely during these media accelerated uncertain times. One of the many points we took into consideration was how to travel safely during the coronavirus outbreak around the world. What preparations and precautions should we take knowing that much of our travel was going to be by air travel with a variety of flights going into Dubai, then to Rome, then to Catania and then to London via Rome to fly home to San Francisco Airport?

One of the biggest measurements and criteria we explored were details on how to thoroughly disinfect our airplane seats and our surroundings on our flights. Whether a short-haul or a long haul, the same precautions and preparations would be necessary to take measurements into our own hands to avoid getting sick from germs on an aircraft. And what other smart healthy and safe travel necessities should we bring.

Research studies on the spread of germs

In a recent study done by Reservations.com with regards to the spread of germs on an airplane showed that nearly 20% of passengers have flown sick as we have all seen on numerous flights in the past. Shockingly 19% of passengers don’t always wash their hands after using the bathrooms on the plane, yuck, shame on those of you that are neglectful in your hygiene. Wash your hands, please!

On our recent flight to Miami a few weeks ago, we began our thorough regime in taking additional travel safety precautions. Upon boarding and arriving at our seat we took our disinfectant wipes and wiped down every nook and cranny of the seat and surrounding area, particularly the tray table, the armrests, the seat belt, and buckle and the window. Think about how many people touch the windows. Then indulged in our hand sanitizer often, particularly after heading back from the lavatory. I even took my disinfecting wipes to the bathroom with me as an extra measure.

Deciding on what products to use!!

I am a big fan of Clorox Wipes or Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and use them around the house and in our camper all the time. I am a bit obsessed with them. Thank goodness. Though trying to find the small packets right now is difficult as most of your favorite online shopping sites are sold out or gauging the price to customers up the wazoo. If you can’t find the smaller travel packs take a good amount out of the larger tubs and put them in Ziploc bags, that will work well too. These disinfectant wipes, if used properly kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.

The recent study stated that “Coronavirus is actually easy to kill, as studies have shown that disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers can kill bacteria and viruses that are much more difficult to kill than the Coronavirus.” And of course, washing hands frequently and thoroughly.

Again, you must use the products correctly in order for them to be effective and offer the maximum protection. When you board the plane, don’t just do a light once over. Overkill your cleaning efforts and you will kill the germs. The study also showed that the germ-meter score found on tray tables was a whopping 1,688 compared to just 32 in the airplane bathroom. But still, disinfect after every bathroom visit.

When you get to your seat, start with your tray table and take some time on it, then move to the armrests and seatbacks. Take the wipes with you to the bathroom as the latch handles are frequently used and remember 18% don’t even wash their hands.

Sanitize your hands frequently!

The biggest thing to remember and keep on a constant routine to frequently use your hand sanitizer. Avoid shaking hands and always avoid touching your face, mouth, and eyes.

If you chose a window seat clean those windows too! From studies done on airplane travel, the best thing to do is sit next to the window as you will have less of a chance picking up an infection from a fellow passenger as you don’t have people frequently walking by you as you do in an aisle seat.

Making your own Hand Sanitizer from 3 easy ingredients

Take plenty of hand sanitizer with you at all times. Though as we have heard around the world finding hand sanitizer is becoming like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yikes, you are traveling and couldn’t find hand sanitizer anywhere. GoodHousekeeping.com offers a DIY or make it yourself solution using 3 simple ingredients. On their website, they suggest using Vodka, Aloe Vera gel, and essential oils to make your own sanitizing concoction.

Photo Credit – Stephanie Eckelkamp

On their website, they show a bottle of Tito’s, Aloe Vera gel and Tea Tree essential oil. Though if you can get your hands-on Ethyl alcohol use that. Though it will be much easier to buy a cheap bottle of vodka (the higher the proof the better), that will be just fine too. Save the Tito’s and pour yourself a vodka tonic and get to the creating your homemade hand sanitizer.

