Bilbao, Spain

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Bilbao, Spain

“On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.” Unknown 

Bilbao  is our first stop in the Basque Country. The city has its own personality. It is quite small which makes it easy to walk around and enjoy the Basque culture. The Basques have their own language which is different and unrelated to any other language in the world.  If you are linguistically obsessed, this is a good place to be. There are also several different dialects of Basque, so the Basque that people speak in Bilbao is different from the Basque that is spoken in San Sebastián. You will notice a lot of k’s and tx’s.

We meet our guide Kyle from Cultural Xplorers. He is carrying three umbrellas -just in case.  As we were to learn, some days, it seems like all it does is rain in the Basque Country. They even have a word for that light, misty rain that seems to never stop – txirimiri.

  We start with breakfast at a pinxto bar and have a  potato and egg torta and a cortado coffee.

Walking through the beautiful city, we head to the train station. There is a large stained glass window depicting Basque life.

There are lots of architectural gems  scattered all over the city,.

We enter Casco Viejo (Old Town). At its heart are Bilbao’s original seven streets, dating back to the fourteen hundreds when the city was founded.

There are many historic buildings like the Gothic Cathedral and tiny streets lined with quirky shops and bars.

I find an authentic hat store and  buy a Basque beret -ish.

I could have wandered around here all day – except we were getting hungry again.  That could only mean one thing in Basque country. It was time for pinxtos.

Pinxtos are foodie heaven.  Imagine sitting in a bar having a nice quiet drink and being able to steadily munch your way through a range of amazing food from wonderfully cured meats, steak, cheese, olives, rich foie gras, duck and fish in various guises. It’s overwhelming and Kyle helped us find the best ones.

They are in every bar so even if you just plan on going for a drink-you will end up eating. Kyle points out some of the better bars so we can come back on our own.

The truth is I don’t think you can find a bad meal in Basque country. It is known for amazing food. 

We continue eating in the nineteenth century Plaza Nueva.- full of pinxto bars which come alive between three and eight pm. 

It is a custom to go from bar to bar and try different pintos along the way. 

Refueled, we take a walk down the waterfront toward the Guggenheim Museum and our hotel.

The riverfront promenade has an eclectic mix of traditional and modern architecture and is buzzing with both tourists and locals. We see the La Salve Bridge and the big art installations outside the Guggenheim Museum.

There is Louise Bourgeois (Maman -spider),  Jeff Koons (“Tulips” and “The Puppy” which is a giant flowering topiary in the shape of a terrier).

There is Anish Kapoor (“Tall tree And The Eye” aka a stack of metallic balls)  and Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Sculpture, which is a unique sensory experience of a jet of fog emanating from the water in the moat surrounding the museum at every hour -odd to experience in the pouring rain.

We meet for a late lunch early dinner at La Vina Del Estanche. On a trip of best food ever, this meal rates very highly and was only the beginning of the food to come.

The next morning I go over to the new exhibit at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It was their 110th anniversary and newly renovated and reopened the day I arrived. The exhibit was ABC including Spanish, English and Basque letters and words.

Through a selection of more than 300 pieces and 200 artists, they created an alphabetic story.in 31 rooms. Each room was a word. Arte (art), Bilbao, Citoyen (Citizen), Desira (Desire), Espejo (mirror), Friendship………( P was for Portraits- from many different artists)

It was really cool and the museum has some interesting pieces. (love this one – John Davies-Every War Memorial)

And then it was back to eating.  After a private tour of the Guggenheim we went to the Michelin starred Nerua. Nerua is an ancient Latin name for the Nervion River  where the restaurant in the Guggenheim museum is located.

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The small restaurant is designed by Frank Gehry with white walls and tablecloths and his signature curvy chairs.

When we arrived it was pretty much empty.

Chef Alija’s tasting menu was a beautifull and artfully prepared take on Spanish flavors.

I did not know what to expect from my visit to Bilbao. A bucket list place doesn’t always live up to the hype. Bilbao’s enchanting mix of old and new with a focus on food and people makes it a wonderful place to visit.  Special thanks to Kyle for making us feel so welcome, comfortable and extremely well-fed in his wonderful city.

