Author Archives: Masada Siegel

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WSJ – Stay-at-Home Moms Are Ready for Covid-19 

 Stay-at-Home Moms Are Ready for Covid-19 

I’m already used to telecommuting while tending to the needs of my 4-year-old son.

 

The Siegel family’s new vegetable garden in Scottsdale, Ariz.

PHOTO: MASADA SIEGEL

An email from my editor popped into my inbox: “Can you edit this story? We would like to use it for tomorrow’s paper.” Just then I was setting up the Black & Decker toy tool kit that I had promised my son, then 2, weeks earlier as a reward for doing such a great job with potty training. The timing was tough—toddlers and newspaper editors both have immediate deadlines, and both can be impatient to get what they want.

But I prevailed. As time was ticking, I managed to build the set while editing the story and avoiding a meltdown. Working from home while taking care of a toddler isn’t easy. I have had to learn how to maximize time with my son and get my writing done. Stay-at-home moms know that every second counts.

Two weeks ago my friend from Rome, Elena, spoke to me the ominous words: “Prepare yourself. Coronavirus is in the north of Italy, it will soon be here in Rome, and in a few weeks it’ll be in the U.S.A.”

Elena works in the film industry and tends to be dramatic. But she was spot on about the spread of Covid-19 in Italy. The whole country is now shut down, and the medical system is overwhelmed. It made me think that, just as it would play out in a bad film, the U.S. will follow suit. And there is a good chance day-care centers and primary schools will shut down here, too.

If my 4-year-old’s preschool closes down for the year, I know that readiness will mean more than having the household necessities. It means thinking out of the box for creative activities to keep my little one busy. No matter what happens, I’ll need to keep sane and get work done. If we’re going to be all hunkered down for a few weeks, it never hurts to be prepared.

Ms. Siegel is a freelance journalist who covers international affairs, business, parenting and travel.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

 

WSJ- The Airbnb Hotel Next Door

WSJ-The Airbnb Hotel Next Door

Short-term rentals, a boon for travelers and landlords, make life hard for homeowners.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
 
 

A neighborhood in Scottsdale, Ariz.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Becoming a homeowner is part of the American dream, and after three years searching, my husband and I found a fixer-upper in a quiet Scottsdale neighborhood. Unknown to us, however, the house next door was a short-term rental, an Airbnb that can host more than 16 people.

An optimist, I thought it would be a way to meet interesting people. Then reality set in.

Another visitor arrived with a large group of men. He got so drunk he wandered into the wrong house—the owner had left the door unlocked—and passed out. He’s lucky he didn’t get shot for trespassing—many of my neighbors own guns.

Fourteen women once arrived to celebrate a bachelorette party. Three banged on our door several times to borrow household items, which they never returned.

The party house isn’t alone. Across the street is a second short-term rental, and there are several more within five blocks. It’s disruptive to the many families with young children who bought houses in the neighborhood looking to set down roots.

In 2016, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law known as the Airbnb bill, which severely limits local regulation of short-term rentals. The only restrictions it allows are for safety, noise, parking and neighborhood nuisances. Even these are poorly enforced. While Scottsdale law mandates only six adults and their dependents can stay in a short-term rental, you will find all over Airbnb’s website houses boasting rooms for far greater numbers of people. Before 2016, Scottsdale prohibited rentals of fewer than 30 days in residential neighborhoods.

According to All the Rooms, a company that analyzes Airbnb data, in July 2019 there were 3,026 Airbnb rentals available in Scottsdale and the adjacent town of Paradise Valley, with a 40% occupancy rate. These rentals generated $5.3 million in revenue. How can they not be viewed as unlicensed hotels? I didn’t sign up to live next to a hotel.

In May 2019 Mr. Ducey signed another law, with a few more restrictions. Owners of short-term rentals must provide cities or towns with contact information and respond to complaints in a timely manner.

While the owner of the neighboring house has great reviews for being prompt and attentive to his guests, he is unresponsive to my concerns. He told me in one year he raked in more than $100,000 from this property. That’s quite a return, but his neighbors paid the price.

Ms. Siegel is a freelance journalist who covers international affairs, business and travel.

WSJ-What I Learned on Safari: Ignore the Fine Print

What I Learned on Safari: Ignore the Fine Print

How could my sister shop while I faced a lioness?

