Italy – The Lakes

The scenery was spectacular, the weather was perfect and the food was amazing for the six days we hiked around Lake Orta, Maggiore and Como the last week of September. We arrived in Milan a day early so we could adjust to the time change and see some of the city, including the Duomo.

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It was fashion week in Milan which just made it obvious who was a tourist, even if you tried really hard to look fashionable! The hiking boots probably didn’t help.

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We decided to travel with Country Walkers and were thrilled with that decision. I was a little worried about traveling in a group of 16 but with two excellent guides and a wonderful mix of people, the week was really fun. Plus, our guides – Fiorella and Alessandro, took care of everything…right down to buying us water every morning before our hike and pulling snacks out of their backpack just when you were getting hungry.

Our walking began on a lakeside promenade of Lake Orta, the smallest of the lakes, known for its serenity, simplicity and religious devotion. It was also my favourite.

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Hotel San Rocco was our home for two nights and our balcony provided a view of Isola San Giulio, a tiny island known as the ‘Island of Silence.’ A footpath circles the island, one way is The Way of Silence, and the other is The Way of Meditation. We chose to walk the meditation direction and passed several plaques with a variety of sayings such as Walls are in the mind, Open your being and Listen to the water, the wind, your steps

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One day we hiked from the town of Armeno to our lunch in Coiromonte and on to the open meadows of Tre Montagnette where we had views of both Lake Orta and Maggiore. The best part was the sound of the cowbells…every cow had one!

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We hiked, we toured villas and gardens, we drank wine, we rode boats, and we slept! It was a wonderful way to spend a week. The last three nights were spent in Bellagio on Lake Como at the Hotel Belvedere. Bellagio is a beautiful town with waterfront restaurants, shops selling local silk and more people than the other towns we were in. And in case you were wondering, we did not see George Clooney!

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At the end of the movie Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is recovering under the tree pictured below at the Villa del Balbianello, just across Lake Como from Bellagio. The movie A Month By The Lake was also shot at this villa!

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After the Country Walkers trip ended, we took a train from Milan to Venice and spent a few days in this beautiful, crowded, sinking city!

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The island of Burano provided a colourful break from the tourists in Venice one day and a delicious lunch of fresh fish and seafood risotto at da Romano. Our hotel told us that they served the best risotto in all of Italy! We asked our waiter about the claim and apparently Anthony Bourdain had eaten there several years ago and declared the risotto the best. It was very good!

Apparently Monday was wash day in Burano.

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Our charming hotel in Venice – Novecento  had a little patio, an honour bar and delicious breakfast. By the last night, we almost knew how to get back to the hotel without consulting the map every minute. It is impossible not to get lost in Venice, but it’s fun! When it was time to head to the airport we chose a water taxi to avoid schlepping our bags through the pedestrian congestion. The taxi was an adventure zipping through the canals like we were in the movie The Italian Job, getting stuck in canal traffic and passing other boats that were in our way!

Each time I go to Italy I find more reasons to want to return. Ciao!

P.S. Global Entry is awesome!

 

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Vacation Thoughts and Global Entry

The destination is less important than the change of pace – disrupting the routine and exploring something new is what I love…

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…though a beautiful destination doesn’t hurt!

I sleep well when I’m away since the things that tend to wake me up at home are also on vacation. And someone else does most of the cooking. I can linger over my coffee and read a book before breakfast if I want. And drink tropical concoctions with umbrellas in them!

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I think the ideal time away is nine days so you can experience every single day of the week without any of them being travel days. That isn’t always possible, however even one night away can provide the break you need.

We just spent a week in Nevis with our sons and their significant others. Highlights of the trip were the usual suspects for delicious meals…Double Deuce, Sunshine’s, Lime, Golden Rock and Nisbet Beach BBQ   and a rain forest hike with Reggie Douglas of Nevis Adventure Tours.

Reggie is an excellent guide who has infinite patience and knowledge about the area. His mother and girlfriend sell handmade soap and I picked up several bars to take home. I am loving the coconut soap and wish I had bought more!

I had trouble choosing which tote bag to buy from Deborah Tyrell of Nevis Island Living so I asked the millennials to model them for me!

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And then it was time to go. We entered the US in Miami. That airport is always a nightmare and even a three hour window between flights was not enough time to clear customs, get our bags, give our bags back and then run to our gate. Our connection was delayed which is the only reason we made our flight.

I was excited to try the mobile passport app as a way to speed through the customs line. Currently only 5 US airports have the technology but Miami was on the list. (Canadians can use the app too!) Despite downloading the app and scanning our passports, when it came time to skip the line, only 2 of the 6 of us could use it. Not much help since we were all flying together so we waited in the long customs line.

