Tales of Champagne Caves

When I booked our day trip to champagne from Paris, I had visions of strolling through rows and rows of lush, green vines, perhaps in a strapless pink dress, sipping a glass of the bubbly stuff and looking back at the camera, smiling squintingly through the rays of sunshine. Yeah…..well, I booked this trip for February so that vision was completely unrealistic. What I got instead, was walking across snowy fields, and through damp, drippy caves, in furry boots and an Eddie Bauer down winter coat. Having said that, it didn’t make the atmosphere any less romantic.

Where I come from, champagne is for brunch and celebrations. What I learned from our tour of Pommery Champagne House, is that it is perfectly acceptable to drink champagne everyday. While descending the 116 stairs, our guide told us about the widow, Louise Pommery, grew her late husband’s business into one of the largest champagne houses in the region.

                                   

The underground tunnels, first built by the Romans, snake through miles and miles of stored and aging bottles of champagne, accented by, in true Madame Pommery fashion, displays of modern art. Definitely not my thing, but I can still appreciate it as art. What I liked better, where the numerous reliefs, commissioned by Madame Pommery, scattered throughout the cellar.

          

If you are in the area, the tour of the Pommery Champagne House should not be missed. It was fun, interesting and educational. Then, of course, there is the tasting at the end.

I didn’t know that all my life I had been missing out on champagne cellar exploring until I did it. Something else that I didn’t know that was missing from my life, was visiting the abbey where Dom Perignon is buried. A necessary journey for any wine/champagne enthusiast.

A truly moving experience that I will never forget soon. How about you? Have you been to champagne? What was your favorite champagne house? I would love to hear the tales from your trip!

 

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Adventures in a German Grocery Store

One of the first things I always like to do when I go to a new country, is to go to the grocery store. It tells you so much about the way of life, the culture of the people. Germany did not disappoint. My friend picked us up from the airport and when she said apologetically that she had to stop at the market and pick up a few things for our stay, I couldn’t have been more pleased. From the time we walked into REWE, I was in absolute heaven! There was a bakery and deli counter that I couldn’t wait to explore and aisles and aisles of new food to discover! Sure thing, people were giving me weird looks when I was taking pictures and closely spying out the freezer cases, but I didn’t care. I was there to observe and admire.  Here is some of what I saw:

Sausages that I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone know what to do with! I asked my friend, who is a Hamburg native and she tried her best to explain, but I still walked away mystified, baffled, intrigued and in awe! A woman stepped in front of me to pick out some of the white colored brats, as if they were on her daily grocery list. I said sorry, and stepped back out of her way. She smiled at me in amusement. If only she knew how amused and entertained I was! However, I was not adventurous enough this time around to try any of the fish in jars…..

But I was thrilled to know that the German people seem to have a fascination with what my friend referred to as “gummies”. While chocolate is just okay for me, I’m absolutely addicted to things like jelly beans, Starbursts and Skittles. Imagine when, much to my surprise, yet pleasure, there was an entire aisle dedicated to gelatin filled, sugar laden, processed goodness! I wanted to get one of everything but held back! I picked 3, one of which I chose for no other reason than there was a unicorn on the bag. Other than that, I had no idea what the bag said! But, there was one bag that I could decipher the meaning of….the translation was clearly peppermint nougat. Peppermint??? AND nougat??  You might ask what about that I found appealing. My answer is EVERYTHING!!! I bought it. I ate it, and then I bought and ate 3 more bags and stored away 3 other bags to bring home. They have long since been eaten, so if anyone knows where I can acquire this goodness stateside, please let me know! I will be forever indebted to you! 🙂

One other thing that I want to talk about that I was enamored with, (there were so many, but  I just have time for one more), was the alcohol. There was an aisle of alcohol, then, instead of having candy bars and gum at the checkout line, like we do in the United States, they have a variety in little bottles of booze. I was entranced! Absolutely entranced! I bought several, I mean, I had to. I need to go back for no other reason but to buy more! However, the one that I thought that was over the top good, was called Aquavit. I have found something similar locally, but again, nothing can beat this Hamburg specialty and if someone knows where I can order it online, I would be so grateful!

It was explained to me that this is a caraway liqueur, which would make sense because the very first impression I got of the taste and smell was Jewish Rye Bread. Its herby and delicious and strong and warming on a cold winter’s day.

Obviously, I like to get to know a new country through their food and drink. What’s your favorite way to immerse yourself into a new culture? I look forward to hearing tales from your trips.