Wall Street Journal
 
 

Lions greet tourists on a safari in South Africa, April 2017.

PHOTO: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

Conventional wisdom will tell you to read waivers carefully before signing your life away. Sometimes it’s better to jump blindly into adventure. Eleven years ago my friend Tuomo convinced me to tag along on a South African safari. I agreed, trusting he wouldn’t put me in danger.

On arrival to Balule Nature Reserve, everyone piled out of the truck and headed to the viewing deck, where we saw five lionesses relaxing a quarter-mile away. They must have had a “tasty lunch,” our guide observed: “We’re so lucky; I haven’t seen lions at the watering hole for over two years.”

My stomach bottomed out. There were wild animals everywhere, but no gates, no guards, no fences protecting our tents. I’d never even camped in the U.S. This was some introduction.

“I guess you didn’t read the fine print in the catalog,” he said with a smile.

I wanted to call my mother, but so as not to panic her, I phoned my sister instead: “Audrey, I’m sleeping in a tent. And there are five lions outside, and I’m scared.”

“What? Masada, I can’t hear you. I’m in Costco right now. Can I call you back?”

I stared at my phone. I was about to be eaten by lions and she was shopping.

The next day, we were scheduled to follow an unarmed tracker on a nature hike past where we’d seen the lions the day before. My tent seemed like a safe haven by comparison, so I told the guide I’d sit this one out.

“You can’t be alone at the camp,” he said. “It’s not safe.”

Now thoroughly terrified, I reluctantly joined the hike. It was beautiful as well as scary. The tracker showed us footprints from elephants, zebras and monkeys. A young giraffe appeared and watched us as we admired her—a quiet reminder that we were guests in her world.

I finally relaxed when we took a safari ride in a truck later that day—until an elephant charged our vehicle, which chose that moment to stall. The truck started seconds later, but the guide insisted we stand our ground, revving our engine as we slowly accelerated towards the massive beast. I was sure we’d be trampled to death, but the elephant broke off its charge at the last moment. Fear-induced adrenaline heightened my senses the whole trip and let me catch every magical detail. Sometimes it’s best not to read the fine print.

Ms. Siegel is a freelance journalist who covers international affairs, business and travel.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the April 2, 2019, print edition.

Wall Street Journal- Watch Your Phone, Not Your Kids

Watch Your Kids, Not Your Phone

They’ll never grow up again, so don’t let yourself be distracted.

 
 
 

On a sparkling, 70-degree winter day in Arizona, my 2-year-old son and I raced around the park. He loves to run and for me to chase. Another toddler boy joined in, and off we went, easily running a half-mile from where we started. I kept looking forward at my son and back at the little one following us. His mother was nowhere in sight. I felt responsible for this child I’d never seen.

We returned to the sandbox area, and I yelled out, “Whose little guy is this?” His mother looked up from her cellphone and said: “Mine. Why?”

“He was running off with us to the other side of the park.”

Watch Your Kids, Not Your Phone
PHOTO: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

She looked surprised and started to scold him: “You have to stay in this area and not leave.” She then returned to staring at her phone. Whatever she was reading was more compelling than her son.

 

I told the story to a neighbor, and she recounted a time she watched in horror a mother who was too busy on her cellphone to notice her toddler’s hand getting stuck in an elevator door.

 

Everywhere I turn these days, people are paying attention to their phones instead of their kids. Recently my son and I were playing basketball at our local community center. We were there for almost two hours running and throwing a ball around. A woman approached me and said: “You are a good mother.” I asked why. “I’ve been watching you play with your son while I’ve been working out, and you are really paying attention to him. The days are long, but the years fly by quickly.”

Everyone wants attention. Kids especially need it. Putting my phone away is a win-win. I’m more aware of my surroundings, and every day my son shows me new aspects of himself—stringing together sentences with new words, helping trees when their branches have fallen off (his solution is to tape them back on). These precious moments are fleeting and easy to miss.

Like most people, I’m addicted to my phone, but I do my best to stay focused on what really matters. Those moments I waste mindlessly scrolling through social-media feeds and emails can never be gotten back.

Maybe it is time we all got off our damn cellphones and focused on our children. They’re worth our attention. They don’t wait to grow up, and if you miss these moments, they’re gone forever.

