Providing comfort on the road

In travel, as in romance, it’s the little things that count.

Beyond the glossy brochures lie mundane travel discomforts. You might be able to coast with bad weather or steep admission prices, but it’s downhill once you add hunger, sleep loss, or misplaced items.

San Francisco’s Humangear comes to the rescue with travel gear bearing cute names like GoTote, GoToob, GoTubb and GoBites. Each one promises to help you civilize your adventures with amenities from home.

Tiny buttons, pills, or earplugs will fit into the .9 cubic-inch small size GoTubb ($7). My personal go-to, these BPA and PC-free containers house rings or earrings, typical items that go missing on trips.

Fill the medium-size tubs ($16), which hold 5.3 cubic inches, with pennies from heaven or vitamins.  You can also store food in the GoTubbs.  Humangear suggests herbs or spices, or maybe bring ketchup on safari with you. I have filled them with almonds and cranberries to tide me over until we find someplace to eat.

Organization nuts (sorry, pun intended) can also label the tubs on an indented area, which resists wearing off.

To retrieve your stuff, just squeeze the soft cover with one hand – there’s no need to screw off the top. That’s a real plus for seniors and boomers with arthritis. The tubs come in three-packs in colors like urban black, pastel orange/red/clear or green/blue and transparent.

GoToobs, similar to the translucent ones already sold at drug stores, allow travelers to carry beauty products, soap, toothpaste or food. If you’ve ever tried to remember what clear liquid is in a carry-on bottle, you’ll appreciate the dial on the collar. You can turn it to “soap,” “shampoo,” “conditioner” or “sun,” to keep track of what’s in the tube.

The tubes , which run from $7 to $19, also come in TSA-approved 1.25-ounce small, two-ounce medium or three-ounce large cylinders.  The medium size has a suction cup. The squeezable silicone tubes fit into snug spots and the hard collar is dishwasher-safe.

Unless you’re on a cruise, you may not know what time you’ll be eating your next meal.  GoTotes let you bring nutritional bars, nuts, apples or whatever tides you over while waiting for the tram, bus, or cab.  The blue medium-sized bag ($32) expands to seven inches wide when open and sits  11.25 inches by eight inches when flat. A strap snaps together for hanging.

Unlike many lunch bags, these durable fabric containers will stand up  when open, making them easy to park on uneven benches or picnic tables.  The interior pockets can hold utensils like the GoBites nesting fork and spoon made from BPA-free nylon.

Use the  ($8) Duo fork and spoon set together to make a handle long enough to scoop out take-out food.The ergonomic fork will tear food in half, so parents don’t need to worry about bringing knives that can into the mouths of babe For more information, visit humangear.com. Some travel GoToobs and GoTubbs sold at REI or Whole Foods.

 

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From left to right: the GoTote, which opens flat for stability, the GoBites spork, GoTubb for smaller items, and GoToob, where you can store shampoo or other liquids.

 

 

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Visiting Bergama/PergamonWorld Heritage site

It was 90 F during July, the month of Ramadan, as we drove our rented Fiat into Bergama, Turkey. A few women walked around the busy town in beige raincoats with colorful headscarves, managing not to droop in the July heat.

That contrasted with the scene  we just left in Yalikavak, on the Bodrum Peninsula. There, Europeans and Turks sunbathed without their tops, and few Turks wore conservative clothing.

We  headed to Bergama, population 60,000, once the ancient city of Pergamon, home to several civilizations: Byzantine, Islamic, Roman and Greek, as well as serving as the Hellenistic capital of the Attalid dynasty. Parchment was invented here

Sandima 37, a cute bed and breakfast that served typical Turkish dishes on our private patio. It  had a pool and the room was really a suite, complete with living room and large bathroom. The

We spent one night at the newly opened Pannonica Jazz Bistro listening to jazz and old standards. The next evening, we went downtown shopping for mobile phones and hand-embroidered pillow cushions.

Gallery Mustafa, on Dr Alim Ekinci Cad, no48, sells iconic suzani and Ikat pillows and  to start shopping in Bodrum City..

At Xuma Beach, people moored their yachts all day  in the blue Aegean, making me think, “must be nice.”

BERGAMA BOUND

Poised on a 330-meter-high ridge overlooking the Bakirçay River valley, Pergamon in its heyday held palaces, a theater, a library and temples devoted to Trajan, Dionysus and Athena.

