Category: Culture

Tonight, my seven-year-old made origami cranes for the children of Japan. Tomorrow, at school is a bagel breakfast to raise money for those in need, following the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

It is also cherry blossom season, here in San Francisco, in our nation’s capital and of course in Japan, a rite of spring and a life-affirming, annual natural event. As I wheeze through the days full of blooms and pollen I stop to think about the brutality and generosity of what we call Mother Nature.

Traditional custom this time of year in Japan is to picnic under the cherry blossoms with friends and family. Sake, poetry and karaoke often accompany a spread of bountiful treats. This year though, as the country mourns, many are avoiding conspicuous consumption and opting to forgo the annual ritual, or to tone it down considerably. The elderly mayor of Tokyo has erected signs to ask residents to avoid the spring fun as a show of solidarity for those suffering in the northeast of the country. Mother Nature, or the force in nature, whatever you want to call it, can be so cruel and so glorious. The cherry blossoms are beautiful, fleeting, and fragile…like life itself. There is poignancy this year, but certainly the pink blossoms offer a small glimmer of hope, that life goes on.

2 Comments | Filed Under Asia, Culture, Festivals, Japan, Urban Parks

I had coffee this morning with Nikki Rose, old friend and fellow San Francisco transplant who’s spent most of the last decade in Crete, her ancestors’ land. Her specialty? Cooking!

Since 1997 she’s worked to conserve Crete’s cultural and natural heritage through her own version of a slow food movement, engaging more than 40 small business and individuals in “Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries” to offer visitors a taste of traditional Cretan cuisine. Ingredients come from local organic farms, and chefs put a modern twist on the old cuisine so there’s always a tasty surprise.

Her programs have received sustainable development awards from the likes of National Geographic, and she’s booking tours for the summer. Visit artisan food producers, organic farmers, rural communities that have been inhabited for 4,000 years, and take botanical hikes in the land of the Minoans. Explore ancient sites, too.

And of course, eat well.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Crete, Culture, Europe, Food, Greece, Travel

Do you know the way to San Jose? That Dionne Warwick song from the late sixties was playing in my head as we packed the kids in the car for our overnight in the South Bay. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area nearly twenty years and I think I’ve been to San Jose three times.

I had been itching to take the kids to the Tech Museum and my husband and I were intrigued by the Art Museum, so we decided to book a hotel room overnight and make a festive trip out of it between Christmas and New Year’s.

It had been raining for nearly two weeks, so we also had visions of a great hike if the skies cleared up. I called a close Cuban-American friend who knows San Jose well and happens to be a foodie. He was on it, and within half an hour recommended three eateries in the area, so I felt ready to go. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Cuba, Culture, Driving Trips, Family Travel, Feature, Food, Museums, Restaurants, shopping

This morning as I read my New York Times, I noticed a full page ad for a Harry Potter contest to coincide with the release of the latest film in the series.  My sons are such big fans and it seemed like a fun exercise to have them enter.

Getting sucked into a series of books can be a marvelous experience. You become so invested, almost intimate with the characters. Much to my surprise, I am completely taken by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and have been burning the midnight oil as I gallop through the three books. I keep putting the reins on my reading because I don’t want it to end.

This summer, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula, I insisted we take a 50-mile detour to visit Forks, Washington, home of the Twilight saga. Twilight is a series of four vampire, teen romance novels by Stephenie Meyer. It follows a teenage girl, named Bella, who moves to Forks, Washington and falls in love with a 104-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen.
Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Culture, Europe, Family Travel, Feature, Films, Museums, National Parks, Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Northwest, Romance, Washington

If you’ve ever read the children’s book Eloise or the young adult book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, you probably had fantasies about living alone in NYC as a child. I grew up in the Big Apple and was lucky to have parents who loved art and shared their love of music, theatre and fine art.

I fondly remember visiting the vastness of Metropolitan Museum of Art, marveling at the classics, journeying to Papua New Guinea and Egypt, giggling at the Greek sculptures and noshing at the, then, very fancy café with all the Upper East Side lady lunchers. Most of all I cherished the multicolored little button you get with admission, which I used to save in a jar.

Every time I return to Manhattan I make a pilgrimage to the Met, no matter what is showing. I bring my own kids and rush through, plying them with candy and promises of a ride on the carousel, much as my parents did.

