10 Reasons to Keep Kimpton in Your 2020 Travel Resolutions

Room Light Kimpton Schofield Cleveland

If your travels have not yet taken you to a Kimpton boutique hotel, make this the year you give yourself the gift of the experience. Part of IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), Kimpton Hotels offer an intimate, uniquely styled lodging encounter, while offering benefits through the IHG Rewards Club. With 70 properties in 43 cities, all over the world, you should be able to find one near your chosen destination.

Here are some reasons to put a Kimpton visit at the top of your list:

Service – First and foremost, from the moment you step into the lobby, you are treated as a special guest. Checking in is always a breeze and the personal touches you will find in your room are bound to make you feel appreciated. During a recent stay at Oregon’s Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland, a hand-written note was on the dresser stating, “Welcome. I checked and there are no monsters in your closet!” Phew, that took care of one concern!

Kimpton Wine Hour

Wine Hour – Every day at 5 p.m., guests gather in the lobby, to enjoy a glass or two, at Kimpton’s complimentary Wine Hour. Local wines are promoted as well as craft brews, bites and, sometimes, musical talent. It’s a special time to meet fellow travelers or just huddle in a corner and relax. Millions of glasses of wine are poured each year at all of their hotels.

Pet Welcome at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Portland

Pets – “If your pet fits through the door, we’ll welcome them in.” That’s been the Kimpton philosophy since its inception in 1981. With no extra charge or deposit required, there is no size, weight limit, nor max on number of pets allowed. They are also welcome at Wine Hour to socialize with other furry friends that might be visiting. Several properties employ the use of a Director of Pet Relations to greet your furry friend at the door.

This guy stares at you while in the bathroom!Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland

Décor/Style –Kimpton interiors are always funky and fun, but not at the expense of comfort or a welcoming ambience. Bold color and whimsical patterns are used in both private rooms and public spaces. Make sure you slow down and take it all in or you’ll miss that lamp with the duck legs, or the funky wallpaper in the bathroom. Each Kimpton has its own collection of important art, much of it from local artists of the region. For instance, the Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland carries a wine art theme throughout, even on the elevator doors.

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Portland

Dining – Each Kimpton location offers a local restaurant featuring regional, seasonal and sustainable culinary options, whether you just want a drink and a snack or a full meal for the family. Each dining milieu is as unique as the city in which it is located, and features food and drink immersed in that city’s culture.

Il Solito Restaurant Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland

Amenities – Kimpton’s bath amenities include the Atelier Bloem line of soaps, lotions and hair care products. With scents like Kadota Fig, Mandarin & Citrus, Geranium and Oolong Tea, you’ll be wishing you could enjoy the experience all year long. All are available online for purchase so if you get hooked on a particular scent, you can enjoy at home.

Kimpton Hotels Atelier Bloem Amenities (Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels)

Multi-generational – While traveling with the grandkids, don’t make the mistake of staying in a boring hotel, decorated in early nursing home. The minute the kids walk into a Kimpton, their eyes will wander from their electronics and curiosity will take over. You’ll be the cool grandparents on the block when they find a special gift on the bed and check out the closet for kid-sized, animal print bath robes (and no monsters).

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Portland Lobby

Off the Record – Several times a year, a Kimpton location will host a local entertainer or band in concert, as part of their Off the Record Music Series. Seven concerts were scheduled in 2019 and the 2020 lineup is about to be announced. Cuts from these concerts are also available on the Kimpton website along with the opportunity to subscribe to Vinyl Me, Please, with a portion of the proceeds going to The Trevor Project.

The Sisterhood Band (Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels)

Last Minute Deals – Look for the Last Minute Deals link on the Kimpton website if you are the spontaneous type who prefers not to plan ahead. Sometimes we just need to drop everything and get away from the stress of everyday life and Kimpton is the way to go. These reduced rates are offered to IHG Rewards Club Members and are good for seven days.

Hotel Monaco Portland

Stay Human Project – In 20 participating properties, Kimpton has launched a social experiment with the purpose of forming deeper human connections among its guests. Examples vary from leaving a message, confession or inspiration on a wall for the next guest, to signing a guestbook with suggestions for interesting neighborhood food or drink spots, to using a typewriter in the room to describe how you engaged in human experiences in the local area. Usually one room in the property is designated as part of the Stay Human Project, so make sure to ask about Room 301.

Kimpton Hotels Stay Human Project (Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels)

On several occasions, the Kimpton brand hotels have hosted our stay, but the opinions stated above are my own…just love the brand!

Kimpton Schofield Hotel Cleveland

Awash with memories, this one’s about a special lady

My latest on hypeorlando is about the fantastic Harriett Lake. Settling into our new (old) neighborhood is bringing back a bunch of memories. The memory narrative I refer to is well worth a read, especially if you’ve lived in the area as long as I have.

Photo courtesy Orlando Sentinel

America’s Tiniest State Packs an Historical Punch

Providence River

After a recent conference in Manchester, NH, Charlie and I explored Rhode Island, staying in Providence. You can read a more wordy version in TravelPulse – this is more of a pictorial. We were hosted by the Omni Providence Hotel, a gorgeous and convenient place to stay within walking distance of everything the city has to offer. GoProvidence provided lots of input in terms of what to see in the city including a day trip to Newport.

Love the murals throughout the city

Cool views from the Omni

Omni Providence Hotel

One of our favorite places in town was Federal Hill, Providence’s version of Little Italy. There are tons of stories about this place, sometimes called the “Tri-Guido” area. The food is phenomenal.

Even the lines in the road are Italian

Entrance to Federal Hill, the Little Italy of Providence

Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes at Caffe Dolce Vita

Caffe Dolce Vita

Newport is only a 45 minute drive and is worth spending an afternoon, just to see the amazing mansions that serve as summer homes to the rich. Many are open for tours.

Newport statuary

Just a gate house

Would you need any more fireplaces?

Back to Providence…we enjoyed a tour boat ride through the center of town with Providence River Boat Company. Our captain gave us an excellent overview of the history of the city and pointed out info that only a native would know.

Flood levels over the years from the Providence River

Flood gates put in place after recent floods

We wish we had more time in the state as there are over 400 miles of coastline, even though it is only 48 miles north to south by 37 miles east to west.

Loved the architecture

If a New England trip is planned, make sure you include Rhode Island…it has a personality of its own and the food is fabulous!

A tour of Quantum Leap Winery…the only one in town!

Further exploring Quantum Leap Winery, Orlando’s (not so well-kept) secret… Forever Young but Growing Old.

Our town might be growing in breweries but there is still only one winery in the city. Located on 1312 Wilfred Drive, in the Mills/50 District, it’s not far from the Track Shack. A great place to taste a vast collection or pick up the perfect gift. Now with extended hours open to the public, it’s easier to do just that. Enjoy!

Pull off Orlando’s Main Roads for These Fun Spots

Craft beer, independent winery, fried green tomatoes and camellias…Orlando has it all but you have to find them! Check out my latest post in TravelPulse about these hidden treasures.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I were in New York City checking out some alternative lodging options in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Here’s a link to my TravelPulse blog post…enjoy and hoping the holidays are a happy time for all!

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Travel the world with these bloggers and photojournalists…eye-candy for the armchair traveler

A break in the daily cruise travelogue to praise our fellow writers and photojournalists. Check it out on hypeorlando…8 Global Journalists who take you to foreign lands without leaving home.

Vid and Savi, BruisedPassports.com

Vid and Savi, BruisedPassports.com

Next Stop Skagway and the White Pass & Yukon Railway

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Our next port of call would be Skagway, a small town developed when it was discovered there was gold in them thar hills…or mountains of Canada. We took the White Pass & Yukon Railway up to the Summit, learning of the rich history of the land along the way.

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Our tall conductor

Our tall conductor

The train climbed past expansive vistas, colorful wildflowers, through tunnels and over bridges. The cloud cover was low which gave the scenery a spooky feel. Along the way there was constant narration describing some bizarre stories about the lives of railroad builders and gold diggers. The White Pass & Yukon Route climbs from sea level to almost 3,000 feet over a course of 20 miles. It’s amazing that this kind of construction could occur around the turn of the century in such harsh terrain.

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A ghost bridge to nowhere...looking even more ghostly in the clouds

A ghost bridge to nowhere…looking even more ghostly in the clouds

The trip takes several hours, returning from the Summit covering the same route but everything looks different traveling the other way. At the top, the engine is moved to the other end of the train and the seats are flipped to face the other direction. Once back in Skagway we returned to the Nieuw Amsterdam and then, later explored the town.

A refresher in The Crow's Nest before heading back out to explore the town

A refresher in The Crow’s Nest before heading back out to explore the town

 

View of downtown Skagway from the Crow's Nest on the ship

View of downtown Skagway from the Crow’s Nest on the ship

 

Ready to head out to Glacier Bay

Ready to head out to Glacier Bay

Mountain Update and new posts on TravelPulse and hypeorlando

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Taking a break from cruise blogging to write about early Christmas shopping on hypeorlando and a post about the upcoming Fall Farm and Artisans’ Tour in conjunction with local B&Bs on TravelPulse (just click on the links).

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We’ve been busy, up here in NC, exploring Asheville and the surrounding mountain towns. The temps still remain 75 or under…some evenings drop to low 60’s and even high 50’s the other morning. This is why we’re here.

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Deer sightings are in abundance this month, as are squirrels terrorizing us by sitting in trees, high above our metal roof, using us as target practice with these round objects which sound like cannon balls. They hit the roof and then roll down…honestly, if not cannons they sound like bowling balls!

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Yesterday this was a nice mound of colorful impatiens…last night they were a deer’s appetizer

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Visitors arriving in a couple of weeks…will head home mid October, hopefully, after a gorgeous display of fall leaves.

More cruise news and photos to follow…

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Holy Sh*t moments in Juneau

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After two nights and a full day of cruising, we arrived in Juneau. Surprised at how small this town is, especially since it’s the capitol of Alaska, we were told that most of the jobs were in state government or tourism. Of course, fishing is a major industry here, also. Our ship docked just after lunch and we had an excursion planned a couple of hours later.

Our floatplane

Our floatplane

We bravely, but with a fair amount of trepidation, chose a Wings Airways seaplane (or floatplane, as they’re called in Alaska) touring five of the glaciers of Juneau’s massive icefield. Strapping into the 10 passenger De Havilland Otter was scary, to say the least, especially on such a cloudy day but we just sucked it up, donned our headphones and held our breath.

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Will I need this?

Will I need this?

Side note: You WILL be asked to divulge your weight and it WILL be written on your ticket in big red figures. If you choose to lie about your weight, you might feel a bit of panic as the plane takes off, worrying that everybody else might have lied, too. Not that I have any experience in this, just sayin…

Bye, bye, Nieuw Amsterdam - hope we make it back!

Bye, bye, Nieuw Amsterdam – hope we make it back!

To say this was a #HolyShitMoment is an understatement. From the moment our bush plane’s floats left the water until we drifted back to dock, the views were exhilarating and we were glad we chose this adventure. Observing the glaciers from above offers an amazing insight into how these huge structures are formed.

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The 40-minute adventure covered five glaciers, most of which are receding. The Taku Glacier, however, is the largest in the ice field and the only one still advancing. Wearing headphones, we listened to educational narration throughout the flight with oodles of photo opps as every seat has its own window.

My intrepid photographer!

My intrepid photographer!

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There were a few anxious moments when we were buffeted about a bit but the experienced pilot kept us level and before we knew it we were gliding into the bay for a smooth landing, wishing the flight wasn’t coming to an end.

Flowers of Juneau

Flowers of Juneau

Afterward, we strolled the streets of the town and ducked into the infamous Red Dog Saloon. During the mining era, the owner would meet tour boats, with a mule wearing a sign stating, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.”  Now, modern tourists and cruisers fill the sawdust-floored bar looking for a brew and a raunchy song.

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Tomorrow finds us in Skagway…

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An unexpected treat…cruising through Alaska!

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Waiting, waiting…

An incredible opportunity opened up for Charlie and I to join a press group, cruising Alaska’s waterways with Holland America Lines on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. The offer was last minute, as in 2 ½ weeks, but the calendar was clear and, luckily, we brought our passports to NC, so we were in. The key to a happy retirement is flexibility and spontaneity. No moss growing on our rolling stone!

The plan was to fly from Asheville to Vancouver and back via Chicago. It takes an hour to get to the airport from the mountain house and the flight was on time when we left. Arriving at the airport, however, we discovered our flights, in both Asheville and Chicago were delayed. We started sweating bullets when our originating flight wound up 3 hours late but managed to find our terminal and gate in Chicago in time.

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The Pan Pacific, overlooking the terminal

The rest of the trip was seamless as we were picked up in Vancouver, driven through the streets of the city and dropped off at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, atop Canada Place’s cruise ship terminals. Arriving around 6 pm we had time to walk a few blocks to dinner at Original Joe’s on Robson Street. Of course, our brains were telling us it was 3 hours later so we were disinclined to imbibe in the local beer offerings as we were afraid we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.

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The Pan Pacific is gorgeous and next morning our ship was in dock waiting for us to board. We met our fellow journalists for breakfast and were amazed at how far some of them traveled…Australia, Holland, London, Austria, Belgium and a few more from the states…all lovely people who were a joy to accompany on this trip of a lifetime.

Leaving beautiful Vancouver

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View from our deck

The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is one of HAL’s larger ships, much bigger than the ms Maasdam, on which we cruised through New England and Nova Scotia last year. The comfort level and beauty were the same, however, this time with a touch of Manhattan and NYC art deco touches. Our Verandah was roomy, located at the back of the ship, which proved to be a perfect place to view all that Alaska had to offer.

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We met our group again at the Crow’s Nest on the Observation Deck, for a welcome cocktail and then dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room. The food on these cruises is just phenomenal and the champagne was flowing that night, along with perfect wine pairings. We were reminded that we needed to take it easy and not eat our way through the trip…not an easy task!

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Next morning, we met for a private Galley tour. What we saw was a well-organized effort to feed over 2,000 guests and more than 900 crew members. The kitchens were spotless and we saw smiling faces and beautiful culinary creations. Here are some stats…a typical 7-day cruise goes through 23,000 eggs, 1,675 pounds of butter and 137,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. It’s mind-boggling the amount of work that goes into storing, preparing and serving this much food. And they do it cheerfully and meticulously.

