The House Hotel Bosphorus- Istanbul

The House Hotel is exactly that- your home away from home. That is if you live in the home of the architects that designed the Dolmabahce Palace. The hotel itself is GORGEOUS! If you want a huge sprawling hotel, this is not the place for you. This was literally the house of a famous architectural family and you can see it in all the detailing of the hotel and rooms. Due to some noise that was NOT under the control of the hotel, we were upgraded to the Bosphorus Suite. And what an upgrade it was. This suite has 2 balconies, both which look out onto the Bosphorus. The downside is that the cute little balcony with a small table and chairs and the breathtaking views makes it VERY hard to want to leave the room. We actually nixed a ferry tour so that we could just relax on the balcony. Besides the beautiful detailing in the rooms, the interior decorating is also very charming. My favorite was the bedside lamp that looks like a golden birdcage. It’s details like this that make me fall in love with certain hotels. And my favorite part of the rooms- L’Occitane bath products. Sold! That’s when I knew everything in this hotel was luxurious. In addition, they provide complimentary bottles of water and my favorite, complimentary brunch.

As for location, it couldn’t be any better. You have the most amazing view of the Bosphorus Bridge. Watching it change colors at night was amazing. You are also in walking distance of tons of restaurants, shops and ferry tours. If you are looking to go to do touristy stuff, it is an easy 30 min walk (or quick bus ride) to the Dolmabahce Palace or the Metro which takes you right to old town. Super easy. You are also about a 45 min walk to Bebek which is an adorable little waterfront town to the north.

And I had to save the best part for last. What really made The House such a memorable stay was the service. Bahar, the manager, came to greet us when we were done with breakfast. She introduced herself and apologized for the noise (which wasn’t their fault). She told us she was changing our room so we were farther away from the noise. She also sent us a bottle of wine and made sure everything was perfect from then on out. Her and her staff were all so helpful and friendly, we were sad to go to the next hotel. She was so great that When we had a terrible experience at the next hotel (Le Meridien Etiler), I emailed her and she was able to get us a room at her sister hotel, The House Hotel Nisantasi.

Brunch was included in the rate and it was delicious.  Besides the normal pastries, cheese, toast, cereal etc, you could also order hot items like eggs or omelets from a special menu.  The view from the library, where brunch is held,  is the perfect place to start the day.  I can’t wait to go back to Istanbul and even more, I can’t wait to stay at The House Hotel Bosphorus and see Bahar!

Room Tip: Deluxe Bosphorus Suites are AMAZING! You may not leave your room
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America’s Happiest Seaside Towns

Coastal Living has just ranked the top 15 happiest places to live on the coast.  Marin managed to take 3 of those spots (yay!).  California claimed 5 total spots.  Here is the line-up:

  1. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
  2. Naples, Florida
  3. Sausalito, California (woo hoo!)
  4. Lake Bluff, Illinois
  5. Tiburon, California
  6. Laguna Beach
  7. Half Moon Bay
  8. Chatham, Massachusetts
  9. Jupiter, Florida
  10. Lahaina, Hawaii
  11. Marblehead, Massachusetts
  12. Stinson Beach, California
  13. Cohasset, Massachusetts
  14. Duxbury, Massachusetts
  15. Solomans Island, Maryland
Stuff and Things

Cheap Vegas Trip!

Here is a great deal when you want a quick, cheap getaway to Vegas or Orlando.  For $125, you and a companion can fly out to either city and includes a 2 night stay at a hotel.  How can you beat that deal??!  Wait, it also includes a $50 gift card to  Click here to get one now before it sells out!


Bible Interpretations…

It is not shocking to hear that some things in the bible might sound, well, a little out-dated if I dare say so?  Here is one funny guy’s interpretation.  I think my fave is #4.  Enjoy:

Dr. Laura Schlesinger is a US radio personality who dispenses advice
to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as
an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as

Dear Dr. Laura

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that
knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them.

