A Few Flights of Fancy at F.I.T.A.

Here is a quick sampling of a few things that tickled my fancy at F.I.T.A.   See previous post to learn all about this annual event in Mexico City.

Your humble servant receiving his golden (that’s garland, with an upgrade) wreath.

Service with a special flair!

Mexican Cook Off

Standing in the reserved press corp section for the ribbon cutting like a real journalist!

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to tell you not only about Distrito Capital, the hotel that hosted me so admirably during the conference, but the three other hotels GroupoHabita operates in Mexico City.   Coming very soon!

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The F.I.T.A.

Apologies to Stephen Sondheim for  my shameless ripoff of the title of his famous musical, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”.  Stephen, I want you to feel totally justified in naming your next musical after of one of my blog posts.  Turn about is fair play, after all.  I am thinking “A Round-About Way To A Nervous Breakdown”, for example, should make a great little farce.

F.I.T.A. is the International Tourism Fair of the Americas.  This event is only three years old and is held in the Santa Fe region of Mexico City at the Expo Bancomer.  I know, you are waiting breathlessly for the “funny thing happened” part.  Well, I was sitting in my office a few weeks back, molesting no one and only irritating a small handful, when I received an email invitation to this event as a “prominent travel company”.  While still basking in my apparent prominence, I get a second invitation within minutes to attend the same event as an esteemed member of the Fourth Estate.  Wow, prominent and esteemed all within ten minutes.

I confess that I was a bit taken aback since I thought the Fourth Estate was the smallest of DonaldMeet the Press Fedora Trump’s several summer homes.   When it was explained that they wanted me to come as part of the press corp, I immediately rushed out and bought the appropriate hat although, judging from the looks I got, this particular accoutrement has not yet caught on in Mexico City.

As I mentioned above, this is only the third year for this event and the purpose over time is to create a major international travel show like those held in Berlin and New York.  In addition to the expected exhibitors from Mexico, there were also booths representing Russia, Japan, India and several other countries.  The Expo Bancomer is a very nice, quite modern facility.  The main improvement they could make, at least in the opinion of this “prominent entrepreneur / eminent journalist'”, would be to enhance the signal strength of the wi-fi.  The exhibit hall where we spent most of our time was downstairs and to say the signal was spotty is more than a little generous. I spent several hours looking for that mystical spot.

Expo Bancomer Santa Fe

There were 600 exhibitors in attendance as well as over 4000 travel buyers and press.  The first two days are intended for those in the travel trade with the weekend reserved for consumers who might wish to obtain information on various destinations.  I attended several press conferences where unfortunately, at least for this uncivilized American monoglot, the translation from Spanish to English was as spotty as the wi-fi.  It is somewhat to be expected since the majority of the participants are Spanish-speakers but if they truly want to grow the event to international proportions, more deference needs to be shown to the monolingual.

In spite of these opportunities for improvement, it was an excellent event. Personally, I F.I.T.A.  Mexico Citymade a couple of beneficial business contacts that I think will pay dividends going forward.  At the end of the day, networking and relationship building is largely what these events are all about.  Even in, or maybe especially in, our digital age, there is a pressing need for face to face, personal interaction.  And if that happens to occur at a cocktail party over a cheeky little Cabernet, so much the better.

Come back soon or, better yet, subscribe below to receive email notifications of new posts and I will tell you not only about Distrito Capital, the hotel that hosted me so admirably during the conference, but the three other hotels GroupoHabita operates in Mexico City.  Who knows, you might even get to meet the Minister of Tourism for Mexico City.

More John Heald: Carnival’s Wayfaring Wag (2)

You will recall last post I promised . . . or was it threatened . . that John and I would be back with more stimulating questions and scintillating answers.  Since I would rather ride bareback on a porcupine in my skivvies than mislead my esteemed readers, here we both are in all our fulgent glory.  John’s glory , at least, is fulgent.  I fear mine, if I ever had any, is starting to fray around the edges.

If you haven’t yet checked out John’s blog, you really need to stop by.  The great thing John Heald Carnival Cruise Senior Cruise Directorabout John’s role with Carnival is that his interaction with all manner of guests provides pretty much a non-stop stream of amusing and sometimes head-scratching anecdotes.  One of his recent posts “We won . . . You Didn’t ….NAR NAR NA NAR NAR”  is a prime example.  Some guests are simply a little obtuse.  Then there are this pair.

