PAUL'S PICKS: Toasts, possible ghosts and definitely interesting equipment.

Editor's Note: This is the first article in a new series by contributor Paul Ross featuring field-tested reviews of places, products and services that enhance the travel experience. All are evaluated honestly. If something is just bad, he won’t write about it. If it's really bad, or darn right dangerous, he will warn you.

Here’s what he's found for you this time:

  • One vintage California hotel with a retro restaurant and a speakeasy bar.
  • One steal of a deal at a top eatery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that’s ideal for celebrating anything.
  • Two pieces of gear: an easy, convenient and affordable way to communicate while overseas, and a compact, dedicated, hi-def time-lapse camera for less than $300.
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by Paul Ross

California Retro

Part of my cred as a native Angeleno is that the hospital where I was born has been torn down. I lived a lot of my life in the crawling sprawl of that city. I can’t really say I grew up there because showbiz’s youth obsession has always eschewed “growing up.” Los Angeles is where history barely clings to the margins and a restaurant can boast without irony that it’s been “a tradition since this afternoon.”

I love the rarity of the Big Orange’s old buildings that survive in the corners of reinvention central. The Georgian ( is just such a place; her face is a blend of Romanesque Revival and Art Deco and, like many in Southern California, she’s had a few cosmetic touchups over the years. For one who is now celebrating her 8th decade, the old girl looks pretty good.

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As a nostalgic anniversary nod, the indoor restaurant and the veranda with a view of the Pacific Ocean are offering a ”Prohibition Era” menu that includes both historic cocktails and vintage culinary specialties. Among the classic imbibables are a French 75 (sparkling wine & gin), the martini-esque Negroni, the whisky-based Manhattan and Rob Roy and a harken-back-to-Hollywood’s heyday Brown Derby (bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey). All of these are in the $9 to $12 range. After sipping a couple samples, and eating bygone staples like the Monte Cristo sandwich and Waldorf salad, I was glowing like the sunset and sinking into the woven wicker chair. 

Once the sun was down, I wandered inside the hotel, where deco design furnishings graced the lobby. Somewhere there was music: Sinatra, Satchmo, Cole Porter, show tunes. 

“ ’want to see our secret surprise?” the bartender asked. 

I descended into the bowels of….a speakeasy that was built at the end of America’s Prohibition Era when alcohol was a no-no. In case of a police raid, there’s a hidden back exit.  But, by the time the joint opened, the very dry 18th amendment had been repealed. That era is evoked by 8X10 glossies of celebs who celebrated there: Gable & Lombard, “Fatty” Arbuckle, “Bugsy” Seigel, as well as a couple ghosts still seen by visitors. 

A Taste of Santa Fe 

After all my traveling, I’m always happy to make a “discovery” in my own backyard. Santa Fe is a “foodie” town, and I recently found a new sensation at the Inn of the Anasazi. Just steps from the City Different’s historic plaza, patio dining has been elevated by the neo tapas styling of gifted chef Juan Bochenski.


How about halibut ceviche dotted with tomato and green chile pearls on a housecrafted black lavash? Or a lobster risotto (2 claws!) that reclines on a saffron shrimp cracker crowned with foamed shrimp broth!? As I sampled the little palate-pleasing plates, the chef sent out some inspiration-of-the-moment amuse bouches. He creates the treats when the mood strikes him. I hope you’re lucky enough to have benefits bestowed upon you the night you dine at the award-wining hotel. 

Tipples are equally imaginative: tequila-featured “Angry Little Goat,” “Santa Fe Shake” and “Eee, It’s Pie, Eh!,” a strawberry and rhubarb potable.

If you're wondering what happens to outdoor dining when cold weather comes: the same menu is available inside the cozy and artistically-designed hotel restaurant. 

My sombrero’s off to Sr. Bochenski.

Pre-Paid SIM Card

Maybe it’s a spelling error, but most U.S. carriers don’t seem to differentiate their overseas charges between “roaming” and “reaming,” as travel phone bills can costs almost as much as transoceanic airlines tickets. 

I recently had a chance to try out the service offered by HolidayPhone (  The Swedish-based, privately owned company makes the BIG savings claim of “up to 86% on international roaming costs compared to U.S. carriers.” Best of all, you get to keep your own phone and your own phone number. 

That’s a big promise and something that I had to hear for myself. 

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To prep, all I had to do was tell them my travel country destination, pay and then just swap out my phone’s internal SIM card. I tried it in Mexico and it worked beautifully. HolidayPhone also offers SIM cards for tablets and other mobile devices. 

So, the only questions remaining is, “Can you gear me now?”

Note: T-mobile just announced a no cost benefit to data plans that enables free access abroad. If you live in an area where T-mobile coverage isn’t adequate, then Holiday phone is an especially great offering.

Time Lapse Camera

You’ve seen it– clouds roiling in tumultuous awesomeness, a flower bursting open, or a bustling cityscape transitioning from day to night. It’s time lapse photography: the technique of collapsing minutes or even months of time into seconds. It’s used to showcase nature, in scientific observation, and in architecture, to record the construction of a building. 

I always wanted to try it but the set-up was time-consuming and the software complicated and expensive. So, when I found out that there’s a new  time lapse camera ( that’s easy to use and affordable to boot, I was excited to test it. 


Brinno’s TLC200 Pro measures 2 ½” wide by 1.8” deep by 4” in height and weighs 3/10 of a pound without batteries (it takes 4 AAs). It has a 120o tilting lens (and can accept other CS lenses) and records 1280x720 AVI images on a standard SD card.

So much for the technical.  I tried it in different environments at varying times of day and night. Right out of the box, the lens it comes with is best suited to wide and distant landscapes as there is barrel distortion. (This is software correctable.) The process of recording time requires patience; it’s like the old Ronco cooking device admonished, “Set it and forget it.” I did, slept on it and, in the following morning, took the chip out of the camera and looked at it on my computer screen. (There’s no way to play back the image stream within the camera itself.) It was fun and it was great; clouds appeared, disappeared and rolled through the sky, vehicles raced by at warp speed, and day and night seamlessly dissolved into one another.

The TLC200 Pro is light, compact and –once you get used to it–– is relatively easy to operate. Although a one-trick pony (unlike competitor GoPro, which adds full motion video capture at a similar entry price), the TLC200 Pro is fun.

Paul Ross is an award-winning photojournalist who has contributed stories, photography and videos to more than 100 international publications. 

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