Fly safe

JAZ

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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

“Much will be written and said about the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in the future; we will simply be able to say that we built it.’   Juan Ramón Pérez, Works Manager for the Guggenheim Museum and Head of Building for the Basque country.

 Humans tend to be fascinated by several sights and places.  We see pictures and videos of those places we want to visit. And then we go.

The Guggenheim is bigger and bolder than I thought it would be. I had a window view and it is as peaceful to me as looking at the sea.

It is one of those rare works of contemporary architecture that dazzle the world with its modern styling and intricate structure. It is located in Northern Spain in the city of Bilbao, an industrial port encircled by the green mountains in Basque Country.  The museum stands right next to the banks of the Nervión River that flows through Bilbao down to the Cantabrian Sea. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao features exhibits and works of artists from all over the world.

The glittering titanium museum is designed by Frank Gehry, an award-winning Canadian-American architect. When he was chosen by Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation as the architect, Thomas Krens, its director, asked him to design the museum extraordinarily. Gehry surely exceeded their expectations. The construction took place from 1993 to September, 1997. On October 18, 1997, the former of King of Spain, King Juan Carlos I, inaugurated the museum. When it was first introduced, the design awed the critics as well as the public. After its immediate and immense success, many similar buildings popped up all around the world.

 Gehry is known for a number of renowned architectural designs including Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

One might say that the artistic contents and exhibits of the museum are not as impressive as the structure of the building itself. To be honest, it would not be wrong. People from all over the globe  pay a visit to the museum to witness the avant-garde structure that they have heard so much about. It is on the Northern route of the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrims usually make a stop at the museum.

There are no photos allowed  inside the museum.  This is good because it give me a chance to enjoy the works in a more relax and peaceful way instead of busily taking pictures.  Sometimes I do wonder why I need to take so many photos and whether  I miss anything by doing this.

The urban building is covered in glass, titanium, and limestone. The exterior structure feature random curves and hurls that catch and throw the lights while the interior is built around a huge, lighted atrium offering picturesque views of Bilbao’s river banks and the mountainous greenery of the Basque country.

The building spans an area of 32,500-square-meters (350,000 sq. ft.) The exhibition area has nineteen galleries. 

You will be surprised to know that the museum was built on a strict time limit and budget.  Gehry said he ensured that he had an accurate estimate of the budget, and that no political and business interests interfered with the project. Furthermore, he used his own software, Digital Project, to create detailed computer visualizations and teamed up with the individual building trades to cut down the costs.

Immediately after opening, the museum became a popular tourist attraction.  The taxes collected from the hotels, restaurants, shops and transport itself has more than paid for the building cost.

The  “Bilbao effect” refers to how the museum transformed the city.   This is amazing because before the museum, Bilbao was just a faded industrial town.

My trip to Spain and Portugal started in Bilbao – a bucket list place for me.  It was a more expensive trip than usual and I struggled with the decision to do it. But I believe that you should invest in your life for the things you love. I have no regret for this decision. Life should be spontaneous and without too much thought. Just go. The memories will be worth it.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Twelve Hours In Paris With A Wedding Dress

Twelve Hours In Paris With A Wedding Dress

“Paris is always a good idea.” Audrey Hepburn

Check into a hotel so you do not leave the wedding dress in a taxi. Put the wedding dress in the closet.

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See Syrian refugees begging for money and militia on the streets. Give away my Euros from Amsterdam. Big reality check.

Drive past Eiffel Tower and Arc Du Triomphe. Take bad photos from moving car.

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Stop for lunch at La Carette.

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Eat croissants, omelet, nicoise salad and cafe au lait. Have everything French in one meal.

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Buy fabulous French pharmacy beauty products.

Go to Versailles.

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Walk around the gardens and Petite Trianon.

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A little Louis XlV and a bit of Marie Antoinette go a long way.

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Drive to the Louis Vuitton Foundation by Frank Gehry. Get out and take a photo so it looks like I was there.