Here is the Good Housekeeping’s recipe for homemade Hand Sanitizer By Stephanie Eckelkamp

  • Vodka (a cheap brand is fine, the higher the proof the better)
  • Aloe Vera Gel
  • Lavender essential oil
  • Tea tree essential oil or any oils of your choice
  • Small plastic bottles 2oz. Just make sure it is smaller than airplane will allow for carry-on liquids

Fill each bottle with ¼ to 1/3 of the way full of vodka

Add 10 – 15 drops of each tea tree essential oil and lavender essential oil. Both of these essential oils have natural anti-bacterial properties.

Then fill the bottles the rest of the way with aloe Vera gel and shake well.

Now you are ready to go!

Put it in your bag and use it as needed. Also, remember a good handwashing with regular soap and water is always best for killing germs.

Should you wear a Mask?

Quoting a recent article just out by Forbes – “No, you do not need facemasks to prevent Coronavirus – They might increase your infection risk.” Even if there are cases next door, the answer is no, you do NOT need to get or wear face masks – surgical masks, N95 masks, respirator masks or anything else to protect yourself against the Coronavirus.

Not only do you not need them, but you also shouldn’t wear them according to infection specialist Eli Perencevich, MD, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine. If they wear the masks incorrectly, they can increase the risks of infection because they are touching their faces more often.

Only wear a mask if you are sick to keep from infecting others!!

It is best to protect yourself through social distancing. If you see someone coughing or sneezing or looking sick, stay at least three feet away from them since that is as far as most droplets travel.

Here are a few other tips from medical professionals!!!

  1. NO HANDSHAKING!!! You can use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump if you need to have personal contact. Otherwise, avoid it!
  2. Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches, door latches, elevator buttons
  3. Open doors with a closed fist or hip! DO NOT grasp the handle with your hand unless there is absolutely no other way to open the door. And then immediately sanitize your hands or thoroughly wash for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Wipe off your phone and other surfaces that you touch, your computer, your iPad, etc.

 

Zinc Lozenges – Cold-Eeze – Zicam

Stock up on these items and travel with them. Zinc lozenges have been proven effective in blocking coronavirus and most other viruses from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx.  Use as directed several times a day whether you are sick or not.

On this upcoming trip, I have plenty of cold ease, Zicam lozenges and Zicam Nasal spray with me. I look like a traveling pharmacy, but better to be prepared than at a loss.

When traveling be sure to take all of your current medications and preventative medications with you, that way you will be sure to have them. Particularly if you are traveling outside of the country where their pharmacies will probably not have the products that you are used to.

 

 

When you are at Hotels

Do the same routine as when you boarded the airplane. Wipe down everything in your hotel room that you plan on touching – Door Knobs, light switches, bedside tables, chairs, etc. And definitely don’t drink from the hotel room glasses. Most of the time they are just rinsed out by the cleaning crew and put back on the shelf. Another Yuck! Bring your own water bottle or personal mugs, even bring your own personal metal straws. We are definitely bringing our own. You don’t want to put your mouth on any glass that is in your hotel room.

 

I just had the chance to interview Tammy Arden – As a World Travel Expert, She Shares Need-to-Know Safety Facts and Strategic, Smart Advice for Travelers.

Tammy Arden Speaks about TRAVEL TREPIDATION AND THE CORONAVIRUS

National TV Travel correspondent, Tammy Levent is the CEO of Elite Travel, an award-winning national travel agency named the fastest-growing and most trusted in the nation and she is also the founder of TASK (The Travel Agent’s Success Kit™) a business that helps struggling travel agencies successfully adapt to this new age of travel.

 Here are a few of her important touchpoints!!