John, welcome back to Backroom Banter.

Q.  Is it true that Carnival is hosting a “Bloggers Cruise” next January and can you think of a great travel agency to recommend to book it?   Let me know if you need a hint!

A.  Yes indeed, this is Bloggers Cruise 6 and will be held on the Carnival Breeze on January 19. We will visit great ports like Antigua and St. Thomas plus there will be private shows, events and prizes for all as we get together to enjoy our love of Carnival cruising and fun. I hope many can join me.  Last bloggers cruise I was joined by 450 guests and there is one agency that guests should book with if they want to join us and that of course is Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel.  They are the best and they also give free lollipops and a photo of me in the above mentioned underpants. I really hope to see you there.

Q.  What are some of the dumbest questions you have been asked on your blog or otherwise, not counting these little gems of course.   

A.  The list of these questions is endless and ranges from “How will I know which photos are mine? to “Can you recommend a good brothel in Rome?” The rest will appear in my book.

Q.  If someone wants to cruise with you, how would they go about that?  Or conversely, if someone wants to be sure not to cruise with you (a huge mistake, we would both agree), is that an option?

A.  Well I publish the cruise director schedule on-line on my blog. We are the only cruise line to do this I think and it is interesting to see how many guests want to know who their cruise director will be. I hope people will come and see me on the Carnival Breeze for Bloggers Cruise 6 and then next year I will be on Carnival Legend as we do some of my favourite cruising around the Baltic, British Islands and Norwegian fjords. Check with a good TA and they will tell you more …………… I have one particular travel agent in mind.

Q.  John, you have been an incredibly good sport.  For this last question, I want a straightforward answer (assuming either one of us is constitutionally capable of that).   What should consumers know about the Carnival Magic when choosing their next vacation?

A.  Carnival Magic is one of my favourite ships and was from the moment I helped deliver her last year. This is for many reasons and includes the vibrant décor, the brilliant spaces,Carnival Cruise Lines Magic including the RedFrog Pub (one of my favourites) and the shows, food and the ports. The crew is magnificent and these reasons are why she has been constantly rated in the top three ships in the fleet. If you have not sailed her you have missed out, she truly is Magic. Thanks so much for allowing me some time here with you, mate, and my best to you and all your clients and if there is anything I can do for them or you please let me know. Cheers!

John, thanks so much for a fantastic interview.  A special thanks is due for your kind words about our travel agency.  I must say you delivered those particular lines precisely the way I wrote them!  (Just a little blog humor, dear reader.)   I hope you have enjoyed this first installment of Backroom Banter.  I have several other fascinating luminaries clamoring to be next . . . if you can call arm-twisting acquiescence clamoring.

Take our little poll below!

John Heald: Carnival’s Wayfaring Wag (1)

A wag, according to dictionary.com is a person given to droll, roguish or mischievous humor; a wit.  What better way to inaugurate the first installment of Backroom BanterInterview than to introduce you to someone, if you haven’t stumbled across him already, whose occasionally ribald and frequently irreverent sense of humor has caused me more than one audible chuckle in inappropriate settings?  I strongly suggest you never read his blog in a library, during your sentencing hearing or in a church pew!

His name is John Heald and this brief self-introduction from the “Meet John” page on his wildly popular blog www.JohnHealdsBlog.com should suffice to acquaint you with the gravitas and solemnity which permeates his entire blog.

He writes, “I started this blog when a lady called Stephanie said “Oh John, please write a blog, it will only be for a week and won’t take up much of your time.” That was back in 1492 and here I am still writing in the same pair of underpants. I am Carnival’s Senior Cruise Director and Brand Ambassador, and I am here to share my life with you in all its boring and sometimes toilet-based glory.”

If you think my “Fool Disclosure” page is a little weird (and that does seem to be the general consensus among my readers), you should check out John’s “Disclaimer Thingy”.   John’s 15,000,000 views and counting make my page views look like a rounding error.   When you consider he began blogging, by his own admission, in 1492 and my humble blog is still swaddled in a preemie blanket, it is probably juvenile of me to be gripped by this insane blog envy I’m feeling.   I ask you, dear reader, would it be too much to ask for John to loan me, say, half-a-million page views until I get on my feet?   He would never miss them.  Heck, that’s just a couple of good weeks for John.