Why Winter Is My Favorite Season In Ireland

 

Ok. So for those of you who know me, you know that winter is by far my least favorite season. First of all, I just hate being cold. I don’t care how much people say you can put on more clothes, the fact of the matter is that I don’t want to put on more clothes. I don’t want to have to dress like the abominable snowman just to walk to the mailbox. Second, there’s the ice. Driving on it is like I don’t even know the right word for it. Suicidal, maybe? And walking on it is the same thing! I know way too many people who have slipped and fallen and broken limbs and other body parts. No thank you!

 

The punchline to all of this is that I have never actually lived in a cold weather place. A Floridian by birth and now a Northern Arizona transplant, my experience with winter is limited. We get our 2 or 3 snows per year here and then it’s gone in a max of 3 days. I know nothing of deep freezes, blizzards, ice storms or lake effect snow, and sorry my Montanan and Minnesotan friends, but I have no desire to trade places with you. Boston is my absolute favorite city in the United States, but I will never live there because you guessed it…..winter! Which raises the question…..why have I spent the past three Februarys in Ireland, a place notorious for wind, rain and cold temperatures? Now having experienced an Irish summer, I finally feel like I can speak objectively on the matter.

 

  1. Rains: The cold, hard fact (pun intended) here is that it rains in Ireland no matter what time of year it is, no matter where in the country you are. If you are going to spend any amount of time there, you will get rained on. So just take your raincoat, umbrella and wellies. There is no use trying to dodge the weather. It will meet you face to face as soon as you get off the airplane. I’ve had rain in the fall, rain in the spring, rain in the summer, rain in the winter. Don’t ever expect it not to rain, because trust me, it will.                               
  2. Cost: Now that we know what to expect from the weather, wintertime can be an awesome time to cash in to cheap airfare to Ireland and lower hotel rates. This past July, I paid $1,396 for a plane ticket from Phoenix to Dublin. In February the exact same route cost me $350. You do the math.
  3. Crowds: Who wants to visit somewhere the exact same time as everyone else and their brother wants to go? No one. That’s who. There’s long lines (queues), higher prices, extended wait times that mean you either get into your attraction late or aren’t able to get in at all, which just leads to annoyance, frustration and disappointment. Welcome to summer in Ireland. Tour buses, massive groups, jam packed pubs. Yeah. No thanks. True, wintertime means that some attractions have shorter opening hours, but there’s a reason for that. They don’t have to accommodate as many guests! If you don’t have to navigate a colossal horde, then chances are you won’t need extra time and can see everything you set out to see.
  4. Sunshine: More on the weather. I have to tell you, I was thrilled when that illusive Irish sunshine came out and the temperature reached a whopping 70 degrees! What a treat it was to sit on St. Stephen’s Green and eat an ice cream cone. But honestly, I live in Arizona. I eat ice cream outside all the time. What I don’t see everyday is misty fog, sheep grazing on rolling hills of green and castle ruins in the distance. Let’s face it! Those are the things that everyone comes to Ireland to see! The weather is part of what sets the mood! If it was warm outside there would be no need to take shelter in front of the fireplace of a cozy pub, cradling a dram of whiskey to keep you warm. Trust me, for full effect, embrace Irish winter, you won’t be Sorry that you did!!

Hotels vs. Air BNB: 4 Things To Consider Before You Decide

For me, half the fun of going on a vacation is planning it. But for the vast majority of humankind, planning a vacation is time-consuming, stressful and confusing. Where do you get the best deals? How do you find the lowest airfare? When is the best time to go? The questions are insurmountable. Now, in our day and age, we have a brand new dilemma. Before, the decision was just which hotel to choose. However, with the inception of websites like Air BNB, VRBO and Home Away, it now has to be determined whether to get a hotel room or rent your very own apartment, condo or house in the destination of your choice. Seems like a great idea, right? You can save a little money, especially if you’re traveling as a group and can get accommodation enough with space for everyone. More than that, you get to stay in an actual neighborhood. For a few days, a week, a month, you can get immersed in local culture, actually be a Parisian, South African, Bostonian, whatever you choose! Sounds great! So that’s the way to go, right? Welllll…..yes and no! Before you jump on the bandwagon, there’s some pros and cons that would be worthy of weighing.  had to give it a go so that I could formulate my own opinions. Here’s what I found:

  1. Research is key: When I wanted to go to Belfast, I had this idea that I wanted to live among the natives, really get the feel for Northern Irish life. I went online to VRBO and found a cute little place that they referred to as a Terrace House for much cheaper than a hotel. 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, full kitchen, satellite tv, looked like a quiet street. What more could one want?Wellll…..my first mistake was I didn’t pay attention to what wasn’t offered. Namely, wifi. In a foreign country, staying in a private home, with no concierge, wifi was a necessity. Sure, the owner was very sweet when she greeted us and said that she would be available for anything, but still, a woman who lives a few blocks over is not Google. You can’t really call her up at midnight and get directions for your day trip the next day. So don’t do what I did! Read, re-read and re-re-read before finalizing your plans! Also, research the neighborhood itself. I’m sure we were fine, but once we realized that there is still a bit of very obvious religious tension and separation in Northern Ireland, it would have been nice to at least know which side of the fence we had landed on.
  2. And then there was the matter of the appliances: Especially when renting a private home abroad, this is something to think about that I had not considered. If the owner has not left instructions, how to use some of the appliances can turn out to be a rather frustrating mystery.

We struggled with the washer/dryer combo in Belfast. Then there was the mishap with the washer in Paris. For that one there had been instructions, but, duh, they were in French. Some places offer heating and cooling. I have found that other people’s definition of heating, at least, are relative. What kind of heat do they mean? Central. Great! What’s their definition of central? That there is electric or gas forced air heating being released throughout the house? Or do they mean that there is a space heater or radiator in every room? Ask for specifics or you might freeze!!! This is especially true if you are in a country or state that tends to be damp and drafty anyways. The people there have probably adapted and feel way more different about temperature than this native Floridian does! 😉

Moral of the story is if you are going to depend on in-home washer/dryer, oven, stove, furnace or even coffee maker, just be prepared. Perhaps ask the owner for instructions in advance or to be shown exactly how things work when they first greet you. Never assume you know how their things work. The ones you have at home ARE different!

3. The wrong decor can ruin your stay: At least this is true for me. Some people may not care, but it just takes one weird statue or picture to give me the creeps. Remember, pictures online may not be the most current or they may not show every room. What you see is not always what you get. There’s a reason why hotels feel so impersonal. It’s because they are! Give me a plain, white wall any day over bad or strange taste!! After one bad experience with a VRBO condo in Scottsdale, where one bedroom inexplicably had one of the walls covered with little black crosses made out of duct tape, I am definitely gun shy.

4. Yes, it’s somebody’s home, but still not your home!!: So the ad said a fully equipped kitchen, but there’s no can opener. Maybe it’s missing a corkscrew. There’s no front desk to call to ask if they have one. Suppose you forgot a razor or a toothbrush. No one is going to bring it to you. Want fresh sheets? You’ll have to wash and change them yourself. Fresh towels? Same thing. These are all perks of staying in a hotel. Ask yourself, do you really want to be at home while you’re on vacation? Isn’t part of the fun of being away from home, not having to cook or clean? I know it is for me!

For me, convenience is everything! After it’s all said and done, I think that I’m a hotel girl. It makes life on the lam so easy and for the most part, worry free! 🙂 What’s been your experience? Comment and let me know what works better for you! Whichever you prefer, hotel or vacation rental, do what you have to to make your journey a great one!

 

 

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival-The Closest I’ve Ever Come To Paradise

I have been stuck in Los Angeles rush hour traffic. I’ve driven an SUV through Times Square. Driving through the streets of Dublin at 5:00 on a Friday is no joke! But nothing prepared me for the madness that was the mass of humanity descending upon the sleepy town of Mount Vernon, Washington that springs to life for one month out of the year for the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Since I first heard about this living work of art, I knew I had to see it for myself. Too bad about 20,000 other people had the same idea. What was supposed to be an hour and a half drive from Surrey, BC, Canada, turned into a four-hour, exhausting journey during which road rage just about got the better of me and I almost wet myself standing in line with other weary travelers, for the bathroom at a roadside gas station.

By the time we arrived at the Roozengaarde bloom fields and display gardens, my muscles were stiff, my nerves were shot and I seriously began to question my decision-making paradigm for having done this sprint of a weekend just to spend half a day of it stuck in traffic trying to get to see a bunch of dumb flowers. I grumbled all the way from the car as we crossed the road. Then I saw them….a few tulips by the entrance. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I, just like the stream of people in front of me, knelt for closer examination and photos, holding up the crowds behind.

      

The reasons for the crowds and the traffic jam were quickly becoming apparent. Never have I seen so many flowers in so many beautiful colors in all my life! And we weren’t even past the entrance gate yet.

