Dawn reveals things magically. We’d pulled into the Lajitas Golf and Spa Resort while the morning sky was still black. In minutes the world came to light, filling the dining rooms’ towering glass windows. That and the strong coffee cleared my head. I’d just started to discover why Lajitas is considered one of the best Texas resorts.
It was too early to check in but we dropped off our luggage and went off for a day of horseback riding and paddling the Rio Grande (more of that story here.) Dinner was accompanied by wedding festivities on the terrace. The bridal party was perfectly Texan – the groom’s men wore rhinestone studded jeans and the bride pivoted on embroidered cowboy boots!
What makes Lajitas one of the best Texas Resorts
The ranch sits center stage. As we wandered the acres, the history of the place opened up. Close to the Terlingua community with its eccentricities, Lajitas offers a quiet and graceful contrast.
There are shops and a spa of course, but I didn’t take the time to investigate. I wanted to be outside. The Lajitas resort is famous as a magnificent golf course rolling over hills and between mesas. There’s no wonder it’s award winning – voted the #1 most beautiful golf course in Texas by Golf Magazine, Best of Texas resorts for golf by Texas Outside and the Dallas Morning News considers it the # one public course you can play in Texas.
Once handicaps were mightily challenged – one hole lay across the Rio Grande in Mexico! Those days are gone now but the course still runs along the border and that meandering river. If it weren’t for a light rain, you’d be seeing pictures of me in a golf cart careening along the course trails. Along with trails galore, the resort sits close to a marked nature walk flush with local flora and fauna.
There’s a historic chapel filled with local artists’ work.
Nearby, a zip line sat ready, its lines looped up into the highlands. There are nine lines with three different courses for various levels and ages. We met the guides who were getting ready for fall guests. Their shop also manages shooting activities: Five stand sporting cays, a cowboy action shoot full of Wild West arms, a combat course, and packages combining them.
My favorite spot, the key to this being one of the best Texas resorts, is Black Jack’s crossing. Don’t let them tell you it’s just a golf shop – there’s much more inside. The owners manage one of the largest collections of Longhorn displays in the West. Rooms are full of the noble horns. Historic pictures, branding irons, log books, and a wide mural surround the golf shop amenities. I don’t play golf but would go out of my way to see this collection.
Another historic space that makes this one of the best Texas resorts is the Ocotillo event space. Once a fine dining restaurant featured in Gourmet magazine, now the two-story building hosts private events. It’s worth a stop to climb the tower and admire the views. There’s even a Texas state shaped pond!
Last but not least are the stables offering equestrian adventures including sunset and sunrise trail rides.
As we completed our visit, dining as the stars emerged, I felt closer to the heart of this land in Lajitas, definitely one of the finest Texas resorts.
If you explore Lajitas golf resort and spa, one of the best Texas resorts:
Make reservations for lodging, golf, spa and activities at the resort (http://www.lajitasgolfresort.com/)
Getting there: There’s a small airport nearby but most visitors arrive by car.
Spend some time on the River with Big Bend River Tours (http://www.bigbendrivertours.com/)
The Barton Warnock Visitors Center has lots of information about Big Bend National Park (http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/barton-warnock)
Horseback riding on the mesas above the Rio Grand River in Texas
Seasoned road trippers, my sister and I had grown up taking long drives with the family but we’d never veered off road to go horseback riding. Our annual trip together, this road trip through West Texas, had us pulling over on a whim often, but this morning we were rushing to make a rendezvous with a singular cowpoke.
We knew that we had to be at the Lajitas Stables corral early and left our modest motel in Terlingua while it was still dark. The idea was that we’d pick up coffee and a light breakfast somewhere along the 26 miles between our launch and destination. What we didn’t realize taking off in the early morning dark was how deserted the road would be and how few places would be open. Two city girls, we marveled at the lack of breakfast places. The idea of a Starbucks or all-night Denny’s on a corner of that prairie land was hilarious and charming.
Dawn breakfast at the Lajitas Resort
The Lajitas Golf Resort saved our day. While it was far too early to check in, the breakfast buffet was just opening up. Caffeine kicked in as we looked out across the mesas and dawn’s light broke. Tummies satisfied and the cobwebs of sleep wiped clear, we headed to our rendezvous.
Kelly the cowgirl and our Lajitas Stables guide
I’d envisioned joining a group and horseback riding for a few hours. What unfolded was a half day ride up rocky hillsides with expansive views across the Rio Grande River, spotting wildlife and tossing rocks down into box canyons. It was just my sister Julie, me and Kelly with our sweet horses. The pace was rambling and Kelly graciously tolerated my grilling her with questions. Just before noon, we entered a shallow canyon. “It’s time for our box lunch,” Kelly joked as we stopped at the granite terminus of the box canyon.
Lunchtime during our horseback riding adventure
She looped the reins loosely, knowing the horses so well that there was no need to restrain them. They were distracted quickly, nuzzling into new greens from the recent rains. That was the hardest part of the ride – keeping them moving with all the luscious new growth along the trails (tasty if you’re a hungry horse and, ‘They’re always hungry,’ Kelly says.)
As Julie and I watched chipmunks leaping on the rocks above and circled the low pools where butterflies flittered, Kelly prepared our lunch. Miraculously, her slim saddle bag held a feast. We gorged on smoked chicken breast, a wondrous bean and corn salad, tortillas, and pickles. Cookies and lots of water capped our meal before we swung back onto our waiting steeds.
Mesa view down to the corral and into Mexico across the Rio Grande river
As we rose on a crest we spied the corral and the one horse who had remained behind began whiny-ing. She was lonely! We picked up the pace slightly as the afternoon’s heat peaked. Once we dismounted, I strode over with my bag and felt a sudden flush. Kelly took a glance up and told me to bend over. She took her bottle of ice water (frozen the night before) and poured the chilly liquid over my neck and head. I hadn’t realized how quickly heat stroke can creep up! In moments my skin and temperature were back to normal.
Our paddle master at work on the Rio Grande
Good thing too as we turned to say our goodbyes, a van pulled up. It was our second rendezvous of the horseback riding, Saddle and Paddle adventure. I regretted leaving the horses and Kelly but climbed into the cool van as we rode to a low dirt road. Our guide, Matt, backed the van trailer close to the water’s edge and shifted a Zodiac raft into position. Within minutes we had our life jackets on and were slowly cruising down the lazy river.
Butterflies on the Rio Grand River
Around us, sagebrush grew close to the lapping river. Birds darted overhead. I tried time and again to capture pictures of the bright yellow butterflies sipping at shallows as we passed. At one point the river split around an island and we were positioned for running the rapids. It sounds riskier than it actually was. My apprehension evaporated at the chance to get into the water. Matt had the four of us link arms as we shuffled into the river. A few moments later, he positioned himself to sit in the water, cautioning us to keep our feet up and forward. One by one we dipped. It was a thrill – brief, fun and a great way to cool off after horseback riding too.
Before we parted with Matt he manifested a quick snack as the skies turned dark and a light sprinkle erupted. I spied lightning over the mesa and marveled at the adventure, horseback riding, paddling and the peace of the Big Bend and Lajitas region.
An experience I’ll never forget. Horseback riding above the Rio Grand.
My sister and me practicing our familial head tilt. I won!
Go horseback riding, river rafting in the Lajitas area of West Texas:
A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska, where edible mushrooms hide
We met on a long weekend camping trip in SE Alaska. I had no idea that Adrienne was a fungi expert until the two of us took off on a trail into the woods and she began pointing out edible mushrooms and more suspicious varieties.
Adrienne Long works as a forager and guide based out of Mendicino County. Her biggest passion is getting out into the forest, into the wild, and being able to live off the land. Most of us don’t have a clue about where to find them, which are edible mushrooms or might be fatal. I asked what got her interested in mushrooms?
A – I always really enjoyed nature and something called me to the fungi. I knew I wanted to learn more and it exploded from there. First I studied in botany classes, mushroom, and natural history. So, I know a lot about what we have growing wild in the Mendocino area, where I’ve lived about 16 years.
E -You can learn a lot about mushrooms in a book but it’s also an experiential thing. Who did you work with to learn about mushrooming?
A – My husband taught me the basics, then I took a class at College of the Redwoods with Teresa Scholers. We had a Teacher’s Assistant, Dr. Ryan Snow, a well-known mushroom forager and internationally recognized. With Teresa, the class was half lecture and half in the woods. Every year that she taught I would T.A. so there was more opportunity to be out in the woods and learn about new mushrooms. Maybe one year you didn’t see it and the next year there’d be a bunch of them out, so with the quantity of mushrooms we have in that area, the more you go out the more you learn.
E – The conditions along the California North West coastal region are prime for edible mushrooms because of the weather?
A – Weather and the trees are important. A lot of mushrooms are reliant on a specific species of tree. That makes for prime mushroom habitat.
E – I used to think that mushrooms were a sign of death; that they broke down things as parasites but you’ve said that they often work with plants. Do you see that often?
A – Oh yeah. Mushrooms are the most important decomposers we have on this planet. If we didn’t have mushrooms we’d just have piles and piles of plant matter that would never decompose. But we also have mushrooms that work with the trees to survive. They help the trees to gather water. There are some that weaken trees and allow other pathogens to enter the system to weaken the tree. So, there are all kinds of fungi out there. When you’re out it’s important to know what kind you’re looking for; if you want a decomposer or a Mycorrhizal mushroom that’s connected to a tree.
Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.
E – I wasn’t a very good hippie but remember that some people loved to find certain kinds of mushrooms which were hallucinogens. Do you have those in your area?
A – Not so much. They’re some of the hardest to come by. They’re little and brown. The forest is full of hundreds of species of little brown mushrooms. You could pick one that is extremely toxic or one that is Psilocybin, those are the ones that are hallucinogenic but where we are it’s not very common to find them.
E – One of the most surprising things I learned from being in the forest with you is that the biggest part of a mushroom is not what you’re going to see.
A – They found in Oregon the largest mycelium, the roots of the mushroom underground. The largest one is four miles wide and it grows in a circle. So if you see a fairy ring, a circle of mushrooms, that circle is the mycelium and the mushrooms are on the outside. That ring if it’s large it means that it’s really healthy and the only reason the mushrooms are there are to spread spores and reproduce. The whole fungal body is either in the ground or in a tree decomposing and eating the tree matter.
E – It sounds like something out of a science fiction story but it’s happening all over the world. Is there anywhere you’d like to go to forage for edible mushrooms?
A – Anywhere and everywhere I possibly can. We’ve been to Mexico and I saw Chanterelles but they don’t really forage for edible mushrooms there. I’m willing to go anywhere in the world to hunt and see what species of mushrooms different places have.
Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord
E – One of the most popular edible mushroom varieties are truffles. Do you ever find them in your region?
A – Not along the coast, we don’t have the right tree situation for truffles. I think it’s more the Washington and Oregon areas that have those. But even going to Washington is a great thing to do because they have such a great foggy climate. There’s a lot of wild crafted mushrooms that come out of Washington and Oregon.
E – We’re sitting in Ketchikan, Alaska, and spent some time in the forest. Did you find some surprising things?