1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a
pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors.
They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in
Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair
price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in
her period of menstrual cleanliness – Lev.15:19-24. The problem is,
how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and
female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus
35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I
have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair
around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.
19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes
me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two
different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing
garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester
blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really
necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town
together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn.t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident
you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is
eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan,



Best Small Towns In The US- Marin Gets Some Love

4. Mill Valley, CA

A Bay Area enclave that put mellow on the map keeps its funky vibe.

Mill Valley is one of the jewels in a necklace of beau- tiful towns—along with Sausalito, Marin City and Tiburon—across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It’s tucked into a canyon on the flank of 2,571-foot Mount Tamalpais, near the giant redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument and marshland surrounding Richardson Bay. The setting and proximity to San Francisco attracted sawmills, dairy farms and resort operators, then Beat poets and hippies who scandalized locals by skinny-dipping and smoking weed. A more recent influx of wealthy commuters has made Mill Valley (pop. 13,900) one of the nation’s wealthiest ZIP codes. Shops, galleries, organic food restaurants and art festivals cater to the newcomers, threatening to crowd out ratty old landmarks like the beloved Sweetwater Saloon where Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia and Elvis Costello played. The good news is that, as of this past January, the Sweetwater’s back, occupying new quarters in the town’s old Masonic Hall. The Art Commission sponsors concerts and comedy in the town plaza, and the Throckmorton Theater welcomes music groups like the Kingston Trio and Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, along with a June festival dedicated to gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. — SS

Read more:

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Rustic Bakery Deal

Plum District has another deal for the scrumptious Rustic Bakery.  With their new location at Marin Mart, it is even easier to get your hands on their yummy sandwiches, salads, buttery croissants and addicting cookies.  Right now you can get a card with 10 $5 off punches for $25.  Use the code VISA10 and your Visa card to get another 10% off.  Click here to get the deal!

Deals, Food

Why You Should Use a Travel Agent

Can a Travel Agent Actually Save You Money?

Cheryl Lock
Posted 19 hours ago

A Travel Agent Dishes: How to Save Money When TravelingAre travel agents back?

This question, posed by The New York Times, got us thinking. According to the piece, nearly one in three leisure travel agencies is hiring, and in 2011 travel agencies experienced a second consecutive year of growth; in fact, their bookings accounted for a third of the $284 billion U.S. travel market.

Silly us, we thought travel agents had become passé.

But if the travel agent business is thriving, we started wondering—is there something to this? Could using an old-school travel agent actually save us money on travel?

To find out, we consulted Barbara Vong, a travel agent withWright Travel Agency, the 2011 winner of the Best of the Best Globe Award from Travel Impressions.


The first thing we learned? Travel agents usually don’t charge customers for their services! Their payment actually comes through the hotels and wholesalers, meaning that we can simply tap into a free service. That also means using a travel agent should never be more expensive than booking by yourself online … and these are experts well-versed in where to find the best deals.

Of course, booking your flights in 30 seconds with a few clicks sounds a lot easier than playing phone tag with a live person, so it pays to know when a travel agent can help the most, and when you might as well DIY it. Vong let us in on the best times to call an agent, and some money-saving travel tips she’s picked up in her line of work:

Use a Travel Agent If …

You’re Traveling With a Group

For group bookings that involve coordinating travel for multiple people, it’s always easier to use a travel agent, says Vong. “I just had a bride call me because one of the groomsmen booked his own trip through a discount travel site, and he wanted to add someone to the room,” says Vong. “The customer service representative from the travel site he used told him they couldn’t do it, but they were probably just being lazy. This is a great example of when you’d rather hand the responsibility of changing that booking to a travel agent, rather than trying to fix it on your own.”

You’re Not Sure Where You Want to Go

Reading online reviews of a specific resort or city can take lots of time and effort. If you’re booking a getaway for your family, but your destination is still a question mark, an experienced travel agent can help steer you toward what you’re looking for (Family friendly? Beach town? Non-touristy?) “What I’ve noticed is that often our suppliers have better rates than what discount sites are offering, even when they advertise for ‘cheap last minute trips,’” says Vong. “Plus, if you start working with the same agent over and over for your travel, they become familiar with you and your needs, which makes it easier for them to help you pick out a spot you’ll enjoy.” (As a side note, check out our editor’s review of one new personal travel service that could help you plan your next trip.)