Ms. Siegel is a freelance reporter who covers international affairs, business and travel.

 

Wall Street Journal- A Syrian Ends up at a Seder

My grandfather fought 17 battles in the German trenches during World War I, earning an Iron Cross for bravery. But when Jews were no longer welcome in his homeland, he and his family fled Frankfurt for Rhodesia.

Today, as Germany has opened its borders to more than a million refugees, stories of anti-Semitism have returned. In April a Syrian migrant attacked an Israeli man wearing a skullcap in Berlin. The Israeli filmed the encounter on his smartphone, which showed the 19-year-old assailant shouting “Yahudi!”—Jew in Arabic. Although the attacker later apologized, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community urged caution when wearing skullcaps in large cities.

But Germany is also where I met Saqib. While working a trade show in Frankfurt with my dad in 2011, a man walked over from a nearby booth: “I am Saqib from Syria. It’s a country in the Middle East next to Lebanon.”

A Syrian Ends Up at a Seder
PHOTO: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

We knew where Syria was—my mom is Israeli—but didn’t say so. A fast friendship formed, and on the last day of the conference Saqib said, “You must come to Syria and meet my family. You would love the people, food and culture.”

I thanked him and said: “I can’t. I have an Israeli stamp in my passport.”

“So, get another passport,” he responded, smiling.

 

“I’m half-Israeli and Jewish. I think I would be a little nervous.”

 

His face turned ashen. The conversation shifted to the Palestinians and why Israel should be bombed. Frustrated, I finally said, “Look at me. Do you like me? Because if you are killing Israelis, you are saying you want to kill me, my family and my friends. Is that what you want?”

He shook his head: “Of course not.”

Over the next year, the situation in Syria deteriorated. But when dad and I arrived in Frankfurt in 2012, Saqib was there. When I went to say goodbye at week’s end, Saqib hugged me with tears in his eyes. “Please thank your father again for what he said to me today,” he told me. “You have no idea how much it meant to me.”

Later, I asked dad what Saqib meant. “I told him if he needed assistance for himself or his family to get out of Syria, in any way, to let me know, and I would help him in any capacity I could.”

I shook my head at the irony. Here was a Jewish man, whose family fled Nazi Germany, whose Israeli wife had family that were shelled by Syrian forces, offering to help a Syrian Muslim keep his family safe.

As the years went by, Saqib reached out sporadically via email. He said his factory had been destroyed, some of his workers killed, his best friend murdered by the regime. He was living in Europe starting a new business. He said he didn’t know what to tell his children, because he was beginning to despair. The world was standing by as the carnage continued.

A few months later, Saqib reported how touched he was by the support Jewish groups were giving Syrian refugees. “In fact, they have done what our fellow Arabs—mainly the Gulf States—have miserably failed to do,” he wrote. “Last week I attended a gathering organized by a local synagogue that just restored my faith in humanity.” He followed up with an article from a synagogue bulletin. A photo showed Saqib and his family at a Passover Seder.

It is encouraging to realize that interactions between Syrians and Israelis can be positive, and heartening to know that Jewish people and groups are reaching out to help in the Syrians’ time of need. Certainly, they know all too well the consequence of silence in the face of mass murder.

Ms. Siegel is a freelance reporter who covers international affairs, business and travel.

 

REAL SIMPLE: The No-Fail Plan for Avoiding Toddler Meltdowns When You Travel

As a travel writer, I’ve jumped out of an airplane in New Zealand, hiked up a desert mountain to watch the sunrise in Israel, and learned to surf in 55 degree water in San Diego—but none of these activities compare to the challenge of traveling with a toddler who doesn’t have the word “sit” in his vocabulary.

But traveling with my almost two-year-old son can also be a lot of fun, because he’s so curious about the world. And through trial and error, I’ve figured out the best way to avoid meltdowns when we fly.

1
Pre-Boarding? Forget About It.

Do not get on the plane early with your toddler just because families are allowed to pre-board. That is actually the worst thing you can do! If possible, have your partner board first to set up everything you need while you let your child run and play in the terminal until he’s exhausted. Then board at the last minute. The less time he spends cooped up in a buckled seat, the better.