A – I found a slime mold but it’s not really fungal. That’s another whole organism.
It’s a single cell ameba that goes wandering around the forest and then when it finds something to eat it will send out a hormone. Then all the other little ameba join up and make this mass. It’s pretty amazing and comes in all different colors. The one I saw was a nice shiny black.
E – They come together and then come apart at different times too. Does it react if you touch it?
Here’s a cool, short video about the kind of slime mold Adrienne found in the forest:
A – This one kind of molded together when I touched it but you can watch them move if you want to sit there for a long time. Once it’s finished eating and full, then everyone re-disperses into the forest until they’re ready to procreate. Then they’ll have a big ameba orgy later.
E – There were yellow mushrooms coming out of a tree on our SE Alaska trail and you pointed out that some are better to eat at certain times.
A – Yes, that was called “Chicken of the Woods” and they’re better to eat as little buttons. Some species can be toxic though and you need to watch out. They’re also called “Chicken of the Woods!” if they’re growing on something that’s toxic they could be absorbing those toxins and possibly be toxic to you.
E – That brings us back to an important aspect of mushroom hunting, “Go with someone who knows what they’re doing, who has the experience” like yourself. You work out of Mendocino and Fort Bragg with different organizations. What is the best time of year to go foraging with you?
A – Usually first rain into February, so usually October to February is great. If you want really high mushroom count, December is the best depending on what species of mushroom you’re looking for. Google ‘Mushroom foraging in Mendocino County’ to find me or look for the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. I do nature tours and guided walks out of the inn.
E – You have children, are you teaching them to forage as well?
A – Of course, I have a four year and a ten-year-old and that’s one of their favorite things to do in the winter time. My son loves to go out with his friends and bring home mushrooms. He’ll go, “Oh, see this gelatinous mushroom?” and he’ll eat it. Audrey just loves to carry her basket around and go hiking with me. I feel it’s definitely something they need to learn.
E – Do you have a favorite edible mushroom that you like to cook with? A lot of people are familiar with Chanterelles, but you want to find a particular kind, right?
A – Yes, but there are false Chanterelles but those can be toxic and give you gastro-intestinal disorders, so you want to be careful. You want to know your edibles but more importantly, you want to know the toxics and toxic look-alikes so you don’t mistake those. One of the most important things when cooking mushrooms is to do a double sautee. So you cook them in a dry pan with no seasoning and no oil until the water comes out and evaporates. Then you add butter, oil, garlic, or whatever for flavor and they’ll absorb all that flavor. It makes them much tastier that way.
E – So, when you’re cooking, all that moisture out is it also for safety reasons or just for the flavor?
A – Just for the flavor. You want to cook out the moisture first before adding other ingredients, say for a sauce. I’ve ruined a few just by adding raw mushrooms. It cooks all that water into your sauce and can be very overwhelming. With all mushrooms, it’s better to pick a small mushroom than a larger mushroom. All mushrooms have the same number of cells, whether they’re small or large. They don’t grow by cell division. They grow by cell elongation, so when they’re really big it’s because their cells are elongated and water logged.
E – So bigger is not better.
A – Right, bigger is not necessarily better!
This has been so much fun. What a world you live in! I look forward to seeing where you take all this.
Much more than a surf and beach getaway, Oceanside is a dining destination where parking is abundant and you can always get a seat at the table or bar. That is unless you need to get into the 35 seat speakeasy, 101 Proof, on a busy night. The city ripples with tantalizing eating and drinking options. And not just individual places, the Thursday Night Market overflows with curated vendors offering affordable and unique tastes. Choose from plank fired Salmon, Ghawazee small plates, Japanese cakes, Polish pierogi, gluten free pastries for example. Entertainment fills a plaza with live music, Bungee jumping, henna painting. Strolling, eating and enjoying the crowd makes for a relaxing night. I loved simply watching an expert baker toss pizza crust overhead next to a wood-fired grill at one the best places to eat in Oceanside.
The sunset market on Thursdays is one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.
With all the culinary excitement across San Diego county, it’s taken awhile for Oceanside to get its due. Once it was a bit shady, downtown was punctuated with tattoo parlors and rowdy military bars. The rowdies have moved onto lower rent burgs. The city center and south along the Pacific Coast Highway are bubbling with new energy. Families enjoy the beach and wander downtown day or night. Couples nuzzle in comfy booths and friends mingle everywhere. Cutting-edge chefs, urban farmers, distilleries and ale-houses – there’s a lot to love. Here are several food spots I look forward to visiting again and again.
Once a boxy bank sat on a corner of Highway 101. Today a consortium of brewers, chefs and mixologists have transformed it into a feast for the senses – the Urge Gastropub. I stepped inside the dining room and central bar to face a wall of fine spirits. Behind the kitchen, the brewing prowess the Mason Aleworks team of beer masters fill kegs and tanks.
The ‘boys in the band’ from Mason Aleworks and the Urge Gastropub kitchen
For a behind-the-scenes look into Mason Aleworks and the exclusive 101 Proof Speakeasy, check out my video:
Outside around the corner, there’s a simple sturdy door. Enter and you’re in a classic speakeasy. The Whisky vault, 101 Proof, is an homage to the luxurious drinking salons of the 1930’s. There’s a refined menu, plush upholstery and the talented ministrations of the bartender. The space is intimate and reservations are suggested. Tell them Bugsy sent you.
Bartender inside the 101 Proof Speakeasy
Get a taste of the freshest, organically-certified produce from the weekend stand at Cyclops Farms. Meander up to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the Pacific. Farmer, Luke Girling, spent the last few years filling this huge, residential acreage with unique greens, fruits, and flowers for local chefs. His inspiration has caught on as part of an urban farming movement that’s filling suburban neighborhoods with clean and bountiful harvests. The community loves it too. As I stood there on the morning of a tour, he waved to the street several times as neighbors passed by. Follow his Facebook page to sign up for one of the exclusive ‘Water Bill Dinners’ he hosts monthly at tables on the property.
Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand
Staci Miller, founder of Miller’s Table
The Millers Table
Staci Miller has a flair for unique details, creating a restaurant that’s an experience, as well as delicious presentations. The intimate space contains a huge community table decorated with lights and candles. Focusing on artful sandwiches, inspired vegetables, and fresh locally sourced proteins, the culinary team serves their creations without waitstaff. Curious about your hummus, where the delicious rolls come from, what the best wine or beer pairing is? Ask Staci or her team as they stop by the table. Savvy locals know to call ahead for seats or order a picnic basket for a patio or beachside meal.
The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway
The Charcuterie plate at LTH
Local Tap House
Don’t let the casual vibe fool you. LTH takes great food and drink seriously. Yes, the patio is pet-friendly, garage doors open to the sea breezes and bicycle teams may fill tables. It’s all affordable fun based on a menu full of surprises. LTH embodies a laid-back beach style with an eye to delicious quality.
Wrench and Rodent
With a name like that you’d better be good. Chef and founder, Davin Waite, twists his punk rock sensibilities into the freshest seafood presentations imaginable. Each ingredient is ‘chef selected.’ The ‘Sebasstropub’ is irreverently decorated (yes, there be rodent art,) and small, with a large patio in front and back, and an entrance from the parking lot through a taco shop. Sushi lovers wax eloquent. Fish connoisseurs hum with approval. Just go!
Think you know short ribs? The tender meat is served with roasted vegetables on a bed of Thai Coconut curry. Scrumptious.
608 Oceanside’s Chef William Eick explains his bold flavor inspirations.
This new restaurant is making waves in the San Diego culinary scene. While Chef William Eick serves ‘small plates based on a contemporary American cuisine’ don’t assume that you’ve had anything like this. The restaurant is slender, intimate, and set along the main downtown block of Mission Boulevard. 608 is definitely buzzworthy as one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.
Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland
Plank-roasting with Michael Bossel in the Flamin’ Salmon booth
The Stone Brewery beer garden
Mainstreet Oceanside Sunset Market
Erase any preconceptions of a night market. Every Thursday evening at sundown the event fills several cross streets of downtown Oceanside. The International Food Court is packed with curated stands and inspired vendors. They’re some of the best places to eat in town – all affordable and great fun. I was entranced by the buzz. Live bands play in the square, there’s great people-watching, date-night couples, family diners, and more delicious food in one place than imaginable. Of course, you’ll also find shopping with crafts and activities like pony rides, henna painting, and bungee jumping. It’s a carnival without the barkers or rides. Also, Stone Brewery has set up an open-air pub in a garden on a side street for those looking for more adult brews. Definitely worth the trip to town.
Getting to the best places to eat in Oceanside
Come down from OC, over from Escondido, pace the traffic and wind up the Interstate 5 from San Diego central. You won’t regret the drive. Better yet take the train. The Amtrak station is steps from town and a few blocks from the beach. On weekends, the Metrolink rolls in from LA and San Bernadino with a discount fair. The Coaster stops in too and one line swings out to East County as well.
I’ve been in and out and past Oceanside so many times while cruising between San Diego and Los Angeles. It was been so much fun discovering more about this coastal gem and I thank the Oceanside Visitors Bureau for arranging a tour for the members of IFWTWA. I’ll be back!
Sharing is caring! Here’s a pin about the best places to eat.
Anticipation ran high and rumors began before the rainstorms stopped. Is this the year for desert wildflowers Superbloom? Winds, hard rains, and long years of drought have stymied the annual desert blooms over the last few years. So we waited to see if the conditions were right for the desert wildflowers to pop and finally got lucky.
My shoes covered in desert wildflowers pollen
Watch this video about the desert wildflowers road trip:
Careful timing and preparation for a desert road trip can save your life
The area can be scorching with temperatures regularly over 105 degrees for a good part of the year. Make sure your car is topped out with antifreeze and water whenever you go. There’s a steep climb to navigate over the mountains from the San Diego region. It’s also one of my favorite drives. The boulders surrounding the summit are formidably beautiful and the views as you emerge from cloud-filled peaks are breath-taking.
When heading east along the southern route, it’s also good to know what the wind conditions are. Take extra precautions or another route if you have a high profile vehicle. I’ve seen trucks blown onto their sides and it can be a long wait for assistance in the remote area.
We set our trajectory to the timing of the first desert wildflowers reports. Wildflowers emerge first in the south just north of the Mexican border. We headed there guided by various tracking sites (see the list below.) There’s a wash on a side road from the freeway that leads to Calexico and it’s been our lucky spot.
From there we reversed our route driving north along Highway 78 towards the town of Ocotillo Wells. Before we crossed the freeway we made a pit stop for coffee at the Ocotillo Wells Chevron truck stop. A great discovery was the freshly made coffee in individual Keurig-style machines. We also discovered some pretty unique snacks on the counter (and left them there!)
Larva and cricket snacks at a desert truck stop!
