Black Dolphin Inn earns Top Ten Award

b&bphoto 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.


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!


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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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!