Friday, March 29, 2013

Madrid Barcelona itinerary

Here is one week Madrid - Barcelona itinerary for my clients who returned a couple of weeks ago. They loved it!

March 8
Leaving from Newark
March 9
2:45 pm - Arrive to Madrid
5 pm - Arrive to hotel

At night go to Plaza Santa Ana. There are many restaurants, bars and cafes there.

March 10

Tour around Madrid
Option 1:
Bike tour
Option 2:
Walking tour


Option 3
Segway tour

Purchase 2 day Hop on-Hop off pass
In the afternoon go around the city on this bus

Madrid City Hop-on Hop-off Tour

Prado Museum (free on Sunday)
Try chocolate in Chocolatería San Gines

At night
Flamenco show
Casa Patas - need to find schedule, not published yet

March 11

Museums options:
Reina Sofia Museum
Caixa Forum
La casa encendida

Free observation deck on Palacio De Cibeles

Buen Retiro Park

Madrid Tapas Night tour

La Latino - bars, restaurants, cafes, music

Restaurants in Madrid

March 12
8 am Leave for Barcelona
12 pm - Hotel
Picasso Museum (open until 8 pm)
Walking through La Rambla
Night ghost tour

March 13
Tour around Barcelona
Option 1:
Best of Barcelona tour

Option 2:
Full day tour

Option 3
Scooter tour

Take Hop on-Hop off tour (2 days tickets)

Museum options
Centre of Contemporary Culture
Museum d' Història de Catalunya

March 14

La Boquera

Spanish Village

Montjuic Castle
Barcelona Cooking Class



The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc

March 15

Leaving from Barcelona

Lists of restaurants

Basque food

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Small Town Talk

Dear Alina,
We have worked for a week with Alex from Family Travel Concierge to create a detailed itinerary for our family trip to Europe. The itinerary included visiting several small towns, just as we wanted. Since we are not familiar with the country, we relied on FTC’s recommendations, and ended up being very excited about our itinerary. Then, our friends looked at it, and said that it’s all wrong; they said that we should skip a couple of small towns that we planned to visit, and instead, suggested a few other towns that they liked during their travels to Europe. Now I’m not sure whether to scrap our itinerary with FTC and instead, go with our friends’ recommendations, creating a whole new itinerary ourselves. How do we decide?

Dear Small Town,
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I went with numerous recommendations from Alex in the past, and have never gone wrong. Having said that, it sounds like you are not looking to visit a particular landmark in a particular small town, but rather to get a general sense of small towns in the country you’ll be visiting. So, this would not be the case of one recommendation being better than the other; it’s more about following one person’s positive experience vs. another person’s positive experience. If this is the case, it sounds like one itinerary would be just as good as another, provided that your friends are as experienced of travelers as Alex is. There are so many beautiful small towns in Europe deserving your attention that you could keep re-writing you itinerary endlessly. So, unless you are extremely worried about missing out on a specific small town that your friends recommended, I would stick with the itinerary that you already put together. And perhaps when you come back, you could tell your friends all about the beautiful small towns that you got to see, making them wish to follow your itinerary next time. Enjoy your travels!

- Alina
Alina Bas, M.A., is an Executive Coach and a Life Strategist who helps leaders connect to fulfilling work and live an engaging life. She has over 10 years of corporate experience in Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership Development, and is a co-author of the book “Changes of the Heart”, offering the best coaching strategies for life’s toughest moments. Connect with Alina at
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Monday, March 18, 2013

Travel advisory for not so Russian citizens traveling to Russia

For last couple of weeks I have been working with one of my clients who along with her daughter wants to go to St. Petersburg  for a week. We were in the midst of planning when my client called and told me this story.

She met a woman who shared her experience while traveling with her child to Russia. That woman was born in the former USSR  and her child was born in the USA (he is not 7 year old yet). Her US passport stated that her place of birth was Russia. She did not have a Russian passport and had no intention to have one. When last year she went to Russia with her child she was able to get into Russia without any problem. However on the way back, at the airport, a border officer stopped her and asked whether she was a Russian citizen. That woman told him that she was not, she was a US citizen. Then border officer asked her to present the proof that she renounced her Russian citizenship. Otherwise he could detain her for 48 hours and would not allow her get out of the country. He told that the child could fly back to the USA by himself.  The woman was stunned. She called an American consul who came shortly.  When the consul arrived he advised that nothing he could do.  By Russian law if a person is born on the Russian territory he or she is a Russian citizen unless citizenship is renounced. Eventually the American consul helped her to get out from the airport and purchase a train ticket to Kiev, Ukraine, from where she safely flew back to the USA.
Neither this woman nor my client (who was born in Moscow) would never go to Russia anymore.

I checked the State Department web site and it clearly states that if a Russian citizen wants to get out from Russia he or she needs to have a valid Russian passport even if US passport is present. Because by law, if people born in Russia are Russian citizens then it could be an issue for these people even if they hold US passports. From what I read it would not be so easy to get Russian passport for US citizens who don't live in Russia. It might take weeks if not months to get it. There are so many other obstacles that you can encounter: if you lose your American passport while in Russia or your visa expired or you are just switching planes to another country and so on. Just read Travel Advisory from US State Department. By the way, it is not so straight forward and cheap to renounce Russian, Ukrainian, and any other former Republic's citizenship.