Ocotillo Wells is a tiny town but worth a slow cruise. The locals keep it light with creative yard art. It’s also where off-roaders find repair and body shops. We cruised through on our way to lunch in Anza Borrego. (Read more in my earlier post about desert nomads and where the locals eat)
Spotted in Ocotillo Wells
Campers and weary road warriors often stop at the Agua Caliente Hot Springs. The pools are managed by the county, so this isn’t a spa experience. The adult-only indoor pool has jacuzzi jets and the outdoor pool is family friendly. There are lockers, changing rooms and a few other amenities.
Once you’ve entered the Anza Borrego Park bee-line to the Visitors Center. It’s natively landscaped and a carefully-positioned building full of interactive exhibits, trail experts, and information about where to go. Movies will entrance the kids and the gift shop is a fun diversion too. The Visitor center packs its calendar with lots of events whether desert wildflowers are out or not.
Borrego Springs – First Dark Sky Community
Star-gazing is wonderful year round in the Borrego Springs area. As the first Dark Sky Community in California, airplanes flying into the small airport angle their lights down and lights are modified on streets, businesses, and homes. Check out star-gazing opportunities if you are staying in the area.
Make sure to save time to see some of the immense metal sculptures that dot the desert landscape. Sculptor, Ricardo Breceda planted his ‘Sky Art’ in the open reaches of the area. Most evolved from his imagination (A giant sea dragon crosses the road!) to Plio-Pleistocene animals and dinosaurs. Spanish explorers, turtles, fantasy creatures and bighorn sheep make great photo opps. In fact, on busy weekends, you might have to wait in line to get your shot. (See link to map below.)
Desert art between Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs
The flowers drew us to the desert this year and we weren’t disappointed. So many plants were in stages of blooming and the desert floor had a low mesh of green growth that I’d never witnessed before. Nature wasn’t wasting a moment to take advantage of the rainfall. Our bonus as we headed home and up the incline into the cloudy summit was a full rainbow.
There was no going back. Our small group piled into the last gondola of the night and glided up to the top of the mountain. Within minutes I was fanny down, legs splayed on a small, blue, plastic sled. I was also praying that I got through this without tumbling into the dark abyss on the far side of the road. The only way to steer or slow the descent was to dig my boots into the icy road. The only light was a tiny red glow on the back of the sled in front of me. That light soon disappeared as I kept breaking to catch my breath and slow the ride by grinding my lug soles into the ice and snow. This wasn’t my vision of night sledding. I’d imagined a well-lit ski slope like those in California’s mountains and a toboggan piled with quilted sledders to hold onto. Here I was, a boomer, flying solo through the winter night on a high, deserted road above Interlaken.
The fear gave way to gumption. There was no way out but through. I swore that I wasn’t going to be the only person stranded on the mountain. Around a bend, I spotted the red lights moving in the dark. Voices then the group materialized, stopped to wait and strategize with our guide, Petr. I was with three young women from Korea and Japan. None spoke much English but we grinned till it hurt, our cheeks red with cold and climbed back on our blue flyers to follow Petr. The winter had been warm and there were icy patches ahead, he warned us, so be ready to stop and walk for a bit.
A fondue dinner after night sledding. Photo: Outdoor Interlaken
It got easier. Natural night vision kicks in surprisingly quickly. It really wasn’t that hard, as Petr suggested, to steer the sled clear of the big white shapes and stay on the road. Soon I was no longer last in line. Perhaps Petr slowed a bit too, but within 40 minutes we spied the pine tree strung with lights near our starting point. We stopped and dragged our sleds into the shed at the back of a restaurant. Our reward? A modest dinner of delicious fondue with chunks of bread, a bowl of cheesy pasta, salad, and a pitcher of beer to share. The best part was a sense of accomplishment. The worst – wishing I hadn’t come to Interlaken solo and could share the experience with my friends. I don’t know if they’ll believe that I’ve actually done this. No matter. I’ll convince them to grab a sled when we return to experience the wonders and challenges of winter in Switzerland and especially, all that Interlaken has to offer.
Photo: Outdoor Interlaken
Where did night sledding come from?
The story is that night sledding is a tradition. Swiss adventurers would hike up to Alpen Huts, eat and drink (perhaps a bit too much) before heading out and down the mountains after dark. Makes sense to me. I once went night skiing after a surprise Thanksgiving snowfall in Seattle. We slid around the snowy Arboretum slopes well fueled with turkey and copious amounts of wine. It’s no stretch to imagine the same in Switzerland and it’s the purest way to experience the glow of the mountain villages under a massive night sky full of stars.
About that Outdoor Interlaken sled experience
Since 2001, Outdoor Interlaken has been offering all manner of outdoor experiences for the adventurous traveler. John Fauver, an American, Benny Steuri, a Swiss local, and Riaan Mointjes, from Zimbabwe, all ex-guides, opened the company together. In 2009 they purchased and renovated the current storefront that was once a workshop space.
They’re open 7 days a week with activities year round and all within an hour of Interlaken. They offer packages and not only winter sports, there’s water, zip lining, parasailing and other land-based activities.
The Outdoor Interlaken site has great information on what to expect and bring for each of their trips. I was picked up at my hotel and we stopped at the shop to be fitted with gear (for rent.) There’s no need to pack bulky ski pants, boots and gloves when you plan to take a sled to the top of a mountain. Children under 12 need to be with an adult and I’d suggest that those with knee or lower back issues wait at the restaurant to celebrate with the sledding crew.
Interlaken is full of surprises for outdoor adventurists. I’ll never forget walking through the central square as a parasailer descended expertly onto the snow-patched green less than fifty feet from me. That’s an adventure I’ll enjoy from a distance!
If you love movies and dream of attending Academy Awards events, there’s hope. While you might not make it to the red carpet, you can still brush shoulders with the industry’s elite.
I attended two of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science events through the San Diego Cinema Society. There are several ways to toss your hat into the ring to watch the stars as they enter the Awards. Also, it’s not too late to plan a trip for the 90th anniversary of the Oscars in 2018! It’s bound to be one of the biggest galas ever. (See links below.)
My brush with cinematic greatness began modestly early the Saturday before the Academy Awards. Our bus left at 7 am. By 10 my Cinema Society pals and I stepped into the Academy Headquarters, tickets in hand for the Foreign Language Symposium. We had a block of seats reserved in the spacious, plushly red Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Over the next few hours, we were introduced to the directors and their co-directors of the five nominated best Foreign Language Films. It was a tickle to hear about their processes and challenges. I’d only seen one, Tanna, a long-shot for the Oscar, but an unparalleled film. It was shot using solar batteries over the 7 months the director/camera man, his sound editor, and producer-wife lived in a remote village amongst the Tanna Island people. TANNA is available on Netflix.
Tanna Tribe by Charles E. Gordon Frazer (1863-1899) – Bonhams, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17330887
Over the months of filming over 100 hours of footage and endless discussions with the tribe, a story emerged based on an actual event. The Romeo and Juliet tale incorporates an active volcano and no CGI effects. It’s a remarkable film that I’d love to see win the statue. Several of the Tanna villagers attended the Symposium. Seeing them was an experience none of us will forget.
The original Farmers Market in full Mardi Gras mode on a Saturday afternoon
Between the two Symposiums, we rode up to the Central Farmers Market for lunch. Love that place! The historic, open market was percolating with a Mardi Gras vibe. Several bands, cafes, and restaurants competed for our attention.
Hair and Makeup artifacts from Suicide Squad
The Hair and Makeup Symposium opened my eyes to the vast art and hard work it takes to create the creatures as well as age actors for the big screen. Three films were nominated this year: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond, and Suicide Squad. The first ever Oscar winner in this category is Rick Baker who won for his 1982 film, An American Werewolf in London. He stood to wave to the adoring crowd.
The teams behind the nominated films took the stage. Ten-minute clips of each film that the Academy members voted on in the ‘Bake Off’ reels were shown and the session ended with a Q&A from the audience. It was fascinating to hear about the 56 alien creatures designed for Star Trek, the wig-making and prosthetics created for Ove, and the creative inspirations behind the comic book, wild ride film, Suicide Squad.
A few of the prosthetics created for Star Trek Beyond.
I’m already planning on a return trip to soak up more of the grit behind the glitterati that the Academy Awards provide. Maybe I’ll be cheeky enough to take my pictures with the big gold guy.
Want to go to the Academy Awards (and other Academy events)?
Join the lottery for bleacher seats along the red carpet route. The website, The Gold Knight, covers the specifics and offers tips on how to win.
Join the Cinema Society and attend Academy Oscar Week events on a day trip to Hollywood. Join as a member (San Diego, Scottsdale, Arizona’s West Valley) or sign up as a guest. There are probably other groups attending but this is how I reserved a seat at the Foreign Film and Hair/Makeup Symposiums.
Escaped. I turned off the news and fled from work to relax with a few friends and indulge in delicious flavors. The beauty of the Tucson foothills did their best. Leaving the manic world behind, I dove into something extraordinary – a few days exploring a historic luxury resort, the Hacienda del Sol guest ranch.
The entry fountain at the Hacienda Del Sol luxury resort
A little history
In the 1930’s, Josias T. Joesler was hired to design a girls school on the sixty-acre ranch in the foothills outside of Tucson. He built in the authentic Spanish/Mexican adobe style using tile, stone, hand-hewn beams, thick walls set with deep windows. The non-denominational prep school for girls opened with a staff of six teachers with 28 students enrolled.
The girls came from some of the wealthiest American families and most brought their horses to explore the canyons and hills surrounding the Hacienda. The trail riding tradition continues in a more luxury resort style today.
A view of the main hall in the original school wing at the Hacienda del Sol
Tucson is modest about its treasures. Locals don’t boast about being the only UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. They’ve always nurtured their harvests and gardens, and regularly use grains discovered here 4 thousand years ago. My first taste of ancient Mesquite flour was in the cookies waiting for me in my hotel room. They were moist and flakey with a satisfying, grainy texture.
The garden at Hacienda del Sol
In the heart of the resort is a net-draped garden where executive chef, Bruce Yim, nurtures plants and trees for the luxury resort Grill and Terraza Patio restaurants. He incorporates seasonal harvests and regionally sourced greens, beans, dairy, meats and even flowers into his menus. Other botanical garden plots and pots flourish across the resort acres.
The ever-mobile, Executive Chef, Bruce Yim in action
Coffee service in Hacienda del Sol
In January the weather is changeable. I woke to the sunshine, then misty rain, then sweeping clouds turned to rainbows at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Coming from a drought-plagued region, the mists felt wonderful. My pores opened, each breath filled with fresh, rain-washed oxygen. It made my in-room massage all the more profound and I dozed, waking to quiet and then dinner.
The grounds are highlighted with local artist’s work.
On my first evening, I joined friends on a terrace above the golf course with views of the peaks. Craftsmen hand-chiseled each rock for the wall and there was a door-sized mural with a little girl facing a sunset vista. It was a workman’s tribute to his little sister. Personal touches transform so many things at the Hacienda del Sol.
The Director of Wine and Spirits, John Kulikowski, passionately introduced the table to local brews. I grew fond of the Tombstone Whisky and each wine pairing was a discovery. Why didn’t I know about the wineries of Sonoita and Elgin, not far from Tucson? Tastings at the distinctive wineries will be another highlight when I return to Tucson.
