Slovakians often think of their country as the center of Europe. It’s a historical claim but most travelers miss Slovakia completely and, center of Europe or not, they’re missing out. There are so many things to do in Slovakia!
I was there for a week driving through the countryside with a local. Yuri was helping my family find long-lost relatives. DNA travel some call it, and it was a wonderful lens to see the country through. Being hosted by a native, who knew the countryside well, led to all kinds of unique experiences. Here’s some of the best:
Bus travel is comfortable and efficient
There are (1) tourist buses (Euro Bus and Flix Bus, to name two) which make getting in and out of Slovakia easy. I traveled via Flixbus from Budapest to Kosice and out again to Zagreb, Croatia. Each was a fairly long ride but the seats were plush and had foot-rests. I had either a full row of seats to myself or the interesting company of international travelers. Each bus had a strong WiFi signal but no power plugs. Although the bus had no bathroom, there was a snack and bathroom break during the ride. Crossing the border into Croatia was a mere formality as well but delays are determined by politics. Ask your driver what to expect – you definitely will need a passport or inter-border card.
St. Elisabeth’s Cathedral in Kosice, Slovakia
KOSICE is full of things to do
This medieval city is a traveler’s delight. Whether you travel in high style (modern, historic or chain hotels and sleekly designed restaurants, well-curated museums and art galleries) or you’re backpacking, (hostels, inexpensive cafes, and bars) you’ll find lots of things to do. My next post will detail bars and restaurants in the area.
We arrived by bus about 10 pm and took a pleasant ten-minute walk into the center of town. After passing the (2) Gothic Cathedral, we found our small hotel easily (Villa Regia.) The next morning outside the hotel entrance, long rows of tables were set up for a (3) farmer’s market and I do mean farmer’s. For several hundred years this marketplace has been feeding the city. On Sundays, we found it turns into an (3b) antique and artisan’s market.
There’s a central, (4) ‘singing’ fountain that’s lit beautifully in the evenings and music fills the air. Families and couples stroll the main street. (5) Cafes open on the lengthy pedestrian plaza. Many (6) museums are set along that avenue and easy to get to. (7) During the day, a tourist ‘train’ runs the length of the main street shuttling visitors from one end to the other.
The towering, Gothic cathedral, St. Elizabeth Minster, is the most eastern in Europe and for a few Euro you can climb the north tower to admire the view. Church bells ring out daily and on Sundays, services are packed with locals.
Plan on spending your evenings strolling the historical core. Pull up a seat at one of the sidewalk cafe/bars for great people watching and don’t miss the historical bars or the odd (8) coffee houses like the stylish, Smelly Cat, or Tabacka Kulturfabrik, which is a coffeeshop/hangout/performance space in an old industrial building.
Claiming to be from 1542, the bar Hostinec serves some mighty brews.
One of the largest towns outside of Kosice, (9) Humenne, is set among rolling hills near the volcanic Vihorlat mountains. Two rivers, the Laborec and Cirocha, meet there which makes it a wonderful city for strolling and parks. There are several hotels in the city but we elected to make it a day trip.
The grinning monk at Dvor pod Vinicnou skalou, a roadside restaurant
One day on the road to Humenne, we stopped in Brekov at the (10) Roadhouse, Dvor pod Vinicnou skalou (which roughly translates to Justice Under Rock.) It’s a very interesting road stop and one of the only places where you can order cabbage rolls. The restaurant and grounds are dotted with unique, carved sculptures by the celebrated Polish artist, Marian Pazucha.
In Humenne proper, the central pedestrian plaza is very wide and dotted with sculptures from Communist days. Our lunch prepared us for an afternoon investigating the (11) open-air, architectural museum.
If only I could show you the gleaming icons inside the wooden Greek Catholic church, but no pictures were allowed. You can get an idea of how stunning they are by visiting the manor house. If you get to Humenne, negotiate to have the park church opened to see for yourself. It was built in 1745 on the borders between Slovakia and Ukraine in the village of Nová Sedlica. During WWII the church was badly damaged. With a restoration, it was moved to the open air museum in 1977.
We caught glimpses of several ancient castles in the hills on the way to Humenne. Once these bastions of security kept the villagers safe from marauders, Goths and other invading hordes. After gunpowder was available, the great families moved into town and the remote castle culture came to a close.
Luckily the Humenne (12) manor house has survived and visitors are welcome to walk through the grounds and hallways. It’s full of antiques, collections, natural history exhibits and religious art.
Visiting with a friendly, furry local in Kosice
With so many things to do in the countryside, a visit to the capital of Bratislava will have to wait. I wish there had been time to see the capital city where Viennese and Hungarian culture mingle but it will have to be another time.
I hope you enjoyed the post and will share it with friends. Pin this!