I am sure that most people would not encounter these circumstances. However, would you go to Russia afterwards if you have similar situation? I don't know whether the same can happen if you are visiting Ukraine (if you were born in Ukraine) or Belarus (if you were born in Belarus) or any other Soviet Republic. All I know that I would be very skeptical sending my clients there.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Great expectations

Dear Alina,
In the past, our family has been to some of the fanciest child-friendly resorts in the world, including a trip to Turks and Caicos. It wasn’t an all-inclusive resort, and we ended up spending quite a bit of money on top of airline and hotel fees, but money wasn’t an issue. Since we’ve heard from our friends so much about the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, we would like to try them as well. The cost of the trip won’t be nearly as much as we paid for top resorts elsewhere in the world, and our friends say that the beach is fine and restaurants are good. I’d like to try an all-inclusive resort in Mexico because it’s something different, but the truth is that I don’t think it will live up to our expectations, and we’ll have a disappointing vacation. Should we experiment, or stick to the high-quality resorts that we know, since we don’t mind paying more?

Dear Great,
Research says that people are notoriously bad at predicting what they will like in the future. So, you should definitely try something new. Perhaps, you will find out that you or your kids enjoy simplicity more than you can foresee at this point. Having said that, I don’t think it is accurate to describe all of Mexico’s all-inclusive resorts as lower-end. Alex from Family Travel Concierge will confirm: with some research, you can find fabulous high-end resorts in Mexico. So, perhaps, rather than go for a 4-star run-off-the-mill all-inclusive, let Alex find you the best that Mexico has to offer for your money. This way, you are trying something new, and you will be sure not to get disappointed. Enjoy your travels!
- Alina
Alina Bas, M.A., is an Executive Coach and a Life Strategist who helps leaders connect to fulfilling work and live an engaging life. She has over 10 years of corporate experience in Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership Development, and is a co-author of the book “Changes of the Heart”, offering the best coaching strategies for life’s toughest moments. Connect with Alina at
Join Family Travel Concierge on Facebook

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sunny Isles, Florida - vacation with kids

Here are our picks for family resorts in Sunny Isles, Florida

Trump International Beach resort - $319 per night

  • Planet Kids children's program is free
  • On the beach
  • Pool has beach-entry area for kids
  • Kids pool
  • Great service that is accommodating and genuine, never snooty
  • Good value
  • Not a 5 star hotel as advertised

Marenas resort - $219 per night

  • Direct access to a quiet beach
  • Kitchen-equipped suites available
  • Great spa and fitness center
  • Broad balconies with spectacular views
  • Children under 12 eat free at Caracol Restaurant

Newport Beachside Hotel and Resort - $223 per night

  • Kid-friendly activities all day, every day
  • Spacious suites with kitchenettes and balconies
  • Direct access to a large, clean, activity-filled beach
  • Free lounge chair rentals on the beach
  • Plentiful (if mediocre) on-site dining options
  • Rooms can be worn out
  • Service might be mediocre

DoubleTree by Hilton Ocean Point Resort & Spa North Miami Beach - $215 per night

  • Most rooms are large, apartment-style suites
  • Direct access to a lovely, activity-filled beach
  • Most rooms feature balconies with panoramic views
  • All rooms have kitchens or kitchenettes, plus washer/dryers
  • Clean or can show signs of worn out

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Social Contract or Not

Dear Alina,
I recently contacted Alex from Family Travel Concierge to help my family find and book an all-inclusive resort. We spent 2 hours on the phone with him. This is unheard of in the travel industry – the agents usually give you a quote on the specific resorts and dates that you ask about, and tell you to call them back when you decide. Alex spent hours helping me sort through dozens of resorts, airlines and dates to find one that fits our needs and budget. At the end of our call, we agreed that I will run the details by my wife and call back to make a firm reservation. My wife, armed with all the information that we researched, went online, found the resort and the airline directly, and within minutes could book a deal that was $300 cheaper than our last deal with Family Travel Concierge. She said that we should just order directly through the airline and resort. I believe that she would have never found a deal this great, especially in terms of price-to-quality correlation, without the info that I got from Family Travel Concierge, and I believe that according to an unspoken social contract it would be fair that we book our vacation through Alex. Who is right?

Dear Social,
You are obviously not under any obligation to buy from Family Travel Concierge – Alex chose to go above and beyond for you, and chose to provide exceptional service without asking for a payment in return. You made no promises to buy from him, and as your wife points out, you are free to get a better deal. Your question is really about your inner sense of fairness vs. your wife’s sense of fairness. It sounds like you believe that it would be fair to compensate Family Travel Concierge by paying an extra $300 for your package, because without FTC’s guidance, you would be paying that money anyway for another package, possibly for a worse resort and possibly after spending countless extra hours on research. It sounds like your wife believes that everyone is a free agent, and if you can get something for free (research and information that Family Travel Concierge didn’t charge for), you should get it. So, it’s really a question of personal values, and there is no right or wrong answer. I am sure that your wife wouldn’t steal – if she took something from an unattended vegetable stand, she would leave money for the produce, even if she could get away without paying for it. If a farmer offers you fresh produce, though, the farmer’s price may determine your willingness to accept it. Alex offered you something that you needed, without a price tag, so you are not obliged to pay for it. Yet, if you believe that the offering is valuable to you it sounds fair to pay for it. It seems that the info that you got is worth $300. What you get for paying FTC $300 is not just Alex’s research: it’s a sense of being fair. Although do clear the expense with your wife first. Enjoy your travels!
Alina Bas, M.A., is an Executive Coach and a Life Strategist who helps leaders connect to fulfilling work and live an engaging life. She has over 10 years of corporate experience in Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership Development, and is a co-author of the book “Changes of the Heart”, offering the best coaching strategies for life’s toughest moments. Connect with Alina
Join Family Travel Concierge on