One of the Sunday Brunch tables at the Hacienda Del Sol Luxury Resort
At Sunday brunch the waitress generously poured champagne with a colorful splash of blood orange juice. She expertly knew the right proportions and kept them coming. Pastry chef, Cara Valadivia, made certain that tables overflowed with sweets and cakes. Her expertise and the caring staff keep locals returning to fill weekly brunch tables.
Hiking with a naturalist in the wilds near Hacienda del Sol
Saguaro cacti dot the landscape
From luxury resort to wild canyons
All was not indulgence. One morning we hiked along a trail into the river basin with Geoffrey Campbell, Hacienda Del Sol’s resident expert hiker, and Assistant General Manager. While sharing highlights of the history, geology, flora/fauna, he pointed out the secrets of the Saguaro sentinels and why barrel cactus tilt, and learned about the entire Tucson basin. With his help, we spied tracks and spotted a bobcat lair above the whitening remains of a coyote. There are trails across the resort for beginners and advanced hikers can venture into nearby Finger Rock Canyon. Saguaro National Park, with acres of the nation’s largest cacti, is close to Tucson as well.
One view from ridge rooms
The days sped by as I learned more about the area, falling in love with the subtle charms and casual luxury of the Hacienda del Sol.
Between the petite village beauty of Carmel-By-The-Sea and the boardwalk diversions of Monterey lies one of the most iconic drives in the world – California’s 17 Mile Highway. The world class golf resort of Pebble Beach is tucked into that drive. The course is usually reserved there is usually reserved for the members, the wealthy and deep-pocketed international tourists. During tournaments, those willing to watch and party with the world’s best golfers can visit for a pittance of the price to play (about $500, if you can get a reservation.) Otherwise, there’s a guard house entry but that needn’t keep you from visiting whether you play golf or not.
Golf course medallion commemorating the founding of the golf resort.
Nearly a hundred years old, the Pebble Beach Company has flourished through keen sensitivity and observation. Abundant water is a requirement for any golf course. In the 1970’s, a drought clenched water use throughout the state. Long before saving water became trendy the PBC thought about conservation. The efforts paid off and Pebble Beach gracefully sailed through the recent drought after investing millions in a water reclamation plant. Today it supplies all the water necessary to maintain their idyllic panoramas. Golf courses around the world have taken notice.
The 2017 IAGTO Sustainability Award
The PBC was recognized by the IAGTO for Resource Management, specifically for their water and renewable energy projects. The global golf tourism organization celebrates the outstanding sustainability achievements of golf facilities, resorts, and destinations around the world.
Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.
I spoke about the award with David L. Stivers, Executive Vice President, and Chief Administrations Officer. Solar panels built above the maintenance building were part of the accolades. A sophisticated sprinkler system helps avoid flooding in low-lying areas and makes sure sun-drenched spots never turn brown. Going green isn’t onerous, Stivers emphasized, “It’s also good business.”
The Executive Vice President and Chief Administrations Officer, David L. Stivers talks with Elaine Masters about the award and the long-term sustainability efforts at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
David Stivers in the Lodge lobby
At the upcoming AT&T Pro-AM Tournament, thousands of pounds of recyclable materials will stay out of landfills. Pebble Beach Golf Resort is working with partners to make recycling a comfortable part of the event. It’s no simple task with tens of thousands of visitors arriving for the event.
Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.
I’m not a golfer but appreciate golf resort landscapes. Scooting around the greens in a cart on a lightly overcast morning, I peered into a cove where sea lions lolled. Deer were munching near multi-million dollar estates bordering the southern greens. They’re such regular visitors that the staff rarely notices them!
A mobile snack and drink cart visits players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
I asked about where to stop for lunch along the 17 Mile Drive to Monterey. It turns out there aren’t any lunch options along the coast drive, so we opted for a window table overlooking the 18th hole in the Bench Bistro.
The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort
Dirty Harry played here
In 1999 ownership of the resort came back into American hands. Significant among the names on the plaque outside the Bench restaurant (next to the actual bench) is Clint Eastwood, the actor-director who once was the Mayor of Carmel, a long-time resident of the area and a Resort investor.
Extraordinary! Wood-roasted strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort
The sun shot rays through dark clouds as we ate and I saved room for dessert – a wood-roasted, strawberry cobbler. It was served directly from the oven in a small ramekin with a warm, balsamic reduction. A scoop of ice cream melted into the crust. I will never forget how the textures complemented each other, the sweet balanced with the sour, the crunch and the cream. It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation. It was simply perfect.
What a day! To quote a song, “I’ll never be royal,” but for a brief time, I felt like an American aristocrat.
The lodge with the Bench Restaurant lower center.
Can anyone visit Pebble Beach Golf Resort?
Yes, even without a reservation to stay (although the packages may tempt you.) There is a fee to enter but not to park. The website is welcoming, noting that, “While dining at our restaurants, please present your gate receipt to your server. With a purchase of $35, your gate fee will be reimbursed.”
Many thanks to the Pebble Beach Company for hosting our visit and congratulations again on the IAGTO award.
The forecast was dire. Thunderstorms were headed towards Tucson on the day of our planned bike tour. With a bit of juggling, Tucson Bike Tour guide, Jimmy Bultman, quickly switched gears and arranged for us to meet a few hours early. By the end of the ride, we were stuffed with new stories, pictures and made new friends. The sky burst open a few minutes after we rolled into tour headquarters. Lucky break!
In the office courtyard, we met our chariots and adjusted each seat. A few minutes later we were going over the route of historical downtown Tucson.
Ride along in my short YouTube video:
Each of us had a basket or gear bag to store our cameras and a water bottle was attached to each frame. With a self-deprecating sense of humor, Jim gave us an outline and we were off. The city is fairly flat, so riding for hours was easy and I’m no jock.
The Buffet Bar in the Iron Horse neighborhood of Tucson
Central Tucson isn’t that large but encompasses several distinct neighborhoods. Each has its own personality and history. With showers threatening, we kept moving but still had time for questions as Jim shared his expertise and passion for the city. I made mental notes on which spots I wanted to return to – a good bike tour is like that. For one, The Buffet Bar and Crock Pot seemed like a great dive bar. It’s notorious as “The oldest bar in Tucson – since 1934!”
The Iron Horse that connected Tucson to the world. Engine 1673 hauled a million miles of freight and appeared in the 1954 movie ‘Oklahoma.’
The ‘El Jefe’ mural is new in Tucson. It honors one of the two, wild Jaguars that remain in the United States. This one lives in the desert mountains outside of the city.
Just one of the personalized adobe houses in the Barrio Viejo neighborhood.
The entry of Hotel Congress where outlaw Dillinger and gang were arrested. Today, the hip interior hosts great food, reasonable room rates, and performances.
The Tucson Museum of Art
Soldier from Living History day (once a month) in Tucson’s El Presidio de San Agustin
Detail of the Tucson Barrio Viejo Mural on the former site of Lee Ho’s store, which was one of the most important of the local Chinese markets.
Cathedral San Agustin
Congregants pose at the doors of the Cathedral San Agustin
We stopped our bikes at El Tiradito, a little shrine in memory of a ranch hand who was killed due to a romantic involvement with his mother in law!
Tucson has a drive-through liquor store. Nice stop for thirsty bicyclists and our Tucson bike tour host treated us to little bottles of tequila!
Why a bike tour?
Tucson is laid out in the flat basin area above river plains. It makes for an easy bike ride that most anyone can manage. Another reason I’d recommend it is how simple it is to stop whenever you want. There’s no need to search for a parking place, get in and out of the car and traffic in Tucson is light enough to make a bike tour safe.
My favorite destinations make me want to stay longer. Visiting Tucson is like that. One day I’ll return to attend one of the many celebrations, like Dillinger Days and the Jazz Festival. I’ll set up base camp in town then explore the outlying regions; go wine tasting in the prodigious vineyards, to see the old movie sets in Tombstone, hike through the Saguaro National Park and explore nearby Kartchner Caverns.
If you go on a Tucson Bike Tour:
Make a reservation with the office of Tucson Bike Tours. Curated tours and seasonal specials are available.
Adventure, golf, food, and more – flesh out your personalized itinerary with Visit Tucson.
Nothing says elegance and style like oysters and champagne. These are the essential ingredients of any glamorous and extravagant occasion and are bound to bring your experience to a more sophisticated level. Therefore, if you’re looking for fine seafood in Sydney and you want to explore it in style, visit some of the best restaurants to savor the rich flavor of oysters and champagne. After all, who can resist the lure of living in luxury for even a little while?
Not only will Bellevue lure you in with its delicious oysters, but it will also keep you inside as long as you can eat with its special offers. The former Bellevue Hotel was restored and transformed into an elegant restaurant where you can live the high life while spending no more than a dollar per oyster in November. On weekdays, you can save money on large dishes from noon until 6 pm. There’s more – keep in mind the happy hour from 5 pm to 7 pm on weekdays, and time your visit to Bellevue accordingly. Who says that seafood in Sydney has to cost you a fortune?
Have you ever started a day with champagne? If not, Sydney Cove Oyster Bar is the perfect place to try it for the first time. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to have the champagne breakfast in a relaxed atmosphere while enjoying the most spectacular view of the Sydney Harbour. Of course, you should pair up your champagne with delicious, fresh oysters served with various dipping sauces and watermelon. Start by visiting the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar and be in high spirits for the rest of the day.
As a new star among Sydney restaurants, the Morrison Bar and Oyster Room has big shoes to fill, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem. With its stylish ambiance, an extensive oyster library and finest champagne, this bar is swiping its guests off their feet leaving them wanting for more. If you’re lucky enough, grab a seat at the center bar and begin your tastings. The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room offer nearly 30 different types of oysters, so make sure to get there early, because it might take you a while to try them all.
The best way to round up your day of shopping is by relaxing in style at the David Jones Oyster Bar. While waiting for your meal over a glass of champagne in a simple, yet elegant atmosphere, you can watch the chef prepare your fresh oysters. Once you’ve tried Sydney rock oysters, you’ll quickly realize why they are among the world’s best. If you want to try something different, Tetsuya’s dressing makes it a perfect choice. Other options include Mornay and Kilpatrick oysters, which might be a better choice if you like a more regular version.
After visiting many attractions in the Chippendale area, you should also take some time to have a taste of its superb food. Kensington Street Social is just one of the Chippendale restaurants that will charm you in no time. With its elegantly presented oysters and champagne, be prepared for a truly sophisticated experience. The menu features many delicious options, including native rock oysters served with cucumber, chamomile and gin pickle that you can either have as a snack or share with two or more people when dining with company. Of course, the experience wouldn’t be complete without a glass of a bubbly. Fortunately, Kensington Street Social offers a range of the best French champagnes.
While visiting Sydney, don’t miss the opportunity to explore its luxurious side. With their most delicious oysters and finest champagne, seafood in Sydney is definitely the crème de la crème.
About the author
Marie Nieves is a lifestyle blogger who loves unusual trips, gadgets and creative ideas. On her travels, she likes to read poetry, prose and surfing the Internet. Her favorite writer is Tracy Chevalier and she always carries one of her books in her bag. An avid lover of photography, Marie loves to talk about her experiences. You can find Marie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.