Proudly a member of these fine travel blog linkups:
Jetlag and hubris can conspire to make you a victim. It can happen to anyone, but over-confidence and fatigue led me into trouble while I was getting around Budapest. After a quick airport rendezvous with my jet lagged partner, we stepped out into the midnight air and joined a small crowd, all of us jostling for transportation. I’d arrived the day before and my Airbnb host had arranged a ride to the airport with a Yellow Cab driver, so I felt confident about how much the trip should cost. At that late hour taking another cab seemed like the best and swiftest choice.
A man stepped up and asked if we needed a taxi. In moments, he handed us to off to a Yellow Cab driver and we sped off into the night.
On the way into town, Dave and I quietly discussed how much the trip should cost and he started counting out bills. He’d been in the air for over 11 hours and it was his first time with Budapest currency. Once we arrived, the driver grabbed the bills, swept them into his wallet, and then kept asking for more!
Our 25 Euro ride ended up costing almost four times as much! He left us blinking on the sidewalk as he sped away. Smooth operator! It was a sour beginning to our vacation but luckily, after letting it go as a lesson, we discovered that getting around Budapest can be easy and much less expensive.
A few Taxi tips: (These apply most anywhere)
Ask how much first – We didn’t ask how much or agree on the cost of the trip.
Take a second to see if there’s a meter – We got in before realizing there was none.
Hold on! Our driver was reckless, tail-gated, drove way faster than anyone else, and started texting from the fast lane.
Get their license number or snap a picture of them and the car. Report any problems to the authorities! We thought of that long after he’d sped away.
Getting around Budapest
Budapest is beautiful year round but in springtime it positively glows. In May the weather was pleasantly warm, in the 60’s and high 70’s. It can get much hotter in the summer. I was there in the Shoulder Season, as they call the months before the most popular and crowded times of the year – the summer and winter breaks. Hotels and accommodations were less expensive and easier to find than peak times for tourism.
The transportation infrastructure of Budapest is impressive. There are subway trains, trolleys, buses, and taxis, but no Uber, unfortunately. With a little research, getting around Budapest can be easy. There are four central Metro lines and many tram lines. The M1 line is the European Continent’s first underground rail line and improvements keep coming.
Getting to and from the airport
I’d chosen a taxi on a local’s advice and because of the late night/early morning arrival. There are other much less expensive options. Whichever terminal you arrive at in Budapest, after customs there are BKK Information and Ticket booths (also closed at midnight.) There are maps, you can purchase any number of train tickets or the Budapest Card. The cards work in 24 / 48 / 72 hour increments from first usage, so if you’re not planning to go use them for the first day after arriving, purchase just enough tickets to get into town (usually two per person.)
I highly recommend checking out the Budapest By Locals page about your transportation options and the official Budapest Info Page for details relating to your dates and the seasonal discounts and free offers that come with using the card (Free thermal baths!)
Budapest Central Bus Station – Nepliget
International and domestic buses arrive and depart from the station. The buses are central to life in the region and much nicer than the public buses and Greyhound buses I’ve taken in the US. There’s free WiFi and some have bathrooms (or they pull over for coffee/bathroom breaks.)
In the station, there’s WiFi to piggy-back onto from the buses but otherwise it isn’t available inside the station. The underground and surface rail lines both have stations here. Nepliget is a central hub for visitors and about a 15 – 20-minute ride into central Budapest. There is an information desk (take a number) and public restrooms (cost.) We were able to check baggage into lockers during a layover between buses and visit downtown easily during a 3.5 hour break.
Buda or Pest?
Our rental was on the Buda side of Budapest, the cliff and hillside area on the west side of the Danube, the area where the castle is. We were able to catch trams into town and walk across the many historic bridges. It’s easy enough to get around from Buda but if you’re into the club and bar scene, the Jewish Quarter and the Pest side is easier.
Aside from Taxis and Public Transportation, there are lots of ways for getting around Budapest. As it’s a central tourist destination there are many bus tours available. Check online or in your hotel to arrange a tour.
The Pest side of Budapest was built on a low-lying plain, which makes it fairly easy to navigate. There are bike lanes everywhere. In the central town, close to both sides of the river, there are many pedestrian and bike-only streets. Bike shops abound but be prepared to rent the day before – it’s a popular past time. We tried renting the green bikes that are available from racks but they only work for Hungarian citizens or other locals (you need local ID.)
Getting around Budapest on an electric scooter or Segway appealed to my independent spirit. There are tours using both available as well. Around the corner from our apartment, we rented electric scooters for three hours. With a little practice, I got comfortable with the brakes and throttle, turning and balancing.
The scooters made it easy to get to the top of the Citadel, across bridges, to visit the Parliament and main Cathedral. We even got to Margaret Island briefly before my scooter’s battery gave out. With a short call, our host showed up with a fresh battery and we were off again. The afternoon ride lasted about three hours and was a lot of fun.