2
Bring Boxed Milk.
It doesn’t have to be refrigerated! If your child likes milk warm, the attendant can give you some warm water in an airsickness bag to stick the bottle in for heating up. If he prefers it cold, ask for ice to chill it.

3
Skip the Stroller in the Terminal.
Don’t let your child sit in the stroller while you’re walking through the airport. Instead, put your bags in the stroller and have your little one hold your hand and walk with you. The more he moves, the more likely he will sit or sleep on the plane, which is easier than dealing with a squirmy toddler.

4
Maximize Your Fun at the Airport.
Before you leave on your trip, take a few minutes to check out what there is to do or see at the airport. My little boy loves trains, so in the Dallas-Fort Worth International airport, we rode the train six minutes to the international terminal, where there was an interactive art exhibit. We spent a few minutes wandering through it and then rode back to our terminal. Other airports have museums, aquariums, or viewing decks where you can watch the planes take off and land. There might be an activity the whole family can enjoy more than sitting around the departure gate.

5
Plan In-flight Activities.
For every flight I buy an interactive toy and bring an art project. The key is to find lightweight items, so they don’t bog you down with more things to carry. Cupcake papers and pipe cleaners can be used to create paper flowers. I also love the Crayola Double Doodle which has a whiteboard on one side to draw on with crayons, and a gel surface for fingers on the other, and the Play-Doh Fun Factory.

By: Masada Siegel/Real Simple Magazine Online/ November 2017

Times of Israel: Who is the Real Enemy?

I was working at CNN as a field producer on Sept 11, 2001. In disbelief, I watched smoke pour out of the enormous gash in the World Trade Center. Soon after, the building started to fall.

The next few weeks were filled with bomb scares. New Yorkers’ days were filled with crying friends, heroic firefighters and first responders all over the streets and the smell of death which permeated the city.

Millions in NY, Washington DC and Pennsylvania were traumatized. New York City was officially a war zone. The USA went after the terrorists, after Al Qaeda, even eventually killing Osama Bin Ladin. The world for once was on America’s side, except of course for the Palestinians who were dancing in the streets, giving out candy and celebrating death in America.

In 2005, Israel voluntarily left Gaza. Israel’s soldiers were forced to uproot their fellow citizens from their homes, all in the name of peace. Gaza leadership has been destroying infrastructure ever since. First they destroyed empty buildings that were once synagogues, instead of using them for their own benefit.

Also, Israeli settlers had built greenhouses to grow vegetables when they were living in Gaza. Instead of dismantling them before they left, the settlers sold them to American Jewish donors for $14 million. The greenhouses were then transferred over to the Palestinian Authority in order to help create economic opportunities for the Palestinians. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.

In September of 2005, Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

The result was obvious; the Palestinians destroyed their own opportunity to rebuild. A multi-million dollar opportunity to create employment was ripped to shreds with no pushback from leadership. The destruction continued outside of Gaza with unending rockets firing at Israel – hundreds, thousands of rockets. For years now, the children in border town Stderot, Israel run to bomb shelters on a daily basis.

My nerves were shattered after Sept 11 and that was one tragic day. I can’t imagine danger raining down on my country on a regular basis. No American president would put up with America’s people being attacked nonstop.

After September 11 America didn’t run, we didn’t hide, we took care of business, at a very high price: we lost over 2,000 American soldiers. In the process, estimates suggest over 170,000 innocent civilians in Afghanistan were killed.

Was there an alternative for America? Should we have been expected to “broker peace” with Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization whose main goal is to kill Americans and destabilize the modern world?

Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel and of Jewish people. Men, women and children are all legitimate targets to kill. This is in their charter. What is not in their charter is to build bridges, infrastructure, schools and give women rights. That’s because they are not interested in freedom of the press, freedom of religion, education and gay rights.

Hamas doesn’t build. It knows only how to tear down. So while the world defends Hamas, we might think about what our lives would be like if we were forced to live under an organization whose core beliefs is to kill.

When Israel was created as a state in 1948, the next day five Arab nations went to war against a new country. Israel has been fighting for survival ever since. Against all odds, so far Israel has succeeded. But not without an enormous challenge and psychological cost: in its 66 years of existence, it has suffered numerous wars, thousands of rocket attacks and dozens of suicide bombings.