But enough about my own fragile psyche.  Let’s catch up with John and see what he the heck he is up to these days.

Q.  John, tell us a little about your upbringing.   Have you managed to squelch that ugly rumor knocking about (no pun intended) that you are the illegitimate love child of John Cleese and Margaret Thatcher?

A.  I was a cesarean baby which is why every time I get out of the car I go through the sun roof. OK, after that stupid joke I should say that I have been very lucky. I worked as a commodities broker and for Lloyd’s of London in England. Then In 1987 and much to the distress of my parents I answered a magazine (remember magazines?) article for cruise ship staff and began working for Carnival Cruise Lines as a bar waiter. I did not know the difference between a Pina Colada and a Slippery Nipple so the beards gave me a microphone instead and told me to be a social host. From there I became a cruise director in 1991 and senior cruise director in 2004. I was recently given the title of Brand Ambassador, as well. I am one lucky sod! I was a huge Thatcher supporter and Cleese is my idol so that is actually a compliment.

Q.  What was your first job with Carnival and in which century was that exactly?

A. I flew from Heathrow to Miami in 1987 to take up the position of bar waiter on the cruiseJohn Heald of Carnival Cruise Lines' Facebook Page ship Holiday. When I landed I had to find my own way to a hotel which was called the Colonial Hotel. It made a Turkish prison look like the Ritz. I was there three nights waiting for the ship to arrive in Miami and it took every bit of my will power not to leave. But that Saturday the MS Holiday arrived and on I went. My training as a bar waiter was intense. The bar manager gave me a tray, a pair of white gloves for formal night and said “go and serve drinks.” That was it. How things have changed today and I am proud to think that I am still probably the worst bar waiter Carnival ever had.

Q.  Would you describe a typical day in the life of John Heald?  Reader alert:  If references to a grown man working in his underwear are apt to make you queasy, skip to the next question.

A.  It sounds like a cliché but there really isn’t a typical day. With 4,000 different guests on board the Carnival Breeze each cruise there are new challenges each day. However I do mix my day between managing 70 staff, 4,000 guests, writing a blog, answering an average of 50 Facebook questions a day and most importantly being on stage and out with the guests which is still my favourite thing to do by far. One of the reasons I keep going is that no day is really the same and you never know what is round the corner……..and yes…..I blog best when I am dressed only in my XXL Marks And Spencers underpants.

To Be Continued . . .

As a shameless ploy to lure you back to this highbrow discussion, I am postponing the rest of my Q&A for John until my next post.  Now don’t go all mopey on me!   I promise John and I will be back before you can say “Honestly, there’s no rush!”

Cancun: A Bundle (or Unbundle) of Fun

Let’s suppose, just for the sake of knocking out another killer blog post, you are a bit of a Mexico travel newbie and you are thinking about going to Cancun and/or the Riviera Maya.Riviera Maya Map  Whoa . . . let’s stop right there because we are barely past the first sentence and we have already encountered the first potential toe stub.  You know for a fact you have heard of Cancun and you are pretty sure you have heard of Riviera Maya . . or was it the Mayan Riviera . . . or perhaps Playacar . . . or maybe Playa del Carmen?

Fortunately for you, I can resolve this little mystery, if not in a heartbeat, for sure in a short burst of atrial fibrillation.

Cancun – Properly speaking, this is the resort town on the north-east coast of the Yucatán peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo.  Don’t even try to pronounce the state.  You will only sprain your tongue!

Riviera Maya or Mayan Riviera –  this is the tourist district that has grown up south of Cancun along Highway 307 which parallels the Caribbean coastline of that state we have agreed we not to pronounce.   It used to be called the Cancun – Tulum corridor but someone decided that sounded too much like a dingy hallway in a cheap hotel.

Playacar and Playa del Carmen – Playacar was the original development south of Cancun built around what was then a tiny fishing village called Playa del Carmen.

Assuming you are more interested in a nice vacation than a history/geography lesson, here is pretty much all you need to know.  Both Cancun and “everything south” (feel free to use whichever of the aforementioned terms rolls most easily off your tongue) are served by the same airport and essentially are one giant destination, not that you will get their respective tourist boards to admit it!