You’re Traveling Internationally

If you’re planning to travel somewhere out of the country, and you’ve never been there before, it might be a good idea to go through a travel agent. When you use an agent to book international travel, you’ll be able to ask a million questions, says Vong, and your agent will be sure to gather all the information you’ll need to make sure you’re traveling safely.

You Don’t Need a Travel Agent If …

You’re Only Booking a Flight

Let’s say you’re visiting a friend in Arizona and all you need is the flight out there. With all of the discount flight sites available, it’s usually easier, and generally about the same price, to just book it yourself. (Check out our rundown of popular travel sites to see which one might work best for you.)

You Want to Use Your Miles

Travel agents aren’t able to use your points or rewards card miles to book a flight or hotel for you—you’ll have to book on your own if you’d like to use them. “If you’re booking on your own, though, sites like Expedia or Orbitz, they usually offer a place for you to input your rewards information,” says Vong.

You Find a Fantastic Deal on a Deal Site

Go ahead and book a travel deal that you find on a site like LivingSocialGroupon orTravelzoo. Just remember that you’ll need to be flexible with the travel dates (most deals are offered for off-peak times, like travel on a weekday only, or for a Sunday night at a hotel), and be wary of expiration dates.

Some Travel Tips to Save Money

In her years as a travel agent, Vong has discovered a few things that help her save money on her own travel. Here are a few of her favorites:

1. Fly at the Right Time

If you can, avoid flying out on a Thursday or Friday, or flying back on a Sunday, when Vong says flights tend to be the most expensive. “It’s hard to say exactly how much a traveler could save, as it depends on the specific flight and how much space is available on it, but you could find yourself saving up to $50 or more for longer flights,” says Vong. We’ll cover this and more ways to nab the absolute cheapest airfare in our upcoming story on when to buy plane tickets for just about everything–so keep your eyes out!

2. Factor in Your Transfer

Set up transportation from the airport to your hotel through a shuttle or van service online prior to arriving at your destination. Local taxis in some countries have been known to charge more to foreigners traveling to and from airports. If you’re working with a travel agent, she should always be able to book transportation for you from the airport. If you’re booking on your own, try calling your airline for suggestions, or searching on the tourism website for the place where you’re going (most major tourist cities have a tourism website.) If you’re booking a tour on your vacation, most tour operators also offer transfers with the purchase of certain products, says Vong.

3. Try the Go City Card

The Go City Card is available in nine U.S. cities (including Boston, Chicago, New York, Orlando and more), and it allows you to pick and choose which sightseeing you want to do and to buy those activities as a bundle, which will be much cheaper than buying them individually.

4. Use Your Email

If you’re traveling within the U.S., sign yourself up for emails from deal sites likeGrouponLivingsocial and Bloomspot from the city you’re traveling to for potential discounts. In other words, if you live in Chicago but are traveling to San Francisco, subscribe to the San Fran deal sites shortly before your trip–you can always unsubscribe later.

5. Be Smart About Exchanging Currency

If you’ll be traveling to a country where you’ll need a different currency, Vong suggests exchanging money at your hotel. “They usually have the best rates, they don’t charge a fee and you can put any extra money you don’t need back in the safe deposit box in your room as soon as you get it,” she says.

Tell us—how do you save money on travel?


Olive Garden Review

This lovely review comes courtesy of Marilyn Hagerty, a writer for the Grand Forks Herald.  As I have yet to try one, I will post her review for all of you wondering what Olive Garden is really all about.

After a lengthy wait for Olive Garden to open in Grand Forks, the lines were long in February. The novelty is slowly wearing off, but the steady following attests the warm welcome.