Recently, on one of the hottest days of the year I had a few hours to make my manic tour of the museum.  After a whirlwind visit to the American Woman fashion exhibit—that rocked as much as the original song and the Lenny Kravitz cover—we had about a half hour to kill. I was with a colleague who insisted we head up to the roof garden, a somewhat hidden and unknown asset to the majestic museum. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Culture, Family Travel, Fashion, Manhattan, Museums, Music, New York, Romance, Travel Tips

I have visited Harlem numerous times in my life but never really as a tourist. So there I was recently on a big tour bus, heading uptown on a sweltering day, escorting a group of French executives and feeling I was exploring the neighborhood for the first time. We went with the New York Visions Travel Group on the Harlem Spirituals Gospel Tour.

The architecture was majestic, the history epic, but to see the area fixed up and yet still tattered on the edges was uplifting and depressing at the same time. I really got to absorb the information as I was doing some translations into French…stories of freed slaves, rent parties, jazz, the crack years and now the resurrection of the famed quarter.

Our guide was an animated actress/French expat who, despite her arrogant attitude, gave a great tour. We made a pit stop at the Schomburg Library, a public library that is a research center for Black Culture. My dad had done research there in the ’70s and ’80s and I had vague memories of visiting as a child. Then we headed to a church to witness and participate in a gospel-music-infused service. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Black History, Culture, Manhattan, Music, New York

Washington DC is a city built to serve government and tourism. On a recent trip with a group of French executives, the conversation flowed on the bus as we traversed the city. Designed by a Frenchman, the Mall reminded them of the Tuileries, the Washington Monument of Place de la Concorde. We were to do DC in two days, and although the Smithsonian alone could fill a week or more, I do feel like I got a great flavor for Inside the Beltway.

A visit to Mount Vernon on a stormy day launched the dizzying schedule. I opted for a breath of fresh air with a view of the Potomac, a tour of the house and a walk to the farm. George Washington was quite green (which I learned is a term in French that means an older, quite virile man, not ecologically minded) and in his own way farmed and recycled with an eye on the future, employing crop rotation and mulching much of his waste. A lover of rivers, he situated his house so the view from the porch is masterful and remains unmarred. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Culture, Family Travel, Feature, Food, Luxury Travel, Museums, Netherlands, North America, Restaurants

The summer travel season is almost here and if you’re gearing up for a foreign adventure you must read this hilarious essay by Seth Stevenson on How to be Invisible in the April 19th issue of Newsweek.  He focuses on the stereotypical American tourist ensemble, and highlights the ever-present tube socks and sneakers. Jokes aside, maybe look for comfortable walking shoes if headed to Europe and keep the workout shoes for that…working out.

The message is, to really discover the joy of travel one must blend in, not stand out. Wearing American flags or even favorite team jerseys and caps is a tip off that one is not from the country one is visiting. Although humorous, the advice is simple: Why not pack light and buy a few items as you travel? That way you have great souvenirs as well as shedding the distinct American imprint. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Culture, England, Europe, Fashion, France, Germany, Spain, Travel Tips, United Kingdom

Williamsburg, Brooklyn never had pretensions to compare itself with its famous namesake city in Virginia, but local residents are putting a quirky twist on the idea.  Perhaps it’s the recession, maybe just a  pendulum swing away from commercialism, whatever it is you can count on this neighborhood to be ahead of the curve when it comes to trends.

My sister moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn from Manhattan more than 15 years ago. She shared a cute 1BR apartment and paid a fraction of Manhattan rental rates. Ownership of a yoga studio, a marriage, and two kids later, she still lives in Williamsburg, but now in a loft overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge. The area has changed, from a bustling Eastern European immigrant crowd, to hipsters and artists… to hipsters and artists with kids.

I left New York before Williamsburg became one of the cool hotspots, and every time I return I marvel at the reinvention of the neighborhood. Continue reading »

3 Comments | Filed Under Budget Travel, Culture, Eco Friendly Travel, Fashion, Feature, Food, Music, Nightlife, Pubs, Restaurants, Student Travel, United States, shopping

Images from Haiti are heartbreaking. Such disasters, with their mind-boggling destruction — earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, wars — are difficult to witness, even on television. So much suffering from Mother Nature and the hand of man.

The day before the tragic earthquake in Haiti I was reading a heart warming story in The New York Times about another area of the world rising from the ashes. The Balkans, recovering from the unspeakable atrocities of the 1990s, had some good news to share. A train linking Sarajevo and Belgrade was now back on track after nearly 20 years.

The route, famous in the region, was once a literal link between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims in this part of the world that was once known as Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia had been famously knit together by Communism and Tito, but the cohesion couldn’t hold and the region exploded into war and chaos following Tito’s death and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The bridges were targeted in the bombings and were a major challenge to rebuild. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Culture, Feature, Olympics, Train Travel