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Crowd five people into a tiny French hotel room with the wedding dress. Two are napping. One is in the shower. Another is fixing her carry on luggage.The fifth one goes downstairs and has tea. The one fixing her carry on luggage left her favorite bracelet from Cambodia in that hotel. They called to tell her.

After much restaurant deliberation, the not sleeping people have appetizers at the hotel. The not sleeping people are the women.

Go back to the airport with the wedding dress. Have macarons at airport Laduree.

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Fly safe to Africa,
JAZ

Ten Not Tourist Things To Do In LA On A Sunday

Ten Not Tourist Things To Do In LA On A Sunday

The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.” Russell Baker

I love reading these lists about countries I am visiting and hope you will find this one helpful.

Venice Beach and Abbot Kinney

Venice of America” was created as a beach resort in 1905. The first grounds came complete with an aquarium, bath houses, and an amusement park. Developers dug several canals to drain the marshes. As the infrastructure and buildings crumbled in the 1950’s, the odd characters and artists found their way in. That mentality continued to the present, making Venice a melting pot of cultures, art and attitudes. The path and boardwalk along the beach with is vendors, restaurants, street performers, weightlifters, artists, tattoo artists, skaters, bikers and graffiti art make it great for people watching.

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Abbot Kinney is one of the trendiest streets in LA right now. The downside is the overabundance of hipsters and horrible parking. It’s great to hang out, eat and shop. My favorite Abbot Kinney restaurants are Gjelina (http://www.gjelina.com) and The Tasting Kitchen (http://www.thetastingkitchen.com)

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LACMA and La Brea.

Since they redid LACMA, (LA County Museum of Art http://www.lacma.org) several years ago, it is a cool, interesting space to spend a Sunday. Catch the latest exhibit, collection, film, or do a family activity with the kids. Sit in the courtyard and have a drink or coffee and plan your visit. I like to have brunch at one of the La Brea restaurants, Republique (http://republiquela.com) or The Sycamore Kitchen (http://thesycamorekitchen.com). If you are a mall person The Grove (http://www.thegrovela.com) is nearby as well.

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Rose Bowl Flea Market In Pasadena

The super gigantic Rose Bowl Flea Market takes place rain or shine on the second Sunday of each month at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. There is a plethora of vintage items and vendors. It is great for people watching – the hip, the beautiful, the cool and the very strange are all shopping for that perfect find. I think the days of finding something really valuable are probably over but it is definitely the place where LA hipsters go to furnish their living spaces. It’s funny to see people grabbing things you grew up with and wondering if you shouldn’t have given them away back then. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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Ride Your Bike From Santa Monica To Manhattan Beach .

The bike path runs along the Pacific Ocean from Pacific Palisades to Torrance. It is 22 miles (35 kilometers) long. It’s good to pick it up in Santa Monica and ride through Venice, Marina Del Rey and Playa Del Rey. Manhattan Beach is the quintessential LA beach town.  It is what you expect a California beach community to look like when you move from the East Coast. The Beach Boys hung out here when they were young and it is credited to be the birthplace of beach volleyball ( now an Olympic sport). They have some really good restaurants. I like to go to MB Post (http://eatmbpost.com) and Fishing With Dynamite (http://www.eatfwd.com).

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LA Dodger Game.

Baseball has always been a metaphor for America. The LA Dodgers (http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=la) have been a symbol of Los Angeles since they moved from Brooklyn. Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. It was built on the controversial Chavez Ravine, overlooking the city making it one of the most beautiful settings for a baseball stadium. It is a really fun Sunday thing to do – watching a game and eating Dodger dogs.   The “Dodger dog” is a 10” frankfurter sold at Dodger Stadium during the games. It is probably not the best hot dog you will ever eat but it feels like it is when you are there.

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The Annenberg Space For Photography

Photography is my newest obsession and I just love this place. They have interesting exhibits and great lectures. It is located in Century City and admission is free. I often drop by for an hour and usually see the exhibits more than once. (http://annenbergphotospace.org)

It located near Century City Mall and you can run in and do some shopping and get some food. My new favorite Chinese restaurant is located here. It is called Meizhou Dongpo and is the first American outpost of a very successful chain restaurant in China which started in Beijing. They became famous because they catered the food in the Olympic village in 2008. Everything I have had there is delicious. I always look forward to eating there.