Thank you, Marie, for introducing us to these luxurious options for seafood in Sydney.
Salud! Glasses and conversation clicked. Three of us were deep into happy hour at Baja Betty’s in San Diego but the talk was all about our travels on the other side of the border. I’m fortunate to live close to Mexico and wander there as often as I can. Not one to skip an opportunity to dine deliciously and commiserate with fellow foodies, the year ended with a spontaneous escape to join a party full of Baja wine and food.
The field behind La Cocina de Dona Esthela
Our van from San Diego rumbled down a dirt road and into the parking lot of Dona Esthela’s Cocina in the midst of the Valle Guadalupe. We tumbled out after the two-hour ride, stretching as we wandered to the backyard, past the small group of men tending to outdoor grills and paused at the field fence where a small cadre of pigs, cows, and geese wandered.
Dona Esthela’s is always morphing (Read about her accomplishments in this earlier post.) On this morning several workers were demolishing the old latrines. The new ones, shiny with their fresh tile, were open across the yard just steps from the dining patio. As she has many times over the past decade, it appears that Dona Esthela’s home restaurant is expanding again. It was Monday and the restaurant was closed to the public while a celebration of Baja wine and food was in progress.
Dona Esthela and her Sonoran Chicken
Beans, Machaca, fresh tortillas, salsa and cheese.
Well into the afternoon we were feted with platters of Dona Esthela’s famous machaca, grilled pork, spiced chicken and endless bowls of gravy-like pinto beans to slather over toasty-warm tortillas. Most of us started drinking well before noon. It would’ve been impolite not to! Wine bottles were cradled like favorite sons as vineyard owners appeared in the doorway and were ushered in with hugs and back slaps. Throughout the day they came and departed, their bottles uncorked and prized vintages savored. Soon a chorus line of empties stood near the door.
Largesse brought me there. Fernando Gaxiola, the founder of Baja Wine and Food, is a master at curating experiences. This time he ushered a small group across the border but not before picking up four ‘special guests’ – pinatas – from a house outside of Tijuana’s Zona Rio.
Chef Andrew Spurgin and ‘friends.’
After our meal, we stepped into the covered patio to swing and cheer as the pinatas were demolished. Surprisingly enough my American compatriots swung hardest. There was no rancor from our hosts about the pinata model. In fact, one of the vintners said,”Kicking Mexicans out of the Napa Valley? Fine, come to the Valle. We have jobs here.”
Spooning on the deck at Cuatro Cuatros.
Sunset at Cuatro Cuatros
The day wore on in sweet companionship then we piled into the van to ride back to San Diego, but not without another treat engineered by Fernando and company. On a hillside above the wide Pacific, through a gated arch we rode into the Cuatro Cuatros property, less than ten miles north of Ensenada. Sunset was racing to its conclusion and soon gilded everyone at the platform bar.
Monte Xanic Gran Ricardo
Cuatro Cuatros tentalows
A few ‘very special bottles’ emerged alongside shots of Mescal. The views from the bar swept south to Ensenada and far north. Not far from where I stood, rows of swanky tents waited for guests to tuck in for the night. I look forward to resting there one day and waking to the sunrise glimmering on the waves below. This time, however, it was reward enough to have my Sentri pass help me cross the border swiftly. I was home in time to share tales of my Baja wine and food adventure with my family before bedtime.
Wine tasting at Cuatros Cuatros on the coast in Baja, Mexico
A sip of a ginger-infused cocktail, a mouthful of deeply spiced Machaca whose flavors swell with each bite, a glance spurred by the scent of clove cigarettes – all smells, sounds, and tastes. Often that’s all we need to flashback to a place and time. Tasty food adventures are like that.
My life is gratefully marked with delicious and audacious bites and sips, but this year has been especially full. Most often eating well is more memorable because of the ambiance and the company – it’s an alchemy of sorts. Taste also becomes the marker of a location on an emotional level. A flood of sensations and memories may flash to mind from months ago. The following foods do that for me. I hope you enjoy the feast too.
Tasty food adventures in Switzerland
I took off for Switzerland in early spring after scoring a ridiculously low airfare through a Cyber Monday airline sale. The flight went from LAX to London and then onto Geneva. Over ten days I wandered alone, mostly via Swiss Rail Pass, and always looking to eat the local specialties.
My Alpen Hut dinner at Cafe des Alpes
One of the first stops was in Interlaken. I arrived as a light snow was falling and sloshed to my hotel. As the day darkened, the weather lifted and I ventured into the village ending up in a bright Swatch store full of colorful displays and a friendly staff. The manager recommended the Cafe Des Alpes for dinner as it was on my walk back to the hotel and reasonably priced. What made the meal spectacular was a rich combination of luxuries. My ‘Alpen Hut’ plate was a small but overflowing skillet with ‘jugged’ deer, spaetzle, the most delicious spiced cabbage, mushrooms and hazelnuts all topped with a petite, stewed pear. As I finished and the empty plate was whisked away, the waiter set a bottle of Pear Schnapps on my table with a shot glass and left. It didn’t take me long to indulge in an aperitif or two. Luckily the hotel was a short walk away!
A visitor to our car on the Glacier Express!
I wouldn’t have thought that a memorable food adventure could be had by train but that’s what I encountered on the famous Glacier Express. I sat at a table in the first class car when dinner was served. The meal was delicious but not outstanding. What was astounding though was the waitress stopping by with Schnapps (again!) and filling a tray of glasses in the middle of the train with a flourish, without spilling a drop! Looking up a few moments later into the face of a reindeer had me thinking I was drunk but it was just the gift cart dressed to impress.
The Philippines – Kalui Garden and Haim Chicken
After diving for several days in the Sula Sea, my guy, Dave, and I explored Puerto Princesa with two nights in a modest inn off the main road to the airport. One day we stepped off the dusty street into an artistically decorated restaurant, the Kalui Garden.
Inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa
Once instructed to leave our sandals by the door, we were led to seats next to the garden. Our first meal there was family style and plates of chili crabs, prawns and fish soon filled the little bamboo table. The fruit salads served in half coconut shells became our favorite lunch over the next few days.
The Wood Worm dish
One day we rode out of town for a short canoe ride into the Mangroves. Our guide pointed out tropical birds and lizards, then held up a bumpy stick and explained that monkeys like to eat the mangrove roots, especially when they find wood worms inside. The worms are also a local specialty for humans. You guessed it, I had to find them before leaving town. We checked several places before finding Haim Chicken where they dispatched a waiter to stand by to help us eat the long mollusks. Here’s a short video about the meal:
They were served raw and tasted something like oysters but when chewed the dark wood taste flavor escaped. It was a tasty food adventure I’d regret missing but they must be an acquired taste!
Appetizer in Drew Deckman’s, ElMojor
Tasty food adventures in Mexico
Living in San Diego makes venturing into Baja a relatively easy day trip. I’ve been going back and forth for years and always enjoy discovering new places to eat. There are so many in Tijuana – Mission 19, the bullfighter’s hangout near the Grand Hotel, Talle with their menu of ‘pizzas.’ A bit further south and east is the Valle de Guadalupe, a rich vineyard region with high and low dining options. I confess to visiting more wineries than restaurants, so my favorites don’t come out of exhaustive research. However, I will never forget lunch at Drew Deckman’s outdoor cafe, El Mojor.
El Mojor, Chef Drew Deckman’s Valle de Guadalupe destination
Originally from Georgia, Drew spent years in Europe and was awarded a Michelin star in Germany for his culinary prowess. Lucky for us that he’s settled in the Valle. El Mojor is lovely and unassuming with tables set along shaded patios. Drew cooks at a traditional outdoor grill. A few lucky diners grab one of the few seats at the grill to watch the maestro more closely. I will return to savor more of Deckman’s magic.
La Cocina de Dona Esthela
Down a dirt road at the base of a hill in the Valle there’s a famous ranch house. A pair of stone columns mark the entrance to La Cocina de Dona Esthela. I had the honor to join a small group venturing from San Diego to present her award from Foodie Hub for the Best Breakfast in the World! Inside the house is a large patio and a living room set with small tables. A few years ago Telenovella stars, filming at the nearby Lomita winery, brought their friends and spread the word online about Dona Esthela’s cooking. The rest of us venture in for her delicious Sonoran Machaca, grilled meats, fresh cheese, and beans. Meats are cooked long in her famous spices and served in large portions. Scooping up the mixes in warm, fresh tortillas with a dollop of saucy beans and a spoonful of salsa remains high in my foodie memory.
Duckfoot Brewery Bar
San Diego: Duckfoot Brewery
San Diego has an ever-rotating palette of tasty food adventures for diners and drinkers. I could rhapsodize about the beers (Current favorite: Duckfoot Choco Nut Lust, their Chocolate Hazelnut Porter which, as with all their beers, happens to be gluten free.)
Waste Not Pop Up Dinner: Opah meatballs, granola greens, white and red sangria.
The Red Door
The Waste-Not Pop-Up dinner at The Red Door restaurant was one of my year’s most notable and tasty events. Read my full review of it here. Joining a group of passionate, sustainably-minded diners was special in itself. Having Chef Miguel Valdez present a menu full of stem-to-root, nose-to-tail ingredients was a treat. I’m a fan of whatever he cooks and that night, eating to support the Food System Alliance was doubly delicious.
A bit of the Campfire experience in Carlsbad.
Campfire in Carlsbad
I’m not one for making a big deal out of my birthday. This year I picked a well-known restaurant in San Diego for a dinner with family and a few friends. It will remain nameless for the over-priced, hasty presentations and tiny portions. However, the evening before I experienced the new venue, Campfire in Carlsbad with a girlfriend and that is an experience I won’t forget. Launched recently by John Resnick, who’s behind many of downtown San Diego’s trendiest eateries, the large space has indoor and patio dining alongside a small campfire, of course for smores, and a full-sized teepee for the little ones. The dishes, each presented with care, overflow with smoky goodness from the oak flame grill overseen by chef Andrew Bachelier, of Addison and Cucina Enoteca fame. The cocktails nod to tradition, while anything but ordinary. My favorite dish was the grilled Kabocha Squash with its spiced yogurt sauce and mustard seed relish. Splendid. This is one tasty food adventure I look forward to repeating.
The renewed storefront on the 600 block of Broadway, Los Angeles
Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles
Clifton’s Cafeteria reopened last year in Los Angeles Downtown district and it’s one of the most delightful, tasty food adventures I’ve had. It will be hard to top, especially now that the new speakeasy-style, Tiki-inspired, Paradise Lounge has opened. Get there early as they lift the rope to the upstairs entry to score a seat at the bamboo tables and just soak up that ambiance! There are historical and creative touches throughout, including an Italian Vaporetta speedboat jutting out from the bar. The cafeteria menu features new and retro dishes. All are simply prepared and very tasty.
