As winter gives way to spring and wildflowers replace snowbanks in mountain meadows, I’m having alpine dreams. Those usually take me to Switzerland and the Jungfrau region, one of my favorite places in the world, but today I’m thinking about Germany. It’s been decades since I’ve spent any real time there, for no good reason that I can think of.
So what’s the best way to see the country? Car, bike, or boat? Continue reading »
I saw the film Woman in Gold recently, a true story starring Helen Mirren as an octogenarian Austrian Holocaust survivor seeking to reclaim her aunt’s famous portrait. The title painting, called “Woman in Gold” for many years so as not to name her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, and to obscure her Jewish heritage, is now so well-known it is featured on fridge magnets and mugs.
I visited this painting and other Gustav Klimt works in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace Museum many years ago, lingering in front of my favorite works for what seemed like hours. At the time, I was obsessed with his protégé Egon Schiele and his early, untimely death from the Spanish flu at the age of 28 in 1918. Besides the music, Freud’s house, coffee and cakes, these paintings were what I wanted to see in Vienna. Continue reading »
The sharing economy seems to be changing how we manage fundamental parts of our lives. Companies like Uber, Airbnb and Zipcar are dramatically altering transportation, travel and our relationship to these services. It is not without controversy though, and it remains to be seen how we reconcile some of these very necessary services with other important factors such as insurance, safety, liveable wages and unionization, not to mention the housing cost crisis in many popular destinations here in the U.S. and abroad.
As 2014 comes to a close, and the U.S. economy strengthens, more and more “sharing” seems to be happening. Even in my little sleepy San Francisco neighborhood these free street libraries are popping up and the robust trading of garden harvests is bringing people together and making use of food that might just rot on the vine otherwise.
A recent article in the New York Times typified the small gestures of sharing that can make an impact on people’s lives. In Naples, and across Italy, the idea of paying something forward, albeit as minimal as a coffee, is being revived and taking root. A simple anonymous gesture, paying for an extra cup of coffee for a future needy patron or simply as an act of kindness has a lovely aroma to it. Continue reading »
This year marks the Centenary of the start of World War One, often called the “Great War” or the “War to End all Wars.” It’s a sobering occasion in Europe, where so many lives were lost and where so many enmities still exist or have been rekindled of late. With tensions ratcheting up in Ukraine and Eastern Europe once again, perhaps lessons learned from WWI can help de-escalate the situation.
The last surviving WWI veterans have passed, and a number of wars have come and gone in the wake of what was, at the time, just called “The World War.” Europe is gearing up to commemorate the deadly conflict, a tightrope walk for sure, without opening up new wounds. Lessons from such a devastating global event reverberate today.
When my daughters and I rode the chairlift to the top of the Passo Tonale resort this summer, it was easy to see that this would be a great place to ski. On the edge of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, the area around Ponte di Legno is a dramatic series of limestone mountains, river valleys, pine forests and mountain meadows. It has ski resorts at the pass and right on the edge of town. That’s fine for winter activities, but this mountain terrain is also perfect for summer fun.
It wouldn’t be Italy if there wasn’t a town square where everyone congregates in the mornings and evenings. Ponte di Legno’s is known as September 27 Square (Piazza 27 Settembre) to commemorate a battle with the Austrians in 1917. The piazza straddles the River Oglio, literally. The river runs under the stone piazza, which joins both riverbanks in a seamless merger of cobbled lanes and shops. Outdoor cafes edge the central fountain and look out to the mountains dominating the horizon. We started all of our mornings there, being served every day (and in the evenings too) by the same reliable waiter. (He was always there. When did he sleep?) Continue reading »
I remember being a student in Paris and having to wash my hair after a night out because of the ever-present smell of cigarette smoke. I got used to the constant odor and began to associate the particular smell of French tobacco with my splendid time as a student abroad. That has changed, as France has reduced smoking and banned it from many public spaces.
There is something quintessentially French, however, about lighting up in a cafe, and even though I haven’t smoked in years, I have to admit I’m tempted the minute I land in the country. Part of the reason smoking is mildly appealing in Paris is also the fact that cigarettes are inexpensive compared to the U.S.
