Tip #6 Do I have space in my bag for souvenirs or wine/liquor? What can I take?

Cava terraza Praktik

For decades the well known “Duty Free” shops have plagued the international terminals at all large airports. From perfumes to bottles of Bacardi rum. We all have thought that this was the place to save money and even buy something authentic, produced in the departure country. Or so we thought.

The truth is far from that. Duty Free only defines whether you pay a tax. And you do not. But taking into consideration that to make up for lost profit, they must raise the price of the goods. For example, a 1 liter bottle of Bacardi rum at your local wine shop back home may cost $10 or the equivalent in your currency. The duty free cost may be $11.50 or 2 bottles for $20. They bet on you buying 2 bottles to save money but you actually save nothing in the end. Now, it is also possible that depending on the import laws and taxes in your country, the Bacardi costs more than $10. But, read on.

I have priced out many liquors from Duty Free shops around the globe and 2% of the time, I have found either a great deal or a rare bottle. Now I do not even stop in the shops any more. If your country of origin does not offer many options for items found in Duty Free, it may seem worth it to you. Instead, put some effort into your purchase. Visit some local shops in the country you are visiting first and you will find a much better selection and better prices. In Spain, I can find some amazing bottles of wine for 4 euros in the local markets that are 10 times better than most 8 euro bottles in the Duty Free shops.

You may think, “But then I need to check a bag”. Yes, you will need to check a bag, but most people traveling overseas or for a trip longer than 1 week to a foreign country will check a bag. The trick is this –

When you are packing for your trip, take a small duffel bag, roll it up, and pack it in your checked bag. You now have a small bag to use when going to the beach in Thailand or on small day trips to wineries in Tuscany, but the main purpose is for the trip home. Take any dirty clothes you have and shoes, and pack them into the duffel. You now have room in your checked bag for liquor and souvenirs. Empty coffee tins work great to keep your breakable souvenirs safe and you can wrap wine and liquor bottles in pants/jeans or you can even buy wine sleeves with bubble wrap built in. You can take the duffel on the plane as a carry on which costs less than a checked bag on most carriers. Most times, I take 5-6 bottles of wines and spirits home. Not one broken bottle in 12 years. Wine from Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Germany. Spirits from Norway, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, St Lucia, Aruba, USA, Poland, Greece, Mexico, Panama and Indonesia. The key is to place the bottles in the very center of your checked bag and tightly. The less room in the bag, the better and thus, your bottles will not shift around in flight. Keep in mind one important factor, the weight of your bag. Make sure you are under the limit. Shoes and jeans weigh the most out of most clothing items. If you are over limit, take out more clothing items and put them in your duffel bag. You will make it work, and it will be worth the effort when you uncork that bottle of Barbera or Rioja wine or that 18 year old Scotch, or an amazing solera rum back home.

Now that we have touched on wines and souvenirs, what about that delicious prosciutto from Italy you bought while in Florence or the Manchego cheese from Navarra, Spain. Ziplock bags do not work well as they do not keep the smell from seeping out which the dogs in the Customs department will find when you enter your home country. Instead, buy some vacuum bags which are sold as clothing storage bags. Seen below.

vacuum clothing bags

Pack in your cheeses and foods. DO NOT PACK FRUITS, RAW MEATS OR VEGETABLES. Cheeses and cured meats are perfect for this. Make sure you keep these foods refrigerated until the day of departure. Seal them up, vacuum all of the air out and put them in your checked bag. These items are NOT allowed on the plane in your carryon. The bags also work well to pack your wines/liquors to avoid leakage.

**Important fact – when traveling to the USA, you will be asked to fill out a form detailing what you are bringing back with you – foods, cash, souvenirs. It is your decision as to what you write down. That is all I will tell you. The more you fill out on that form, the more likely the Customs agent is to check your bag and possibly charge you for more than 2 liters.**

When you arrive home, you will have some amazing items to unpack and share (if you dare) with friends and family.