Over the past several years, thousands of rockets have been launched from Gaza, home to one of the supposed poorest people in the Middle East. How is there money for rockets but not food? How is there money for weapons and not infrastructure?

Israel controls both the water and the electricity in Gaza. What country shoots rockets at another and still has their basic utilities turned on? Not to mention, Hamas is delinquent in paying their bills for these services. Billions of dollars from around the world have flooded into Gaza, where has the money gone?

According to the Congressional Research Service, Since the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed about $5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.

Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

America has taken a keen interest in also helping the Palestinians develop an economic infrastructure. If the money was allocated properly; Gaza would have become the Singapore of the Middle- East, a thriving beach resort metropolis.

However, damning evidence is pointing directly to where the money has gone. Hamas built an underground city of tunnels from people’s homes in Gaza into Israel in order to kidnap and kill Israelis. Perhaps if they were so fearful of Israeli aggression, they might have thought to build bomb shelters for the Palestinian people they supposedly represent, instead of tunnels for terror. Clearly, following their charter to destroy the State of Israel, their focus was elsewhere.

Estimates are in the billions of dollars and upwards for the costs of these underground tunnel structures. Why does the world not demand accountability for where the money goes?

Additionally, a second UN chartered school filled with missiles was found, not to mention a hospital being used as the headquarters of Hamas, where news briefings are held. Is a hospital an appropriate place for news briefings?

Many media outlets, which are also businesses, need ratings and to make money. They find it much easier to show horrific photos of dead children instead of discussing facts and what alas has caused these innocent and unnecessary deaths and what could have prevented them.

Perhaps that is why, earlier in the week, it was underreported when according to UN websites, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “The United Nations position is clear: We condemn strongly the rocket attacks. These must stop immediately,” said Mr. Ban. “We condemn the use of civilian sites – schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities – for military purposes.”

“No country would accept rockets raining down on its territory – and all countries and parties have an international obligation to protect civilians,” he added.
The media is caught in the middle, and many also have their own security concerns about what they say. Reporters in Gaza who posted images showing the reality on the ground about Hamas abuses of UN facilities on their twitter feed were immediately intimidated and many posts were deleted.

For instance according to the Jerusalem Post, “Wall Street Journal Middle East correspondent Nick Casey tweeted on Tuesday a photo of a Hamas spokesperson using Shifa hospital for media interviews, writing: ‘You have to wonder with the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see interviews.’”

“Although the tweet was deleted, pro-Palestinian Twitter accounts continued to include him on lists of “journos in Gaza [who] lie/fabricate info for Israel” and “must be sued for crimes.”

What is even more shocking is the lack of respect Hamas has for their fellow Arab: besides attacking Israelis they shower rockets indiscriminately, full well knowing that these rockets have the potential to kill Israeli Arabs and even kill Palestinians on the West Bank.

Furthermore, on Hamas TV, leaders are viewed telling the Palestinian people not to listen to Israeli warnings to evacuate. While Israel informs civilians to evacuate, even advising them where to go to find safe areas, Hamas tell their people to stay at home. Is there another army in the entire world that notifies people when they are about to bomb an area?

Hamas’s actions beg the question: what have they done for their own people on a grand scale? How have they created opportunities for them to thrive? Have they preached peace and coexistence? The answer is much like Al Qaeda: they are not interested in creating only destroying.

What would politicians in Arizona, Texas and California do if Mexico were shooting rockets into Scottsdale, Houston or Los Angeles? You can bet it wouldn’t last almost ten years. More like ten hours, before the USA would unleash whatever force was necessary to protect the citizens of Arizona, Texas and California.

Would America keep the water and the electricity on for a people that were attacking her? Would anyone blame America for protecting their own people and showing strength? Would we care if the rest of the world disagreed?

No, we would care about one thing, and one thing only: protecting American’s and doing the best we could to minimize innocent civilians deaths.

Make no mistake: Hamas is the same entity as Al Qaeda, dedicated to destruction of western values and freedom loving people. If only the world would consider more thoughtfully who the real enemy is here.