Friends with Rick Bayless at Lena Brava
Laminados dish at Lena Brava
Lena Brava – Chicago
It was a lark to make our way to the opening of Rick Bayless’ newest restaurant, Lena Brava, in Chicago. The restaurant pays homage to the culinary arts and sustainable seafood of Mexico. Experiencing Rick’s family and team’s take on fresh ingredients, wood grilling, and mescal cocktails is an experience worth visiting Chicago for. Bayless is committed to quality on every level and is admirably training young chefs to manage and run his venues. That’s evidence of wise expertise and grand heart. Go.
Lunch during our Texas trail ride
Tasty food from a saddlebag
Texas. Never thought I’d visit but all my preconceptions evaporated over the week I spent driving through the small towns and the vast spaces of the western region. The people were so generous and kind, and the natural beauty knocked me out, mainly because we drove through after the late summer rains when wildflowers pop and fresh green blankets expanses. The trip was heavy on experience and my favorite was a saddle-ride through the mesas and canyons of the Lajitas Resort lands. My sister and I rode for hours with our guide, Kelly, mosying through the range north of the Rio Grande. Lunch was a surprise as we stopped in a box canyon to rest the horses. A welcome spread of roasted chicken and corn salad, rolls and cookies appeared from Kelly’s saddle bags.
Tagging wild abalone.
An Abalone Feast and Walnut Roll Indulgence
I just can’t omit two other tasty food adventures, although these came out of my home kitchen. We dug two, fat, wild Abalone out of the freezer for Christmas dinner. Dave caught them free-diving in the frigid waters north of Mendocino. Preparing them is a big job – digging the flesh out of the shell, slicing off the foot muscle, cutting the meat into oval steaks and pounding them into tender slices. Cooking is the easy part and if done carefully, in two minutes you have lightly encrusted buttery Abalone steaks.
Mother Helen, proud with her creation.
We finished with Potica for dessert, my mother’s traditional walnut roll, that I’ve finally mastered. After years of killing yeast in every loaf or pastry, I managed this year’s well enough. The dough rose, the filling of walnuts, dates, cinnamon, orange zest and honey was spread. My son helped me roll it up carefully and lift the bulky roll into the pan. The sweet treat has been enjoyed by many, sent across the country, and a few slices are preserved in the freezer for the next family gathering. It’s a much-loved and tasty food adventure from the Slovenian Women’s Union Cookbook that my mother brought west with her from Minnesota in the 1940’s. The pages are loose but I treasure it as a connection to that generation and the old country, my relative’s home in Croatia.
Quite a year!
All these tasty food adventures have definitely impacted my waistline but that’s a temporary setback I don’t regret. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tasty food adventures.
The weather was unseasonably warm for Christmastime in Philadelphia. I unzipped the padded liner on my coat and joined the family for an outing to Longwood Gardens. We’d procrastinated and bought our tickets the day before – grabbing a few of the last. The crush of crowds is kept to a minimum with numbers limited on the property at a time.
What makes Longwood Gardens such a hot ticket for the holidays?
Spread out over 1,077 acres, Pierre du Pont (Yes, of the famous Dupont family) built one of the greatest gardens in the world in the 1920’s. In winter it’s especially tantalizing with thousands of light displays spread across limbs and roots, across bridges and around fountains. But I think that the vast labyrinth of Conservatory buildings are the real treasure.
Boiler room of Longwood Gardens worked to warm the Conservatories into the 1960’s
A plaque on one Conservatory entrance reads:
“Longwood Gardens is the living legacy of Pierre S. du Pont, inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education and the arts.”
I was unprepared for the impact that walking through the dark and acres of trails would have on me. The night was chilly for a Southern Californian but mercifully still. As we strolled, children and families chattered, giggled and strode by. Some brought flashlights but I was glad we didn’t; preferring to let my eyes adjust to the dark and splashes of illuminated color.
Poinsettia display inside one of the Longwood Gardens conservatories.
At one point, four G-scale trains wound over a 17 foot steel bridge, past a 5-foot wide waterfall, and past miniature Longwood landmarks. The landmarks are built from natural materials – roof tiles are laid of magnolia leaves and there are handrails of honeysuckle vines.
Longwood lights miniature train building
Du Pont in his Banana House
A Banana House for Philadelphia
Mr. du Pont had a passion for growing fruit indoors – including tropical crops. Just after the Conservatory was opened in 1921, the Banana House was one of many areas where he grew fruit for his employees, friends and family. In 1983 the space was reduced to expand the Orchid House. How times and priorities have changed. A plaque near the entrance is inscribed:
To Pierre Samuel DuPont and presented by the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for his ‘generous and unselfish service.”
Inside one Longwood Lights conservatory
The main house was closed that evening but we spent a few minutes listening to an organist as he brought the historical pipes to life. The space inside the Conservatory was warm and rows of chairs inviting. As the music lifted up to the lofty glass ceiling above us, our spirits rose in kind. It was a bittersweet moment – remembering the lyrics and mumbling along, remembering loved ones gone and missing, remembering childhood and how special this time of year was and remains. Misty eyed, hearts full of the spirit of the season, we left soon after to drive back to central Philadelphia.
Annabel Brut is named after the Europa Village owner’s effervescent mother, Annabel Stephenson
Those in the know go! It shouldn’t be a secret but in the rolling hills of Southern California, well east of the coast, Temecula wineries are making a scene. Private wine clubs, live music, restaurants, villas, spas and abundant tastings are uncorked throughout the growing region. I’ve visited several times over the past few years and always return home impressed and a bit buzzed by the beauty (and yes, the tippling.)
There are two Temecula wineries that stunned me recently – Mount Palomar and Europa Village. Over one slowly paced day, I joined a small group of foodies to sip and eat, walk and marvel at all that’s been created and is on the drawing boards.
Since 1969 the Mount Palomar winery has been garnering awards. The public vineyards are full of trails. We sauntered through the gates, past stone fountains and flower beds to a large building open to views of the countryside. Inside Anata Bistro and Bar, an open and appealing space, the chef offers a rotating, seasonal menu. In late fall, two cocktails with ingredients from the garden as well as the vine made it to our tables. The Pomegranate Martini was slightly sweet above a flourish of the signature red seeds. The Ginger Crush was muddled with a basil garnish and vanilla bean simple syrup.
An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro
Lunch was inspired by Meditteranean cuisine as we were feted with appetizer plates full of hummus, marinated olives, and crostini. Steak and fries, lamb and beef kebabs, salads and various flatbreads soon covered the table. No one was going hungry and I can’t wait to return with family.
Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room
Prepping our tummies with food was a good strategy as we next stepped into the barrel room to meet the vintner, James Rutherford. He tapped tall, stainless casks with flair and then swept us out to the Solara where Sherry casks were aging in the open sun! The cream sherry process at Mount Palomar is based on Moroccan, then Spanish traditions before it was brought to California in the days of the Conquistadors. Stepped rows of wooden casks cook for five years in the sun before being bottled! It was a surprising set up for this wine fan!
Special Offer: Enjoy a Temecula winetasting at Mount Palomar winery
Inside the gates of the Europa Village Winery is a gracious world. Taking cues from Old World wineries, there are inviting gardens with shaded sitting areas, a comfortable patio, tasting room and gift store adjacent to a long Pergola, sheltering tables reserved for wine club members and events. Beyond all that grapevines flick their broad leaves in the sun.
The planned Europa Village Spanish, Italian and French-inspired wineries
Europa Village is becoming even more idyllic as the John Goldsmith, the General Manager, described the vineyard’s future. A grand villa is already open for guests but, over the coming years, a true village has been laid out. Soon luxury accommodations and three wineries featuring grapes and wine-making styles from France, Spain and Italy will be complete. Europa Village is a destination already but the future developments will have wine tasting fans flocking to the Temecula wineries to stay for days.
It takes a community
Over the last century, the region has had its challenges. Wineries have changed hands with the fluxuating economy. They’ve closed and then opened in new configurations. Infestations once decimatdecades-old vines. Today growers work together to alert each other of any signs of blight. Developers have attempted re-zoning the relatively affordable acerage. A passionate association of residents, winery owners, vineyard owners and affiliated businesses has grown to form the Protect Temecula Wine Country Association. They are actively working to preserve the wine making and rural atmosphere of the area for the future.
My day visiting Temecula wineries ended too swiftly but knowing how close to Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego the region is. It won’t be long before I’ll return with friends. How lovely it is to taste and meander amongst the relaxing and beautiful Temecula wineries.
Visiting Switzerland solo was a leap for this tropics lover. I arrived in the midst of winter with my pack full of warm clothes and an over-flowing itinerary. Of all the places I looked forward to seeing, Chaplin’s World was high on the list.
Celebrities have always flocked to Switzerland. Charlie Chaplin ended up there almost by accident. While in Europe promoting his silent classic, Limelight, London-born Chaplin received a forboding telegram. America was in the midst of the McCarthy era. He would be banned from returning to the United States unless he testified before the House on Un-American Activities. He refused, saying, “I’m not going back.”
Eugene Chaplin remembers that his father was considering property in Southern France with it’s temperate climate. However he fell in love with the beauty of the Geneva region. After purchasing a 13-acre property facing the Alps, Manoir de Ban became the family home for the rest of Chaplin’s life.
“We love Switzerland more and more each day.” Charlie Chaplin wrote in a letter to Clifford Odetts, 1954.
More than sixteen years ago Michael Chaplin, the oldest son, told Yves Durand and Philippe Meyland, that the home was going to be sold. The architect and designer soon convinced the family to turn it into a museum. Today personal archives full of mementos, costumes and props are preserved in displays. The family dining table is set for dinner. Chaplin’s movie studio is intact and has been enlarged. Most innovative are the mannequins fashioned laboriously in Madame Tussaud style and placed strategically throughout. Charlie Chaplin is reincarnated. Wax actors stand in front of scenes from his silent films. Visitors can stand next to Oona Chaplin and Charlie in their private screening room. Everything is designed to be touched, to be photographed.
Video from the opening of Chaplin’s World.
Unfortunately, the museum opened after I left Switzerland, but on a chilly December night in Hollywood, I met Eugene Chaplin in the Raleigh studios where his father, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks worked under contract.
Eugene Chaplin speaking in the Chaplin Theater inside Raleigh Studios
Eugene spoke about his father’s perfectionism. The piano where Chaplin composed music for his silent films, still sits in the living room. A folding movie screen was set up and scenes were projected repeatedly until Chaplin felt the music was a perfect match. It was a ground-breaking transcription process for film music.
Me and Eugene Chaplin at Raleigh Studios
Of all Eugene’s stories this one makes me want to explore Chaplin’s World more than ever: A visitor told Eugene that her young son was a big Chaplin fan. Eugene asked which movie was his favorite. It’s not the movies, she replied, “He’s a fan because of the museum.”
Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith 1919, on the day they signed contracts with United Artists
“The Tramp never had a home,” Michael Chaplin has said. Today he has.
Strains of the music from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ swirled around me as I stepped into Knotts Merry Farm all decked out for the holidays. Memories flooded in. I’ve always loved theme parks. Riding rollercoasters, seeing shows and running around with family and friends was easy growing up in Southern California. Knotts Berry Farm was fun no matter what age and visiting the fun park kicked my holiday spirit into overdrive.