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Working so fast, his hands are a blur

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The final taste test

That night we met at The Pinnacle Grill, one of three fine dining choices, which will cost extra but are well worth the price. The menu highlights Pacific Northwest steak and seafood along with an ample choice of wines. Looking out the window we spotted the backs of a few whales cruising alongside the ship. I should mention that the other dining choices, which are included in the price of the cruise, are top of the line. You can choose the Lido buffet which changes offerings every day, along with the Manhattan Dining Room, which is a 2-level, formal dining experience.

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Pepper?

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Vid and Savi, Bruised Passports

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Delectable crab cakes

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Captain Edward Van Zaane and his lovely wife, Apollonia…yes, that Apollonia!

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Here are a couple of links to my blog posts on hypeorlando about this trip… Sushi virgins no longer and What the rest of the world thinks of Americans – Next up, Days 3 and 4, sailing through Tracy Arm, arriving in Juneau and Skagway.

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3 Reasons to visit Asheville

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North Lodge on Oakland

I just want to share some of my recent posts about Asheville in hypeorlando and TravelPulse. We were invited to stay in 3 lodges which are indicative of the hospitality and beauty of this city.

TravelPulse is a newsy travel industry site which is heavy on words, but not photos. Here’s the link to that one… Click here for TravelPulse

I broke down each of the Inns on hypeorlando as more of a pictorial:

The North Lodge on Oakland is a small B&B, close to the Biltmore Estate, operated by a lovely couple who take pride in their home. Click here for the North Lodge

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Gary and Cindy Broaddus, Innkeepers

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Library Room at the North Lodge

Our next stop was the Reynolds Mansion where Billy Sanders treated us like royalty. This home was built by slaves and has undergone massive renovations with the intent to restore it to its original beauty. Click here for The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion Guestroom Lila

I can’t believe I had never heard of the Omni Grove Park Inn. An NC neighbor recommended it and I was amazed by the history and architecture of this lodge. Click here for the Omni Grove Park Inn

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Photo courtesy of The Omni Grove Park Inn

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Sunset over Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains

We’re now in the last week of a month-long visit by 2 of the grandkids and will be heading back to Florida to deliver them to mom. After a short stay in Orlando, we’ll be returning to Wolf Laurel with Ali and James in tow.

So far the weather has been the reason we moved up here for the summer. The temps have risen in town but when we drive back up the mountain to our house, we’re back in the 60’s or low 70’s. There is definitely something to be said for high elevations!

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Home sweet NC home

A quick correction

So sorry I mistakenly sent out a link to a depression blog on this site – I hit the wrong button when meaning to share another’s post via Tweet – wound up on my site – I deleted it but not before email notifications were sent out – my apologies!

Wolf Laurel Update

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The view when we arrived April 13

It’s been a little over a month since arriving at the mountain house for the summer. One thing we’ve learned is, next year, we’ll head up this way later in the spring/summer. Although it has been fun seeing the wildflowers of spring, the temps are chilly…just this morning we woke up to low 30’s, brrrr. Hopefully, this is the last cold spell and we won’t have to turn on the heat again. Our rhododendrons are about to bloom, much later than those in town and toward the bottom of the mountain…I’m guessing the low temps play a part in that.

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What a difference a month makes!

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Mayapples are everywhere. Each one only produces one tiny flower under an umbrella of leaves.

We’ve been busy fixing up the house, painting, patching, hauling stuff we don’t want to Goodwill. We enjoyed bonding with the Bonds last week during their visit after nephew, Andrew, graduated UCF. They are experienced hikers so we had our hands full keeping up with them while visiting their old vacation haunts. Checking out the stars on Andrew’s telescope in the pitch blackness of the mountain was a high point. The night sky provides quite a show when light pollution is not an issue. Looking forward to more visitors…Jess, Chris and the grandkids are arriving mid June, then Ali and James in July. We’re feeling a bit like empty-nesters since sis, Patty, and her crew left, though.

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Snow on Big Bald

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Missing the Bond’s boots on the porch

Critter sightings include deer, turkey, chipmunks and, we think, a big fat groundhog. No bear scares but we are always vigilant.

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This little lady charged toward Patty and I on our walk. We were the “deer in the headlights” til she darted away.

We enjoy our visits to Mars Hill, Weaverville and Asheville, when we need a dose of civilization. One thing that stands out, everybody is so friendly and happy up here, whether at the grocery store, restaurants, shops…always a smile and ready to help. And highway driving is way more civilized than what we deal with in Florida. Missing our newspaper home delivery and still can’t find where the Sunday NY Times is sold. We’re old and old-school…getting our news online is just not the same.

This is a whole new world for us and it’s been a bit of a learning curve. We’re happy with our choice of house and area, we just have to become more accustomed to the harsh terrain. We’re so spoiled in Florida…bitch as we might about the heat and humidity, it’s an easy environment in which to live, with all its flatness.

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Every night the sunsets are phenomenal over the ridge

The Barns of Burnsville

The town of Burnsville is a favorite of ours when we’re in the mood for BBQ – Bubba’s is our first choice. There’s a back gate off the mountain in Yancy County, which we checked out for the first time yesterday…nice alternate route when you don’t feel like getting on the interstate. What we found, in just a 5 mile stretch of road, were a bunch of barns in all shapes, sizes and state of disrepair…

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Most of the time we were the only car on the road so stopping wasn’t a problem. Some of these barns looked like they’d topple over but must’ve been made of strong stuff to withstand harsh winters. I’d love to know their histories.

Check me out on TravelPulse.com

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Gotta blow my own horn here, so to speak, with the news that TravelPulse.com has published one of my blog posts and I am in contract with them to write further content. Most will be based in Orlando but I’ll be writing about Asheville this summer, also. First post is about the rise of the craft beer industry in Orlando…research was great fun!

It’s a major step for me as I’ve been slooooowly working towards this kind of validation as a writer, focusing on travel, and it feels good to be validated. Thanks to Kim Warrner for informing me about the Orlando Sentinel‘s blog platform,  hypeorlando.com, right after we moved back to Orlando. Writing for them has been a wonderful exercise in discipline and the support really helps, as sitting at a computer, hoping to get noticed, can be very isolating. Just when you feel like giving it all up, someone in the hypeorlando group will pat you on the back, come up with a few words of encouragement and spur you on.

Geez, this is sounding like an acceptance speech for an Academy Award! Actually, it kind of felt that way when I saw my name under the TravelPulse banner yesterday. More to come…

When Plan A fails…make sure you have Plan B, C and D available

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So the deal wasn’t done and the papers weren’t signed, lucky for us we had an honest inspector who immediately saw structural issues and did not continue the process. Inspections are pricey in the mountains and he saved us quite a few bucks by not going any further. He said a structural engineer needed to see the damage and go from there. It was enough for us to cancel the contract and move on. Very disappointing, especially since the owner is a structural engineer and should have disclosed the problems on the contract.

We’ve learned not to become emotionally attached to anything we attempt to purchase so we weren’t envisioning family holidays on the deck quite yet. There were others on our short list and some more popped up on the MLS, so we kept shopping. Our criteria and must-have list was short – 3,000 feet in elevation, a view, high ceilings (we want to feel like we’re in a mountain house, not sitting in a subdivision somewhere with low ceilings), and a location that doesn’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Elevation is a must as our main reason for purchasing a summer home is to get out of the heat and humidity of Orlando. Our research has shown that 3,000 feet pretty much insures not having to turn on the a/c all summer. A panoramic mountain view is fleeting. The house that failed inspection had a killer view off the deck but that deck might be sliding off the mountain in the future. Another house had a great view but was too small and, inside, felt like we were anywhere but in the mountains. Another one had a death-defying drive-way and a larger car would have to back out of it without being able to turn around.

In the end we’re losing the view with the chosen abode, but it’s just a short walk away, along with the Appalachian Trail, and the size and location make up for it. Check out my hypeorlando.com blog at Forever Young but Growing Old for details on our last visit. Hopefully, we’ll close in early December and have more to report with pictures. But those photos might include snow!

 

 

 

Second trip’s the charm

On our second house-hunting trip to North Carolina, we chose to stay at a bed and breakfast within the Wolf Laurel community. Our research found several houses in the area and we figured what better way to get a feel for the neighborhood than to spend a few nights in it. Good choice on many levels…

Our digs for the week

Our digs for the week

The Bald Mountain House, run by Monica and Tony Martin, was a delightful find. The high elevation with drop dead mountain views, along with the comfortable sleeping arrangements would make for a memorable stay by itself. However, add to that the phenomenal breakfasts and interesting conversations and I’d say we hit the jackpot.

The Mount Mitchell suite

The Mount Mitchell suite

We stayed in the Mount Mitchell room/suite with a king bed and roomy sitting area, on the third level, with gorgeous views. In the middle of September it was a bit chilly to leave the windows open at night but during the day the fresh mountain air wafted through the rooms.

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Each of the four mornings we were there, Monica whipped up creative and tasty dishes to start our day of house hunting and gave us tons of tips about the surrounding Wolf Laurel community. Tony has his own HVAC business and winterizes most of the homes on the mountain so he proved to be a wealth of knowledge whenever we mentioned an address in which we were interested.


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Tijuana Flats…not just good food but good people

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Recently I was invited to a blogger event at the Tijuana Flats on East Colonial, in Orlando. These events are one of the many perks of writing a blog, especially with hypeorlando (the Orlando Sentinel blog platform). We get to taste-test new menu items and get an insider view of house local restaurants operate.

I’m including a link to my recent Tijuana Flats blog post with hypeorlando…”Tijuana Flats, superb Tex Mex and giving back to the community

It’s heartening to know that local businesses play such a big part in helping our community by giving back in ways we might be aware of. And the sangria is awesome!

The Amtrak Adirondack to New York City

Lake Champlain from the train, looking east to Vermont

Lake Champlain from the train, looking east to Vermont

The next leg of our journey put us on the Amtrak Adirondack to Penn Station in Manhattan. What was touted as a 10 hour trip, turned into 12. Check out my blog post on hypeorlando for more details…

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The Grand Finale – Quebec City

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Day 7 – Quebec City

Woke up Friday to the spectacular view of Quebec City, with a gorgeous view of the Chateau Frontenac, a monstrous hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It sits atop the Terrasse Dufferin, looking out over the Lower Town. The sidewalk cafes, 17th century architecture and sounds of French being spoken freely, reminded me of Paris. We took the funicular to the upper section of the city and gradually meandered back to sea level, after hours of shopping, sightseeing and lunch in an Irish Pub.

Chateau Frontenac

Chateau Frontenac

Funicular to Upper Town

Funicular to Upper Town

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Hearing the accordion put me back in Paris!

Tip: We did not convert any American cash to Canadian and found that most restaurants and shops will not give you the benefit of the sometimes 20% difference. Best to use a credit or debit card as the difference will be automatically changed and you’ll get a much better deal.  Continue reading

Part 3 – A day in Charlottetown, then another at sea

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Day 5 – Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

The next day, Wednesday, we would be in Charlottetown from 9 am to 5:30 pm. This city is quite a bit larger than Sydney, so we laced up our walking shoes and stepped off the ship into a cloudy, 68 degree morning.

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St. Dunstan’s Basilica

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What do you think they were discussing? Across the street from St. Dunstan’s

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The gorgeous architecture of cathedrals and homes was amazing. If you want to be more adventurous and get out of the city, Holland America provides excursions to more picturesque areas of Prince Edward Island. If you’re an Anne of Green Gables fan, you will find the family home where author L. M. Montgomery wrote many of her novels.

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Sir John MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister

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Hoping to get some free ice cream from Cow’s Creamery

It was suggested, by an experienced cruiser, to try Cow’s Creamery which was worth the stop for ice cream. We were later told by the crew that their favorite Lobster Roll provider is Dave’s Lobster – wish we’d known beforehand – note to self: quiz the crew before a port of call about their favorite restaurants!  Continue reading

Part 2 of our Holland America cruise

Day 3 – Halifax

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Cruising into Nova Scotia, on Holland America‘s Maasdam, we had no clue as to the history of the place. So we chose that rainy Day 2 to spend some time in the Explorations Café Library learning about our destination. A big piece of Halifax’s history lies in a horrific event in 1917 when a munitions ship experienced a collision in the Narrows strait of Halifax Harbour. The mishap caused a mighty fire before the explosion which brought townspeople out into the streets to witness. What they didn’t realize was that the ship would blow up causing the largest man-made explosion prior to nuclear weaponry, killing or injuring thousands with property damage happening miles away. It created a tsunami which killed even more, as if the disaster didn’t do enough damage.

The Citadel, Halifax NS

The Citadel, Halifax NS

With that knowledge in tow we hopped off the ship and caught up, at 10 am, with a free walking tour  at The Citadel which sits high atop the city. Our guide was a young guy, new on the job, but knowledgeable enough to keep us interested. Others in the group also had stories to add (as did we!). The city is beautiful and the jacket weather matched it…cool and dry! Patrick took us up and down the streets of Halifax, eventually leading down to the harbor where we headed back to the ship for lunch.  Continue reading

Our marvelous adventure with Holland America Lines – cruising to cooler temps!

The Maasdam

The Maasdam

Having only been on a cruise once, and not being very impressed, we decided to give it a second chance with the opportunity to get out of the Florida heat and head up to New England and Nova Scotia. Holland America Lines was recommended by friends and, upon research, we found this cruise line to be highly rated. Waiting until the last minute gave us the opportunity to take advantage of much lower rates so we decided to go for it.

The cruise we chose was a 7 day, medium ship, the Maasdam, out of Boston, ending in Montreal. The only problem with choosing a last minute cruise is dealing with the higher costs of last minute flights. The small airport in Worcester, just an hour out of Boston, provided decent fare with JetBlue. The prices flying out of Montreal were really high, however, so we decided to hop on the Amtrak Adirondack to Penn Station in Manhattan. USAir/American Airlines flights out of Newark were way more affordable. Here’s a diary of our adventure…

Needing to be reminded what day it is...proof of a great vacation!

Needing to be reminded what day it is…proof of a great vacation!

Day 1 – Embarkation

Mears Taxi picked us up at 6 am for an early flight to Worcester where my childhood friend picked us up. We only spent about 20 minutes with her as she just drove us to the Worcester Bus Station for our rendezvous with a Greyhound bus to Boston. From there we walked about a mile and a half to the cruise terminal, not minding the trek as we had minimal luggage to roll behind us and the weather was breezy and cool…such a relief from 100 degrees in Orlando.