USA TODAY: Travel to Rome, Italy

Civitavecchia & Rome, Italy

Masada Siegel, Special to USA TODAY 3:16 p.m. EDT July 1, 2013

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you just have a day and are a first time visitor to the eternal city the must-see places are the Colosseum, the Forum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. From Rome’s cruise port, Civitavecchia, take the fast train to the main station Rome City Centre, Termini Station. From there, either take the metro or cab it to your starting point. Taxis are extremely expensive, but worth the cost if your time in Rome is limited. View the ride as part of your tour since the cab will drive past many iconic sites.

Tip: Reservations for everything from museums to restaurants is a must and the more you arrange in advance the better.

Adventure

If adrenaline-pumping adventure is on your list — and you already know how to ride a motorbike — rent a scooter and explore the city. If you have never maneuvered a motorbike, Rome, with its chaotic traffic and sometimes aggressive drivers, is not the place to start. OnRoad is one of the companies that allows you to reserve a motorbike online. Be sure to bring your driver’s license and passport with you when arrive for your scooter.

You don’t need any experience to glide by the Eternal City’s sites on a Segway. The three-hour tours start with instruction and continue with a follow-the-leader, single-file sightseeing past the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Orange and Rose Gardens as well as other sites. Companies include Italy Segway Tours; book ahead.

If intrigue excites you, see the Castel Sant’ Angelo. This towering cylindrical building, initially commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum, now serves as a museum. It was also used by popes as a fortress and castle. The Castel connects to Vatican City via the Passetto di Borgo, an elevated passage that on several occasions served as an escape route for popes in danger.

Entertain Me

Every night is a party in Rome, especially in Trastevere, home to myriad bars and restaurants and streets filled with twentysomethings. Start in Piazza Trilussa at Enoteca Ferrara, a wine bar, café and restaurant. The wines are excellent as is the selection, but items are pricey. If Italian opera, ballet and concerts are more your style, check out Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma for a selection of options such as the ballet Giselle and the opera Samson and Delilah.

Family

History comes alive at Palazzo Valentini, a museum housed in two patrician villas. Using multimedia technology, the facility recreates an ancient Roman home. Through clever light shows the bare stones morph into mosaics, baths, furnishings and even a kitchen. Buy tickets prior to arrival as the English tour sells out days in advance.

Villa Borghese, one of the largest public parks in Rome, has museums, a theatre, a lake as well as numerous fountains. From both the garden and the Borghese Gallery, noted for its works by Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael, offer splendid views. For another great city view, climb the 320-steps in the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. (Children must be at least 8-years-old). As you hike higher, the walls narrow, slanting downwards, so that you must walk single-file and hold onto a rope. The reward, is the breathtaking, literally, panorama of Rome.

Foodie

When in Rome, taste some of the bites locals enjoy. From Aroma, located on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi, indulge with both a view of the Colosseum and the culinary creations of Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio. Good bets include the homemade fusilli pasta, Kobe beef and medallions of monk fish. Meals are pricey.

For a midrange palate pleaser, dine at La Taverna del Ghetto located in the Ghetto. Try the carciofi alla giudia, or fried artichokes and the meat-filled ravioli. Save room for the delicious desserts. For cheap eats, especially with children, Roma Sparita, a kid-friendly restaurant in Trastevere, attracts locals and tourists. The place is best known for the tasty cacio e pepe, noodles with cheese and pepper.

Luxury Lover

If money is no object, there are plenty of ways to spend it in Rome. For fabulous shopping, go to the Spanish Steps and replenish your closet with everything from gorgeous leather shoes to stunning suits and dresses. Prada, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Hermes are among the luxury brands sold in the area.

By booking private tours of popular sites, you skip ahead of even those waiting in priority lines, a prime way to maximize shore time and pick the focus that interests you. Among the possibilities are personalized tours of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica; a tour of the Borghese Gallery and gardens with an expert in Baroque art; a sightseeing drive through Rome in a vintage Fiat 500 manned by your chauffeur/guide. Viatour is among the companies offering private tours. For a pre- or post-cruise treat, the Palazzo Manfredi hotel offers guests Lamborghini rentals.