Looking at the breath-taking surroundings, any ounce of irritation and anger that I had felt moments before, simply melted away. I couldn’t believe that for a measly $7, they were going to allow me to enter into a place that had to resemble the Garden of Eden. Disneyland has hiked the price to $109 and it doesn’t even come close!  I was awestruck. It far exceeded my expectations. Every single minute of the trip was more than worth it.

And that was just the gardens. Then there were the fields. Rows and rows of tulips for as far as the eye could see.

Sure it’s pretty and of course, it’s worth it, but there are a few things to remember if you decide to go.

  1. The Skagit Valley website tells you an alternate route to avoid traffic. The fact of the matter is, everywhere that we went, there was traffic. Tons of cars, tons of people. There is no avoiding it. The festival only goes from April 1-30, so for anyone who wants to see this thing, the window is narrow, hence, the crowd. To avoid it, maybe plan on visiting on a weekday. Other than that, just get an early start and be prepared to exercise some patience.
  2. Once you arrive at the fields, there are only porta potties, so make a pit stop in town before you get out there or be willing to brave what they’ve got.
  3. We didn’t eat at Roozengaarde, the line was too massive. But to be fair, the barbecue did smell amazing. I have no doubt that the food was good, but again, just plan on a wait.
  4. There is no guarantee that there will be tulips. We went the second weekend of the festival and the fields still were not completely in bloom. The area has been chilly with a lot of rain recently, so the blooms are a bit late. So, if you are traveling from far away, as I was, then maybe plan your trip closer to the end of the festival so as not to be disappointed.
  5. We only had one day. Plan on spending more time in the Skagit Valley. The downtown area looked adorable when we drove through. So sad that we didn’t get to spend time there. The Tulip Valley Winery is worth a stop and if you’re staying stateside, not flying or not worried about check bag fees, take home a bottle of their Merlot. It is fantastic!

                                   

This was a great trip that started out rocky, but in the end, ended up being one of my favorites. Maybe I’ll see you there next year! 😉

That One Time I Spent The Night With Clark Gable

Okay. Well I didn’t really spend the night with Clark Gable. It would be weird if I did since he died, oh, over 2 decades before I was even born. So one could say that I’m speaking metaphorically, I suppose. But is there some peculiar middle ground between literal and figurative? Because honestly, I spent the night under the same roof as Clark Gable once did, the very night of the Gone With the Wind premiere, in fact. And there was a picture of him arriving at the very hotel in which I slept, hung over the bed, so I’d say that  counts, right?

Clark Gable Master Bedroom

 

Whatever. I felt as if I was in the presence of greatness, so I’m counting it. Night with Clark Gable, checked off the bucket list.

Let me first of all say, that I booked The Georgian Terrace Hotel purely on principle. Academy award winning actress, Hattie McDaniel, was denied a room at the hotel in 1939, while the rest of her Gone With The Wind castmates, Mr. Gable included, despite his protests, rested there in comfortable elegance. So why did I check into The Georgian Terrace on June 22, 2016 as a middle class, young, black woman? Simply because I can. We’ve come a long way since 1939 and as living proof of that, I felt that the least I could do for my predecessors, as long as I was planning on visiting Atlanta anyways, was to spend a night at the famed, historic Georgian Terrace.

Georgian Terrace Info Plaque                                                                       Georgian Terrace Entrance

Not only did I feel like I was in the presence of greatness at The Georgian Terrace Hotel, but I also felt like I was pretty great too. So what the valet parking was a little awkward. When is it not? Basically handing a complete stranger who is probably making minimum wage, at least $15,000 and trusting that they will handle it with care? That aside, we were greeted with a smile and enthusiastically informed that we had received a surprise upgrade. Our standard room with two double beds had been magically transformed into a two bedroom suite complete with full sized living room, kitchen, washer and dryer and walk in closet in the master bedroom. Yes, I walked through the door of that room, dropped my suitcase, sat indian style in front of the flat screen tv, on the white duvet of the king sized bed and thought, ‘Wow! If only Miss Hattie could see me now!’

 

Suite Living Room2 Suite Living Room1Master Bedroom

 

I couldn’t wait to explore, but I just took a deep breath and relished in the moment. It was one that I will never forget as long as I live. In a word….Epic. But it only got better. There was the ballroom where the reception for the Gone With The Wind premiere was held. I walked the same halls that Clark Gable had walked and yes, I did in fact imagine that my jeans and tee shirt were changed into an elegant gown and that I walked delicately by his side in patent leather heels. Of course, I do tend to have a rather vivid imagination, but it was totally enhanced by the enchantment of my surroundings. The glitz, glamour, class and elegance of 1930’s Georgia carried me away better than Calgon ever could!!