My first visit to Olive Garden was during midafternoon, so I could be sure to get in. After a late breakfast, I figured a late lunch would be fashionable.

The place is impressive. It’s fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting.

My booth was near the kitchen, and I watched the waiters in white shirts, ties, black trousers and aprons adorned with gold-colored towels. They were busy at midday, punching in orders and carrying out bread and pasta.

It had been a few years since I ate at the older Olive Garden in Fargo, so I studied the two manageable menus offering appetizers, soups and salads, grilled sandwiches, pizza, classic dishes, chicken and seafood and filled pastas.

At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.

She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives. Along with it came a plate with two long, warm breadsticks.

The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.

As I ate, I noticed the vases and planters with permanent flower displays on the ledges. There are several dining areas with arched doorways. And there is a fireplace that adds warmth to the decor.

Olive Garden has an attractive bar area to the right of the entryway. The restaurant has a full liquor license and a wine list offering a wide selection to complement Italian meals. Nonalcoholic beverages include coolers, specialty coffees and hot teas.

On a hot summer day, I will try the raspberry lemonade that was recommended.

There’s a homemade soup, salad and breadstick lunch available until 4 p.m. daily for $6.95.

An olive branch on menu items signified low-fat entrees. There is a Garden Fare Nutrition Guide available for customers seeking gluten-free food. And for those with food allergies, Olive Garden has an Allergen Information Guide.

All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.

Olive Garden is part of the Darden chain of restaurants that also operates Red Lobster. There are about 700 restaurants, including four Olive Gardens in North Dakota’s major cities.

Olive Garden has gained a following since 1982 with its ample portions and relaxed ambience. It’s known for its classic lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo and chicken Parmigiana.


Food, Giggles

Sol Food Deal

Yay it’s back!  Another Sol Food deal!  Right now you can get their Early Bird deal with $10 worth of food for $5 or their Night Owl deal of $10 for $20 worth of food.  Click here to get this deal before it sells out!  Vouchers are good at either of their Lincoln Street locations.

Deals, Food

Cancun Part 1

If you are considering of going to the Cancun/Riviera Maya area in the near future, here are some tips from a recent client.  She and her husband started in Cancun and made their way down to Tulum during a relaxing 10 day trip.

Westin Lagunamar/Cancun – I loved the hotel!  The room was beautiful and big.  We were in the new section, which still has some construction going on but it was pretty quiet for the most part.  I loved the bathroom, the soaking tub has a sliding wall that separates the bathroom and bedroom so when you slid it open you had a view of the bedroom and the ocean!!  The staff were incredibly helpful and pleasant.  Downside, the food was so-so.
Mahekal Beach Resort/Playa del Carmen – Great place!  Room and bathroom were nice and spacious, although limited furniture.  The porch was nice with 2 hammocks.  Would definitely recommend requesting the top unit if staying in the 2 unit bungalows, unless you have kids and do not want to deal with steps.  They have over 100 rooms but they did a great job spreading out the bungalows so the resort did not feel big or cramped.  Food was average at best.  Breakfast was our best bet.  The location of the hotel was also nice and in a cute little neighborhood which seems up and coming.  We could easily walk-down to 5th street.  I would definitely recommend this place for families and for weddings.  Not sure how they do weddings there but it would be a great hotel for guest accommodations!
El Pez/Tulum – Best place!!  Love, love, love the hotel and town!!  All 4 of us ranked this as # 1 and cannot wait to go back.  The beach front rooms were spectacular, killer views.  The rooms were nice too.  Note, the bathroom is part of the room which did not bother us but may bother others.  Next door was the SandBar which served breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Food was fantastic – basic but delicious.  Dinner was BBQ!  No shoes required since it was on the beach.  Staff were wonderful too.  Another great restaurant is Mateo’s, located a block away.  Best tacos ever!  Great vibe too!!  I’m not sure El Pez does weddings but it would be an incredible place to have one.  One possible downside is the area was breezy, not sure if this is common for Tulum.  I know its popular with kiteboarders so it may be.
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