In this particular blog I am not going to address the question of which destination might

Cancun Beach

Cancun Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

better suit your particular fancy.  I will leave that for another post.  Instead, I will answer the question that is hinted at in the title:  to bundle or nor to bundle?

Let’s assume you are astute enough to know you should avail yourself of the services of an experienced travel agent.  If you are not yet convinced,  surely you will be after you read yet another stimulating blog post coming soon about that very subject!  I am like Jimmy Durante sans the patrician nose, “I got a million of ‘em.”

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. As I count them, there are three possibilities.  Keep in mind I flunked logic so I could have overlooked something here.

Possibility One:  Fully Bundled

Travel agencies (retailers) work through middle-men (wholesalers) called tour companies whose role it is to assemble all the components of a great vacation into one irresistible package.  These elements usually consist of an airline ticket (scheduled or charter), a hotel package (European, American or All-inclusive plans), a transfer (airport/hotel/airport) and perhaps some activities, tours or excursions.

Possibility Two:  Partly Bundled

Let’s suppose you have amassed more frequent flier miles than a middle-eastern diplomat.  Or maybe you work for an airline and plan to use your airline passes so you don’t need any help with airfare.  Conversely, you could be invited to stay in some patsy’s over-priced, under-utilized time share condominium and you don’t need hotel accommodations but do need an airline ticket and transfers.

Possibility Three:  Unbundled

For this scenario, let’s assume you suffer from stage four masochism and you delight in making things a lot harder than they have to be just for the sheer delight of it.  You decide you are going to get on the net and research every component separately.  Two days and several stiff drinks later, you emerge from your home office with that glassy-eyed, glazed look that only comes from information overload coupled with the paralysis of analysis.

We tolerant travel counselors are not here to pass judgment on any of these approaches (OK, maybe a smidge on the last one).  What we would like you to know is that we can render invaluable service whether you need a lot of help from us or just a little.

Here, let me prove it.  For our final scenario, let’s assume you win two free tickets to Cancun in a golf tournament hole-in-one contest.  Next, you win a seven night stay in a five-star, all-inclusive resort as a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars”.  Finally, your next door neighbor, to whom you recently donated a kidney, just happens to operate a fleet of limos in . . . “Who would have ever guessed?” . . . Cancun, Mexico or all places.

Cancun Sunset Dinner Cruise

Sunset Dinner Cruise

But what are you going to do when you get there?  What tours will you take, in which activities will you partake, which excursions will you book?   Not to worry.  We can even help with even that one small, yet critical, piece of the puzzle.  Click here to peruse a couple of dozen exciting activity options and once you have made your selection, you can just book it online.  See how easy that was?

I intend to devote an entire upcoming post to all the exciting things there are to see and do in this one-of-a-kind destination!  Why don’t you take a second and subscribe at the bottom of this post and be assured of not missing a thing?

Galveston oh Galveston: I See Your Cruise Ships Sailing

I have always liked the haunting, Vietnam-era melody penned by Jimmy Webb and popularized by Glen Campbell called “Galveston”.   I love the alliteration and especially the vivid imagery woven through the lyrics by the phrases “seawinds blowing”, seawaves crashing” and “seabirds flying”.

In keeping with the alliteration but totally devoid of any of the poetry, this blog post is alDisney Magicl about “ships a sailing” . . . from Galveston, of course.  I am writing this post based on the assumption that some of you lost souls floating around out there in cyberspace are :

1) thinking about taking a cruise ship out of Galveston over the next few months and

b)  find yourself as easily confused as I am regarding what options are available.  My condition actually used to be a lot worse back when I was dyslexic.  Fortunately, now I am K.O.

Carnival Cruise Lines MagicAnyway, here is the pop quiz question for this post.  How many cruise ship depart this fall and winter from Galveston?  If you answered “seven ships a sailing” you obviously have the song “Galveston” confused with “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  If you answered five you are either in the travel business or have Google set as your home page.  If you had no clue, you may be a little surprised, as frankly I was, to discover that there are so many options

Just to make it as easy as possible for you to reach out to me with your next cruise booking, my team of crack researchers (and no, before you ask, we do not research crack around here) have crunched the algorithms, or whatever the heck you do with algorithms, and come up with the simple chart below.