GWTW Reception Plaque

 

 

 

 

 

GWTW Reception Room2GWTW Reception Room1

 

Never have I fallen madly in love so fast as I fell in love with The Georgian Terrace. How long I stood there, in the doorway of that grand ballroom, I really couldn’t say. But when my pensive daydream of the party,  dancing and food, was complete, I wandered down to the speakeasy style bar, Proof and Provision, in the basement of the hotel to steal away to a corner booth where I speculated about what it would be like to laugh with Clark Gable over some secret joke in the corner of the bar. Although, the music being piped through the speakers was Usher and not Billie Holiday or The Glenn Miller Band, the mood was not at all ruined. I closed my eyes and they were all there……Clark, Carol Lombard, Vivian Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier. Even Margaret Mitchell herself! Sitting in that booth with my glass of red wine, the ghosts of Hollywood’s Golden Age surrounding me, muddled with echoes of the old south, it was a surreal point in time that I will never be able to repeat, but that I will always be able to appreciate having had the opportunity to experience.

I rode the elevator back up to the sixth floor and climbed into the king sized bed of the master bedroom. The sheets were smooth and cool, the photo of Clark and motorcade hung high above the bed. When I turned on the tv it was late and Jimmy Fallon was well into his monologue. My friend was in the next room, but I had an instant of sorrow that I was undergoing this moment alone. Then I realized, if I was sharing this bed with someone, my husband perhaps, it would not be the same. It occurred to me that right then, I wanted to be selfish. I did not want to share this experience.  I wanted it to be mine and mine alone. I didn’t want,  and/or need someone to horn in on my fantasies and remind me that they weren’t real, that I am actually in 2016 and that had I been around in 1939, I wouldn’t have been allowed to be there anyways. So I snuggled into the blankets and smiled, I smiled, soaking it all in, making a memory for myself. I smiled that this time was mine to enjoy. Mine and Clark’s and nobody else’s. And as I drifted off to sleep, I counted my blessings that I had the unique opportunity to spend a night with Clark Gable.

How to Visit (and Enjoy) the Most Romantic City in the World While You’re Alone

When I decided to go to Italy, it wasn’t because I had some burning desire to go, not at that point in time anyways. I had always wanted to go to Italy and I knew I would get there at some point, but when I thought of Italy, I thought of Rome and Tuscany, maybe Pompeii even, but I never thought of Venice. So when my friend invited me to go along with her to Venice, Florence and Rome, I was totally into the Florence and Rome part. However, I think I actually made a face when she said the word “Venice.” It just conjured up thoughts of moonlit canals, lovers in gondolas, hand in hand strolls along ancient sidewalks. I mean, for crying out loud, its the birthplace of Casanova, arguably, the greatest lover of all time! No offense to my amazing, dear friend, who I did in fact, end up going with and having a fabulous time, but the last thing I wanted to do was experience Venice without a man! After all, what is Venice without love?! I was torn and I struggled, but it was such a good deal! Such a good deal that I felt like I was stealing!!! And one just does not go around passing up perfectly good opportunities to go to Italy.

Oftentimes, people mistakenly think that it is impossible to be unhappy when you’re on an epic vacation in some distant, exotic corner of the globe. I know this to be untrue. There are many, many factors that can lead to discontent while away. But more than likely, whatever it is that is upsetting you in your dream destination was causing you grief before you left. Yeah, yeah, I know, travel is supposed to lift the spirits, be balm to a tortured soul, ease an aching heart. Well sometimes it does, but then again, sometimes it doesn’t. So what do you do? Head it off at the pass! First, be happy at home. If you’re happy at home, you’ll be happy abroad. So was I happy at home single? Eh. Depends on the day, but what I did know was that there are things that make me happy. And if they enhance my mood at home, certainly they would enhance my mood once I got there.