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Valencia – Barcelona’s Mellow Neighbor to the South

September, 2017


Valencia truly took me by surprise. The direct and inspiring mix of historic and modernistic buildings and sites was nothing that I would ever expect from a city so rich in history. With many activities for all ages and a very laid back atmosphere, its no wonder it has become such a hot spot for expats to move to. Barcelona has been known as a trendy destination for years which I will admit, is a great city, but now, just 4 hours south by auto, is an amazing place to take in.


The city bikes are a convenient addition to any easily guided city. I did not have the chance to ride one here as I believe they are for locals only as in Barcelona and NYC. Nonetheless, it is a positive check for sustainability.

Some food facts for everyone – the famous Spanish dish, paella, is from here as is the drink, horchata.


Paella is traditionally made with rice, chicken or rabbit, spices and beans. Seafood has become very popular in the paella arena. I personally am not a huge paella fan. I prefer the smaller tapas or pintxos, but I will always try the local dish. Horchata is a creamy beverage made from the local tiger nuts – not the nuts from a tiger. I have seen bars mix this with rum. The drink Rumchata is not the same as it is made from a rice product. Both are tasty though for that type of drink and also refreshing mixed with a cold coffee.

I had taken the Alsa bus down to Valencia (12 euro) and rented an Airbnb which was listed as “Entire Flat”. When I checked in, to my surprise, the owner was living there. I then read the “Host” description over again online, and noticed at the bottom under “other notes” or whatever it was labeled, that the owner did share the common areas with the guest. Um, would we not all say that is called a “Private Room”? I did give her a good rating and added in my 2 cents on that note.

No big deal as she worked during the day, but I did have an issue with her smoking while she was there and she always kept the windows closed, so I, kept my door closed. She was very nice though, and I was happy to have a comfy bed and a close walk to town.

The first and most noticeable city feature was the wide streets, I mean, like big, wide streets. There are 3 lanes going each direction on the main streets and very few smaller streets in the center. As I continued walking, I past by the bullring. Ole!


At the time, there were no bull fights, only live concerts, which you can imagine with the acoustics of a round building, would be pretty fantastic. Bull fighting is not legal in Catalonia, but thankfully, Valencia is not in Catalonia. I will definitely attend a bull fight upon my return.

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Next to the bullring is the main train station, which was celebrating its 100 year anniversary (notice the white banner on the right side of the building).


I was on my way to grab a small tapa and a glass of vermouth. The weather was a perfect 26C and sunny. My normal attire of shorts and a short sleeve shirt were choice for the entire visit. After I enjoyed some people watching and my vermouth in the outside terrace of a cafe, I headed to find the info office to buy my day pass to the City of Arts and Sciences. This amazing complex bridged the gap between the old and the new. And if you are from the US, new is pretty much all you get. Tomorrow I would visit the modern Star Trek like complex and maybe be beamed up? Scottie, can you read me?

Valencia was host to the Turia river that ran through the center where old Roman bridges crossed it until the 1950s. After the flood of 1957, they decided to make a change to river direction to avoid this catastrophe again.

valenica flood

The river was forked above the city and now the river takes two paths around the city to the sea. Where the river used to be is the Turia Gardens – an amazing set of parks and outdoor activities center. Take a jog, walk, bike or any of the other city events that happen throughout the year. What a transformation and I praise the city for being proactive!


The Roman bridges are still intact and used for normal auto traffic.




The vegetation was very diverse. Flora from different parts of Africa now call the Turia Gardens home.

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The tree above is growing up through the bottom of the bridge. How amazing is that?