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Union Station, Worcester

Checking onto the ship was quick and seamless. As a precaution, and having read this many times in cruise blogs, we checked in our suitcases but carried a tote with our toiletries, drugs and clean underwear, just in case our baggage was delayed or delivered to the wrong room (not to worry, though, all 3 bags were sitting outside our door within a couple of hours).  Continue reading

911 Memorial Museum Anniversary

Recently the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City celebrated its first anniversary. On a recent trip to Manhattan we made sure to reserve a day to visit the 911 Museum. It is a pilgrimage that feels like one’s civic duty. We need to be reminded of the pain that was felt that awful day. Our pain has subsided but for those who lost family members, it never goes away.

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Walking through the museum one never knows what might touch the heart or cause you to tear up. My husband was particularly affected by the Maasi Tribe, who felt so bad for our country’s loss that they offered up 14 of their prized cows to be sent as a gift. The shipment to America of cattle never happened because of financial and health concerns, but there is a special spot for the herd in Kenya where they are cared for and are free to roam. You can read the entire story here but go grab a tissue first. I don’t think anyone can get through the tale without a lump in the throat.

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Continue reading

In a New York state of mind

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

I’ve lost count as to how many times Charlie and I have visited New York City. Early in our marriage we squeezed in as many trips as we could to our favorite destination. After having three kids our travels were limited to road trips visiting in-laws in Ohio or day trips to the beach.

Shortly after the 9/11 attack, with hearts broken, we made a pilgrimage, as a family, over the Thanksgiving holiday. Renting a small apartment through Manhattan Getaways in Hell’s Kitchen, just a couple of short blocks from the corner of Broadway and West 53rd, we were able to take in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Making our way to lower Manhattan we witnessed the still-smoldering remnants of the World Trade Center. It was a sobering visit, kind of scary, at times, for the kids but a trip that needed to be made and a lesson that needed to be learned.

Since retirement we’ve tried to make our way to Manhattan every few years, finding inexpensive lodging such as the Stay The Night in the upper East side (you’ll share a bathroom) or a cute walkup in Harlem through Airbnb. This time we were taking advantage of frequent flier miles so we decided to splurge on an actual hotel. Of course, during the holidays you won’t find anything decent under $350-400 per night in Midtown so we still had to go through Hotwire to find something closer to $200. Our 4-Star request landed us at the World Center Hotel, smack dab next to the newly constructed Freedom Tower and 911 Museum.

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower

Continue reading

Next stop, Portland, Oregon

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View of Mount Hood, flying into Portland

View of Mount Hood, flying into Portland

Finally, getting to Chapter 2 of our summer trip out West…we left Washington DC before dawn, heading to Portland, Oregon, to meet up with an old grammar and high school classmate, Bob Burgan. Bob and Mary extended an invitation to stay with them a couple of nights at their beach house in Manzanita. I haven’t seen Bob since high school but have reconnected through FaceBook and have been intrigued by his photos of Manzanita, which is just south of Cannon Beach. It’s a 90 minute drive from Bob and Mary’s lovely house in downtown Portland, west to the coast. When you reach the westernmost point and head south to Manzanita, the view of the ocean is phenomenal…it most definitely qualifies as a “Holy shit!” moment.

Cannon Beach, just north of Manzanita

Cannon Beach, just north of Manzanita

The stroll from the Burgan/McArthur house to the beach is a short one and stepping out from the grassy path onto the shore is a shock to the senses. This is a much different view than our east coast shoreline. The Pacific is not as forgiving and the rocky cliffs in the distance make for treacherous waves. I just had to dip my toes to check out the temperature when a rogue wave caught me up to my knees. And, yes, it was cold!

Nola's a happy camper on the Manzanita beach

Nola’s a happy camper on the Manzanita beach

Bob and Mary’s pup, Nola, loves the beach and was in constant motion. The next day Bob took us on a short hike from the Oregon Coast Highway to Oswald West State Park, another beach with magnificent views, this time with surfers taking to the waves. Unlike Florida beaches, the water is so cold the surfers have to be covered head to toe before making their way into the frigid water. Tsunami warnings and evacuation route signs dot the roadway. An issue we, on the east coast, don’t think twice about.

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A couple of fossils

 

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Pacific waves

All bundled up

All bundled up

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Bob leading the way

Bob leading the way

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We spent the rest of the day being shown Bob’s old haunts…he’s been living in Oregon since the ‘70’s and knows EVERYBODY in Manzanita. This was proven over and over again on our journey. Bob is a story in itself and his most recent escapades can be found in the Habitat for Humanity Disaster Corps newsletter. Years ago, he fell off a mountain and lived to talk about it but was left with a crooked leg which can be seen in some of the photos. It doesn’t hold him back, however. I don’t think anything’s going to kill Bob Burgan. (Well, I take that back, maybe Mary will!)

Kelly's Marina, Nehalem Bay

Kelly’s Marina, Nehalem Bay

The always busy Kelly

The always busy Kelly

Back in Portland, we were dropped off at a boutique hotel on the Willamette River, the River’s Edge Hotel & Spa, which is just a couple of blocks from a Portland Streetcar stop. (Got a really good deal through Priceline)  The mass transportation opportunities are abundant and provide an inexpensive way to tour the city. Before we said goodbye to the Burgans, however, they took us for an early evening walk around the International Rose Test Gardens which, as the name implies, serves as a testing facility for new rose varieties. The park covers 4.5 acres with over 7,000 plants. It’s a sensory overload of color and fragrance…a truly amazing place.

Intl Rose Test Gardens

Intl Rose Test Gardens

 

Mary and I with the founder of the rose garden, Jessie Currey

Mary and I with the founder of the rose garden, Jessie Currey

 

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Later, we dined at Meriwether’s, sharing a generous portion of Paella with local craft beers. Our time with Bob and Mary will never be forgotten. The bond that is forged in childhood never seems to break and our respective spouses added to the enjoyment of reconnecting at a stage of our lives where we appreciate the value of friendship.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

The next day we were on our own to explore the city and we fell in love. Portland is a progressive town that felt, to us, like home. I have a feeling we will be spending a lot more time there in the future. Divided by the Willamette River, we took the streetcar over the bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) where we toured the USS Blueback, a Naval submarine which was assigned to Pearl Harbor, among other places, and is currently a permanent fixture at the OMSI.

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We then headed back over the bridge to the Pearl District, which houses the famous Powell’s City of Books, taking up a full block, chock full of tomes for the taking. Just walk in with a bag of books to trade and you can walk out with a new collection. It’s a busy place. The city is also home to Portland State University, which is bisected by the streetcars giving riders a mini tour of the campus. For the most part the weather in Portland, and Manzanita, was pleasant and cool for the middle of summer, except for our day in the city when the temps reached 97 degrees…an anomaly for the mercury to reach that level. It was manageable, however, as the humidity level was so low, and we all know “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”

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CAR2GO saw these throughout the city

CAR2GO saw these throughout the city

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After our night at the River’s Edge, we were driven (complimentary) to Union Station where we were to start the next leg of our journey on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, overnight, to San Francisco. More on that in the next chapter.

Union Station, Portland

Union Station, Portland

Part One of our many-layered trip – Washington, DC

Representing hyeorlando

Representing hypeorlando

Last month’s trip was full of “holy shit!” moments. From beginning to end, the two weeks was chock full of eye-opening events and scenery. Our first leg took us to the 38th Annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference in Washington, DC. It was my fifth year of attending and I wasn’t disappointed.

Margie & Bob's home in Falls Church

Margie & Bob’s home in Falls Church

Arriving a day early, we were picked up at the airport by a friend I’ve known since we were in the fourth grade. Margie and Bob reside in Falls Church, VA, and were gracious enough to put us up on our first night in their lovely home. Decades ago, Margie’s mom managed the Home and Hobby store on chic Park Avenue in Winter Park, which was the go-to place for crystal, china and anything shiny and breakable. Margie’s welcoming home reflects her mother’s taste and charm.

Is this Hillwood or Margie's place?

Is this Hillwood or Margie’s place?

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But first, Margie took us to the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which includes the Georgian-style mansion of Marjorie Merriweather Post (of the Post cereal empire). Some of you, as old as I, might recognize Ms. Post’s daughter, Dina Merrill, the actress and philanthropist, who carries on her mother’s legacy. One of my favorite stories on the tour was about an incident which occurred during the depression of the twenties. Ms. Merriweather Post gathered up her collection of jewelry, placed it in a safe deposit box, then used the savings from the insurance on said jewelry to open several soup kitchens for women and children. She served up food and drink for the poor with linens and china, respecting the dignity of those who were not as fortunate.

Hillwood Estate

Hillwood Estate

The mansion/museum is full of art, china, and original furnishings; and the magnificent gardens are resplendent with color. This jewel of an estate is tucked away in the residential Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and provides an enlightening and quiet side trip from the tourist areas of the city.

Which fork do I use?

Which fork do I use?

While Charlie hung out with an old school friend of his own, the rest of the weekend put me into star-struck nerd writer overload. The roster of speakers at the NSNC conference was incredible. Beginning with Connie Schultz, I was thrilled to meet this prolific writer, of whose FaceBook page I am a stalker. Connie used to write for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer but left the paper when her husband, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, campaigned. She now is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate and writes for Parade Magazine. This Pulitzer Prize winner gave me a “holy shit” moment when I realized she was following me on Twitter.

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

Holy shit! Connie's following me!

Holy shit! Connie’s following me!

Other speakers kept us enthralled and in stitches, such as Craig Wilson, retired USA Today columnist; John Avlon of The Daily Beast; Gene Weingarten, Dana Milbank, Marguerite Kelly and Alexandra Petri, all of the Washington Post; and Llewellyn King, who currently is host and executive producer of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, and whose background is too lengthy to list here. These are but a few of the journalists who graced us with their presence over the weekend and were so inspirational to a “wanna-be” writer.

The Capitol at Dusk

The Capitol at Dusk

Again, I was thinking, “holy shit!” while having dinner in the bowels of the Capitol building after a short tour of the rotunda, with nary a soul around but our small group of writers. Having toured the Capitol before with hordes of tourists, it was an eerie feeling to be there without the crowds. Our footsteps echoed in the pristine rooms which have held so much of this country’s history. It was an awesome experience and one I will not soon forget.

Hallowed halls

Hallowed halls

Washington Monument through Capitol window

Washington Monument through Capitol window

The next chapter takes us to Portland, Oregon…to be continued.

YMCA…one more thing to appreciate about the Orlando area

Getting ready for a big trip in a few weeks, been trying to get into shape. Since moving back to downtown Orlando we have no excuse to lazily while away the summer. Charlie can’t run because of a torn Achilles tendon but our local Y provides a ton of other opportunities to get in a workout. My latest HypeOrlando blog is an homage to our area YMCA’s and why they should not be taken for granted.

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My new passion is the Zumba class which is the best aerobic experience I’ve had in a long time…and I’m not the oldest one there. Has it really been 20 years since I took that dance class and had to learn intricate moves? Those 20 years have wreaked havoc with my brain-foot coordination but fun is had by all and the sweat is proof it’s a great workout. Move over 30 year old hard bodies, make room for grammy!

Our leader, Alaina, in a rare moment of almost standing still.

Our leader, Alaina, in a rare moment of almost standing still.

Not your grandma’s B&B

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A little over a year ago our friends and neighbors, the Smiths, opened a bed and breakfast in New Smyrna Beach overlooking the Indian River. The opening was the result of a multi-year production involving the renovation of a beautiful old home, retaining the ambience and historical importance of the residence. We were blown away by the design and the end result but figured we were biased as these are super friends and we knew how hard they worked.

A bit of background…the Smiths have been involved in the hospitality industry for decades. Brett and his twin brother, Scott, started working together in their college days; Brett met Sheila while working an island property; and Sheila’s brother, Joe, is the Chaine des Rotisseurs educated Chef of the Inn. When not in New Smyrna Beach, Scott runs the Chateau Inns & Suites in Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Their experience speaks for itself so it is no surprise that they have started racking up so many awards they can’t keep up with the press releases. Soon after they opened the doors, kudos were received from The Guardian as one of the Ten B&Bs and Guesthouses in Florida and, most recently, huge accolades from AAA, TripAdvisor, and Select Registry, among others.

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Here’s the list of awards so far in 2014:

AAA – The Black Dolphin earned the coveted Four (4) Diamonds – they are one of only 4 B&B’s in Florida earning this designation.

TripAdvisor – Awarded the Black Dolphin Inn the 2014 Traveler’s Choice Award for the Top 25 B&B’s and Inns in the United States.

Select Registry – Being included in this listing of Distinguished Inns of North America means membership in an elite group of under 400 inns which are invited each year.

BedandBreakfast.com – Given the distinction as being one of 20 luxury inns in the state of Florida who have qualified for listing in the Diamond Collection.

iLoveInns.com – If you haven’t heard of this site, it placed the Black Dolphin Inn into the Top 10 Romantic Inns in the United States.

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The Inn has also housed a few movie and TV crews while filming in the area. Sharon Lawrence calls herself their unofficial ambassador in Hollywood as the result of her visit with a movie crew.

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Last year the Black Dolphin Inn received more accolades from BedandBreakfast.com as one of the Top Ten Beach B&Bs in the world…that’s global! We knew they had a magnificent property and now the rest of the world can appreciate what has been accomplished in such a short time.

Seizures ain’t pretty

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Another entry into the hypeOrlando blog community…Seizures ain’t pretty from Forever Young but Growing Old.

Hope you’ll stop by and leave a comment.

One of these days we’ll be back on the road and I’ll have travel stuff to add here. For the time being we are still getting adjusted to our move back to Orlando and staying busy here at home.

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hypeorlando has launched!

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There’s a new blog community in town called hypeorlando – a product of the Orlando Sentinel – and my blog Forever Young but Growing Old is included. This is an exciting opportunity to expand into other areas and reach more people with my musings…hope that’s a good thing. Hypeorlando is loaded with talented bloggers covering a ton of topics. If mine doesn’t float your boat, I’m sure you’ll find one that does.

Hippies to Boomers will continue, without change, as I chronicle our travel adventures and the hypeorlando blog will not only delve into travel, but include an added Lifestyles element. My first entry, “Everything old is new again,” is live on the website. Hope you enjoy it.