So here’s what I did and I think it could work for anybody:

  1. Educate Yourself: What I realized is that I was excited about going to Rome because there were things that I wanted to see. I dreamed about gazing up at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, strolling through the Forum, standing in awe, looking up at the Colosseum. I knew that Florence was the home of Michelangelo’s The David (which, by the way, is so unbelievably impressive in person. If you can go see it, you MUST, I was absolutely blown away). I envisioned myself eating pasta in a farmhouse in Tuscany and drinking Chianti in Chianti. But I knew nothing about Venice. Well…..I knew that I didn’t want to go there because I didn’t have a guy to ride in a gondola with. Having said that, I knew that I had learn something else about it. And once I started reading, I learned that there is much more to Venice than gondolas. The canal system itself is a feat of engineering that was far ahead of its time, you can visit the Doge’s Palace were Casanova was actually imprisoned and escaped. Or climb to the top of the San Marco Campanile to see the city from a different perspective. There are tons of things to do. Never go in blind, because you don’t have to, and most of all you don’t want to!

Venice 1 (2)

Canals, the roadways of Venice

Venice 4

 

2. Find things that you enjoy doing at home and you’ll enjoy them even more while you’re away: Interestingly enough, I love being with my girl friends. Maybe sitting in a cafe, having a cup of tea, warming up with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day. What’s better than getting to know a group of friends over a bottle of wine, right? Now imagine that it’s not at your neighborhood Starbucks or the same wine bar you go to every other Friday, but that you have a view of ancient buildings and boats traveling down a wide waterway, pigeons landing on the piazza foraging for crumbs and scraps. That bottle of wine or cup of tea suddenly got better, didn’t it? Yup, wrap your hair in a scarf, put on a pair of sunglasses, plop yourself down in a chair at a sidewalk cafe, thank the waiter for pouring you a glass of wine and congratulate yourself…..you’re in Venice! Now take a deep breath, sit back, relax and watch the world go by.

Piazza San Marco 1

Piazza San Marco, don’t overthink it, just enjoy. 

3. So you’re in Venice, you don’t have to go on a gondola ride or for that matter do anything else you don’t want to do!: I can’t even begin to emphasize this enough…..just because you are in Rome, you do not have to go to the Vatican. Just because you are in Los Angeles, you do not have to go to Universal Studios. Just because you are in Seattle you do not have to go to the Space Needle. Just because you’re in London, you don’t have to cross Tower Bridge. Just because you are in Dublin you do not have to go the Guinness Factory! Are these things that tourists do? Yes! Are they major attractions? Sure! But that doesn’t mean you have to!!! If you don’t want to do it, don’t! While traveling, never feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. Will people give you a funny look, when you tell them that you went to Washington, D.C. and didn’t go to the White House? Of course they will! But who cares, because whatever you did do was your choice and you had a great time doing it. My friend and I chose not to do a gondola ride. Am I kicking myself over that? Absolutely not! We did check into, discussed it and decided against it. You’re gonna charge me 80 euros for an awkward feeling ride in a boat with another woman???? That’s like….8 glasses of wine, or at least 3 meals!!!! Thanks, but no thanks.

Venice 6

Gondola-Do or don’t do. It’s completely up to you

4. Be Adventurous: The great thing about traveling with friends is also the worst thing about traveling friends and that’s compromise. It never fails that one of you will really want to do something that the others don’t want to do and vice versa. On the one hand, it can open you up to trying something new and exciting. On the other hand, you can get stuck doing and paying to do things that you end up absolutely hating. Let me first of all say, that the latter has never happened to me. Have a been dragged, kicking and screaming and complaining? Of course. (Sorry guys. You all know who you are 😉 Here is where I apologize….I know I do it. Horrible personality trait, but I digress….) For all my complaints and resistance, for all of the incidents and mishaps, there has never been any tour or excursion that I have regretted taking. Would they have been my first choice? Maybe not. Did I have the best time? Again, maybe not. But it was an adventure and experience, something I wouldn’t have done otherwise and those are most often some of the best moments. Now, what does this have to do with Venice? Well, at least in my experience, Venice is not the easiest place to navigate. And I tend to not be comfortable with not having a plan or a destination, much less getting lost. But get lost, is exactly what we did. I was bent on finding out where we were, how to get where we were going and making that happen as quickly as possible. But, my friend that was with me, was content on just wandering. Being lost on purpose???? This idea was completely foreign to me and not one that I was sure I was going to like. So what happened that night? I think that was our best night in Venice. By being lost, we found great food, great markets, great scenery and ran into some funny, quirky locals. Enough said.