The day after our return I decided to take the plunge, pay the $100 fee and apply for Global Entry. I have watched with envy as people breeze by me and walk through the special expedited line. Hopefully, that will be me the next time I travel. I’ll try not to make eye contact with the rest of you in line!

 

 

 

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Portland, OR

Not sure where to begin…this was our first time in Portland OR and I hope it’s not our last!
It’s a friendly city that is easy to walk around. People were polite. When the traffic light said ‘don’t walk’—no one walked! Cars didn’t attempt to run the yellow light, they waited!
Portland Walking Tours provided an excellent orientation on our first morning in the city, highlighting some history, the Portlandia statue and the planning that has gone in to making the city so walkable and safe.


We hit the food trucks for lunch and tried the recommendation at the top of the list in the Guardian, Nong’s Khao Man Gai ginger chicken and rice dish. For $8, it was a tasty and satisfying lunch!
Ask anyone about Portland and they talk about the food and beer, so that is where we put our sightseeing energy! Jet lagged and hungry, we asked the front desk at our hotel for a recommendation for a nearby bite to eat when we arrived. We were thrilled with Veritable Quandry which was a 5 minute walk from the hotel. If we lived in Portland, this would be a habit but we had too many places on our list to eat two meals at the same restaurant! Another delicious meal was at Higgins Restaurant where we sat at the bar and ate local greens & burgers. Tasty n Alder provided more deliciousness and an incredibly knowledgeable bartender.
Saturday morning I wandered around the gorgeous farmers market. Then it was off to find Salt & Straw, an ice cream shop that Food Network recently gave the distinction of making one of the top 5 ice cream flavors in the USA. Food Network picked strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper as their choice but I was pretty happy with my sea salt with caramel ribbons!

As I mentioned, Portland is very walk-able. The downtown blocks are shorter than many cities and the Willamette river bisects the city with a dozen bridges crossing it, making the waterfront paths very accessible. The most recent bridge is the Tilikum Crossing:Bridge of the People and is the only one in the country designed for walking, cycling and public transportation only. The angles of the cable-stayed bridge were designed to mirror the image of Mt Hood in the background.
I only mention all the walking to justify talking about another meal…breakfast at Urban Farmer in the Nines Hotel downtown! Sunday was grey and cloudy so we decided to have a lazy breakfast and then check out the Portland Art Museum. Breakfast was fantastic and filling, and the museum had an excellent exhibit entitled Seeing Nature.
I haven’t even mentioned all the independent coffee shops—I ordered a cappuccino everyday just to watch the barista make a fancy design with the milk froth! That’s what vacations are for, right?!

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Southampton, Ontario

I grew up swimming in Georgian Bay in crystal clear, cold water. When I first moved to Massachusetts and went swimming in a lake, I was horrified. The water was warm and the bottom of the lake was squishy! What a treat to return to Ontario this past weekend and swim in Lake Huron. This is what a lake is meant to be!


We traveled to Southampton to attend my nephew Sam’s wedding. Friday evening we gathered to meet family and friends and then walked on the beach path to the Canadian flag. The flagpole is the town gathering spot for the sunset and a bagpipe player!



Our accommodations were wonderful…Beach Rocks B&B, located directly across the street from the water. The ground floor of the owner’s home had two bedrooms and a large living space to share. A delicious, filling breakfast was served upstairs on their screened porch.

The B&B also provided easy access to a multi-use path along the water. We walked both directions on the path, observing birds, bikers, rocks and Lake Huron.




We had dinner at Duffy’s Fish and Chips, which was a short walk from the beach on the main street in Southampton. The panfried Lake Huron Whitefish was delicious.
We were told to try the jelly donuts at Offshore Bakery so we made a stop on Saturday afternoon for some. And of course I bought a couple butter tarts because they make me happy! The donuts and the tarts were the perfect snack with our pre-wedding G&T made with Georgian Bay gin.
Barbara and Alan MacLeod, the B&B owners, recommended swimming at Beach Street and also suggested the fries from Gerry’s Fast Food, a little take-out place at the beach. We followed their suggestions and after swimming got an enormous order of fries which we split between five of us! Excellent recommendations!

Then we headed to the wedding…

Congratulations to Sam and Ellen, I’m so glad they chose Southampton for their wedding!

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Nevis

Thirty six square miles of paradise in the Caribbean Sea.


Peaceful, beautiful and lush with blue-green water and long stretches of sandy beaches.

Nevis Peak dominates the center of the island and is frequently covered with clouds.
The island was named ‘Nuestra Senora de las Nieves’ (Our Lady of the Snows) since the volcanic peak appeared to be covered in snow. In the 18th century, Nevis was nicknamed “Queen of the Caribees,” due to the fact that 20% of the British Empire’s total sugar production came from Nevisian plantations. Sugar cane is no longer grown on the island and tourism now drives the economy.