Bergama landed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list June 25, 2015. The ancient city and its “multilayered cultural landscape  alongside Bursa and Cumalikizik” were noted for their importance to the birth of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century.

For the first time, we saw  women in shalwars  (loose trousers that narrow at the ankles). A large AKP (the Islamist Party for Justice and Development) banner straddled the city centre, a dusty, congested intersection with intersecting streets. We stopped for directions to the Hera Hotel, but the directions  to go right and then straight only succeeded in leading us to the Red Basilica, not the place we wanted to spend the night.

Bergama is home to the Askleipion, or healing center; one of the highest amphitheaters in the world; the Red Basilica; and other ruins. Pieces of the  Zeus Altar, transported to Berlin by the German engineer, Carl Humann, who discovered the Turkish site in 1855. The altar, built in the second century A.D. under King Eumenes II, has been restored and sits in the Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island. Scenes on the frieze illustrate the life of Telephus, supposed founder of Pergamon and son of Hercules and Auge.

The Turkish government has been trying to reclaim the altar for quite some time, arguing that the structure should be back where it was built.However, the officials agreed to the

A VISIT TO OLD TOWN

Right above the Red Basilica, built under the reign of Hadrian, are the windy, narrow streets of Eski (Old ) Bergama. Our reservations were for the old stone Hera Hotel.

It didn’t look like we were going to make it up there, though, because a couple of the streets were narrower than our Fiat! The city map we had proved useless, as some roads were one-way.

Bergama is known for its silk as well as its wool carpets. We passed a few rugs displayed outside the shops. Women wearing printed cotton shalwars and headscarves sat on stoops, waiting for sundown, when, according to Islam, they could break their fasts. Men sat in cafes nursing their coffees.

Finally, we found the cute Hera Hotel with its sign in Greek lettering, on Tabak Kopru Street. Two friendly women helped us with our luggage. Each room had a god or goddess assigned to it, and ours was Artemis, goddess of the hunt, forest and hills.

We weren’t fasting like most people, but we were starving, and asked where we could eat. The younger woman told us to follow her up the steep, meandering streets to Les Pergamun, Hera’s sister hotel, where Kybele Restaurant was open. We ordered kebabs and a regional eggplant specialty, which were nothing special. The owner introduced himself, and I felt slightly guilty eating in front of the staff. The waitress assured us that she wasn’t fasting.

The next morning, we rode a gondola to the top of the Acropolis, enjoying a sweeping view of the 10,000 seat amphitheater. For only 15 Turkish Lira, about $5 each, we arrived at the ruins of the Zeus Altar, the white marble Temple of Trajan, finished under Hadrian II’s reign from AD 125-138.

Not mentioned much in the guidebooks are the lovely painted doors. All the front doors in the old section feature different designs and colors that add a joyful feeling to the rundown buildings.

When in Vegas, do as the Venetians do

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Cute teddy bear gondoliers for sale at the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, Las Vegas

Floating beneath a blue sky with fluffy, painted-on clouds, we obeyed the gondolier, Pepe, when he told us to kiss as we passed under the arched bridge.

Customers boarding the next gondola smiled their amusement, but we were just part of the act at the Grand Canal and Shoppes at The Venetian and the connecting Palazzo hotel, situated on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.

The waterway runs indoors past shops ranging from Barney’s New York to Tory Burch.

Our private gondola ride cost $80, but visitors can share a boat for less. As we stepped in, Pepe, a true showman, posed with us for two photos, which we later purchased for $65. The cashier threw in the 3D frame for “free.”

The temperature hit triple digits outside and the sky was blindingly sunny, but inside the climate-controlled Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and Palazzo hotels, it could have been dusk.

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The clouds are ceiling paintings, but the canal is real at the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada

Like so much in Vegas, things are not always what they seem.

Every so often Pepe broke into a familiar song like “That’s Amore” and ended with the theme song from “Lady and the Tramp.” His voice was quite good, so I asked what he did when he wasn’t singing on the Venetian’s Grand Canal.

“I work on cruise ships,” he said in charmingly accented English. “But my American wife doesn’t like me to travel far, so I work here, too.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR, EXCEPT FOR THE CASINOS

Nestled between the Wynn and Harrah’s – and just 20 minutes from McCarran International Airport – the five-star Italian-themed Venetian rises up 36 floors, with 38 diverse restaurants, 160 shops and several pools. The Azure Luxury Pool deck includes three pools, a hot tub and a poolside cafe.