Cruise Ships sailing from GalvestonThis will get you started but you are still going to need expert guidance regarding the differences between these cruise lines, the characteristics of the various ships, the pros and cons of the various itineraries, whether it is appropriate to wear your Tommy Bahamas shirt on formal night, etc.  Fortunately,  that’s why we skilled cruise specialists spend all those grueling hours sailing through the Gulf and the Caribbean.  It may have appeared self-indulgent but we were really fueled by altruism and perhaps the occasional foo foo drink.

While we are on the subject of  Galveston, it just so happens that this sea port is a very pleasant spot to spend a day or two pre or post cruise.  If you are feeling a little too euphoric, you can always visit Moody Gardens and mellow out a bit.  Conversely, if your life has been a little humdrum, schedule a visit to the newest attraction in town, the brand new Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier.

I don’t know about you but I am having one heck of a time getting that tune out of my mind.

Go Ahead Emirates: Make My Day

One definition of a good job is one in which every day is a little different from the one before.  I guess that is one reason I like the travel industry so much.  Not only is every day distinctive but every six months or so,  just for grins, we all get together and reinvent the entire industry.  Some of us find that a tad stressful but I suppose at least It keeps the little gray cells from atrophying.

DAY ONE

Earlier this year I experienced not one but two of those unique sorts of days thanks to one of the world’s most successful and fastest growing airlines:  Emirates.  Back in Dallas Cowboys Stadium Big ScreenJanuary Emirates staged a huge event for nine hundred or so Dallas / Fort Worth luminaries (and a few dimmer bulbs like me) at the iconic Dallas Cowboys Stadium of all places.  Perhaps you will recognize the big screen that hovers above the field like a suspended Walmart parking lot.   The event was hosted, appropriately enough, by Daryl “Moose” Johnson, the former Cowboys fullback.

I must say, Emirates knows how to do things right.  To give you an idea of the decor check Emirates Launch Event in DFWout this little item.  For those who may be wondering, this is not the hallway leading to my office although I think we can all agree, if there were any justice in this world, it would be.  In case you are also wondering about perspective, it is considerably taller than me, not the loftiest of standards, I will grant you.

DAY TWO

My second little “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” came  two months later in March when I was invited by Emirates to drive out to DFW Airport for a nice breakfast presentation and then to tour one of their 777s  which by then were shuttling people daily back and forth between DFW Airport and Dubai.  After the tour, we reconvened for a sumptuous lunch.  I told you they know how to do things right!

OK, steel yourself for a study in contrasts.  Close your eyes and conjure up the last time you flew Emirates First Class on the 777domestic coach in a middle seat wedged between a Japanese Sumo wrestler and a contestant on their way to an audition for “The Biggest Loser”  I know, shudder!!!

Now take a peek at what greets you when you arrive in first class on an Emirates flight to Dubai.   You know, now that I think about it, I never did find the little mini-bar or the make-up mirror on my last Spirit Airlines flight to Detroit.  Whether you are fortunate enough to fly first class on the 777 or the A380, you get you own freakin’ suite!   Now that’s just plain decadent.

First Class on the Emirates a380

This may come as a surprise but in addition to booking business and vacation travelers, we also have a missionary / humanitarian contract with Emirates for those traveling for more altruistic motives.  You can connect to 125 destinations in 74 countries through Dubai.  If you are flying from DFW or SEA, be sure and ask about the brand new firm upgrade offer from Economy Class to Business Class.  So if your purpose for travel is business, pleasure or even service to humanity, Emirates and Travel Leaders would be more than pleased to “make your day” too!

If You Love Mexico, Read And SHARE

Devoted followers of this space . . . and may your tribe increase by the way . . . will be aware that a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called Mexico Maligned which was intended as a counter-balance to the generally one-sided treatment Mexico typically receives in the main stream press. My ultimate purpose was to challenge consumers to make their decision whether to travel to Mexico based on something other than dramatic media reports about selective areas.

Since posting that article, I have launched a campaign I am calling, “If you love Mexico, readFlag of Mexico See also: List of Mexican flags and SHARE”.  I hope to entice other travel bloggers, tweeters (#mexicomaligned), Facebook aficionados, travel agents and consumers who love Mexico to join me in waging our own little grass roots campaign.  By so doing, I hope to unleash the phenomenal power of exponential growth.