Venice-Alley on the way to the hotel

“Not all who wander are lost.”-JRR Tolkein

Venice-Dinner 1

5. Last but not least, be happy with what you have: It’s a known fact that the grass is always greener on the other side. The lonely single girl wishes she was married, the discontent married woman wishes she was single, the mother of three wishes she could be as carefree as the woman with no kids and so on and so forth. Let’s be real. Every circumstance in life comes with its challenges and imperfections. It’s up to each one of us to determine how we will deal with it. While you’re looking longingly at the the girl and boy walking by holding hands, you’ve missed the glow of the setting sun illuminating the stained glass of St. Mark’s Basilica. If you’re busy focusing on what you can’t do because you have kids, you’ll never know what you can do with them. And that’s a shame. Your vacation, like your life is your own, make the very best of it that you can.

Finding Inspiration: Steveston, BC

Yes…..I admit it. I’m that girl who woke up one morning in London to the sound of the Tardis. For a split second, my imagination ran away with me and I practically fell out of bed clamoring to the window wondering if I would really see The Doctor, preferably the David Tennant incarnation, standing out on the lawn leaning against his bigger on the inside blue box, waiting for me to join him in a madcap exploration of time and space. Sadly, the street below was empty, but I did hear Tennant’s voice. That’s when I realized that the sound of the Tardis I heard had just been my friend’s husband watching the episode of Doctor Who that he had recorded the night before. Now, of course I know the Doctor isn’t real, but as I joined Ryan in the living room, completely comfortable with my blanket and cup of tea, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a thrill at watching this particular episode of Doctor Who. Did it end up being my favorite of all time? No. Not even close, but it was the episode that I saw in London, on British soil!! There is just something so special about seeing your fantasy world, whether real or make believe, come to life. Its happened to me on several occasions, besides the aforementioned day. Every time I go to Tombstone, Arizona, I can’t help but feel a shiver go down my spine, knowing that I’m “walking where they fell”, as the city’s tagline says. Then, there was the pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts to visit the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. I remember standing there in front of Louisa’s desk, able to see her so clearly, sitting there,  pen in hand, hoping that by some freak chance I might absorb some of her talent just by being in a room that she had once been in. Well, that didn’t happen. But I’ll tell you what did. I felt inspired. I gained inspiration, some of the same inspiration that I got from travelling to Storybrooke, Maine. Oh, wait…..sorry. Storybrooke, Maine doesn’t exist. Well, it does, but it doesn’t. You see, the village of Steveston, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, is each week transformed for television into the town of Storybrooke, Maine, where for the purposes of the show, Once Upon a Time, the characters that we have come to know and love from our fairy tales have been stripped of their memories and banished as punishment from the Evil Queen from Snow White. I laugh to myself now as I think about it. What better place could there be for a person who’s imagination runs wild? Better yet, what a great place for someone who needs their imagination awakened!

So realizing that I would be in Vancouver, a mere ten minutes from this little corner of the world that might not mean much to anyone else, I knew I just had to go. Remembering my Doctor Who fantasy, I’m sure you can only guess how excited I was of the prospect of actually getting to walk through this make believe town…..the home of Snow White, Prince Charming, Captain Hook, Rumplestiltskin, just to name a few. Things got even more real when I realized that they would be filming during the time that we would be there. In a word…..epic.

Driving into Steveston was a treat in itself. The area is peppered with lots of country roads with farmers selling fresh produce and other wares, definitely giving a small town feel although you are a mere stone’s throw from downtown Vancouver. If it wasn’t for the tan large, 2 story building, which was vacant and for sale at the time that we were there, which doubles as Storybrooke’s clock tower, I would not have recognized Steveston’s main street as being the same main street as Storybrooke. Why? It looked extremely inviting and cheerful. For Once Upon a Time, the beautiful pots of spring flowers are taken away and the signs changed over to darker colors to give the town a more bleak, dejected feel.

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  Be sure to stop into the Visitor’s Center at the far end of Moncton Street to pick up your official licensed Once Upon a Time merchandise and map of town sites.

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When we arrived early that morning, film crews were already there to start the town’s magical transformation.

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Where does one go for breakfast when you first arrive in Storybrooke? Well, Granny’s Diner, of course! Yes, that would be Granny, as in Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, who runs this local gathering place in Storybrooke, famous for its cinnamon hot chocolate and lasagna.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES               SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES    In the real world, Granny’s Diner is known as The Cannery Cafe and very different from eatery that we see in the world of Storybrooke. The outside is the only part of this quaint restaurant that is used for the show. The interior is a rather plain, ordinary, typical North American diner specializing in breakfast staples such as bacon, eggs and waffles, staying open through lunchtime. The best part was sitting by the window, watching the crew set up for filming with a view of the large “Storybrooke” sign that has become a permanent fixture in the restaurant courtyard.