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Malibu

Malibu is very relaxed on a Sunday. Walk on the beach. Watch the surfers and birds at the lagoon. Have brunch at the Malibu Beach Inn (http://www.malibubeachinn.com), Malibu Farm (http://www.malibu-farm.com) or Nobu (http://www.noburestaurants.com/malibu/experience/). (Nobu)

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Walk around the shopping centers with their new stores. Maybe you will run into Caitlyn Jenner. I love the Malibu Farmer’s Market on Sunday as well. They have some great locally grown items. Sometimes I get fresh bread and cheese and make that a meal with all the samples they give you. Other times, I have one of the meals that they are cooking. As with all farmers markets, the best produce is in the morning and the best deals are at the end of the day.

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Music Center

Growing up in NY, I love theatre and ballet. I’m a regular at the Music Center downtown (http://www.musiccenter.org) . Traffic in LA has gotten so awful that I usually go on a Sunday. I have brunch at a new downtown restaurant or go back to one of my favorites. Anything from chef Joseph Centeno – Baco Mercat, Orsa and Winston, Bar Ama or Ledlow always works for me (http://bacomercat.com). (Disney Hall)

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The Music Center is one of the largest performing arts complexes in the US. It includes the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum and the newest building Walt Disney Hall designed by Frank Gehry. The center is home to ongoing community events, arts festivals, outdoor concerts, participatory arts activities and workshops, and educational programs. When I don’t stop for lunch I grab Tina’s Tacos and sit outside and watch people run in and out of the fountain. (Dorothy Chandler)

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MOCA and The Geffen Contemporary

The Museum of Contemporary Art (http://moca.org) is right down the street from the Music Center. It’s fun to come down and see an exhibit after having dim sum in Chinatown. The best things in Chinatown are the art galleries where young LA artists show their stuff. You can still buy cheap made in China gifts and check out the herb stores with their dried mushrooms, tea leaves and goji berries. Every displaced New Yorker gets a favorite Chinatown restaurant when they move out here like they had in New York. You will hear a lot of New York accents on Sunday nights. Mine closed.

The Geffen Contemporary, which is MOCA”s very large exhibition space, always has interesting exhibits and is in Little Tokyo. I like to have sushi there and walk around the malls. It feels like Japan. I like Sushi Gen but I don’t like the lines. They open at 1115 if you get there early you can avoid the queue. (http://sushigen.org) Café Dulce in Japanese Village Plaza is the place for donuts afterward.

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Early movie and dinner

No matter where I have lived, my favorite thing to do on Sunday is always an early movie and dinner at a local restaurant. My usual movie theatres are in Westwood which means Lebanese food at Sunnin (http://sunnin.com), Italian food at Palmeri in Brentwood (http://www.palmeriristorantespa.com)  or the new Ingo Diner in Santa Monica (http://www.ingostastydiner.com).

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things That I Have Learned In Seattle, Washington

Things That I Have Learned In Seattle, Washington

“Seattle is for people who love culture, but refuse to sacrifice their wild nature to attain it.” Kimberly Kinrade

Seattle is ranked the most literate city in the country. Everyone reads here. The Seattle Public Library system has the highest percentage of library card-holders per capita in the country.

The city has the highest percentage of residents with a college degree or higher.

Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, has summer rock concerts in the zoo, a Jimi Hendrix memorial and a Kurt Cobain memorial (his old house).

It was the first city in the US to play a Beatles song on the radio.

Edgewater Hotel is where the Beatles stayed on their first tour to America. It is the famous photo of them fishing from their room.

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Bumbershoot is the music and art festival of the year for kids growing up in the Pacific Northwest.

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The festival takes place over Labor Day Weekend. Bumbershoot means umbrella so you know that there will be rain. It is held near the EMP Museum and Space Needle so there is an eclectic mix of rockers and tourists around.