My walk had lasted several hours and I was hungry and thirsty. I was not in the mood for simple tapas – I craved fish and chips….and a Guinness beer. Irish pub? Yes please. Thus far, my day had been a solo day with few or no interaction with humans. I sat outside on the terrace of Finnegans of Dublin. It turns out I came at the happy hour. Fish and chips with a beer was 6 euros. Done! Sitting next to me were some Germans and we struck up a conversation. Germans have always seemed fun and positive people when I meet them abroad. We drank some beers and decided to meet later that night to play billiards. I went back to my room after a few hours to get a shower and change clothes. Tomorrow I was going to spend all day at the City of Arts and Sciences. There are many old Roman remains in the old city. I decided to spend my time in awe of the new. Traveling Europe, I have visited many old ruins in Tarragona, Athens, Rome, Cyprus to name a few. Change was needed.

I met the Germans in the famous del Carmen area of town. We walked around in the warm air and started off at a busy bar with retro 90s music playing. Gin and tonics all around. Spain is such a different vibe than I grew up with. People converse a lot. No one is just sitting and staring at pointless tv shows. They are talking to each other. We met many people that night and I cannot tell you where everyone was from but it felt like a UN assembly with cocktails and music. We hit up a billiards spot and shot pool for a few hours. Not sure how but we ended up at some older aged dance club. The cougars were like vultures and we were the prey. The smell of perfume from my college years are apparent. The over done makeup and shiny dresses were a scene. What a night!

I awoke the next day, rested and anxious to take on this mammoth place. I purchased the super touristy 24 hour hop on/hop off bus ticket to get me around town. Those of you that read my posts and know me, know that I am NOT a big fan of the tourist globbing or hording areas that make most cities seem like Disneyland (which I do love because I expect it). But, the turistic bus does take you everywhere in the city with multiple routes to choose from and further gives you choices of places to come back to and explore.

I sat on the upper part of the bus with no roof and took many photos along the ride. The wind blowing on my face and through my hair felt cool and cleansing in a way as it battled with the sweat from the humid air.

valencia blog

As the City of Arts and Sciences grew closer, my excitement became a curious necessity. What in the world is this doing in Valencia and what would I learn? My expectations were mixed. I knew I had to find out.


Starfleet Command, Lt. Peccia reporting for duty.

I continued shooting photos on the upper deck as we circled around to the entrance. At times, I hung off the side on turns holding on to the bus with one hand and shooting with the other.



The newest addition (above) will be a meeting and concert hall. What? Really?

The movie Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney shot some scenes here as well as Doctor Who episodes.

My first stop would be the Oceanographic. Not a traditional aquarium, it has both, large tanks with fish and also a topside area with seals, birds, frogs, flora and a dolphin show. The largest in Europe. With no nets or structure to keep the birds and other small species around, they still spend their days here enjoying the 5 star amenities their relatives abroad are jealous of.


I walked the planks that lead the way for people to view the various species of wildlife swimming in the clear waters or birds stretching out their long wings before they sit and watch us for what seems as an eternity considering the larger birds rarely moved – only turning their heads to figure out where we were walking to next. One area had hundreds of mossy lily pads spackled across the water like a blanket that was woven together in small green furry pieces. Frogs started to appear. Or it is possible that they were there the entire time and I didn’t look close enough to see them as they exhibited chameleon like attributes. The cranes were large with a wingspan of 3 meters. They did not seemed bothered in the slightest of our intrusion into their world. I smiled knowing this fact. As I continued walking around the different habitats, I came upon the otter pond. Three otters swam quickly back and forth together until the were tuckered out and pulled themselves out of the water just enough to lay on the dry land and catch some sunshine. They were friendly and talkative. Truly fascinating to see these creatures living in an open air environment.

I made my way to the ramp, taking me below to the lower level. Here I saw the shark tank, beluga whales, manatees, seals and many other smaller ocean species in tanks. I have visited many other aquariums around the globe so most of the smaller fish were nothing new to me. Back in the US, I owned several salt water aquariums so it was fun to see fish varieties that I had owned – clownfish, angelfish, eels, wrasse and other colorful fish.