We stayed at Nisbet Plantation, a former sugar and coconut plantation on the beach, where dinner is served in the restored Great House dating back to 1778.
The beautiful grounds are lined with palm trees, the beach is perfect,

and the staff is friendly! Violet had a big smile for us everyday at breakfast.

Colorful fishing boats are all over the island with creative names on them.

Not surprisingly, fresh fish is on the menu in most restaurants. I had grilled lobster at Sunshine’s Beach Bar, grilled Mahi Mahi at Double Deuce and grilled Wahoo at Bananas. All of it was prepared simply and delicious.

Piggy has been the gardener at Oualie Beach Hotel for 27 years, tending to the grounds, the coconut trees and the guests. We have stayed at the hotel many times when our kids were younger and Piggy was always a friendly face.

He is quite skilled at chopping open a coconut for the freshest coconut water ever.

Charlestown is the capital of Nevis and worth a visit to walk the town center and explore the local architecture.

A new addition to the limited selection of shops in town is the Charlestown Art Gallery, coordinated by the effusive Deborah Tyrell of Nevis Island Living.

The weather was perfect except for an occasional downpour. The rain never lasts long and usually leaves behind a rainbow and beautiful droplets on the plants.

There is a decent road that circles the island and is worth the drive. Goats, sheep and monkeys often dart in your path, adding to the fun.

Reggie Douglas of Nevis Adventure Tours is an excellent guide for a hike in the rain forest or a bike trip. He is knowledgeable, patient and energetic.

Like I said, 36 square miles of paradise.

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Paris (the 100 mile journey, part 3)

The subtitle of the last three blog posts, the 100 mile journey, should be a clue that the 37 miles we walked in Paris brought our total for nine days to 100 miles!
Emerging from the train station to bright sunshine, we walked to our hotel.
We saw three different brides having photos taken at various scenic locations.
This bride had sneakers on and moved effortlessly through the crowds.


A rain storm moved in quickly, soaking this bride at the Eiffel Tower.
On our first afternoon, we walked to Rue Cler and enjoyed the market scene and lunch. When the rain moved in, we took the Metro back and ended up in the basement of the department store BHV. Since it was raining, we had fun riding up the escalator to every floor and window shopping. We also checked out the department store Galeries Lafayette and were amazed at the view from the 3rd floor! The store also has a rooftop terrace that provided beautiful views of the city.
Everyday started with some amazing bread product and coffee
and usually included at least one sidewalk cafe for people watching.
Our one museum visit was to the Musee Marmottan Monet, a self-described beacon in the field of Impressionism. It was the perfect size museum, housed in a former hunting lodge in a quiet residential neighborhood.
We stayed at the Hotel Beauborg in the Marais district so we explored the area by following Rick Steves walking tour and visiting the Marches aux Enfants Rouge, the oldest covered market in Paris. Even the radishes look fabulous!
Everything we ate was delicious but some standouts were falafels at L’As du Fallafel, olive bread from Eric Kayser and dinner at L’Acanthe.

And then it was time to go home — 3 cities, 9 days and 100 miles later!

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London (the 100 mile journey, part 2)

We arrived in London the day before the Scottish independence vote, which might explain the bagpipe player on Westminster Bridge. In case you missed the news, the final vote was 55% no, 45% yes and an amazing 85% voter turnout. So Scotland will remain part of the UK, but with a need for greater involvement over their affairs.


Our first stop in London was the half-price ticket booth for theatre tickets. We had three nights in London and saw three plays! I love the 7:30pm start time and many of the theatre’s are much smaller than in NYC so you sit closer to the stage.
We saw Shakespeare in Love, Matilda and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.
The weather was great in London so we continued everywhere on foot, logging an additional 27 miles for a total of 63 miles. We set off on our first morning for the Borough Market on the south bank, a feast for the senses.



We continued on to the Beefeater Distillery for a tour of the only gin still made in London. Beefeaters has 9 different herbs and botanicals in it but the predominant one must be juniper to be considered a London Gin. The tour included a chance to touch and smell all the ingredients, and a gin and tonic!
Another activity was to take pictures of signs that made me laugh.
As a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi, I was excited about dinner reservations at his restaurant NOPI. If you are curious about what all the buzz about him is about, I’ve attached a link to a Dec 3rd, 2012 New Yorker article about him. His food is creative, innovative and delicious.
Our only sit-down dinner was at NOPI but we had delicious take out salads from Baker & Spice, a gourmet takeout place right around the corner from our bed and breakfast, B+B Belgravia. Our B+B was clean, simple and provided a full English breakfast. We were on the top floor, 50 steps up, which added to our daily mileage!
We squeezed in a visit to the National Gallery and took advantage of a free tour that highlighted several paintings and gave us a good orientation to the museum.
And then we were off, taking the train to Paris which delivered us across the channel in just over two hours.

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