Romantic

There are countless opportunities to take those quintessential photos of streets lined with cafés, windows filled with flowers and lovers walking hand-in-hand. Stroll the Piazza Navone, known for its three fountains, including Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers) for which Bernini was commissioned on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1650. Today artists display and sell their work in the Piazza where you can enjoy an authentic Italian coffee, gelato or glass of bubbly at one of the many outdoor cafés. In Trastevere, pause at 34 Vicolo del Cedro to meet artist Mohssen Kasirossafar, often seen with his cat on his shoulder. His musical instrument shop carries lutes, guitars and harps. Then find your way to Piazza Santa Maria Trastevere and see the church. For a romantic lunch, cross the bridge by Piazza Trilussa and go to Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi, Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9A/11, a wine and cheese shop that is also a restaurant. Share a cheese platter, salad and bottle of wine and discuss your favorite Rome moments.

Wallet Watcher

In this walking city, the best way to explore is to wander. Arm yourself with a map and start on the cobblestone streets of the Ghetto. Grab a slice of pizza while you walk towards Campo de Fiori, a piazza in the historic center of Rome with an open-air market filled with flowers, fruits, pasta and olive oils.

From there, stroll to the stunning Piazza Navona, which is surrounded by kid- friendly ice cream shops and on sunny days filled with artists selling paintings and prints. Find your way to the Pantheon where the entrance is free and the view priceless.

Then look for the signs that guide visitors to the Trevi Fountain where if you like what you see in Rome, toss a penny over your shoulder into the fountain to ensure you will come back.

–Masada Siegel is a freelance journalist and author of “Window Dressings” which can be found at masadasiegelauthor.com.

Toronto Star: Two Ways to see the Wonders of Hong Kong

HONG KONG—From high to low, here’s how to see and stay and play in Hong Kong.

Accommodations:

High

The Peninsula Hotel built in 1928 is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel and is a mix of colonial and classic, but with all the modern amenities and breathtaking views of Victoria Harbour. Buffet breakfast is served daily in The Verandah. Price for adult is $37 and $26 for children. Rooms from $640 a night. peninsula.com. Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.

Low

The Salisbury Hotel, also known as the YMCA, is a two minute walk from the Peninsula and It boasts the same spectacular views for a fraction of the price. A buffet breakfast is available from 7 to 11 a.m. and prices start at $9. The rooms are clean and the beds comfortable. Single room from $130. ymcahk.org.hk. 41 Salisbury Rd., Tsim Shat Tsui, Kowloon.

Shopping

High

Check out Shanghai Tang’s new flagship store on Duddell Street. It is located in a three-story building, dubbed as the Mansion. This luxury brand is known for a modern take on Chinese clothes, and the store itself is as well-designed as the products. In 2013, year of the snake they are selling a new purse, the “Shangri-La” Python Satchel for $1,883. 1 Duddell St., Central. 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. shanghaitang.com

Low

City Super is an international gourmet market selling everything from Korean Kimchi to high end cupcake papers, cheeses, wines and sake. The panda rice ball maker ($13) lets you shape rice balls like a panda’s head. The sake gift set starts at $42. citysuper.com.hk. IFC Mall Level 1 Shops 1041-1049, Central, Hong Kong. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Dining

High

Step back in time and enjoy the classic afternoon English tea at the Peninsula Hotel. Indulge in the crumbly scones mixed with melt-in-the-mouth pastries. Experience the ceremony of a traditional tea while listening to live classical music. Reservations suggested. From $68 for two. Served from 2-6 p.m. daily. Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Reservations: 852-2315-3146 or at peninsula.com.

Low

Hong Kong restaurants located in the Central area are expensive, try Tsui Wah for a tasty meal without spending a fortune. The extensive menu, ranges from toasted sandwiches to noodles, fried rice, and Malaysian curries. Mains from $8. 15-19 Wellington St., Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong. tsuiwahrestaurant.com

Masada Siegel is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona

WEDDING TRAVEL: TORONTO STAR: SAY I DO WITH A DESTINATION WEDDING

Wedding Travel: Say I do with a destination wedding in Arizona, Hawaii or Europe
Planning on a romantic destination wedding? Try saying your vows in Scottsdale, Hawaii, or Scotland. Or try a cruise wedding.

The decision to have a romantic but casual beach wedding will set the stage for all the wedding decisions to come, from the dress to the decor.