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Orlando’s Jewel

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Having grown up in Orlando before the city was just a glimmer in the eye of Walt Disney, my parents would take family and friends visiting from the North to Lake Eola, in the heart of downtown. The lake’s green-domed fountain was a favorite of visitors and locals alike. A nighttime drive-by provided a colorful sight, complete with oohs and ahs as the jets of water shot to heights, not quite as soaring as Lake Geneve’s Jet D’Eau, but high enough to amaze and delight. A leisurely walk around the lake was usually in order during the day where one could hop on a Swan Boat to explore the fountain close-up and take in the sights along the shore.

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Over the years the fountain has taken hits from lightning; the latest almost caused its permanent demise when funding was scarce to repair the electrical system and get the waterworks back in working order. However, successful fundraising got the job done and our showpiece was returned to its former glory, and then some.

Recently with the help of the non-profit See Art Orlando, private funds were collected to bring a gaggle of artistic sculptures along the perimeter of the lake, turning the area into a virtual arts-appreciation learning experience. See Art Orlando’s mission is “to enhance the aesthetic experience and cultural image of Downtown Orlando.” I’d say they achieved that worthy mission in spades.

My personal favorite, “Monument in Right Foot Major”, by Todji Kurtzman, resides in the southeast area of the park. Caste in bronze, it creates the look of determination but also might give one a feeling of being stuck in the mud, on a day when it is difficult just putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever the interpretation, I just know that it makes me feel good when I see it.

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A few steps away you will encounter “Cedar of Lebanon”, by Jacob Harmeling of Orlando, a three-story high sculpted tree which is particularly impressive at night with its subtle lighting from within.

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“Discovery Muse”, by artist Meg White, is an enormous body at rest with hand extended, as if inviting a weary traveler to rest in her palm. My visit on this day was during a cold snap which caused her to be blanketed with a sheet to keep the greenery covering her from the harsh temps. (Yes, Orlando winters sometimes dip into the twenties!)

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Douwe Blumberg’s “Take Flight” represents a sight we have seen many times, a flock of birds, perhaps startled, suddenly flying into the air in a group. The visual experience of this sculpture changes with the setting sun and is dramatically lit at night.

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The artist Ralfonso created “Union”, on the northeast corner of Lake Eola. He describes the sculpture as “wind-driven kinetic stainless steel/aluminum sculpture” with multiple “wings” moving with the breeze. A fellow admirer of this piece told me that he imagines the spirits of deceased loved ones causing the parts to move.

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These are just a sampling of the many works of art surrounding our jewel of a lake in the middle of downtown Orlando. If you’re making the trip to central Florida for the I-Drive experience, you might enjoy getting away from the tourists and taking an afternoon to meet the “other” Orlando. The Swan Boats are still operating so hop on and experience Orlando like a local.

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Laugh Often And 19 More Rules To Live By, Gina Barreca

Today I’m sharing a column by Gina Barreca. Gina’s an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar, writer of eight books and columnist (Not That I’m Bitter) with the Hartford Courant. At the last NSNC conference in Hartford, we were lucky enough to be her audience as she taught us “A Lesson in Being Funny.” Needless to say, we were in stitches LOLing, ROFLing, LMAOing…she’s hysterical.

This being a travel blog, my fave is number 8. Enjoy, and thanks Gina for your words!

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Laugh Often And 19 More Rules To Live By
Not That I’m Bitter

I’ve made a list of 20 rules to live by.

1. Bring your sense of humor with you at all times. Bring your friends with a sense of humor. If their friends have a sense of humor, invite them, too. Remember this when going to hospitals, weight-loss centers and funerals, as well as when going to work, coming home, waking up and going to sleep.

2. If it’s worth crying over, it’s probably worth laughing at. Cultivate a sense of perspective that permits you to see the wider and longer view of the situation; this will help you realize that although your situation is upsetting, it might also one day become a terrific story.

3. Other people don’t care what you’re wearing.

4. Don’t be a sissy. This is especially important if you are a woman. Girls can be sissies, but behaving like a simpering, whining, fretful coward as an adult is unacceptable no matter what your gender happens to be. If you are anxious, scared and feeling powerless, you don’t need to change your behavior; you need to change your life.

5. Don’t lie. Cheat the devil and tell the truth.

6. There is one exception to the rule above: Never say a baby looks like a sausage wearing a hat. The parents will not forgive you. This is a situation in which telling the truth is not wholly necessary. If it’s not possible to tell the whole truth for fear of causing undue pain, just say the baby looks “happy.”

7. Never use the passive voice. Do not say, “It will get done.” Say, “I’ll do it” and then offer a solid, unwavering deadline. Always make your deadline.

8. The pinnacle is always slippery; no peak is safe. Only plateaus offers a place to rest. Are you ready to stay on a plateau or are you climbing? Decide and pack your bags accordingly.

9. As we age, love changes. As a youth, you fall for an unattainable ideal. When you’re more mature, you fall in love with a person: “Sure, he has only one eye in the middle of his forehead,” you’ll rationalize, “But he never forgets my birthday.”

10. Power is the ability to persuade stupid people to do intelligent things and intelligent people to do stupid things. This is why power is dangerous.

11. Sherlock Holmes said, “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” Listen to Mr. Holmes.

12. Everybody wants a short cut to love, prosperity and weight loss, although not necessarily in that order. Apart from being born into an adoring family, getting good genes and inheriting the mineral rights, however, there are no short cuts. The rest of us have to work at it.

13. Help the dramatically self-pitying to understand that they are not, by definition, sympathetic or interesting. Encourage them to address topics other than themselves.

14. Be kind, not nice. Kindness is both intentional and meaningful. Acts of kindness requires generosity, emotional and otherwise. Perfunctory and superficial niceness is, too often, mere window-dressing.

15. Only poor workers blame their tools. It’s not the fault of the computer, the school, the train, the government or poor cell phone reception. Take responsibility.

16. You know how sometimes you don’t think you’re asleep — you’re half listening to a conversation or the television — only to discover you were unconscious? One part of your head would swear it’s awake, but when you actually snap out of it, you realize you were wholly elsewhere? Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes the only way you know you’re truly in love, in the entirely wrong profession, being a moron at parties or a great poet is when you snap out of it.

17. You can always stop what you’re doing.

18. You should either be doing something useful or you should be playing. You should not be thinking about playing while at work or thinking about work when you’re out having fun. Compartmentalizing your life is not inevitably a bad thing. It’s easy to waste pleasure by feeling guilty and waste potentially effective time by feeling resentful.

19. Be aware that a safety net, if pulled too tight, easily turns into a noose. Don’t trade independence for security without being aware of the consequences.

20. Someday you will die. Until then, you should do everything possible to enjoy life.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from O-town

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After a multi-year hiatus, the Orlando Sentinel has decided to publish a My Word column at last…here’s the link “Orlando indeed incomparable to others”.

Here’s the unedited version…

Beth Kassab’s column about the best “other” downtown reinforced my feeling that Orlando is THE best downtown around. Having just returned, after a seven year “retirement” in New Smyrna Beach, I am so happy to be back that I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, New Smyrna Beach is a wonderful retreat and our go-to choice for a beach vacation, however, living there full time was just not as fulfilling as we envisioned. Many would comment on their wish to live in paradise year round but they might think twice for what they wish.

A typical trip to the grocery store in a beach community, depending on the season, might mean dodging shopping carts among aging snow birds or standing in line with beachgoers who forgot to cover up overexposed body parts. (I know it’s the beach but, please, folks, wait till you hit the waves before showing off your new bikini!)

On the other hand, our visits to the downtown grocer, located under a high rise apartment building, have been much more pleasant since we are usually the oldest shoppers in sight. We find ourselves surrounded by, what used to be called, yuppies of every type. The dress code is office casual or, sometimes, it is apparent they are picking up dinner after a visit to the gym. In the case of the latter we have seen many a finely sculpted bottom. As you can imagine, my husband now accompanies me on every trip. “Where shopping is a pleasure,” has a new meaning.

Replacing the beach with the various lakes available downtown for daily walks has been a delight. Shade is a valuable asset which cannot be found along the shore, and there are just so many shells one can collect on the beach. The addition of sculptures around Lake Eola is a testament to the city’s nickname, The City Beautiful, and adds to the sense of metropolitan culture which we have missed.

It was tough leaving our neighbors and friends but know they are only an hour’s drive away. Our small town experience was a lesson which made us realize we were not ready to leave the city. We’ll save those “other” downtowns for day trips. Meanwhile, we will relish being a part of Orlando’s cultural growth and retire in style.

A one-way ticket to Orlando

After seven years of “sort of” retiring to New Smyrna Beach, we have decided it is time to rejoin the living and move back to O-town. Not that beachside living is the place people go to die…it’s just that making a vacation town your full time residence is a bit isolating in terms of diversity. Depending on the time of year, the demographics of a beach town goes from snow birds to spring breakers to day-trippers to bikers…99.9% of which are white, Anglo and straight…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Don’t get me wrong, the town of New Smyrna Beach is lovely and the full-timers made for wonderful neighbors and loyal friends. We were so grateful to have the ocean just a short walk away when we had our grandsons visiting, or living, with us. The beach is a giant playground where they can make as much noise as they want and expend enough energy to make them collapse into bed at night.

However, the culture of the area is different than that of Orlando. It was like a seven year vacation and we were ready to go home. Now, in the right place at the right time in our lives, we couldn’t be happier to be back in the middle of a diverse city among people who are in the business of living their lives and enjoying the downtown urbanity that the City Beautiful has to offer.

Below are a few photos of our new digs for anyone interested…

Our new abode

Our new abode

View of Lake Emerald from our driveway

View of Lake Emerald from our driveway

Koi pond

Koi pond

Ricky's coping with the move well

Ricky’s coping with the move in stride

We even inherited a couple of gnomes

We even inherited a couple of gnomes

Just around the corner is Lake Davis with this view of downtown

Just around the corner is Lake Davis with this view of downtown

St. Augustine…not just for school field trips anymore

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Living in Central Florida all our lives, we are very familiar with the St. Augustine School Field Trip. As a student, myself, I was bussed to the oldest city in the U.S. as part of my eighth grade trip, circa 1962, to see the Cross and Sword, which later was designated as the official Florida state play. Years later when my children were in school, they each trekked to the old city with mom in tow as a chaperone. Just this past summer, my husband and I took our oldest grandsons for a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos and a glimpse into history.

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Recently, however, we were given the opportunity to visit St. Augustine without children along for the ride, rediscovering a city full of culinary and cultural surprises. Our newfound experience of this historical town created a feeling of European ambience with narrow brick lanes leading to our lodging of choice, the St. Francis Inn, on St. George Street. Here we were welcomed to an inviting suite complete with complimentary sherry, to be sipped on the wrap-around porch in rocking chairs, surrounded by lush, native Florida landscaping. Our hosts, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, provided an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality, while enlightening us on the Inn’s historical past. After each day of exploring the city, we enjoyed a relaxing time in the courtyard with a selection of evening wines and desserts along with ghostly tales from our hosts.

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St. Francis in the dining room

St. Francis in the dining room

The St. Francis Inn’s Gardeness, Jill Ziebell, schooled us in her techniques for preserving the grounds with natural Florida flowers and shrubs. As a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist, Jill exudes passion for her craft and calls her own design style “Artistic European with Historic Flavor.” She is a true earth mother and the St. Francis benefits from her expertise.

Gardeness Jill Ziebell

Gardeness Jill Ziebell

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Our culinary experience in St. Augustine left us amazed at the diverse menus available and the passion of the chefs who deliciously hone their craft. Our gastronomic journey started at the Bistro de Leon on Cathedral Place, where we met Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard of Lyon, France. He states, “When you cook, you have to love people. My cuisine is like a symphony; I cook to the rhythms of music…” Chef Poinard welcomed us with tasty samplings of his creations and left us feeling loved.

Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Earlier this year, a new attraction took over the two acres on St. George Street which previously housed the Colonial Spanish Quarter. A multi-million dollar renovation created the Colonial Quarter which includes a unique experience of sixteenth through eighteenth century life in the Nation’s Oldest City. The endeavor is partnered with the University of Florida and provides an educational, historical and adventurous experience for all ages. The attention to historical accuracy is obvious, the hands-on encounters with the past are priceless, and you won’t see mouse ears or death defying roller coasters anywhere on site. We had an enjoyable time among actors portraying British and Spanish characters with enthusiasm and charm.

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After our adventure we were treated to lunch at La Taberna del Caballo, on the Colonial Quarter property, providing a sampling of menu items from Cuban fingers to cheese fondue to flatbreads of all variety. Pair that with sangria worthy of a two hour nap and you get a fantastic meal prepared by Chef Murphy Leathers, who graced us with his presence. We waddled back to the St. Francis Inn where the aforementioned nap was in order.

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Later that evening, we were hosted by Photographer Hookey Hamilton and her goldsmith husband, Joel Bagnal, on the balcony of their 211 year old home overlooking the harbor. Stories of their home’s history, ghostly events and their serendipitous meeting, made the cocktail hour a special time to get to know this lovely couple. Their home reflects the love and passion they have poured into their craft.

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More food on the horizon when we walked to Meehan’s Irish Pub and were greeted with wine, whiskey and superb food. John Meehan’s passion for fresh ingredients made for a delightful menu of Grilled Lamb on a Stick, Steak ‘n Stout Stew in Pastry and Bangers & Mash, among others. The daily house-made Irish Cream was the kiss of the Blarney Stone. John’s secret recipe was the perfect ending to our little trip to Ireland.

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Breakfast, the next morning, at the Hot Shot Bakery started with a chocolate dipped datil pepper, which this cowardly diner just couldn’t bring herself to try. I stuck with Sherry Stoppelbein’s Pumpkin Pecan Waffles with homemade Caramel Sauce and bananas which were delectable. However, Sherry’s Wall of Flame exhibits hundreds of photos of more adventurous diners who dared to take a bite. A Minorcan staple, St. Augustine is the leading producer of datil peppers in the U.S.

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The rest of our day included a visit to “57 Treasury” with Karin Sufalko who created wonders with discarded palm fronds, turning them into works of art. Karin is from the Bavarian region of Germany and exudes the warmth and friendliness we encountered on our trip there last year. Her stories, told while creating a masterpiece floral arrangement, were as whimsical as her shoes.