The 18,000-square-foot TAO Beach deck was so hot – pun intended – people lined up to enter. The new TAO Asian bistro has received rave reviews. Amenities on the deck include 12 air-conditioned cabanas complete with high-definition plasma TV, minibar, masseuse and sunglass cleaning. Yes, sunglass cleaning. Celebrities reportedly love this pool, which closes at sunset. During peak season, the TAO nightclub opens its doors Thursdays through Sundays.

A third pool deck, the Venetian, features spouting fountains and chaise lounge-side drink service, as well as the luxurious cabanas. The larger pool was filled with children the day we visited, but there’s also a smaller one.

In fact, The Venetian welcomes families, except in the casino.

The outdoor area features replicas of Venice landmarks – St. Mark’s Campanile, the Doge’s Palace and the Rialto Bridge.

The king suite we stayed in included a sunken living room with pullout sofa and three flat-screen TVs, the smaller one in the 150-square-foot bathroom. There’s even a phone near the toilet. The palatial bathroom includes a vanity. A lighted mirror has settings that change from day to night, so you can make up your face appropriately.

The remote-controlled Roman shades hold cachet for gadget lovers, and the in-suite dining is round the clock.

Rooms – all renovated over the past few years – start at $355 a night for the 650-square-foot king suite, which can run a little more depending on whether you have a desert or Strip view. Furnishings are pretty plush – you can sleep a long time in those Egyptian cotton sheets. The hotel’s Bella suites have two queen beds.

The Venetian’s penthouse suite spans the three top floors, with a master bedroom, multiple TVs, a fireplace, a second bedroom and two marble bathrooms with jetted tubs. And you don’t have to pay for snacks.

After you have gotten over the huge rooms, think about visiting the concierge desk for show tickets. “Lipshtick,” with comedians like Roseanne Barr, the musical “Rock of Ages,” the Sinatra-centric “Frank The Man. The Music” and Smokey Robinson’s Motown revue “Human Nature” are all on the bill at The Venetian this summer.

STRIP SEARCH

Although The Venetian includes shops, pools and shows, the food is definitely worth a mention. Try a New York strip steak at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut. The meat was tender and the service solid. We ended the meal with a banana cream pie with banana crème brûlée that was sweet but not too rich.

Other choices include Napa Valley chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cafe and restaurant, where our breakfast included a basket of four different artisanal breads that could only be baked in California.

For lunch one day, we stopped at db Brasserie on The Venetian’s restaurant row and experienced great service. Our appetizer of three cheeses – from sheep, cow and goat – was especially impressive. Although we didn’t have time to eat there, hotel staff recommended Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro.

Like other hotels on the Strip, The Venetian hosts dozens of conventions annually. Airlines like Southwest schedule 15-17 flights daily to Sin City. In fact, I sat next to the marketing person for Cars.com on our flight to Vegas. She recommended visiting the Fremont Street Experience, a light-show extravaganza near Las Vegas’ old downtown, where the Golden Nugget and other casinos are still in operation.

Despite its attractions, we had to leave The Venetian at some point, so we took a taxi to “Zarkana,” the new Cirque du Soleil show at the ARIA Resort & Casino. The costumes, colors and zany clowns reminded me of the French classic movie “King of Hearts,” in which the inmates are let out of the local asylum.

The acrobats performed with military precision and discipline as they flew through the air swinging from trapezes they then transferred to colleagues. Other Cirque du Soleil shows were sold out, including “O” and “Le Mystere.”

Tip: Do visit the concierge for discounts. The Cirque show we attended was 30 percent off that day because it started late, at 9:30 p.m. Celine, the concierge, warned us not to take the Vegas monorail tour, because you could see more riding a bus down the Strip.

If you go to Viator.com and search “Las Vegas,” you’ll find lots of outdoor activities. One can sign up for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon for $344 or a scooter tour of Red Rock Canyon for $249.

Las Vegas presents so many choices, but the Liberace Museum isn’t one anymore – it closed down a few years ago. At any rate, it’s one of those places where you can never get too much of a good thing.

For more information, visit Venetian.com or lcva.com.