Soprano in NorCal

Watch out — I just showered some high notes on Northern California!

I was invited up north for a couple of auditions. Auditioning is a funny thing. A typical opera audition only lasts about 10 minutes.

That’s enough time to sing two or three arias, and have a quick chat with the casting director. Opera singers will often travel for days to get their 10 minutes onstage!

And we plan our audition tours very carefully to ensure that we will have “a good ten minutes.”  We eat well, we sleep well, we save our energy, we warm up our voices and we focus our minds… all so that we can be dazzling when we step into the spotlight.

But what happens when the audition is over?  That’s when it’s time to relax and have fun! Whenever I audition in a new city, I just love to go exploring. So without further ado, here are my latest travel tips:

Sacramento

* California State Capitol Museum – Inside the magnificent capitol building, you can take a 45-minute tour emphasizing Californian history and politics. Unfortunately, there is no coatroom where you can leave your luggage, so I had to drag my little pink suitcase through the entire State Legislature, into the Senate, through the Assembly, up into the cupola, down into the basement, past the Governor’s office, and out into the gardens. But I had a great time.

* Old Sacramento – This historic part of town has an Old West atmosphere. There are several Gold Rush exhibits nearby; in fact, this would have been a better setting for the ill-fated Gold Rush tour that I took in San Francisco in January.

* Sacramento International Airport – Don’t ask me why there is a huge red rabbit suspended from the ceiling of the Sacramento Airport. It’s artistic, and it’s fun, and that’s good enough for me. In fact, there are a lot of fun surprises in Terminal B, including WI-FI lounges and a massage bar.  If you want a bite to eat, I can recommend the Gateway Bar, which features cushioned sofas, a selection of California wines, and a really amazing Greek sandwich (the “Icon,” a heavenly combination of gyro meat, lamb gravy, and tzatziki).

San Jose

* San Jose Museum of Art – if you like contemporary art, you’ll love this colorful collection.  And if you simply need to take a break, you can sit beneath the palm trees in the outdoor plaza, or visit the museum shop and café inside.

* Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel (San Jose) –  My suite included a kitchen, a desk, a queen-sized bed, a sofa, a TV, and a washroom with a full bathtub. I also had access to the swimming pool, the jacuzzi, the fitness room (mostly cardio, no free weights),  and free ensuite high-speed internet. The hotel has plenty of parking, and is located just one mile from the airport and two blocks from the nearest light-rail station. The Bay Area isn’t cheap, and it can be tough to find affordable accommodations in a town where it costs $15 just to open the door of a taxi cab!  But this hotel fit neatly into my travel budget.

Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport deserves a shout-out from the Globetrotting Soprano because it is the only airport I have ever seen that has live piano music in the baggage claim area! That’s pretty impressive in and of itself.

And that’s all for today. Have a great weekend!

Best of 2011: Favorite Airports, Airlines & Hotels

On the last day of the year, it’s traditional to look back over one’s travel itineraries and choose the year’s best airports, airlines and hotels.

Having experienced 21 airports, 10 airlines and 12 hotels this year, I made a cute “word cloud” of my itineraries at Tagxedo.com  (see left)

Of course, travel writers have different opinions about what constitutes the best of the best.

My good friend Mirva Lempiäinen, a Quality Hunter for Finnair, has already published her picks.  I especially liked her hotel ratings!

Hong Kong International Airport won the Skytrax World Airport Award for 2011, and Qatar Airways ran away with Best Airline.  I did not spend much time in Asia this year, so I have not yet experienced the joys of HKG or Qatar Airways.

My own travels focused more on Europe and North America. While luxury is important to any jet-setting diva, I also look for the best prices, and I place a lot of value on personality and flair.  So without further ado, here are the Globetrotting Soprano’s Most Outstanding Airports, Airlines & Hotels of 2011:

AIRPORTS

1. Vancouver International Airport: I was utterly charmed by the rustic British Columbian decor which I described in detail here.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport: This snazzy Dutch airport is comfortable and convenient, featuring easy access to public transportation and an enthusiasm for giant television screens!

3. Long Beach Airport (Long Beach, California):  I usually prefer the big international airports, but there’s something special about Long Beach. I love its simplicity and 1950s style. You won’t have to wait in long lines here. It’s quiet airport with a hometown feeling, and yet there’s free WIFI!

AIRLINES

1. British Airways: this “4-star” airline continues to provide good seat comfort, great entertainment and high-quality tea!

2. Air Canada: this year’s surprise favorite offers transatlantic flights at an affordable price.  They also feature good classical music in the in-flight audio program!

3. Austrian Airlines: deserves kudos for friendliness and hospitality.

HOTELS

1. Penta Hotel Leipzig (Leipzig, Germany):  As a soprano, I have a weakness for sparkly things, so I went wild over the disco theme! If you like mirror balls in the lobby and glittering gold floors in the elevator, this is the hotel for you. You can enjoy the breakfast room, high-speed internet, fitness center, and indoor swimming pool without spending a lot of money.

Honorable mentions go to two other German hotels with bold personality: Artists and designers will love the surprising colors and shapes in Cologne’s unique Hotel Cristall. I also enjoyed the NH Düsseldorf City with its vast lobby, high ceilings and glass elevators.

2. Hotel Astor (Zurich, Switzerland): Clean, comfortable, and central.  It’s not the most exciting hotel from the outside, but Swiss hotels aren’t cheap, and it’s hard to find a better value for money in the very center of Zurich.

3. Hotel Milano (Modena, Italy): Quaint Italian style within walking distance of the train station and the Old Town.  I enjoyed a quiet, spacious room with a queen-sized bed and an oversized bathtub.  The thick wooden shutters opened onto a lovely view.

So what are your favorite airports, airlines and hotels? I’d love to know what you think. Please share!