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Karin Sufalko

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More food was in store as we joined Tour St. Augustine for a lunch excursion which included the Old City House Inn & Restaurant’s presentation of cod on a bed of lemon grass mushroom risotto with pea puree and mango dash (my personal favorite of the trip); Athena Cafe’s flaming cheese and Minorcan clam chowder; and dining al fresco at The Gourmet Hut for a crabmeat salad with mango nectar and a blackberry platz crumb cake.

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St. Augustine Vintage Car Tours gave us a ride back to the Inn on their electric-powered shuttles, where we were treated to a cooking class with Janice Leary who showed us her Strawberry Fruit Soup, Eggs in a Basket and Swan Cream Puff techniques. Janice runs a tight ship and manages to feed many appreciative guests each morning with an array of menu choices culminating each year in a Holiday pairing of desserts with the “12 Days of Christmas,” thus the Swan Cream Puffs for the Seven Swans-a-Swimming.

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Janice Leary preparing Strawberry Soup

Janice Leary preparing Strawberry Soup

Not knowing how we could possibly have room for another meal, we later walked to O. C. (Outta Control) White’s for dinner overlooking the historic Bridge of Lions on the Matanzas River. Between courses we were entertained with ghostly tales, by an animated server, about the building which goes back to 1790. (There seems to be a ghost living in every inch of the city.) Live music, shrimp and grits with cool evening breezes…it doesn’t get any better.

Full of ghost stories

Full of ghost stories

Shrimp 'n Grits

Shrimp ‘n Grits

A farewell brunch at the St. Francis, the next morning, surprised us with a visit by Henry Flagler himself, a dapper gentleman, worth millions, who put St. Augustine on the map in terms of becoming a winter destination for wealthy northerners. His stories transported us back to an earlier time when customs were quite different and men of his stature were the definition of genteel. Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to fall out of character. He was quite surprised to hear that there was a college named after him! (Flagler was portrayed by the actor John Stavely, the Colonial Quarter’s Director of Historic Programming.)

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Our whirlwind visit certainly gave us a new perspective on the Oldest City and will be our destination of choice when we crave the flavors of Europe and the historical experiences of our country at its inception. Once you have chaperoned the mandatory school field trips, return for the grown up version of St. Augustine and you won’t be disappointed.

Just the two of us!

Just the two of us!

Next stop St. Augustine’s oldest inn…the St. Francis

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On our way today to the St. Francis Inn, an historic bed and breakfast in St. Augustine. We’re looking forward to three days of fun, food, history, food, ghost tales, and more food! Previous trips to this old city were with children or grandchildren in tow but this time we are on our own and not having to worry about picky eaters or “where’s the closest potty”. Gastronomical posts and photos to follow…

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Jellyfish everywhere!

Taken from the bridge with the sun playing tricks on the water.

Taken from the bridge with the sun playing tricks on the water.

A walk on the north bridge across the intracoastal waterway in New Smyrna Beach today afforded an amazing sight of migrating jellyfish. My research came up with the names Moon Jellys and Cannonball Jellyfish. The Moons look like huge, graceful, translucent discs with a pink petal-like formation in the middle. The Cannonballs reminded me of large acorns floating in the water. My phone wouldn’t get good photos so I grabbed some from Google.

Cannonball Jellyfish like those seen bobbing in the water today

Cannonball Jellyfish like those seen bobbing in the water today

Last week my friend, Pam, and her son-in-law, Mike, were paddleboarding the river amidst hammerhead sharks…good thing they had great balance and didn’t slip off the board. I was thinking of them today with the threat of massive stings. Must be why I didn’t see a single paddleboarder on this gorgeous day.

By the way, summer is back. Our brief sojourn with fall temps is over and the A/C is back on, much to our chagrin!

Moon Jellyfish

Moon Jellyfish

Snakes on the Beach?!?

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Aren’t sharks bad enough? Now we have to worry about rattlesnakes?

Check out this report on WFTV – how surreal it must have been to look over and see this huge snake surfing back to the shore.

Our seven year vacation in New Smyrna Beach is coming to an end as we prepare to move back to Orlando (more later)…hope this guy doesn’t hitch a ride with us!

Looking forward to a media trip, in a few weeks, to the St. Francis Inn, exploring gardens, food and fun in old St. Augustine. It will be a pleasant break from packing and hope to have lots of stories and photos.

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Grammy’s Summer Camp

What’s a grandma to do when charged with the care of 7 and 8 year old grandsons for a month in the summer? This kind of challenge might empty one’s wallet if the plans include visits to theme parks in the area, not to mention the pain of dealing with massive crowds and oppressive heat. We found an inexpensive solution locally in our nature preserves, environmental centers and National Parks which didn’t break the bank and proved educational for all of us…no, really, the kids did have fun without knowing they were actually learning something useful.

A perk of aging (read 62) is the $10 one time price of a lifetime pass to all national parks across the country. We took advantage of this and made numerous trips to the Canaveral National Seashore, saving the entry fee, a mere $5 per auto, but when added up comes to a chunk of change. Just driving into Yellowstone National Park can set a tourist back $25 but with the senior pass one can take as many days as they’d like to explore without a fee.

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Canaveral National Seashore is a jewel of a park and provided many hours of educational fun for the boys. Their Junior Ranger program turns kite flying, boogie boarding and turtle nest watching into fun activities while teaching important lessons about the environment, laws of physics as well as beach safety. It was gratifying to see them put down the video games and find awesome adventures in this natural habitat.

Receiving their official Junior Park Rangers badge.

Receiving their official Junior Park Rangers badge.

Turtle hatching season is sacred here on the east coast, so we were excited to be able to witness the excavation of a hatched turtle nest. The Park Ranger dug deep to find approximately 80 eggs, most of which had hatched properly while a few had not fertilized and were intact. The little rangers got to hold the un-hatched eggs and feel the soft, leathery shells, unlike the brittle shells of chicken eggs. They learned that the baby turtles who survived and found their way into the ocean will return to this exact spot many times during their lives to lay their own eggs, regardless of how far they venture from this part of the coast.

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The simple act of boogie boarding brought valuable information about beach safety as a lifeguard sketched a typical rip current diagram in the sand, along with teaching measures to take when caught up in one. A fun hour was spent with a Park Ranger who enjoyed the activity as much as they did, while educating them in the nature of waves. Catching wave after wave, and riding them into shore made for some happy, and exhausted, campers.

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Kite flying was also turned into a learning experience, comparing its flight with the wings of pelicans. The boys learned to keep the kite above the dunes which can block necessary winds for a successful glide.

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The Marine Science Center, in Ponce Inlet, also provided some excitement when they released rehabilitated loggerhead turtles back into the ocean. On one occasion we witnessed the liberation of three turtles, the largest of which seemed to wave at us as he was whisked away on the waves. Listening to the boys’ speculation as to where these sea turtles would wind up was proof that their imaginations can be triggered by something other than the Mario Brothers.

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We also visited St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, another National Park allowing the use of the Senior Pass, where the boys reveled in the views from top of the fortress. The dank, dark storage rooms throughout brought up conjecture about what it would have been like to live in the 1700’s when the structure was necessary for the safety of the town. The explosive cannon blasts, the bridge across the moat…all provided a wide-eyed experience that will create memories for a lifetime. History becomes a lot more realistic and relative when you can touch it.

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When it was time to pack up and take them home, we knew our time was well spent when the oldest stated, “This was the best summer ever, grandma!” And, best of all, we don’t have “It’s a small world after all” stuck in our heads.

Black Dolphin Inn earns BedandBreakfast.com Top Ten Award

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BedandBreakfast.com recently named the Black Dolphin Inn, New Smyrna Beach, FL, among their 2013 Top Ten Beach B&B’s. Sharing the list are Inns throughout the United States, Canada, France and Mexico…quite a big deal for our little seaside town.

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Having just opened in February of 2013, this award arrives on the heels of The Guardian’s recommendation as their Top Ten B&B’s and Guesthouses in Florida. This is high praise for such a new inn.

The awards are well-deserved as the Innkeepers have paid attention to every detail and consider their guests’ comfort first and foremost. The rooms are to die for, the breakfasts tastefully creative and the classy, beachy ambiance provides a relaxing atmosphere in which to unwind.

Congrats and thanks to the Smiths for providing a fabulous getaway to weary travelers and beachgoers who are looking for a home away from home while being pampered at the same time!

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“Travel is Fatal to Prejudice” Mark Twain

Detroit, Macon, Hartford, Bloomington, Indiana…do these cities come to mind when planning a summer vacation? Probably not on your bucket list, nor were they on mine. However, my eyes were opened to the wonders of these towns while attending annual conferences of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a gathering of gifted and enthusiastic writers.

These destinations have so much to offer in terms of American history and cultural milestones, as well as tragedies and triumphs which helped shape the ever-changing character of our country. We were schooled in the rise and fall of the automobile industry in Detroit, as well as its funky record of Motown’s musical creations, allowing us to better understand the current status of this troubled place. We were also introduced to new industries and start-ups, which are trying to revitalize the city center and bring new creativity and economic success into the area. Detroit became one of my favorite American cities.

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Macon, Georgia, provided yet another education, this time in Southern rock and roll. We learned about the Allman Brothers and their creative time living in this town, touring the home in which they lived and created so many unforgettable tunes. We were introduced to several celebrities who currently or once called Macon home, including Nancy Grace; Durwood Fincher, aka Mr. Doubletalk; and Ed Grisamore, The Macon Telegraph columnist. The conference was an experience in Deep South culture, food and humor.

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Before visiting Bloomington, I only knew it as the home of Indiana University. Exploring the campus, we understood why Travel and Leisure named IU Bloomington one of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses. The city also is host to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Here we were shown the bedroom used by the Dalai Lama when he is in town. Humbled by the room’s sparse décor, we were reminded of his humble, peace-loving existence. The academic culture of this town where theater, arts and sports activities abound, makes it a wonderful place to visit on more than one occasion.

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This year’s conference was held in Hartford, Connecticut, home of Mark Twain. We learned that he lived in the Hartford house for seventeen years with his new wife and children until unfortunate financial decisions forced him to leave his pricey abode and travel Europe on speaking junkets to earn back his losses. Mark Twain’s quote is timely as we see signs of bigotry still prevalent in parts of this country. Our minds cannot help but expand when being exposed to cultures beyond our home town and culture.

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Hartford is also home to Billings Forge Community Works, which bills itself as “a driving force for community participation and empowerment…through promoting access to healthy food; engaging youth; and developing employment opportunities and economically sustainable social enterprises.” They have taken a blighted area and turned it into a diverse community which includes mixed-income housing, nourishing gardens, afterschool care programs, as well as providing employment, encouraging civic engagement and promoting access to healthy food.

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Having only attended four NSNC conferences so far, my intent is to plan each future year around this event, regardless of how innocuous the locations might appear. Our country’s cities, both big and small, offer too many edifying opportunities to pass up. Once again, Mark Twain says it best, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Don’t forget your hometown…

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Travel bloggers might take for granted their home base and not think to write about the place in which they are most familiar. It occurred to me this morning, while walking the beach, that writing about European travels is exciting but I would be remiss to ignore the jewel that is New Smyrna Beach, my current hometown.

In my case, the beach is just a block away and there are times when we get wrapped up in the minutiae of life and forget it is there. A brief walk, with toes in the sand, can take away stress and make one realize how small our concerns might be compared to the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and our place on the planet. An Orlando friend once told me that whenever she drives over the bridge onto the island, she is overcome with a sense of calmness and relief, leaving all the city craziness back on the mainland.

Our little town is still relatively unknown, except for its unnerving distinction of being the “Sharkbite Capital of the World”. We’ll just forget about that for the moment while other, more palatable aspects of our town are described. We have two bridges from which to enter the barrier island. If you are in a hurry to get to your destination, the South Bridge, as we call it, will whisk you from State Road 44 to Atlantic Avenue, heading south towards the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Along the way you will see neighborhoods and condominiums, a lot of which are owned by our neighbors to the west in Orlando.

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My preferred route is to the north, a bascule bridge spanning the Indian River. It is a favorite walk-over for guaranteed sightings of dolphins and the occasional manatee along with kayaks, sailboats and mini-yachts, the latter causing the bridge to rise three times each hour. If you are caught in your car at the time a tall boat is cruising through, it is a good time to lower the windows, turn off the engine and just relax and enjoy the salt air.

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Once over the north bridge, you are on Flagler Avenue, a funky main street dotted with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and lodging. And, if you are visiting at the right time, you can enjoy the monthly wine and art walk. You might also notice a banner spanning the street announcing whichever monthly event will close the street to auto traffic and allow revelers to meander the avenue for celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, Flamingo Follies or numerous food events, coupled with live music and dancing in the streets. The residents of New Smyrna do not need a reason to party!

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Currently a movie is being filmed in town causing some roadblocks, but how can one be upset when the ambience of the city lends itself to being laid back and carefree. The film, “Waves of Grace” is centered on a surfing community and sightings of the crew shooting scenes in various areas of town is common. They are based at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Black Dolphin Inn, located on the west side of the Indian River. This new B&B just got named in the Top Ten Bed & Breakfast Inns by The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper and is a wonderfully stylish asset to our town.

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The beaches are great for body, board and kite surfing, and provide family fun all year round, offering thirteen miles of flat, sandy shore. A couple of miles to the north you will find the jetties across from the Ponce Inlet lighthouse which shines its welcome each night. You are also at the spot where New Smyrna Beach gets its infamous reputation as the aforementioned Sharkbite Capital of the World. Surfers love this area which provides the biggest waves against the rocks jutting out into the ocean. Small sharks also love this spot as a perfect feeding place full of bait fish and the occasional ankle. Intrepid surfers sometimes bump into a feeding shark and might require stitches when their dangling foot is mistaken as that day’s dinner.

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With Orlando to the west and Daytona Beach to the north, there is no shortage of entertainment in central Florida. However, it is always nice to retreat to the tiny town of New Smyrna Beach to refresh, renew and relax.

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Too Cold Toronto

The next leg of our Canadian journey would take us to Toronto via bus and train. The transportation center was just a half mile walk from the Niagara Falls Doubletree, which we gingerly took through snow which had accumulated that morning. The cost of our two-hour trip was only eight dollars and change as we were once again reminded that we are “seniors” and qualified for a hefty discount. From Niagara Falls we disembarked at Burlington and boarded a train headed for Union Station in Toronto.