To understand how the internet can be, and often is, a force of nature, consider this.  This is the math behind “Going Viral’. There used to hang on a wall in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry a checkerboard, a grain of rice and a card below with this explanation.

checkerboard illustration“If you were to place one grain of rice on the first square of this checkerboard and double it to two on the second, double again to four on the third square and so forth, by the time you reached the sixty-fourth square you would have enough rice on that square alone to bury the sub-continent of India fifty feet deep in rice or, put another way, laid end to end to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star and back twice.”

So let’s suppose everyone reading these words took up this challenge and read Mexico Maligned and more importantly shared the post using the social media share buttons on the bottom of the page through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn or email.  Let’s further assume, on average, two people with whom they shared did the same thing, including both reading and sharing, and those people did the same, etc.  In three weeks over 300,000,000 people would have read Mexico Maligned, roughly the population of the US!

Now do I think that is likely to happen?  Of course not!  Such mathematical formulas always break down because people are involved, some of whom don’t continue the chain of events.  But here is the good news!  It doesn’t have to work anywhere near perfection to potentially reach tens of thousands of people.

In the past couple of weeks I have earned a measure of gratitude from many Mexico lovers (check out the comments on the blog post) and a deep sense of satisfaction for myself.   I suppose I would rather be a modern-day Don Quixote tweeting against windmills than just capitulating to a myopic media.

I heartily invite you, dear reader, to join the fray.   To savor a bit of both the appreciation and satisfaction for yourself is pretty simple really.  Just read and SHARE using the social media share buttons at the bottom of the Mexico Maligned blog post.

A Round-About Way to a Nervous Breakdown

Yesterday started off normal enough.  However, those of us with a little highway behind us  know all too well that normal can go all “pear shaped” very quickly.  Actually, in my case “all circular” but let me start from the beginning before I have you thoroughly confused.

ACT ONE

A couple of months ago I bought an excellent book called Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt.  This is an excellent roadmap for those seeking to increase theirPlatform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World visibility by building an online presence and I highly recommend it.

Shortly afterward, I learned Michael was going to be speaking at a fairly new venue in my home town of Fort Worth.  The facility which hosted the event is called the Cendera Center and is located on a very busy traffic circle.

I brought my copy of Platform to the presentation and made some notes in the margins as Michael spoke.  After the event, I returned to my car, hung up my sport coat, got a few things organized, jumped in my car and headed to lunch.  As I entered the “round-about” as the British like to innocently call these circles of death, I glanced in the rear-view mirror just in time to see an object sliding from the roof of my car onto the trunk.  You have probably guessed by now that the mysterious object was my copy of Platform which I had inadvertently left on my car’s roof when I drove off.

I thought I might be able to exit the circle before the book took the final plunge to the pavement below but no such luck.  I can promise you that centrifugal force is still alive and

Traffic Circle

Not the Benbrook Traffic Circle. Just felt that way!

well on the Benbrook Traffic Circle.   As soon as the book dropped to the ground, I threw on my brakes, threw my car into reverse, backed over the book with my right front tire, put my car in park, jumped out and retrieved the book.   Rest assured that all of these steps took less time than it takes to describe them.  They were also accompanied by the sound of blaring horns and drivers flashing single digits at me which I suppose was their way of indicating their IQ.

With my heart still pounding, I drove to La Madeleine for a quiet lunch where I could hopefully regain my composure.  Sad to say, though, my personal Greek Tragedy was only at the end of Act One.

ACT TWO

As I started to enter the restaurant, I realized I didn’t have my cell phone.  Like one of those whirling dervishes out of India, I tore through all my belongings to see if I could find the phone in my car but to no avail.

At that moment a very ominous thought crossed my mind.  I said to myself, “Self, you don’t suppose you placed your phone on top of the book?”  I instantly conjured up the image of my beloved iPhone lying in the middle of Benbrook Traffic Circle being pummeled by a Coors beer delivery truck.  I jumped back in my car, sped back to the scene of Act One filled with mortal dread.  However, after making a couple of circles, the phone was no where to be found.