After the the aquarium, I wondered around the grounds above and landed at the Dolphin show. Similar to Sea World, they trained these intelligent creatures to dazzle us with an array of fancy aerial tricks. And dazzled I was. It was a nice relaxing break from walking all day and coupled with a refreshing beer and roasted chicken, I was loving it. The show lasted 45 minutes and now I needed to get walking again to get the blood flowing after the meal. The Hemispheric was the next stop on my map. It was built for one purpose only, IMAX cinema. I showed the ticket agent my day pass and they gave me the 3D glasses which also came with earphones built in. The cinema itself had no speakers or soundtrack aloud for the show. Pretty cool. The screen was 3 stories tall and you were careful when climbing to your seat not to lose your balance or you could wind up falling forward and down three rows. Very steep. The movie was great. A documentary narrated by Capt. Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) about the planned trip to Mars which I had no idea was not that far off. Test flights, plans and simulations have been underway now for many years. Well done show.

My final stop was the Science Museum. Honestly, not too much to be said here. There were some interesting hands on exhibits which seemed built for both adults and kids. This was located on the second floor. The first floor of the building was occupied by city offices. I thought, wow, not a bad place to work at in terms of the awesome futuristic buildings surrounded by tropical pools.

I was done for the day and needed to eat. But where? I walked back towards the city in the Turia Gardens. The breeze wisping through the grounds rattling the leaves on the trees. People riding past me on their bikes and kids playing in the grass. This city is a true spectacle. Once I reached a familiar bridge, I walked around for a bit and found a nice Mexican joint with a terrace. I ordered what looked to be a very healthy burrito. The place’s motto was “Healthy Mex”. While I waited for the food, I sipped on a very refreshing Corona with a lime. In Spain, lemons are plentiful and thus they put lemons in the Corona beers. Growing up the in US, limes were the norm. I made sure to ask for a lime. I learned my lesson in the past, lemons do not taste good in a corona. What do you know, more Germans sitting next to me. I struck up a conversation with these worldly travelers. They were in town for another 4 days and then off to Granada. They were younger men and excited to hear about my life in Barcelona. They wanted to return and visit me sometime. Not a problem, I said. I invited them for a beer tour and I didn’t have to twist their beer drinking arms. I was only in town for another day so I gave them my metro ticket good for another 24 hours. I wasn’t going to use it tomorrow as I was leaving so I passed it forward. The burrito was delicious and I could not finish it so it looks like I have a late night snack option for tonight.

I changed clothes and headed out to the Internations event being held at an upscale terrace bar in the marina area. I have been to many Internations events in Barcelona and was very curious to see if Valencia would match up. I took a cab as the event was not that accessible via metro or bus. Fine by me as I was running a little late, terrifyingly I cannot seem to break that habit. The cab dropped me off curbside and I made my way up to the bar where I could see people mingling out on the terrace. People looked happy and I felt a nice vibe. A more relaxed vibe in comparison to the big city mentality of Barcelona. Valencia thus far had the relaxed, laid back feel to it. Refreshing and stress free. I counted around 30 or so patrons, perfect amount. Ages were 30+. I popped over to the bar and got my hands on a dirty vodka martini. Perfect go-to drink at an upscale bar to start the night off with. I made my rounds and I ended up chatting with, you guessed it, a German. Does Valencia attract Germans this much? I guess so. His name was Ralf. He works with teakwood on large yachts. Boat owners all over the globe like teakwood because of its resilience to water rot and salt. He meets with wealthy boat owners and they pay insane amounts of money for a tiny scrap of this amazing wood. Music was playing on the terrace of the bar and some people attempted to get their groove on or so it seemed. I had brought my Nikon D5200 and took some fun photos of us.

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A small group of us headed out after the event to grab a few more drinks in the marina area. Most places were closed as it was not summer season and it was later in the night. Ralf was nice enough to drop me at my Airbnb. The next day, I took the bus to Benidorm – a resort beach city 45 min south built for the Brits.

More photos of the trip here.

Ralf and I still remain friends and I have visited him in Valencia. I highly recommend visiting the home of paella if you get a chance.