The train ride took us through some seedy areas, which was a surprise as we were accustomed to the rails of Europe traveling through gorgeous countryside and beautiful neighborhoods. Arriving in Union Station we opted to walk fifteen minutes to the Hyatt Regency while struggling with a suitcase whose wheels have seen better days. Time to shop for new luggage! Check-in at the Hyatt was quick. I read somewhere to ask for a room facing the CN Tower and we were instantly upgraded (even though we had booked through Priceline) to a room with a view on the 17th floor. The only complaint here, once again, was the lack of WiFi. I’ll never understand why an upscale, 4-star hotel will charge $15 a day to go online. Of course, we could opt to use our laptop and Kindle in the lobby for free access, but what a pain in the rear that is! Not to mention it didn’t work half the time and we were forced to go to the adjacent Starbucks for coverage. Other than that inconvenience, our stay was just fine and the location was perfect with many restaurant choices within two blocks.

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Our first night’s entertainment was a show at The Second City, which was right across the street…The Meme-ing of Life, by an ensemble of talented comedians/singers/actors. Look out for Stacey McGunnigle, the whole cast was super but she really stood out and had us wishing she was in every sketch. We would recommend a night at Second City if you are in town looking for a laugh. Instead of purchasing tickets from the box office, we checked the T.O.TIX booth at Dundas Square for discounts. This is Toronto’s version of TKTS in NYC. Second City tickets were almost half price for that night’s performance so we grabbed them. The venue was full that night so not sure why we got such a deal. The only gripe was the watered down drinks…do not order a Zombie, you’ll just get a glass of fruit juice (and don’t ask me why we ordered Zombie’s, they just sounded good).

The next day we opted to travel up the CN Tower, over 1,800 feet tall and the 5th tallest in the world. For decades it was number one but has been surpassed by Dubai, among others. Our ears popped as we rose to the observation area and the view was phenomenal; the clear, sunny day insured optimal views of Lake Ontario and the city of Toronto. Charlie agreed to join me but wouldn’t stand on the glass floor. Of course, the little girl who was jumping up and down on it didn’t help. Our 20-floor hotel was dwarfed by this giant structure…a must see when visiting Toronto.

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We lucked into “same day” tickets to the theatrical production of Wizard of Oz at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, and, even though our seats were not together, they were only seven and twelve rows from the stage. For only $35 a ticket, we were entertained by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s huge staging of the familiar story of Dorothy and her cohorts with seating that would normally sell for over $250. It always helps to be flexible and spontaneous when trying to score drastically discounted theater tickets.

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The next day the temperature had dropped even further, with a dusting of snow so we took advantage of Toronto’s PATH underground walking system which is made up of eighteen miles of underground shopping and restaurants, connecting various transportation centers and more than 50 buildings and office towers. It’s a bit confusing to navigate to your destination but such a relief from the cold temps above ground. We also took advantage of a Groupon deal to ride the Jump On-Jump Off city tourist buses. They took us to Casa Loma, the only castle in town, and the Distillery area which houses the Old Town section of the city. The enthusiastic tour guides added many interesting and little-known facts about the sophisticated, yet friendly Canadian metropolis.

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We became great fans of the Tim Horton’s franchises, which started as donut and coffee shops and have since expanded to bagels, healthy soups and sandwiches, and, of course, coffee. Their fast food prices drew us in many times when we needed a respite from the cold. We learned of the feud between Horton’s and Starbucks over who has the best coffee. Walking the streets it seemed that we ran into one or the other on every block in town, so there is no shortage of java to get you through your day.

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Homeless in Toronto

Heading back to the Niagara Falls International Airport on our final day, we retraced our steps and rode the train to Birmingham, transferring to the bus which led us back to Niagara Falls. The walk back to the Rainbow Bridge was a bit brutal as the wind chill factor made the air feel frigid. We stopped at yet another Tim Horton’s to warm up and spend our last few Canadian dollars before the trek back to the U.S. border. We thought we had plenty of time before our scheduled flight so there was no sense of urgency to keep moving.

Once we got through customs I searched for the bus schedule and realized I had misplaced it so we were on our own, looking for the bus stop at which we arrived the previous week. Of course, it was a Saturday and the schedules were different. Again, never make assumptions that the bus would just reverse its previous route and show up eventually. After a frantic call to our daughter to check the schedule online, we found the bus would arrive on the next block but the times were sketchy. After standing in below-thirty degrees for almost an hour, we panicked and realized we needed to grab a taxi if we were going to get to our flight on time. We were standing in front of a large casino so it was not difficult to find a cab. When we told our turbaned driver that our flight was leaving in 35 minutes, he flew onto the expressway and got us there with fifteen minutes to spare. Since IAG is such a tiny airport, ours was the only plane visible and the Allegiant desk was just inside the front door. We checked our bag, under the justified disapproving looks of the gate personnel, dashed through security and were in our seats within 5 minutes. Do not try this at home if you have a heart problem!

I don’t think we actually thawed out until we stepped out of the Sanford airport into the warm, humid air. We have had our fill of cold temperatures and might not curse our summer heat this year, but I’m not making any promises. Actually, we heard from some Canadians that their summers can be extremely hot, too, with Lake Ontario providing uncomfortable humidity levels, but I’ll never believe they are as miserable as we are in August and September.

Our overall impression of Niagara and Toronto is positive. The Falls are a must see for anyone who appreciates the wonders of nature and the city was welcoming, cosmopolitan and gave us yet another window into a culture other than our own. As the recently departed Roger Ebert would state…two thumbs up!

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Don Draper would love this!

Sorry, my comments on Toronto haven’t made it to the blog yet…making a quick trip to Panama City to visit our son for a few days. Seeing as how it is spring break here, we decided not to stay in our favorite place on the beach, to avoid all the craziness. So, we chose a Holiday Inn Select which seems to be in a 60’s-70’s time warp. No complaints about the important stuff…clean, quiet, comfy bed…but the bathroom decor will wake you up in the morning…bright red shower/bath unit along with a red, push button, phone on the wall.

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Charlie said he knows how Don Draper must have felt back in the day, sitting in the john with a red phone at his disposal!

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Every time we head north on a winter holiday and tell people we are from Florida, they look at us and ask “Why?!?” Finally, we are asking ourselves the same question after a week spent in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario, in sub-freezing temperatures. The sights were worth the trip but we have sworn off the frozen tundra for awhile.

Walking into Canada

Walking into Canada

Since we decided not to rent a car, using mass transit instead, we found ourselves standing on snowy, windy corners, waiting for a bus or train to take us to yet another spot where the wind chill made the freezing temps drop even lower. I am surprised my photos of the Falls came out clear with my shivering hands trying to focus the camera. Our plans fell into place, however, with just one glitch at the end. Allegiant Air was on time and zipped away from Sanford, landing in the tiny Niagara Falls International Airport Monday night. (The size of the airport would prove beneficial later.) As soon as we grabbed our luggage, the bus was waiting for us just outside the door and led us to the Rainbow Bridge, which was a short hike across a huge gorge within sight of the Falls.

The everchanging view outside our window

The everchanging view outside our window

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We found our way to the hotel, on foot, enjoying tolerable temps…they didn’t drop until the next day. The Doubletree Resort was a good choice and a good deal through Priceline. The maddeningly slow WiFi was the only drawback, resulting in no blog posts while we were away. The next day we walked to Niagara Falls and took in the magnificent view, with a trip down an elevator to the tunnels behind the roaring water. Two of the portals were frozen over, however, but we weren’t disappointed as the ice was a sight in itself.

Frozen portal

Frozen portal

The rest of the town is like a mini International Drive, in Orlando, with haunted houses, carnival rides and overpriced restaurants. We did become fans of Tim Horton’s, however, with their delectable donuts, as well as bagels, sandwiches, soups and, of course, their famous coffee. They would do well in New Smyrna Beach since it looks like all of Ontario is in our little beach town during the winter.

We heard about the negative ions from the Falls which produce positive effects on the brain. I think we were suffering from brainfreeze, due to the low temps, so maybe those ions couldn’t penetrate. However, we were in a good mood to start with so maybe we just didn’t notice. It is a glorious sight, though, and well worth the trip to see one of the natural wonders of North America.

If you are planning a trip to Niagara and are not interested in the tourist stuff, just plan on one full day there. Unless we missed something, the main attraction is the Falls and they can be seen in a day. We really enjoyed our time in Toronto and could have just taken a day trip from there, had we known what we do now.

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Stay tuned for our Toronto adventures and our mad scramble to catch our flight back home…

Heading north and beginning to think we’re crazy

As long as Charlie doesn’t catch the God-awful stomach virus I had this week, we’ll be heading up to Niagara Falls and Toronto on Monday. Let’s hope that sleeping in another bedroom did the trick and the bug didn’t find its way into his tummy. For the first time ever we are flying out of Orlando-Sanford International Airport, which is much closer than MCO. We are reading all the fine print on the Allegiant Airlines website so we’re not stuck wtih a piece of luggage that is an inch or two over their limits, as happened with Ryanair last summer. Allegiant charges $30 for each carryon going into the overhead bins and $50 for a checked piece of luggage, so we decided to go ahead and bite the bullet. No way could we fit everything we need to go to such a cold climate in a bag that would fit under the seat (those are still free to carry on). The cost of the ticket was so inexpensive ($250 total for two roundtrip tickets to Niagara Falls) that we can justify the extra charge for checking on a bag.

Our plan is to travel as cheaply as possible and we’re taking every shortcut we can, so we’ll see how it all pans out. Our daughter can drop us off at the airport but not able to pick us up so we’ve opted to rent a car when we get back and take it back to Sanford the next day…much cheaper than paying the $12 a day in parking fees at the airport for 6 days. We’re flying into the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area at a smaller airport, similar to Sanford, which makes the transportation choices fewer when trying to get to the Canadian side of the Falls. The plan is to catch a bus to the Rainbow Bridge and walk across, then catch another bus which will let us off close to our hotel. Arriving at 6:30 pm means we’ll be in the dark but we hear the area is well lit and very accessible to the walker. Of course, if it’s raining or snowing, or both, we’ll be miserable and may have to opt for a taxi (at a cost of $80 plus) to get us into Canada.

Priceline gave us the best prices on hotels in both Niagara Falls and Toronto at around $75 a night for a four star stay. Once in Toronto we can depend on mass transit either by bus or subway. And we picked up a Groupon for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that lasts three days which we can use at our leisure.

We certainly cannot complain about our winter in Florida, after hearing about our friends up north suffering through one storm after another, but I’m getting tired of cold weather and ready to put away the winter gear. This will be the last snowy trip for awhile. Of course, by June we’ll be cursing the humidity down here and planning the next trip to the tundra.

Hopefully, the next post will be from two healthy travelers in a toasty room in Niagara Falls!

Remember, it’s all about the kids…

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Over the weekend we celebrated our eight year old grandson’s birthday with a road trip to Nickelodeon Resorts & Suites. The Friday afternoon traffic through Orlando on I-4 reminded us why we choose not to go out that way unless we really have to. Bumper to bumper for no apparent reason, it always amazes me how traffic crawls on four lanes with no wrecks at which to gawk and no rain to cause a backup.

Check-in was seamless with the announcement of Carter’s birthday over a bull horn, which was much appreciated by the shy birthday boy. We booked through Travelocity with a room rate of $134. Add to that a “resort fee” of $30 per night and you can do the math. I have always thought the extra cost to be like a car lot with the “dealer fee” added. Just give us the total amount to rent the room, with no surprise fees tacked on. Charging extra kind of insults one’s intelligence.

Another pet peeve, usually with more expensive hotels, is the lack of WiFi in the rooms. This place didn’t even offer it with an added fee, only available in the common areas. However, the rooms are supposed to be equipped with a hard-wire to connect a laptop to the internet. Not so in our room, though, and when I went downstairs to secure the missing wire I was told that our particular room was not able to get the internet via DSL and they insisted on moving us to another room. Several hours later we were in a new room with the aforementioned cord plugged into the wall. All of this hoopla was for naught, however, when we realized our laptop and net book weren’t configured for their method of accessing the internet anyway. Much ado about nothing just to stay connected to cyberspace. Actually, it was nice to take a break from email and FaceBook for the weekend.

The two-bedroom unit was very comfortable with a separate bedroom for gma and gpa, another room with twin beds for the older boys, and a foldout sofa in the living room for mom and Isaiah. The kitchenette included a tiny fridge, microwave and sink, which gave us the option to store our own drinks and snacks. Since the resort is for kids, we didn’t worry about the boys getting noisy, and we weren’t bothered by anyone else in the building. The beds were comfy and we slept well.

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The food court “mall” offers a couple of buffet restaurants, a Subway, pizza place, a cafe that sells Starbucks coffee along with bagels, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, etc. Pricewise, this was the best choice for breakfast as the buffet is expensive and the character breakfast is extremely pricey. Get to the mall early to avoid lines of grumpy, bleary-eyed parents scrambling for their caffeine fix.

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The heated pools are made for kids – a huge lagoon with slides, kiddie areas, and daily sliming was a big hit. A smaller pool, near our room, proved popular with our guys as it came with a calmer atmosphere and a separate area for the little ones. The security situation around the pools was stellar; always a presence of at least four, very vigilant, lifeguards. We witnessed one female lifeguard standing in the shallow area scanning the water very methodically, every quadrant of the section to which she was assigned. Shift changes occurred regularly, so they wouldn’t get passive in a situation with so many kids in and out of the pool. It seems impossible to stay on top of everyone, but they did a great job, even rescuing one little guy who went under, with no parent nearby. The lifeguards jumped right in and pulled him out while the mom nonchalantly took him, with no sense of urgency or thanks to the young people who saved him from drowning. We went away with the secure feeling that if one of our kids was out of our sight for a second, they were being watched by professionals.

Of course there is no accounting for parents behaving badly. We saw several dads, over the course of the weekend, imbibing heavily, and witnessed one being demanding of staff but not making any sense in his drunken state. The staff, in turn, was very polite and just kept smiling and trying to help. Kudos to the staff over the entire weekend…they were very professional and always with a smile.