  • To Cancel or Not To Cancel: 
    • Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. The decision depends on when and where you are traveling and what your current health condition is. Monitor news updates and travel alerts regularly but be pragmatic and avoid making rash decisions. If your vacation is more than a month away, waiting to cancel may be a strategic move. The epidemic is fluid and changing every day and things may be different in 30 days. You can always change the date for a later time. Although there may be small cancellation penalties, talking to a travel agent can help.
  • Need to know health tips for travelers
    • I ALWAYS.. ALWAYS, TAKE CLOROX WIPES WITH ME AND WIPE DOWN THE SEAT IN FRONT OF ME HEADREST. THINK OF ALL THOSE WHO PUT THEIR FOREHEADS, HANDS, ETC., I WIPE DOWN THE TRAY, ARMREST, AND SEAT BUCKLE AND BACK HEADREST. BEEN/ SHUT MY VENTILATION OVER MY HEAD. BEEN DOING THIS FOR YEARS.  NEVER GET SICK
    • Never put your suitcase or purse on your pillow. – Think of all of the places your purse and luggage have been!  They touch the bathroom floor, the airport floor, the street, the pavement – yuck.
    • No matter when or where you are traveling, one thing is clear: basic hygiene is the best means of prevention. Wash your hands with soap and water several times a day, especially before eating. Avoid touching your face or putting your hands in your mouth. 
  • Where not to travel
    • IF THE CDC OR WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION HAS PUT OUT A DO NOT TRAVEL ELEVATED WARNING THEN DO NOT TRAVEL THERE.  IF THEY SAY DO NOT GO TO CHINA OBVIOUSLY YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GO TO CHINA EVEN IF IT MEANS YOUR BUSINESS IS AT RISK IF YOU ARE GOING FOR BUSINESS. YOUR HEALTH IS MORE IMPORTANT.  TRAVEL SMART THAN NOT TRAVELING AT ALL
  • Insider tips to avoid fees and penalties.
    • FIRST BEFORE YOU EVEN BOOK A TRIP EITHER ONLINE OR WITH A TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL MAKE SURE TO ASK ABOUT CANCELLATION POLICIES.   WE NEVER BOOK CLIENTS IN NON-REFUNDABLE HOTELS.  MOST ONLINE BOOKINGS ARE NON-REFUNDABLE, NEXT GET CANCEL FOR ANY REASON INSURANCE, THIS WILL NOT COVER YOU MEDICALLY IF YOU CANCEL YOUR TRIP 100 PERCENT. BUT YOU CAN CANCEL YOUR TRIP FOR ANY REASON AND GET A FULL REFUND.  IF YOU DO ADD THE MEDICAL COVERAGE YOU WILL BE COVERED MEDICALLY AT 100 PERCENT AND CANCEL FOR ANY REASON ADDED AND GET 75 PERCENT BACK OF YOUR MONEY IF YOU CANCEL FOR ANY REASON AND NOT A MEDICAL REASON.  WHEN I TRAVEL, I GET CANCEL FOR ANY REASON AND MEDICAL INSURANCE TO COVER ME IF SOMETHING HAPPENS OVERSEAS.   ON AVERAGE CANCEL FOR ANY REASON COSTS ABOUT 130 TO 150 PER PERSON.
    • NEXT, YOU CANNOT GET ANY FEES WAIVED OR CANCEL FEES UNLESS THE CDC OR WORLD HEALTH SAIS NO TRAVEL THERE, THEN THE AIRLINES, HOTELS ETC. ARE FORCED TO CANCEL AND REFUND YOUR TRIP.
    • YOU HAVE PLANNED THIS TRIP BECAUSE YOU WANT TO GO, SO GO. MAYBE YOU WILL HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR TRAVEL PLANS AND GO A LITTLE LATER, IM SURE THAT IT WILL BE ALOT EASIER TO MOVE YOUR TRIP PLANS AND GET WAIVERS FOR MOVING THE DATE OVER THAN WAIVERS FOR A COMPLETE CANCELLATION.  

United Kingdom, Italy, Sicily and Dubai Travel I also asked specifically about the destinations I am heading to! Here are some of her thoughts on those regions.

  • The UK is very congested, just like NYC so take extra precautions (basic hygiene: carry wet wipes or hand sanitizer, wash your hands, don’t touch your mouth, etc.) and, if possible, avoid big crowds.
  • The coronavirus was in Venice…not Rome, Florence, or Sicily. Still, it’s best to avoid big crowds
  • TIP: If you do the Vatican, the best time to do it is before or after hours. (They have an early tour/admission around 7:30 am as well as a late one after closing. You have to sign up ahead of time and it costs about 20 dollars more, but it is a good option because it is 100 people or less.) 

You can check out more about Tammy at tammylevent.com

She is the founder of Elite Travel and her non-profit, It’s My Bag, is an organization that donates suitcases to children in foster care.

 

Safe Travels Everyone – Please be Aware, Be Prepared and Be Safe!