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It’s all good. Especially because marijuana is legal in the state of Washington. You can definitely smell it. The law states that if you are over 21 and have an ounce of marijuana not open in a public place it is legal. You cannot smoke it anywhere cigarettes are not allowed. The police are still finding their way so be careful.

Seattle was the first American city to put police on bicycles.

The EMP Museum is dedicated to science fiction, music and pop culture.

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The Experience Music Project  was designed by Frank Gehry and created by Paul Allen who was one of the founders of Microsoft.

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Seattle-based artists Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana have galleries there.

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There are interactive music galleries that the kids will love. Play any instrument, dj or make a video.

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Music videos are on constant loops through out the museum. (props from OK GO, This Too Shall Pass, my favorite music video).

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There are impressive instrument collections as well.

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The sci-fi and horror film section has something for every nerd. Even a non-fan will be impressed with the displays and technology.

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Constructed on the grounds of the 1962 World’s Fair, the Seattle Space Needle was inspired in part by a flying saucer. With its domed top (always a rotating restaurant and observation deck) it has appeared in Sleepless in Seattle and Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me.

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At 76 stories and 937 feet Columbia Center is Seattle’s tallest building and is 12th tallest building in the country.

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The Seattle Great Wheel built in 2012,  is the largest observation wheel on the west coast. It is 175 feet tall and can hold up to 300 passengers at any time. The wheel is open year round. There are fully enclosed gondolas and a covered waiting area, so the rain can’t stop the wheel from spinning.

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The world’s first gas station opened in 1907 on East Marginal Way in Seattle.

The Washington State Ferry System is the largest in the country and the third largest in the world, carrying over 25 million passengers annually.

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Seattle’s Pier 52 is the busiest ferry terminal in the U.S.  It is a 35 minute ferry trip across Elliot Bay to Bainbridge island.

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Bainbridge Island is almost 28 square miles, and has a population of just over 20,000. If you have the patience to wait on the ferry lines and bring a car over, it is a good way to explore the island. If you happen to be going to a wedding there, it is best to walk on.

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Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour in Pioneer Square takes you beneath Seattle’s streets where there were once roadways and storefronts.

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The Underground Tour leads us through obscure doors and urine filled alleys.

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This was the original area for saloons and brothels and “the sewing circle”- a group of ‘seamstresses” who knew “not to sew without a thimble”.

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It was interesting to learn how the city was leveled and rebuilt after the fire of 1889 to accommodate constant flooding and poor sanitation.

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Tales of rats and sewage are a big part of an underground tour if that is your thing. (Notice  that the early water pipe  is made from wood.)

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Our tour guide was funny, informative and a great story-teller. There is a lot of history under those streets. http://www.undergroundtour.com

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The Seattle Architecture Foundation does tours around Seattle. I was there on a day that they did a downtown tour. Check the website for the tour schedule. It was raining but being a frustrated architect I got to learn all about the architectural styles and public/private space buildings around downtown. Hearing the history from the underground tour and seeing the modern, beaux-arts and brutalist buildings pulled the Seattle story together for me. http://seattlearchitecture.org/tours/downtown-tours.

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I always take advantage of a concierge at a hotel. Keith Dowsing at the Alexis in Seattle was especially knowledgeable, helpful and fun. Before I arrived he had taken care of great dinner reservations, tours and a hair appointment on a Sunday. He is the ultimate insider and knows everything going on in Seattle. He made my kids feel special when they arrived as well. He is a valuable resource and definitely added to my Seattle experience. Thanks Keith.

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Another great thing about the Alexis is that  on your night table there is a copy of a book for purchase written by students in the writing program at 826 Seattle. I volunteer in the writing program at 826 LA so I thought that was very cool.

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People in Seattle are used to rain, always have a Plan B, don’t usually carry umbrellas, have plastic for their cameras and a good hooded rain jacket. I am not from Seattle and knocked into a lot of people with my umbrella and couldn’t take photos in the rain. Living in LA for so long I need to brush up on my weather skills.

Fly Safe,

JAZ