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One of the free perks was a shuttle bus to Disney, so Saturday night we rode to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the monorail to the Polynesian Hotel and enjoyed an inexpensive dinner at Capt. Cooks, then headed out to the lakefront where Peter Pan was being shown on a big screen. At 8 p.m. the fireworks started which were enjoyed by all, especially the big kids, while sipping a fruity glass of sangria. The boys had a great time; the weather was perfect, sitting on the beach with a full moon felt so relaxing after a frenetic day with three wild and crazy kids. We then took a boat to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the riverboat to the transportation center, and then the shuttle back to the hotel. Taking advantage of free stuff at Disney is always a favorite.

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Nobody does it like Disney, however, so do not expect that kind of experience at Nickelodeon. However, if I were the eight year old child celebrating a birthday, I wouldn’t complain about a thing. The bottom line is that the kids were thrilled and that’s why we were there.

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What to do on spring break…

Just got back from a long Holiday trip and already ready for a short getaway. Methinks we got bit by the travel bug and we’ve turned into junket junkies. Gma and Gpa duties will suspend during the second week of March, for Spring break, and we were thinking of a restful, warm cruise but just not completely sold on that idea. Then, lo and behold, I was perusing the Sanford-Orlando International Airport site, looking for Allegiant Airlines destinations, and Niagara Falls popped up with ridiculously cheap fares…as in $250 for a non-stop round trip for both of us. And, Toronto is only an hour and a half drive away. Of course, there might be a reason for the low fares…we’d basically be flying into Buffalo, NY, in March. Perhaps, the worst of the winter weather is over with Nemo having found his way to the northeast. Anyone have any experience with visiting the Falls in March? Sounds like another adventure to me!

Traveling as a “Boomer”

Traveling as a “Boomer”

Today’s New York Times piece, In Travel, We’re All Boomers Now, we see yet another take on Baby Boomers…I’m getting a bit bored with the term, which groups those of us born between the years 1946 and 1964. A lot of us from that generation do not want to age (self included) and are fighting the stereotypes of aging (grandparents, retirees, The Villages, etc.) and are still experiencing that rebellious attitude of the 1960’s as we sprint through our 60’s. We are no longer rebelling against authority and the establishment…but rebelling against being type-cast as the plump, gray-haired, rocking chair bound, geriatric of our parent’s generation (well, I’ve got the “plump” down but still fighting that affliction).

When we travel, a lot of us do not want to join a tour group and be part of the herd on the bus…we’re a bit more independent and adventurous when choosing to explore foreign lands. “Whether it’s a yen for Wi-Fi in the Serengeti or a disdain for bus tours, boomers’ latest needs, whims and aspirations are determining 2013’s large and small vacation trends.” This passage brings to mind Bob B., from the class of ’66, who is about to depart on an African voyage, looking for ways to stay connected globally while on a safari.

As usual, the online comments to this article are just as interesting and informative as the article itself….

What was I thinking?!

Bake a new batch of cupcakes each week? What was I thinking?! Sweets from Martha Stewart’s Cupcake Cookbook are beautiful to look at but unnecessarily difficult to make…and the taste and quality of some is questionable. Her first recipe “Chocolate Chip Cupcakes” is a bit convoluted and not near as good as Betty Crocker’s. But, the degree of difficulty didn’t stop me in my tracks when trying to commit to a weekly baking extravanganza, it was my state of denial, thinking I wouldn’t eat them (or just have one). Ha! When one needs to lose more pounds than they’d like to admit, one does not commit to a weekly cupcake challenge.

Many were given away, as the Carrot Cupcakes, on page 25, were a neighborhood favorite. Unfortunately, Charlie wouldn’t let me give away too many so the project had to end, given my lack of self-restraint when it came to the taste test. I’m like a junky when sugar is involved so I had to put the kabash on the temptation.

However, some unusual ingredients in my pantry needed to be used, recently, and I found the perfect cupcake in which to incorporate said ingredients. Mistakenly anticipating catching Charlie’s cold, I bought a chunk of fresh ginger, which I thought I’d use for tea. Plus, I had an unopened jar of molasses that came out of mom’s kitchen when we moved them to Alabama Oaks. One can count on Martha Stewart to include some strange items in her even stranger recipes and she did not disappoint…voila…Ginger and Molasses Cupcakes, page 52.

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Except for the labor-intensive peeling and mincing of the fresh ginger, the recipe is quite easy and results in a moist cupcake which only needs a dollap of whipped cream to complete. The gingerbread flavor is sharp and, every once in a while, you’ll bite into a piece of fresh, tart ginger root which, for me, is quite pleasing. Even the grandkids liked these. I figured they wouldn’t get near them. If you’re looking to get away from chocolate, these are really tasty and satisfying for that needy sweet tooth. Two (fat) thumbs up!

Walk the Talk for Epilepsy

Please check out the “Epilepsy” tab of this blog…it will give you info about the upcoming fundraiser walk for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida…a cause close to my heart as our daughter, Alison, is on meds for grand mal seizures as a result of brain surgery when she was 11 years old. Anyone out there who has had experience with a traumatic brain injury knows that, even when the patient recovers fully from the event, there is a major chance of epileptic seizures happening later as a result of scar tissue from the surgery. Seizure control meds, and the neurologist visits which accompany them, are extremely expensive and usually not covered by health insurance as this is considered a “pre-existing condition.” We are hoping the new ACA will help Ali in the future but right now we depend on the EFOF for assistance with the cost of her meds.

Unfortunately, too many of our returning vets are experiencing seizures as a result of head injuries while in foreign wars. We hear about their heroic acts and are happy to see them survive horrific events, however, we do not usually hear about the residual effects of those injuries. Please help by donating to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida so they can help those in need.

 

A love letter to La Chevrerie

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One of the many perks of home exchange is the aspect of living like a native in a foreign country. In most cases, the neighbors are as interested in us as we are in them. In Vermont we were looked at as those crazy people who left a Florida winter for two months in the frozen tundra of the North country. While in Germany we were lucky to spend time with our hosts and were given a lovely tour of Zirndorf as well as a taste of authentic German food. We were not disappointed in Switzerland, as we met many residents of La Chevrerie and treated to their hospitality, both gastronomic and geographic.

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Our first neighborly encounter was with Helena, whose chalet sat just above ours. This generous lady, originally from Finland, took us under her wing, fed us and treated us to a wonderful morning in a French market. Our first meal with her, after a selection of wine and appetizers, was a fondue, or raclette, which brought back memories of the 70’s when no self-respecting cook was without a fondue pot full of gruyere mixed with white wine…one of the reasons we are on cholesterol meds now to clear out the arteries! The flavors were delightful and the conversation was amazing. We learned that our hostess has lived in La Chevrerie for several years, following the death of her husband. Her intent to downsize landed her in, what is lovingly referred to by friends, the Hobbit House. Walking into Helena’s home we immediately felt swept away into a warm, glowing ambience that was a welcome relief from the snowy walk up the hill from our chalet.

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We heard stories of Helena’s past which included a road trip, in the 70’s, with two friends from Finland to Bangladesh. Just imagine the countries through which they traveled, which are now impassable without the threat of death. We also learned of a trip with her elderly aunt which led to her driving a taxi through the streets of Jerusalem. It would take a book to explain the details and tell the many stories this lovely woman has to tell. We feel so lucky to have met her and the others to whom we were introduced, who made an impact on us as well.

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Christmas Eve is when the festivities of the holiday are held and our new BFF Helena invited us to join her and a family who were her neighbors in Arzier, before she moved to La Chevrerie. We met Patrick and Anne, along with their 16 year old son, Philip, who is Helena’s godson. What a lucky guy to have a godmother like Helena. One summer the two of them traveled to Finland for several weeks to enlighten Philip to his godmother’s heritage. The affection between the two was obvious as Philip helped with the traditional meal and jumped in to take on the part of St. Nick. We finally met a native Swiss in Patrick, the soft-spoken gentleman who carved the holiday ham and told stories of his life in Arzier and Geneva. His beautiful wife Anne, originally from Argentina, raised in the U.K., was inquisitive as to our interest in Europe and offered details about their country’s politics and society. It was the first time Charlie and I had been away from home on Christmas but we felt part of this family and enjoyed the warmth of their hospitality.

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A couple of week’s later we missed Helena’s birthday celebration but were invited to a meal of “leftovers” which turned out to be a Swiss smorgasbord of appetizers, wine, salads, more wine, and a full array of cheeses served with, you guessed it, more wine. Another couple from the neighborhood were invited, this time an American, Duane, and his British wife, Joy. We found out that Duane is originally from Iowa but his travels as a civil engineer working to develop water systems in third world countries, has kept him traveling the world for decades. He met Joy in Tanzania where, along with her time in Nepal, she has established Mama Masai, a group of 200 women who create beaded items to sell through Fair Trade organizations. Needless to say, later when we realized we had complained about not having a clothes dryer, we felt like typical “ugly Americans” when comparing our “plight” to that of the abject poverty Joy and Duane have witnessed in their life work. Later, during a tour of their house, I was relieved to see that Joy does indeed enjoy modern amenities and owns a clothes-dryer!

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The day before our departure, Joy took us on a hike which demonstrated her skill at attacking vertical stretches which left me breathless. Our only regret was that we didn’t start the walk earlier in the day as we had to turn back before we reached our destination of architectural ruins in the woods ahead. The sun was dropping below the mountains and we didn’t want to get caught in the dark with no flashlight!

So as we prepared to leave this little village overlooking Lake Geneva, we go with the knowledge that we made new friends, who opened our eyes to other parts of the world and renewed our realization that we want to further experience life outside the bubble of the U.S. Some societal and political issues which bog us down here mean nothing to those experiencing global issues happening around the world. We can all learn from each other and it’s my goal to keep learning as long as I’m able. Au revoir, sweet La Chevrerie.

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Chamois surprise

After 10 hours on the Goldenpass train, the day before, it was time for a hike. Charlie’s been talking about an area, he’s seen running, called Monteret. Just up, down, up again and over the mountain, are two large buildings which include group houses, owned by a couple of Presbyterian churches. They serve gatherings of children, adults, weddings, etc. One is a modern building which sleeps 50 people, the other is a castle-like house which was the original group home.

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Our new friend, Joy, told us about the chamois gathering there to munch on the grass, so I was hoping to spot one or two along the way. Reaching the field in front of the houses, sure enough, I spotted two at the bottom of the hill. They took notice of me but did not run off and continued eating. The sun was behind them so photos were impossible. Only thing to do was head down the hill to the side of them, far enough away as not to scare them, but close enough to get a couple of pictures. This plan worked and they weren’t too nervous, but kept an eye on me while they munched the grass below.

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After taking advantage of the photo opp, I decided it was time to head back up the hill. To my shock, upon turning around, there were a dozen more chamois behind me…they had silently come out of nowhere and my presence didn’t seem to bother their search for food. It was a surreal moment, standing there watching these beautiful animals forage in the ground. They are also called goat-deer and goat-antelope as they resemble both. The two I saw further out were much bigger than this group and had large horns…must’ve been the males off on their own.

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I could have stood there all day but then Charlie came running around the bend and, when spotted by the chamois, they started to move on in a pack, walking across the grass onto a large patch of snow. This is a sight and experience I hope to remember forever…the cold, crisp air combined with the view of Mont Blanc, a thick, white layer of cloud hanging over Lake Geneva, and a herd of chamois grazing right in front of me. Life is good!

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Still loving Switzerland

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Our last week in Switzerland and still so much to see. Last week we checked out Montreux and the Chateau Chillon. Very interesting stories surrounding these castles/forts…and dating back to the times of Game of Thrones. Difficult to imagine living in these freezing, stone fortresses. They must have had fires burning all over the structure, all year round, to stay warm, even in summer.

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The streets of Montreux are filled with expensvie shopping areas and parks on the lake. We never see skyscrapers…would imagine Zurich is the place to see the larger office buildings. Everything here, and the other cities we’ve visited, are old buildings, each with their own character, and winding, narrow streets, which somehow still allow tiny cars to travel slowly. There are very few stop signs or red lights, instead, the intersections are made up of roundabouts which require driving with care and courtesy. Somehow it works, but I can’t imagine it in major intersections in the states. If a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk, the cars on the road automatically stop to allow them to cross…it’s standard operating procedure and, so far, we’ve seen everybody follow the rules.

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We spent an afternoon shopping in Geneva, a city full of watches. It was my goal not to leave without a Swiss watchpiece and I was finally successful with this trip into town. They range in price from around $50 to $50,000. Swatch stores pop up everywhere, along with Swarovski products. I wound up finding a Swiss Military plain, black leather-banded, largish numbers, so I can actually see what time it is, and officially made in Switzerland. It feels good to know the time as we’ve been depending on Charlie’s dopey watch which jumps an hour or loses an hour at random so we can never depend on it…it’s been the joke of the trip, but not so funny when needing to get to the train on time.

Lunch was enjoyed at Chez Ma Cousine…a cafe that serves chicken, and only chicken (along with salad and the best, most crispy potatoes we’ve had)…your choice of half a roast poulet or chicken salad. We found it to be one of the most reasonable restaurants in terms of cost and the portions were generous and delicious. We have not eaten out much as the cost is exorbitant with $25 to $35 an entree being the standard, and how about a burger and fries for no less than $20. Pizza is very popular here as it is about the only dish which is affordable. Like Germany, it costs about the same to enjoy a glass of beer or wine as a diet coke or fizzy water, so you know what we chose.

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The walk to the restaurant was strictly vertical as it sits in a courtyard close to the cathedral which is on the highest point in the city. From there the narrow streets go in all sorts of directions, eventually leading back to Lake Geneva. There are department stores which remind me of our Macy’s or Dillards, then there are the stores which are guarded by armed men who look like they could defend their merchandise from an army of jewelry thieves. Louis Vuitton has its own building, as does Cartier…the town is dripping in money. At a small boulangerie, we sat next to a young woman with a cute dog (they are allowed inside restaurants). The ring on her finger almost blinded me at one point when the light hit it just right. This frumpy American felt even more inadequate in the fashion department sitting next to such a fashion plate, and they’re everywhere.

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Fur is the norm, and it doesn’t look faux, with no PETA protesters in sight. Charlie has a habit of rolling his pants up a bit when putting on his shoes. On this day he forgot to put them back down, which went unnoticed by me, but, stopping in for a coffee, I noticed a man giving Charlie a double take at the cuffs of his pants..maybe he thought it was a new American trend, haha. What’s funny is that when I brought it up to him, he did roll them back down but said that at his age he doesn’t give a damn! C’est la vie!