Photo Opp with Snoopy
Snoopy and I go way back. As a young graphic designer I worked for Determined Productions adapting the beloved Charles Shulz characters for toys and accessories. Snoopy and Woodstock were the most popular and I met them once again in the fun park.
Snoopy dances in the holiday show!!
Knotts started in the 1930’s when Mrs. Knott started serving home-fried chicken and berry pies for pennies to locals. The home kitchen expanded, the hybrid Boysenberry was discovered and grown on the farm and Mr. Knott built a small ‘ghost town’ to entertain visitors while preserving local history. It’s all still there, if you look.
Mrs. Knott cooking.
Boysenberries are still grown on a memorial plot inside the park but today kids run around Camp Snoopy, teenagers get their thrills on towering rollercoasters, adults do too when they’re not taking in the Ghost Town sights and shops. Trains, stage coach rides and saloon shows run all day.
During the holiday season a tall Pine tree stands decorated in the main square and each evening at dusk a small crowd draws near. Carolers, dressed in Victorian garb, cover the stage. A ‘sheriff’ steps up to the microphone to address the good people and signals the lighting of the tree. It’s a lovely ritual in the middle of the fun park.
Here’s a short video of the fun park:
Snoopy dances and serenades families in a holiday show running November 19th to January 8th. There’s hot cider and chocolate in Santa’s Barn (and a fortified version for the grownups!) but most families gather for snow. Each evening right on schedule it falls from overhead. Even in warm Southern California the wintry spirit of the holidays perseveres.
The show inside the Mystery Lodge is a thrilling nod to Native Americans who once lived nearby.
Ride the train through the Calico Mine
One thing I discovered is how affordable Knotts Merry Farm is compared to other parks. It makes sense that families and friends of all ages filled the fun park. Entrance is less than half of the other giant theme park near by and the experience is less crowded and more intimate.
Discount tickets can be found online and inside the California Welcome Center (see links below.) Housed in a historic building on the original stage coach line, it’s worth a visit on it’s own. There are tours, maps, brochures and ticket specials for all the Buena Park activities.
Photo opp outside the historical California Visitors Center Buena Park
Whatever the reason or season, I look forward to visiting Snoopy again and eating more of Mrs. Knott’s famous berry pie in the fun park, Knotts Berry Farm.
Links for visiting the fun park, Knotts Berry Farm
For a solo woman in India, travel safety may be a concern. Are the fears real or manufactured? I explored the question with JD Viharini, an American who has traveled through India for decades and calls it home. With education and some cultural understanding she feels that safe travels for women, solo or not, can be enjoyed across India.
JD’s extensive travels throughout the country have been mostly solo, by first class or, as she says, sardine class plus everything in between. She earned her masters degree in Vedic Studies and now, to encourage travelers, has released a new book, ”Travel fearlessly in India, what every woman should know about personal safety.” We connected via the internet to talk about her tips for safe travels and how to enjoy India.
Did you grow up traveling to exotic lands? What inspired you to travel?
I grew up in California and never went farther than Canada and Mexico until I took off to hitchhike around Europe at the age of 18. When I was growing up, I read National Geographic cover to cover every month, longing to visit all those exotic lands. Later, when I was in my 20s, I lived in Europe for several years.
Pushkar rider – Photo: Achilles Mind, Trover
How did you become enamored with Indian culture?
I learned Transcendental Meditation when I was in college, and since Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the TM movement, was from India and there were other Indians around, I got exposed to the culture and was charmed by it. I had long wanted to visit the Himalayas, though it was many years before I was able to do so.
From the first time I came to India, I felt at home with the culture. In some ways, I feel more at home in India than I do in the US. I love the people here. And India is one of the most fascinating places in the world.
What do you mean by ‘fearless travel’?
Good question. Being fearless in this context means freedom from that useless kind of fear of something that hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen; the kind of fear that holds us back for no reason, that keeps us from traveling and doing the things we’d like to do. Knowledge is the best weapon against this kind of fear and that’s what this book is about.
What are some of the differences between Indian and Western men in relation to women?
That’s a pretty complex question. Generally, there is a lot more separation between the sexes in India than in the West. Indian men are taught to keep their distance from women they aren’t related to or married to. Western women, however, are often considered to be different, especially since we are much more open to being friendly to men we don’t know or have just met. It’s also because many Indians are seriously misinformed about Western women because of the media. For the majority of men, all they know about us is what they see in the movies, too many of which portray us as ready and eager sex objects.
How important is dress when you travel in India?
It’s really important because it has everything to do with respect for the culture as well as respect you receive from those you meet. Respect is one of the most important factors of Indian culture. If you are respectful of others and you look like a person deserving respect, you are less likely to be harassed.
Indians attach considerable importance to dress, but having clothes that are neat and clean and sufficiently modest are the most important things. I usually wear a fairly long kurta over straight pants.
To my surprise, I’ve had two or three Indian men come up to me at one time or another and thank me for dressing so modestly! Someone else recently told me she had a similar experience.
JD in front of the Taj Mahal
So what’s the best way to dress for safe travels?
Although I recommend trying some Indian clothes if for no other reason than they are usually far more comfortable than Western ones, it’s by no means a requirement. It’s fine to wear Western clothes, but it’s important to wear them in a way that honours the local standards of modesty. While that varies in different places, there are some general guidelines that I’ve described in my book so you don’t have to rethink it all the time. Otherwise, you would need to pay attention to what the majority of the locals wear in any given place, not what the tourists wear. There can be a huge, huge difference, especially in places like Goa, where you may see foreigners in bikinis side by side with Indian women swimming fully dressed.
Like travel experts everywhere, I advise people not to dress like a tourist.
Avoid the souvenir t-shirts and hats and bags, as well as those cheap clothes that are designed solely for the tourist market that Indians almost never wear. Keep your eyes open and you will soon see what I mean.
We all know that men should behave themselves and control their wayward impulses, but it’s obvious that many men everywhere in the world simply don’t—and they come up with all sorts of specious excuses for their bad behavior. That’s why we have to be proactive about protecting ourselves.
My book is all about safety. It’s not a handbook for activists who want to change the culture. And it’s not for outsiders to impose change, anyway. But I have to mention that although some women undoubtedly feel oppressed by having to cover up completely, it’s important to understand that not all women are desirous of wearing Western clothes, especially revealing ones like shorts and bikinis and miniskirts. Many women feel empowered by covering up rather than by uncovering. It’s important to honor and accept the cultural differences. There is no one ‘right’ culture, and the idea that every woman should be able to wear anything she wants anywhere is not a universal.
JD’s home in Ladakh
Is it different to travel in one area or Indian city over another?
It’s not like there is a single, homogeneous culture in India. In fact, India has the most diversified culture of any country in the world. There are around 125 different languages, and each one has cultural differences associated with it, some of which are pretty extreme. One of the biggest challenges about writing my books has been finding the commonalities that apply to most of those cultures.
It is said that whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also. But still, it’s possible to generalize to a certain extent. Most of India is quite conservative, though more so in rural areas than cities. Delhi and Mumbai are cities that encompass the whole range of values and behaviours because people come there from all over. The South is generally much more relaxed than the North. And there are parts of India that are under Indian rule but much different than the rest of the country, like Ladakh, whose culture is more Tibetan than Indian. Although the culture is different, there are similarities; while the style of dress is different, it’s no less modest than other parts of India.
What do western women need to know about eye contact with men in India?
In general, it’s best to avoid eye contact with Indian men. It’s usually regarded as flirting, which is seen as an open invitation to intimacy. In other words, unless you want to end up in bed with a guy, it’s best to refrain from flirting with him.
You have a chapter on Crowdsourcing but you mean something far different than raising funds for travel.
I discuss crowdsourcing as reaching out to people around you for help if you are being harassed. Of course, since there is so much variability in the culture and in any given situation, there’s no one right answer. For instance, in a situation where some guy gropes you on a crowded bus, one way to handle it is to loudly call him out to make sure everyone knows what he’s up to, like: “Hey, you in the red shirt, get your hands off me!” While you might be tempted to respond physically, it’s often not the best way to handle it. And if you specifically need help, single someone out for it, don’t just ask in a general way.
Would you recommend a solo woman traveler go to India now?
Absolutely! There are plenty of fear mongers in the world who would advise women not to go, but they have a strong tendency to be overcautious. I have been in places with US State Department warnings in effect and found nothing to justify them. You need to talk to locals to find out what the situation really is in any given place. Maybe there was some isolated incident that triggered the warnings.
Being careful and avoiding known trouble spots is important to insure safe travels, but that’s true anywhere.
By known trouble spots, I don’t mean, say, Delhi or Mumbai, which are huge cities where you can certainly find trouble if you decide to throw caution to the winds. I’m referring to areas where there is a lot of unrest and conflict. For instance, Srinagar and certain other parts of Kashmir are not at the moment the most peaceful places to visit, and the general state of unrest could put one at risk.
Occasionally, you will read some report about a tourist who was raped in India. The odds of getting assaulted back home (in the US) are actually far, far higher.
There are several every year, and they all make the headlines in a big way. They are terrible incidents, yes, but what no one thinks about is the fact that considering the number of women wandering around India at any given time, there are relatively very few. The odds of getting assaulted back home (in the US) are actually far, far higher. In any case, I make a point of keeping up with the news, I’ve found that the majority of those attacks could have been avoided with a little more knowledge, forethought and alertness. I’m certainly not blaming the victims. But every female needs to know how to avoid risky situations for safe travels. We all need to understand what constitutes a risky situation, and we also need to know what to do if we find ourselves in a tough spot despite our best efforts.
There are places in India that are amazingly safe. I’m currently living in a remote village in the Himalayas that is so safe that I can walk home alone at night on a deserted road with no fear. At least, there is no need to worry about being bothered by people, as the men here tend to be very well behaved, although leopards and packs of dogs could be a concern.
It’s really no more difficult to have safe travels in India than anywhere else. It requires knowledge and alertness.
Knowledge is empowering, which is why I’d like to see every woman traveling to India reading my book. Share this pin and help your fellow travelers!
“Travel Fearlessly in India, What Every Woman Should Know About Personal Safety” is a remarkably comprehensive, sensible, and astute book that’s packed full of perceptive information, tips and strategies. It covers everything from the mindsets of Indian men and how they conduct themselves to what you need to do if you have to go to the police. It’s a book every female should read, and reread, before traveling to India. — Sharell Cook, India Travel Expert.
Follow JD’s travels (and her insights about the currency crisis in India this November) on her blog, Enjoying India.
I hope you found this interview helpful and will share your thoughts in the comments below. Also, share this pin and help your sister travelers!
Detail of one mural in the Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas
Brake for Turkey Vultures, Javelinas and Auodads
Americana, escape and wide open places – West Texas is good for what ails the urban spirit. I didn’t know how far gone I was until silence swamped me at a roadstop. A literal road stop. Just before entering Big Bend National Park, I couldn’t help but stop the car in the middle of the road and run out. On a rock cropping, as if posed for a John Huston western, at least a dozen black Turkey Vultures swooped and sat. There were no cars for miles until a Park Ranger pulled his rig close and cautioned us to pull over. The last thing he needed was a pair of tourist road kills.