I pulled back into the Cendera parking lot scouring the lot for the remains of what had once been my trusted personal assistant but nary a phone in sight.  I pulled into the same space where I originally parked, exited my car and took a few deep breaths while uttering a quick prayer to Steve Jobs, the new patron saint of cell phones.  I decided to give the interior one more search and to my utter amazement my prodigal phone was hiding under the front driver’s seat.  Unless you have ever misplaced a smart phone, you have no idea the childlike giddiness and sense of relief its discovery can produce!

Hopefully this fiasco was not captured by anyone on their cell phone camera but in this day and age, you can never be sure.  Just in case, you might want to keep an eye out on YouTube.  If it is there, I have no doubt it has gone viral by now.

The Mysterious Doors of San Miguel de Allende

Who among us has never fantasized about time travel?

Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

The frenetic pace of contemporary life has many of us longing for a simpler, less complicated era when time sufficed to appreciate the wonders of the world and the richness of relationships.  If this describes you, I have some very exciting news.  As one of the few *academicians on earth to fully grasp the intricacies of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (or is it General Theory of Relativity), I am able to exend you an exclusive offer of time travel to an idyllic and forgotten past. 

*  For those cynics out there who may be dubious regarding my claim to be an academician, I simply point you to my advanced degree in golf ball technology earned at my local Sports Authority.

It has been my unmerited privilege the past twenty-five years to circumnavigate this mystical orb we all share as our temporal home.  On one such excursion, I discovered one of the most magical spots  anywhere on the globe.  It is practically in our own backyard (if you live in Texas as I do, at any rate), easy to get to, enjoys an idyllic climate, is eminently safe and secure, is highly affordable and chock-full of mysteries and wonders.

Restaurant Carcassonne in San Miguel de Allende

Restaurant Carcassonne

Even the name is alluring:  San Miguel de Allende.  By way of a quick history lesson, the city was founded in 1542 by a Franciscan monk named San Miguel El Grande . . apparently he consumed a few too many poblano peppers . . .and the town originally was simply called San Miguel.   It was renamed San Miguel de Allende after Ignacio Allende, a hero of the independence movement which was centered in San Miguel and the surrounding towns of Dolores Hidalgo and Querétaro.  I trust by this point you are duly impressed by my mastery of mathematics, Mexican history and, not to be sneezed at, golf ball spin ratios and launch angles.  Ah yes, a true Renaissance man.

But I digress.  Let me elaborate on a few of the qualities mentioned above.  I said it is easy to get to and so it is.  From all over the US you can connect on American through DFW or United through Houston’s IAH airport to daily non-stop flights to Querétaro, which is a very easy and pleasant one hour’s drive from San Miguel on an excellent highway.  Another feature I mentioned is the climate.  After the heat waves scorching the nation this summer, how does year-round highs in the low eighties and lows in the lower sixties sound?

As to security (see my previous post called Mexico Maligned), it is perhaps one of the safest cities anywhere.  Approximately 12 percent of the population are ex-pats, mostly Americans with some Canadians and Europeans, who have moved there to enjoy San Miguel’s wonders year round.   The city is currently pursuing an international designation as a “Secure City” based on its stellar record of security.

Restaurante La Felguera in San Miguel de Allende

Guitarists playing in Restaurante La Felguera

San Miguel is renowned for its artist’s colonies and language schools.  It was designated in July of 2008 a World Heritage Site which in part explains one of San Miguel’s most endearing qualities.  There is a consistently mandated effort to maintain the integrity of all building exteriors.  Thus, when you walk along the narrow, cobblestone streets (comfortable walking shoes are a must, by the way),  you will constantly encounter weather-beaten old doors that you would assume hide some dilapidated home or abandoned shop.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Behind many of those gnarly, battered doors are amazingly beautiful restaurants, hotels and tiendas (shops).  But you don’t have to take my word for that.  I took lots of pictures of San Miguel and Querétaro on my recent trip and you can peruse them at your leisure at a special photo site I created called The Magical Heart of San Miguel.

Above and beyond all the architectural, archaeological, historical and gastronomical treasures San Miguel has to offer, it is first and foremost a place to relax, to reflect and to renew.  I promise that when you return from your visit to San Miguel you will leave a piece of your heart there but San Miguel will more than reciprocate the loss by sending you home with a new sense of calm and perspective.