Ooh la la…Paris in Winter

On our way to Paris, flying out of Geneva…it was a bit disconcerting that no one asked us for our passport or an ID of any kind on the flights from Geneva to Paris and Paris to Geneva…we printed out our boarding pass at a kiosk in the airport, where all we needed was our eticket number. All we had to show at the security checkpoints were our boarding passes. Interesting, too, that on Air France there are no announcements about “turning off all electronics.” On the take-off and landing those around us were tapping away on their devices.

Upon arrival at Charles De Gaul airport in Paris, there are Roissey bus stations easily available which, for 10 Euros, take you to the middle of the city at the Opera House, where there are several Metro stations ready to whisk you away to your hotel.

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The "lift" only has room for 2, along with an ashtray in case you want to smoke up the joint (a relic from the old days).

The “lift” only has room for 2, along with an ashtray in case you want to smoke up the joint (a relic from the old days).

Hotel Champ de Mars proved to be a good choice, thank you Rick Steves and TripAdvisor. It’s in the Rue Cler area, full of cafes, shops and just a short walk to the Eiffel Tower, which was visible from our room. Tiny accommodations but very clean and updated, comfortable. Very affable reception desk with only one complaint…the doggy bed was empty the entire three days. Apparently, when the owner/operators are present, they bring their puppy, who resides under a window.

After walking the city each day, we would collapse in our room and actually enjoy watching tv, since we are without it in Switzerland. We found a couple of stations running old American movies, in English., not to mention CNN, not that we wanted to watch that…good to get away from cable news.

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The Eiffel Tower was awesome but the holiday crowds were too large to try to go for the top, and reservations were not available for a full week. Very disappointed that there were no fireworks or even light show on New Year’s Eve…we didn’t get the memo that fireworks have been canceled…not even a light show this year.

The first night there we had skipped lunch so were too hungry to shop around much for a good restaurant and chose the first one which printed their menu in French and English. We ordered steak and fries (yes, “French” fries) at a cafe around the corner – Charlie called it a “mis-steak” – we should have gone for something more French.

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Oh well, there's always dessert.

Oh well, there’s always dessert.

Next day, after a breakfast of croissant, orange juice and coffee, walked to the Champs Elysee at the Arc d’Triumph and all the way to the Louvre, passing through a huge market full of food shops, souvenirs and hand-made items. Once at the Louvre there was no chance at getting in, because of the crowds, but the architecture was awesome and just standing in the courtyard was impressive. It would take days to get through it, even if we could get in…would require a much longer visit.

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From The Louvre we walked to the Notre Dame cathedral, which is celebrating its 850 year – again, impossible to get in but awesome architecture. The whole world must be visiting Paris this holiday! By this time we had lost track of how many miles we had covered and took Metro back to hotel. We have found that every big city just takes a little time to figure out the mass transit systems. Once you get past your initial feelings of inadequacy, you figure out the color coding and, voila, it’s an easy system.

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Most of the nicer French restaurants were only open for a price fixe holiday meal, since it was New Year’s Eve, but found a local place, Tina Pizza, where we had osso bucco milanese…yummy but not as good as The Garlic back home. Pleasant people and good price, though.

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Since I wanted to see the Champs Elysee lit up at night, we made our way to the Arc d’Triumph, which obviously was the place to be at midnight and the party had already started with thousands milling about. There was a major police presence, some with crazy uniforms and packing crazy weapons. The lights were gorgeous and the ambience reminded us of Times Square.

But, since we are old fogies we weren’t up for staying out til midnight and it was getting really cold, so we rode back to the hotel, learning that the metro was free after 5 pm as it was the official start of the holiday…stayed free til noon on Jan 1. So, we stayed awake til midnight and opened up the window, stuck our heads out and listened to people counting down, watching the top of the tower sparkle at midnight. Amazing we even stayed awake after trudging all over the city all day.

Next morning we found our way to the Galerie Lafayette, which is similar to our NYC Bloomingdale’s or Sax Fifth Ave., to see the awesome holiday windows. I have to say they rivaled NYC. Lots of animation and gorgeous colors. Would have loved to check out the stores but they were all closed for the day. Nature was calling so bravely tried one of the automated bathrooms, for which Paris is known. After each person completes his mission, steps out and closes the door, it self washes and disinfects. Seems to work because there was no odor and everything seemed freshly clean…and free.

Saw the Bastille Center, the Place des Vosges (home to Victor Hugo for a time) and the Rue de Rivoli and the Cathedral of Saints Paul and Louis, which was beautiful and overwhelming. Our last meal in Paris was at a cafe in the area called Sant Antonio, where I had the best eggplant parm ever and Charlie enjoyed a pizza (which are very popular over here)…and trading beer, wine and diet coke for the water “with gas”.

Now it’s time to head back to the hotel and meet the driver who will take us back to the airport for our departure to Geneva. Seeing Paris in just two and a half days is not recommended as there is just too much to see and one should spend time to savor the history and beauty of it all. Au revoir, gay Paree!

Nasty bug sidelines the festivities

Took a bit of a break from the blog as I picked up a stomach bug and been under the weather, ugh. We had a delightful Christmas Eve dinner with Helena and her godson, Philip, along with his parents, Anne and Patrick. It was a lovely time but, unfortunately a bug got the better of four of us. Charlie and Philip seem fine so far. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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I can just now talk about the food we enjoyed…oysters on the half shell, salmon pie, foie gras, ham, a mashed root (kind of like turnip but not) and a bowl of chopped up carrots, beets and other things I’m not sure of. All of this was accompanied by champagne, bordeaux, chablis, more champagne and glog. The lovely Anne brought a trifle for dessert along with a special Christmas cookie that I can’t remember the name of. Helena is from Finland and included Finnish dishes in her menu.

The conversation was varied…they knew much more about the U.S. than we do of Switzerland…heck, they probably know more about the U.S. than we do. They had an interesting take on our country’s politics and we learned a lot about theirs. Anne was surprised that we were even interested in European politics. I think she thinks our idea of them is that they are all a bunch of “socialists”. Gee, I wonder where she gets that idea. They figured out that we were all on the same page in that department and so the conversation remained very civil. Traveling Europe makes one so much more aware that we might not be the smartest country on the planet.

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After dinner we had a special surprise of a visit from Santa Claus (Philip mysteriously disappeared.) We were even included in the gift giving. Somehow Santa knew we would be there and I received a box of champagne truffles while Charlie was given a can of pate…both of which were apperciated and will be tasted when my appetite returns. At the moment I’m only consuming broth and water. Not a fun way to lose weight!

The Montezuma’s revenge didn’t hit til the day after Christmas so Charlie and I roasted a small turkey breast and skyped Jess and Ali soon after the boys had opened their Christmas gifts. They were all a bit preoccupied and Jess was fixing breakfast so we weren’t on the call long, but it was great to see all the happy faces. Later we skyped Patty and got to see mom and dad and the rest of Patty’s family. Dad was quite confused through it all but looked happy so that’s what counts. We were able to pan the camera over Lake Geneva and the Alps so they could get the gist of what our living arrangements are like high in the mountains. Patty mentioned that she didn’t realize we were so close to Lake Geneva…close but so far away…as it takes us about 30 minutes to get down there through winding roads and tiny villages.

We hoped to go to Lausanne yesterday but it wasn’t in the cards…hated to waste a beautiful day. Today is cold and rainy…not cold enough for snow though. Planning on going out some tomorrow, that is if this nasty bug doesn’t catch up with Charlie.

Hoping everyone enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and looking forward to a fun New Year. We’ll be off to Paris on Sunday…

More adventures

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We are lucky travelers to enjoy such a hospitable neighbor in Helena. Her house is just above ours..and even though it is so close, it’s a bit of a challenging walk up the path and around to her driveway. The snow and slush have melted due to the ice and warmer temps but there is a stretch in the shade that remains slippery. Helena had us over for a fondue dinner on Saturday night starting with champagne and foie gras, then gruyere fondue with wine, followed by a salad, then an Irish coffee. We also just had to finish the champagne bottle so we were lucky we made it back to our chalet without taking a tumble and sliding down the hill.

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Helena’s house feels so much like what you would picture a typical Swiss chalet, looking over Lake Geneva and the Alps. Very cozy with a warm fire and beautifully tasteful Christmas settings. Dinner and conversation were splendid. Helena has had quite the life and we heard stories of her driving a taxi in Jerusalem at the age of 17; taking a road trip from Finland to Bangladesh with a friend (before it was too dangerous to travel through Afghanistan); and, as a registered nurse, taking a trip to the states as part of a seminar to learn more about AIDS in the eighties. She is from Finland with three sons residing in Finland and China, has traveled the world and is full of knowledge, wisdom and humor. We are so happy to have met her.

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The next day, Helena took us to a market in Divonne, France, which was full of cheese, meats, fruits & vegetables, textiles…just about anything you can think of.

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The scents and sights were wonderful as we wandered up and down the streets filled with Sunday shoppers. A stop at a tea room gave us a break and a chance to try cafe au lait and a donut (unfortunately, they were out of croissants!).

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On the way home we stopped at a French grocery store where Helena and Charlie mulled over which wines to buy…at only 1 to 3 Euros per bottle. It's a secret place she's found to purchase her wines at a great price. We are allowed to take 3 bottles each across the French-Swiss border. Of course, on the path through the small towns back to La Chevrerie, there were no border guards to check.

This morning we woke up to another sunny day with the temps rising and the snow on the roof thumping and sliding to the ground. After enjoying a lazy morning, we drove down to Nyon where Charlie could get in a run along Lake Geneva.

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Many of the shops were open, even though it is Christmas Eve, and I was able to find the perfect gift for Helena, as we are joining her for dinner tonight, along with her godson and his parents. A Christmas ham is on the menu and, if our previous dinner is an example, this one will be a culinary experience to remember.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

The trip to Zermatt

Thursday morning we boarded the first train that would eventually lead us to Zermatt. One can always tell which are everyday passengers versus tourists. We are agog at everything we see and the locals just sit in boredom tending to their particular electronic device. We traveled around Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc in sight, through small towns and past snowy fields. Even though the trip took several hours, the time went by in a flash as there was so much to see.

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Arriving into Zermatt, we walked to our hotel, The Phoenix, which meant scaling a bit of a hill but the hike was worth the result. Very happy with the hotel and Trip Advisor will receive a top-notch rating. Wonderful view of the Matterhorn, however, we never saw the cloudy peak til we were pulling out of the rail station the next day.

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As we arrived late in the afternoon, there was not much time to waste and we managed to hop on one of the last gondolas up the mountain. Several skiers and snowboarders were trying to take one last gasp at the slopes. There are a series of gondolas heading up to a mountain lake, however, we didn’t get up that far. The wind was getting stiff and, at one point when we were changing gondolas, we got hit with a gust of wind and snow that turned us around to head back down to the town.

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Breathtaking views that we are just not used to in Florida. The closest we’ve seen to anything like this in the states was Big Sky, Montana.
By the time we hiked back into town we were ready for supper and found a reasonable place that Rick Steves recommended. Turned out it served the best burger we’ve ever tasted…perhaps because we had worked up an appetite with the icy adventure we had just experienced. The cozy warmth of the restaurant coupled with a good burger and beer made for the perfect meal. We’d recommend the Brown Cow to any Zermatt visitors.

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After dinner, we had just enough time to visit The Matterhorn Museum, located underground, below a glass dome. (BTW, our rail passes gives us free entrance to all museums in Switzerland.) A lot of the exhibits were authentic artifacts from the first successful climb which resulted in half the team losing their lives in a fall on the way back down. A short movie about the everyday life of mountain rescuers was enlightening. They risk their lives daily to save stranded climbers who might take on more than they can handle.

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After walking the snowy hill back up to the hotel, we took advantage of the fireplace in the cozy lobby and enjoyed a Bailey’s coffee. We also were surprised to see three girls from California, who we had met on the train. Who’da thunk we’d be staying in the same hotel. They are studying in Spain for a couple of semesters through their Seventh Day Adventist college in southern Cal and take advantage of their breaks by visiting various parts of Europe. Very sweet girls who seemed to appreciate the beauty and diversity of this part of the world.

The next morning we caught the Glacier Express, which travels at low speed through mountains and valleys of the most overwhelmingly beautiful scenery you can imagine. It’s impossible to capture it with my little Nikon but the memories will last forever. This time we sat next to students from Beijing, studying in Nottingham, England. Their English was sketchy but they seemed to want to practice and were just as gaga over the sights as were we. The whole trip takes around 5 hours and left us at Chur, which is the oldest town in Switzerland. We learned that the man who started the Ritz Hotels had lived in one of the small villages along the way and actually was surnamed “Ritz”…thus the origin of the word “ritzy”.

After an hour in Chur we boarded a train to Zurich, then on to Nyon, then back to La Chevrerie and the snowy walk up to the chalet, which was warm and inviting. Saturday will be a day of catch-up with laundry and chilling out. Sunday we are dining with a neighbor, Helena, after a trip to a market just over the border in France. Toodleoo from snowy La Chevrerie! – More pics to follow – it’s taking a super long time to upload them to the blog, for some reason.

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Each night of Advent, several villages participate in open-houses, with a different home hosting an event each evening. The lovely people living in La Chevrerie invited us to their party last night, complete with homemade pumpkin soup and hot wine, among other yummies.

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Each time someone arrived, they greeted each person attending with a 3-point kiss…right cheek, left cheek, right cheek. I’ve seen the two-cheek greeting before, but was surprised by trois bussing. Very sweet people and such a diverse group. We stayed until our toes went numb as the gathering was held outside while snow was falling all around us. We have already been invited to dinner by another neighbor when we get back from Zermatt and an invite to be taken to a market just over the border in France. We definitely feel welcome.

Earlier today we took a short train ride to Nyon for some additional grocery shopping. Found a multi-story mall a short distance from the train station with Pere Noel wandered around greeting the children.

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Shops were open along the street and the smell of something baking drew us to an oven baking something (we’ve yet to translate what was cooking). At one point the baker popped out and took a tray out, determined the items weren’t done and popped them back in, then returned inside the shop. We’ll definitely return to Nyon to spend a day and find out what was behind the oven doors.

Tomorrow we’re off to Zermatt for a night, then onto the Glacier Express on Friday. Bonsoir!