By: Masada Siegel Special to the Star, Published on Fri Mar 15 2013

Planning a wedding is one of the most stressful events in a woman’s life. It is challenging to organize the big day in your own city, let alone plan a destination wedding. However, if your dream is to get married outside in November or plan an intimate event just for close friends and family, there are a myriad of options and ways to turn your dreams into reality without completely losing your mind.

Where you decide to say “I do” will determine every aspect of your special day from the dress to the decor. So the first decision is the location. Does the desert with its golden sunsets appeal to you, or are you more of a beach person?

What about a romantic city? Places to consider for an outdoor winter wedding would be Arizona, Hawaii and the Caribbean. If old-school charm is a desire, perhaps Florence, Italy. For a fairy tale come true, a château in France or Scotland might be the perfect place. And for those who want an extended party, getting married on a cruise is an option.

Outdoor Spring Wedding
Scottsdale, Ariz., has an average of more than 300 days of sunshine yearly, so the odds are in your favour for a picture-perfect day. Getting married at sunset on a golf course with purple mountains glowing in the background is a spectacular way to walk down the aisle.

The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale offers fantastic views, delicious food and helpful staff. The resort has outdoor pools, hot tubs, waterfalls and a man-made beach. hyattregencyscottsdale.com.

Scottsdale also offers wedding guests plenty of activities. They can hike nearby Camelback Mountain, shop at Scottsdale Fashion Square and take in native American culture at the Heard Museum.

Art Lovers
Florence is an over-the-top romantic city. There are endless museums as well as spectacular backdrops for photos. It is a unique city because it hosts stunning and historic locations for many religions. For instance, a Catholic wedding can be celebrated in one of the Renaissance churches, while a Jewish wedding can be held at the Great Synagogue of Florence, which was built in a Moorish style and is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

The Lungarno Hotel Collection has a wedding team that can arrange all the details, from the religious to the reception. They can also help with photography, floral design, music, accommodations, wedding party and a gala dinner. lungarnocollection.com

Princess Bride
For the bride looking to create an elegant wedding, the Château de Challain located in the Loire Valley region in France will wow the imagination. It is the venue of choice for any bride wishing to live out a fairy tale, as it appears to be straight out of a storybook.

The château can be rented out to host a wedding and also provides fabulous accommodations; wedding guests can continue to feel like royalty while sleeping in an ornate canopy bed in a tower. Wedding ceremonies at the château often conclude with fireworks. châteauchallain.com

For an intimate affair, Balfour Castle located on Shapinsay, one of the Orkney Islands, is just a short distance from the north-east coast of the Scottish mainland. It’s a dreamy choice, with its own, tiny chapel and receptions held in the elegant dining room and conservatory. Castle accommodations include a bridal suite and rooms for another six couples. balfourcastle.co.uk

Beach Bum
Hawaii might be one of the easiest places to plan a destination wedding. Many hotels have entire staffs devoted to planning weddings. The packages are all-inclusive and the resorts provide detailed websites with photos of venues and menu choices.

Couples can tie the knot by waterfalls, the ocean and in coconut groves at the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, which is nestled on 12 oceanfront hectares on the Kohala Coast of the Island of Hawaii. fairmont.com. Another option is the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui. They offer wedding packages for intimate ceremonies of two to four people all the way up to 500 people. ritzcarlton.com

Adults Only
The Caribbean offers endless beaches, tantalizing choices for fine dining, luxurious spas, golf courses and plenty of water sports. An ideal place to say “I do” is at the adults-only Royal Suites Turquesa by Palladium in Punta Cana Dominican Republic.

The resort offers a variety of wedding packages with options to personalize them. Also they have a free wedding website where family and friends can make a contribution to the wedding day itself or for the couple to enjoy their honeymoon with tours or upgrades. royalsuitesturquesaresort.com
Bridesmaids and Mermaids

Getting married at sea is fabulously romantic and a way to keep the party going for a few days. Holland America offers a plethora of options ranging from a marriage ceremony on board, on an exotic Caribbean island beach or on top of a majestic Alaskan glacier.

Packages include a personalized ceremony, flowers, a cake and wedding certificate. However, co-ordinators will customize the couple’s special day according to their wishes. It’s an ideal way to extend the party and celebrate with families as well as the bridal party. hollandamerica.com

Masada Siegel is a freelance writer based in Arizona.

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