Several times we did pull over for Javelinas. First we sped past an almond shaped creature who stood about four feet wide in the road. By the time we’d turned around he’d disappeared. They were good at staying out of camera range but I offer this picture, taken near Lajitas by the resort guide. The family of Javelinas, which are related to Pecaries, were in a canyon just beyond her home.
Javelina family spied near Lajitas
Auodads, large brown sheep, were imported into Texas after WW2 when soldiers returned from Africa. They’d learned what a delicious game animal they were. They also quickly learned that Auodads were not easy to keep. The animals escaped the original ranches and have flourished in the wild across West Texas.
One night in Lajitas, I looked out to the silhouette of a craggy mountain across the Rio Grande. The rocks moved! It was too far to capture on camera but there was a large four footed animal on the crest. I like to think it was an Auodad and so my only sighting.
Trip Planner Tip 1:
Research your options. The best we had for our road trip was a loose schedule. Lodging was set but how to get there and what to see was left up to us. It’s too easy to say that West Texas has something for everyone. I look for the off-beat, the historical quirks, the local hangouts that are usually just off the tourist radar. I’ve learned to surrender to the fact that you can’t see everything but look for the things that bring you joy and you’ll return home the happier.
The original El Caminio Real lobby
Dig into El Paso
El Paso brims with energy, history and revitalization. The city is easier to visit than ever with new flights at the El Paso International Airport. At this writing, five major airlines fly in and out. Of all the treasures we discovered, discovering El Paso was our road trip gold nugget. The city is full of urban delights – a restaurant and craft beer scene, theater, classic architecture and contemporary upgrades, sports, concerts, plus outdoor adventures nearby and the percolating exchanges of a long history with Mexico, just across a bridge from downtown. Read more about it in this post.
Enjoying the Balmorea Pool
Splash down in Balmorea
It’s not just the Tex Mex peppers, West Texas gets hot. The summers can be brutal and scorching. It was still warm when we visited in late September, after the monsoons passed, but comfortable. The idea of leaving downtown El Paso and diving into a natural spring pool less than 3 hours away, thrust us into the greening countryside early on our third morning in Texas.
The BIG Pool:
Part of the sweeping 1930’s New Deal plan brought workers to West Texas where the Civilian Conservation Corps built Balmohea State Park. Nearly eighty years later families, tourists and courting couples cool off in the waters of the ‘World’s Largest Spring Fed Swimming Pool.’ The depth goes from about three feet to nearly thirty and the water shelters small fish plus a feathery green growth coating the bottom. The fish were cute, the green slime bothered me, but the pool was clear and cooling. The reservoir is so unnusual that it’s a Texas Aquatic Science Certified Field Site and school field trips make good use of that in their curriculum. The idea that nearby fracking might impact the water tweaks my heart but it’s still in discussion across the region.
Trip Planner tip 2:
Don’t miss the drive from Balmorea to Fort Davis along Route 17. You could blast through in a half hour but leave time to meander and gawk. The canyon road is lined with rugged cliffs and on the afternoon we drove, sweetly devoid of big trucks that dog the main highways. It’s a short 32.4 mile drive but consider pulling over to hike or picnic.
The Drug Store Counter in Fort Davis
This small town is a find. The narrow main street hosts a few gift shops and small hotels. We stayed upstairs in the Drug Store in a large two, queen bed room with our own bath. Downstairs the old time drug store counter menu offers ice cream and milk shakes. A chorus line of round topped, red leather stools fronts the counter and wooden booths fill the dining room. The cash register sits atop a glass case full of fudge.
Fort Davis Drug Store Hotel
On our morning there I enjoyed a mug of complementary coffee downstairs before heading out for some exercise and to investigate the red rock bluff on the edge of the neighborhood. Turkey vultures caught the morning currents, their shadows crossed mine as I walked past small houses, churches and watched a backyard goat take to a tree. My sister and I had a fine dinner at the Blue Moon Restaurant across the street.
Trip Planner Tip 3:
There’s an Ice Cream stop on the outskirts of town. The Red Caboose is a local favorite and came highly recommended, plus it’s pet friendly.
Trip Planner Tip 4
History buffs can explore the old fort where Confederate General, Jefferson Davis, held his ground. The managers of Wall Drug Hotel are distant relatives!
Eve’s Garden BnB Marathon Texas
One of our draws to Texas was seeing Marfa, but we kept it for the end of our trip. Our night in Marathon was like an appetizer of things to come in the ‘art town.’ We swept into town late on a cloudy afternoon and barely checked in before taking off for dinner at the Gage Hotel.
Eve’s Garden is a visionaries delight with bright walls, colorful collections of art and less than 10 rooms, each unique and hand textured from recycled Papercrete blocks.
Seeing is believing, check out my video:
Gage Hotel Dining Room
Travel Planner tip 5
Don’t miss the White Buffalo Bar in Marathon. The Gage Hotel nods to shotgun culture but the sophisticated menu and graceful layout make this spot worthy of a celebrity sighting.
Part 2 of the West Texas Road Trip Planner is the next post. Continue the road trip through Terlingua, Lajitas, a bit of Big Bend National Park and Marfa.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Road view between Balmorea and Fort Davis
Links and other Trip Planner tips:
We used GPS but there are other sites with ample route suggestions for drivers and bicyclists, like: Distancesto.com
Plan your trip around weather. Check temperatures and weather patterns, then pack for comfort.
This list isn’t exhaustive. There’s so much to explore in West Texas like the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis
Balmorea State Park has camping, trailer options and hiking trails as well as the famous natural spring reservoir. Check the website for hours and reservations.
Eve’s Garden in Marathon is worth a detour. The hospitality is warm, the organic cooking delicious and the space a unique, artful experience.
The Gage Hotel in Marathon is listed as #1 on many noted travel lists.
Fort Davis, – Spacious, comfortable and affordable. The upstairs room, with abundant WiFi, couches and tables is a great space for digital nomads!
Fort Davis, Lumpia Hotel: Fully restored historic property with a garden begging to be enjoyed.
El Paso Craft and Social – Jazz bar, beer on tap and Texas wines by the glass or bottle.
Long before it was full of Spring Break beach clubs and taco stands, Rosarito was a glamorous hub. Hollywood stars and U.S. servicemen partied at the few great hotels along the strand. I remember it differently as a kid. We often camped near the beach. I loved playing in the warm water with my siblings, a few feet from my parent’s teardrop trailer. One afternoon my mother had a big pot boiling on the back kitchenette and pulled a steaming red alien from the waters. It was my first lobster, caught by my dad who tagged along with locals. Over the years, each time we would visit Rosarito, the city had new amenities and returning now still excites me.
The Hotel Rosarito tower from the beach.
Camping has moved much further out of town now but finally I had a chance to visit the historical, Rosarito Beach Hotel. My young parents couldn’t afford the luxury then, but today travelers have the benefit of a generous exchange rate. Whether one of the traditional beach rooms, a villa, a suite in the tower or a visit to the spa, the hotel has managed to retain its historical, Spanish Colonial style while upgrading with all the amenities a visitor could want.
Here’s a glimpse of a rest stop on the coast route to visit Rosarito:
Today, Rosarito is an easy getaway, less than two hours by car from my hometown of San Diego. It’s fairly simple to drive from the border but I prefer being a passenger and watching the changing landscape. The coastal route along the toll road is my favorite ride south. There’s also an interior road from Tijuana which, while more crowded, is actually shorter. Those not wanting to drive have the benefit of bus and van services too. I left the driving to others on the most recent trip while joining a few friends and enjoyed a pleasant, air conditioned Tiketon shuttle van from the border. Before I knew it, we were walking into the historical lobby of the Rosarito Beach Hotel.
We checked in quickly and walked from the historical side of the property to the newer tower. This is the part of the hotel that I’d often seen from the freeway on trips to Ensenada or La Bufadora. The tower lobby ceiling loomed over us and opened to a tempting, spacious pool and bar. I had to pass on a swim as we were meeting soon for Margaritas and a short tour of the spa.
Tower bedroom suite
The hotel is partly condos and members have their own pool – on the rooftop with the best views in the region. On one side is the ocean, on the other the hill country of Baja spreads to the horizon. Beaches stretch as far north and south as one can see. It’s a beautiful spot for a swim too!
The Rosarito Beach Hotel, members only, rooftop pool
The view to the Tower pool from my room veranda
The original owner’s home has been converted into the Casa Playa Spa and a private dining space. Above the tiled entrance lobby, guest rooms are now service spaces for massages, facials, body wraps and other services. We learned that booking must be done in the spa itself and not to rely on the hotel desk.
The original home that now houses the spa and event space.
North of the hotel the beach area is spotted with big dance clubs that still roar to life on weekends but now there are more Mexicans partying than boozy, American college students. Weekends find families on the beach where tables can be rented by the hour, with or without umbrellas. Mariachis and food vendors come to you!
Dinner at Susanna’s
In the evening we went south from the hotel and stepped through a stone archway for dinner at Susanna’s. Susanne Stehr is a California girl who fell in love with the graceful beach style of Rosarito years ago. A natural interior designer, her restaurant is glowing with color and textures. Chairs are deeply upolstered, charger plates gleam as if in a home dining room and fresh creative dishes are served ‘California Style.’ Favorites include the Citrus Fruit and Sonoma Chicken Salad, Strawberry Salmon and Sonora Ribeye Steak entrees. Appetizers updated from local traditions like Jalapeno Cream Cheese Empanadas and Susanna’s Gourmet Tamales are moist and mild. The wine list overflows with vintages drawn from the famous Valle de Guadalupe wine region not 25 miles away.
You’d think we would never eat again but the next morning found us in the hotel main dining room for breakfast. So hard to choose from so much! Soon after being seated the table filled with platters of (shredded, roasted beef) machaca and eggs, fluffy omelets, home made sauces and delicious breads accompanied by fresh squeezed orange juice and mugs of aromatic coffee.
Rosarita Hotel Dining Room
Luckily there was time for a walk before returning to the border and we sauntered along the main road, passing cafes and restaurants, night clubs and shops. Across the beach road, neighborhoods stretched up to the main highway. Kids in uniforms walked past quickly on their way to school. There were several churches and more cafes full of locals. Here the village life style still works side-by-side with tourism. It’s a big part of why I love Baja and to visit Rosarito.
A food truck on the main street of Rosarito
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If you plan to visit Rosarito:
Crossing the International border takes a bit of preparation but recent improvements are making it easier and wait times shorter. Here’s a post about what to expect. I update it often.
Transportation around the region from the U.S. – Contact Tiketon for van pick up and prices: 619-428-0011 / To and from the Tijuana airport: 683-8113
Thank you to our Binational Liason, Juan Arturo Saldaña Angulo with Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and tour organizer, Alexa Williams Meisler. The trip sponsors were the Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and Rosarito Beach Hotel with transportation provided by Ticketon and Turismo Express.