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 »
Even if you have never made the pilgrimage to Giverny, France, it’s not hard to visualize the glory that was…is…Claude Monet’s famous garden. From the well-known water lilies and irises to the many iconic Impressionist works, this small, intimate garden on the outskirts of Paris inspired many of Monet’s masterpieces.
A recent cameo in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris reminded me of my rushed trip to Giverny many years ago. I traipsed through the garden taking in the amazing palette of colors, the pinks and yellows, fuchsias, purples and oranges. How could one NOT love the feast for the senses? Continue reading »
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.
On a gloriously, sunny crisp clear day in SF, I started wading through our snow gear in preparation for a school snow trip to the Sierras. It must be mentioned that keeping snow gear up to date for growing kids is tricky, but I think I’ve got it all sorted and labeled. All this talk of snow and winter got me thinking about my own winter bucket list, winter adventures high on my “to do” agenda.
When most of the country is dreaming of beaches and sun, I’m dreaming of the white stuff. I love snow and all the fun one can have outdoors when the temperature drops and precipitation turns to flakes. Three unusual activities came to mind. One, visiting Sweden’s Ice Hotel, but I already posted about that one.
The second, skating Holland’s many canals has been a lifelong dream. Inspired by Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, skating the canals has become a rarity due to pollution and climate change. 2009 was a big year for canal skating and many Dutch citizens rediscovered their soul when they strapped on their skates two winters ago.
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.
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Two new countries have joined the global community and one has disappeared. It sounds complicated, but what happened in the Caribbean last week means that the group of countries formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles or the Dutch Antilles, is no longer. On October 10th, 2010, folks living on the Caribbean islands of Curacao and St. Maarten greeted the day and found themselves in autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Three smaller islands, (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) formerly part of the Dutch Antilles, will now be ruled directly by the Dutch government.
The federation of the Dutch Antilles was formed in 1954 and it was economic issues, primarily debt, that tore them apart. What does this mean for travelers to the Caribbean islands? A sampling of sites shows very few are even mentioning the change…at least not yet. Even the U.S. State Department site is yet to update information. For now, according to The Economist magazine, the Netherlands will continue to handle the islands’ defense and foreign policy. If you are planning a trip to the region, make sure you ask a lot of questions about visa and passport documents and any changes that may be in the works.