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Breakfast and a view at Granny’s Diner aka The Cannery Cafe

 

 

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Show Prep!!!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES It’s so fun to see the entire town, not annoyed by the extra tourists, traffic or crews in the street, but rather embracing the fairy tale spirit and connecting with their own prince, princess or even evil queen. 😉

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Adding even more to its charm is the fact that Steveston sits right on the sea, as does its fictional counterpart, Storybrooke. Steveston is home to a large salmon cannery and boasts some of the area’s finest seafood with sweeping views to match.

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Gazing out on the horizon,  it wasn’t hard to imagine seeing the Jolly Roger sailing into port, captained by Hook himself.  A place like this is just fuel for the fire of the imagination. 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESIt was hard for me to say goodbye and goodnight. While most people would have came and saw within just a few hours, I got lost in this town for the better part of an entire day. But perhaps it was more my imagination that I got lost in. I went back to the hotel that night with nothing short of forty stories bouncing around in my head.

To anyone else, Steveston would appear to be just a sleepy seaside tourist town with your predictable boutique shops, gorgeous food and typical fish and chips. But for me it was a thing of dreams, just like that ordinary morning in London was turned extraordinary simply with one, little sound. You must find it……wherever on earth it might be…..that special place that peaks the curiosity, engages your brain, enchants your imagination and inspires your creativity.

 

Here Goes Nothing!!!!

Let me just say that as my first post, I don’t expect this to be the best writing that I’ve ever done. In fact, it’ll probably resemble some of my elementary school efforts. But here goes nothing.

I am appalled at the sheer number of people who have never been anywhere. And by anywhere, I don’t necessarily mean out of their home country, I mean out of their home state, sometimes even county, town or city. The more and more people I meet, especially the very career driven, seem to think that taking a vacation is a crime, an abomination, an unforgivable sin. How on earth could anyone ever consider leaving the job for three weeks to have fun or see another part of the world? Sacrilege! It’s interesting because just about every other country in the world besides the United States is allotted 5 weeks or more of paid vacation and their society seems to function just fine, if not a bit better than ours.

Another thing people will say is that they’re waiting for retirement to be able to travel. Well, I will tell you this…..I was on a plane from JFK to Venice, Italy and there was a group of maybe 6 elderly people that were travelling together. I have no doubt that they had a good time on their trip, but they looked absolutely miserable on the plane. I know what a hard time I was having, flying in coach for 8 hours at 28 years old. I couldn’t imagine suffering through it at 68. Let’s be honest, we’re more tolerable when we’re young, have more energy and things like miles and miles of walking or hours and hours of sitting aren’t as hard on us as they are later on in life. So there’s no better time like the present. If you wait, chances are, it’s just not going to happen.

Travel teaches us how other people live. We learn how to get along with others who are different than us. We gain problem solving skills, social skills, appreciation for art, nature and how to be thankful for what we have. There are so many important lessons that I use in my everyday life that I’ve learned on a trip, a vacation, if you will, that I would have never learned sitting in a classroom or behind a desk. These things should be valuable to teachers and employers and they should see them as advantages and not hindrances. If the saying is true that you have to spend money to make money, then it’s also true that you have to spend time to save time.

Travel also makes you interesting. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I would never have a problem conversing in a group of new people. There’s always an experience or story that I can share, most of them having to do with my travels and I hope to be able to share many of them with you here. Who cares about work or what you had for breakfast! I want to hear about where you’ve been, why you were there, who you met and what they were like! I want to hear about the how you got there, the drama and the comedy! Again, none of those stories can come from sitting behind a desk or on your sofa watching the Travel Channel. Go out and make your own Travel Channel, that’s what I say!

Someone recently said to me when I told them that I was going to Ireland, that they would never be able to go to Ireland because they would only stay in castles and it would be too expensive. As if my vacation, were somehow lower on the totem pole because I wasn’t staying in five star hotels. First, who goes to Ireland to stay cooped up in a hotel room, second, stop making excuses, even if you were to stay in castles, it still wouldn’t be that expensive. It’s a common misconception that you have to be rich to be well travelled. Not so. I am definitely not rich 😉 And I’ve stayed in some pretty nice places, thank you very much! Make a budget. Know what you can afford and stick to it! And most of all no more excuses!!!

So, that’s my platform….sort of, I think. 🙂 Telling my stories, what they’ve taught me and things I think you can learn from them. I hope you enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoy telling them!