In Russia, another European country with a strong smoking tradition, nearly 40% of the population has a nicotine habit, fueled in part by the less than $2.00 a pack cost. President Putin, a fitness freak and cheerleader for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, has just signed a law that bans smoking in all public places beginning in June of this year. Continue reading »
Marseille is France’s biggest port, second largest city and the European Capital of Culture for 2013. This distinction is up there with being named Olympic host, and the rough and ready city on the Mediterranean is taking it seriously. The town known for shipping, crime, immigrant unrest and poverty is taking the opportunity to re-brand itself as an appealing seaside tourist spot.
Marseille is building on it’s southern ties to North Africa and is remaking the harbor area into a car-free and pedestrian-friendly promenade. In classic French fashion, the city has designated ten new cultural sites, many located in renovated structures. A museum was once France’s Ellis Island, where immigrants were processed, and an abandoned tobacco factory is being refashioned as a Contemporary Arts Museum focusing on the Immigration theme. New buildings are popping up too, with public finance we Americans can only dream about. The desire to change the crime-ridden image to cultural hotspot is a tricky balancing act, paying homage to the immigrant culture without whitewashing the colonial past.
As we rolled through the holidays into 2013, I’ve been having daydreams of the Swiss Alps. A few years ago I took my family there in the summer and found the most extraordinary playground on the slopes of the Matterhorn. We spent a blissful day picnicking, hiking, and watching the kids enjoy the slides, swings, ropes, and other playground paraphernalia, all beneath a backdrop of that amazing mountain.
More recently I hiked with friends in the Jungfrau region, basing ourselves in Mürren on the flank of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, what has to be one of the most scenic settings on earth. At other times I’ve explored Geneva, Lausanne, Luzern, St. Moritz, Gindelwald, Appenzell, Chur, and other places, but I’ve never been there in winter. Continue reading »
Since before the economic meltdown we have been planning a trip to Spain to explore my husband’s roots and revel in all that is Spanish soccer. I know a number of people who have traveled recently to debt-stricken European countries including Spain, Greece, Ireland and Iceland. Prices are still high, but most raved about their trips and Spain has stood out as a fabulous place to visit despite the nearly 25% unemployment rate. Food in particular has been a big draw for many, fueled in part by Anthony Bourdain and other shows on the Travel Channel.
Clearly, visiting struggling countries helps to boost their economy. For a place like Greece, it might well be how they can dig out of such a deep hole, promoting all that is so appealing when life for locals is so hard. So, when I read a recent New York Times article entitled “The Country Beckons Spaniards as Jobs in Cities Grow Scarce,” it was interesting to think about how long periods of strife can dramatically change the travel landscape.
I remember rolling in to sleepy Spanish villages, practically drunk on olives and olive oil and even sleeping under an olive tree one hot day. The small towns, just awakening from years under Franco, were still very old world, so authentic and charming. Spain of course has modernized quickly over the last 20 or so years, but much of the growth was isolated in the big cities and towns.
Beyond the sleek Silicon Valley exterior, there are many small towns with plenty to explore in this California region famous for technology.
If you’re looking for a getaway, outdoor fun, sun, and maybe some wine tasting, the small town of Los Gatos is a great choice. Set in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this affluent hamlet, with a Victorian downtown, is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living. As you drive into town, you pass Netflix headquarters, and you realize, this is perhaps where the 1% live, a notion that was confirmed at the stylish Purple Onion Café, where at 10 a.m., the place was hopping with expensively clad moms chatting and nibbling, post workout. The Illy coffee and yummy breakfast items made with cage-free eggs, local produce, and freshly baked whole-grain breads were tantalizing.
For lunch, a traditional Irish pub with Americanized pub grub, was a more down home option. C.B. Hannegan’s was bustling with business folks and families; the outdoor garden was so pleasant and portions big enough to share. The beer choices were impressive and International, with 15 on draught. Continue reading »