Enjoy Budapest. It’s a wonderful city to walk but taking public transportation or renting wheels offers a chance to explore swiftly and independently.
One thing about sailing – nature has the upper hand. In the Adriatic, especially when cruising Croatia, you get to know the Jugo wind. The Croatia news calls it a “Strong southeastern wind that blows along the Adriatic shores from the Sahara desert of Africa.” It can cause white-capped waves and humidity, often filling the skies with gray clouds and rain.
If the Jugo is mild, cruising Croatia goes as planned, but when white caps peak wise captains know to take shelter in port. Luckily, there are many fascinating ports tucked in around the Croatian islands and sailing crews stay flexible.
On a short cruise with Katarina Line, I had planned to spend the night in Split but our Katarina Captain, Tom, knew our departure window to the islands was short and the team quickly changed plans. Over three days instead of seeing three villages, we visited five! I was happy for that Jugo wind.
You might think that flying solo internationally to a land where you don’t speak the language or know anyone would be risky. But I didn’t worry a bit about cruising Croatia as the Katarina Line tour guides kept me up to date with emails and texts from the moment the trip was confirmed. Once I landed in Croatia, they guided me easily to the ship in Split.
Split waterfront and the Katarina Line ship, the Seagull
The airport shuttle dropped me at an open station a few blocks south of the historical core. I grabbed my roller bag and strolled along the waterfront towards Diocletian’s Palace. It was easy to spot the Seagull and the crew helped me on board.
My full bed on the Katarina Line
After welcoming drinks and a short presentation we were soon underway to our first port on the island of Brac.
In the small port of Pučišće, we had a delicious seafood dinner and then strolled along the waterfront. Our host, Sanja, led us into a small bar and introduced us to the joys of traditional aperitifs and digestif made from honey, walnuts, herbs and cherries.
In the morning, and just steps from our mooring, we visited a traditional stone cutting workshop where young stone cutters train for years before entering university. The stone from Brac was chosen for the Split Palace of Diocletian and we soon recognized it everywhere.
Entrance to the Brac Stonemason school
Head model inside stonemason school on Brac
On we sailed in style to Milna, Supetar, Stari Grad, and Hvar. In each port we explored on our own, followed trails, ate ice cream or enjoyed the local brews. The company was delightful from crew to fellow travelers – we few Americans mingling with Germans, Brits, and Dutch guests. Each meal was beautifully presented and every effort was made to accommodate dietary restrictions.
A few of the delicious presentations on board the Katarina Line.
In several ports we met historian guides who expertly excited us about the local history and sights, always leaving time for us to poke around on our own.
Historian Dino at a fountain inside Diocletian’s Palace
One gate into Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia
Captain’s dinner Katarina Line
Of course, there was a Captain’s dinner with live music, singing, and a wonderful meal. On the last cruise night in Split and we explored the UNESCO site of Diocletian’s Palace. If it reminds you of scenes from Game of Thrones, you’re not imagining things. Several segments and fights were filmed within the stone gates.
Cruise pals on my Katarina Line cruise – Hvar
After sad goodbyes, I felt grounded and excited about exploring more of Croatia. While Katarina Lines offers land tours as well as other cruises from bicycling to yoga, adventure to luxury, I was ready to head up to Zagreb – but that’s another story.
Special thanks to the hard-working and fun team at Katarina Lines for making my cruising Croatia dreams come true. I will always admire how you were so flexible and accommodating, even when the Jugo wind kept changing all your carefully crafted plans!
I love great architecture and towns in the American Midwest are full of beautiful craftsmanship and glorious buildings. Milwaukee was a business center in the 1900’s. Captains of commerce erected sturdy buildings and many remain within a few short blocks of downtown. New architecture is taking flight along the shores of Lake Michigan as well. Don’t miss Milwaukee.
Don’t miss Milwaukee and Plankinton’s great arcade
In 1915, John Plankinton, the founder and owner of a Meat Packing Company, built the Plankinton Arcade as an entertainment center with bowling and billiards. It was fashioned in a 15th-century Italian Gothic style that remains but today it houses shops and cafes.
The Loyalty building designed by Richardson Romanesque in a unique classical style now houses a hotel. Mader’s Restaurant has been serving German fare since 1902.
One window inside the German restaurant, Mader’s
James Beard award-winning, Three Brothers, serves authentic Serbian food inside a historic Schlitz tavern in the Bay View neighborhood. (Note the cream brick.)
A glimpse of the Public Market in Milwaukee
The Third Ward is overflowing with new cafes and bars. Grab a bite in its centerpiece, the Public Market.
Inside the Grain Hall
Inside the Grain Hall, there are massive stain glass windows and classical murals. The floor is inset with a huge, restored medallion.
This video will give you a moving glimpse. Don’t miss Milwaukee in your travels:
The Iron Block ranks among Milwaukee’s most important Civil War era building. It is the only remaining major example of cast-iron architecture in the city and is one of a few of its kind left in the Midwest.
Pristine cream brick inside Swig in the Third Quarter
Cream City bricks are made from a red clay containing large amounts of sulfur. It was commonly found in the Milwaukee area. When fired, the bricks become creamy-yellow in color. Unfortunately, they are also porous and soak up city grit. Today many cream brick buildings remain but unless scrubbed with chemicals regularly they remain dark.
The ceiling in the Pfister Building is one of the don’t miss Milwaukee wonders
The Pfister Hotel lobby is one of uplifting opulence and built for the public to enjoy. Today the hotel still retains its glory. There are panoramic views also in the penthouse Blu Bar.
The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway
But the greatest discovery, to my mind, is the new Art Museum. Created by engineer – architect, Santiago Calatrava.Several times a day, when the Lake Michigan winds permit, the building’s giant wings open to allow light into the interior.
Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum
The immense space feels like it breathes. It certainly had me breathing faster as I walked through. The Milwaukee Art Museum has been noted around the world for its wings. Inside and out the building is a wonder to experience.
That’s a brief look at some of the windows, the unique walls and the wings that make visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s downtown a great town to walk and ponder.
It didn’t take much encouragement. I swung my leg over the tank, leaned forward, my hands on the throttle, and mentally mumbled, Vroom, Vroom. That was just the beginning of my night at the museum – the Harley Davidson temple in Milwaukee.
(Disclosure: My visit was included as part of attending the WITS17 opening night party. More about that community of Women in Travel: https://www.sheswanderful.com .)
Confessions of an aspiring biker
I grew up in Southern California’s Pomona Valley close to the base of the San Bernadino mountains. My first love was a biker wannabe, he was center stage in my Catholic school rebellion period after high school. I learned the wonders of motorcycle riding while riding out to the beach, loving the sense of freedom, being able to smell and hear everything and to hold on tight to my guy. He bought me a little motorcycle, a Honda 80, for my birthday and kept it at his house so my parents wouldn’t know until I moved up to college in San Francisco.
I still remember riding over the Chino hillside, spooking jackrabbits and learning how to handle the bike. However, once I moved north, the relationship soured, as long distance couples often find out. I used the bike only a few times in the intimidating San Francisco traffic before admitting defeat and took to safer forms of transportation in the midst of buses, trucks and crazy pedestrians. Ignominiously the bike became a plant stand for a fuchsia in my living room. Then, like the relationship, I moved on and sold the bike to pay for furniture.
Like a kid a candy shop, I trekked around the ‘campus’ as they call it on the river in Milwaukee. The sun was setting fast and I wanted to see things before dark closed in. There was a wooden shed on the edge of a field. It’s a replica of the original 10 x 15-foot shed that the Davidson brothers’ father built behind their home. He was a cabinet maker who probably grew from incredulity to amazement as the boys’ inventions led to a worldwide craze. The company headquarters still stand across the street from the original location in a large, wooden building.
Replica of the original Harley Davidson shed
The museum is really a reflection of the history of America. The Harley Davidson company stayed in the black by delivering bikes during the Great Depression and World Wars. They’ve been used by police and fire departments for decades.
The original Harley Davidson brothers
There’s a culture to biking that I can only imagine but within the walls of the Harley Davidson museum, you can immerse yourself in it, biker or not. There’s a floor dedicated to pop culture. There are dramatically lit replicas of the Easy Rider bike and movie poster, the Elvis bike and the Rhinestone Harley, to name a few.
The Easy Rider motorcycle replica
The Harley-Davidson Museum is laid out over several floors and each is more interesting than the next. I wish I’d had more than a quick few minutes to walk through. Plan on spending several hours.
The Tank display inside the Harley Davidson Museum
There’s even lots for kids to do. They’ll love sitting on the different motorcycles and playing the old school arcade game, the Evel Knievel Daredevil Challenge.
The Museum is a bit expensive ($20 per adult.) Look online for discounts and even if you can’t break for a ticket visit the store that’s overflowing with memorabilia and replicas of classic shirts, pants, and even pajamas.
Motorcycle on the Motor Bar – open to the public without fee.
The Motor cafe is open to all and sits facing the river with a menu that boasts about “American Classics celebrating life on the road.” That’s a tall order but with Road House Chili, BBQ ribs and lots of Wisconsin favorites I won’t quibble.
The beauty of the beast
While you walk the grounds keep your ears alert for different languages. The Harley Davidson Museum is a mecca for international visitors indulging their inner biker too. It’s fuel for the fantasy. Vroom. Vroom.
If you go to the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee:
Address: 400 W Canal St, At the corner of 6th and Canal, Milwaukee, WI 53203-3208
The Harley Davidson Experience – http://www.harley-davidson.com
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.