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August 23, 2007

Going to Switzerland... and ?

I found out this week that I am going to Switzerland at the end of September. I'll be spending about 5 days in Lucerne on a business trip. Then since I'm all the way over there, I'll extend the trip at least another week and see something new. I'm in the midst of travel planning hell right now — I think I've researched every spot from Italy to Hungary to Austria and my brain is fried. But right now I'm leaning toward Amsterdam. I've never been there but everyone tell me that I would love it — great art, beautiful canals, fantastic Indonesian food and really nice people. If I can find a nice apartment there, I'll be set.

September 20, 2007

My Top Five Travel Favorites

I got this idea from one of my favorite blogs Persnickety Tutu. Since I'm leaving soon, I thought now was the time share a few of my trusty travel packables.

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1. Kipling New Rita Shoulder Bag in black nylon. I have used variations on this type of bag for travel before and it seems to be the best compromise of enough storage space without being too big and bulky. I also like the cross body strap and the fact that it zips securely. Kipling is a cool Belgium brand with a loyal following - it must be the furry monkey logo that is attached to every bag!

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2. CAbi Reversible Skirt - I love the concept of a reversible skirt for travel. I brought a short one on my last trip and it was great. The fabric defies wrinkles and when you’re tired of one pattern, you flip it over to the other side. I just got this longer version in a fall colored floral pattern on one side and a subtle animal print on the other. I have to attend a couple of dinners on this trip and I can’t think of a more perfect solution than this skirt. It can also be made to look more casual with a t-shirt and sweater.

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3. MAC Emergency Eye Treatment - this super small tube of eye cream de-puffs and soothes under the eyes. Perfect for those tired eyes after 12 hours on a plane.

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4. Aveda Foot Relief - My feet take a pounding when I travel. No matter how good my shoes are, by the end of the day my feet are beat. This foot cream makes an amazing difference. It’s cooling, soothing and smells great.

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5. Frommer’s Travel Planner Journal - Last trip I used a much prettier black leather travel journal, but for this trip I was talked into the practicality of this one with all it’s tabs and categories and helpful bits of travel info. In contrast my attractive black book had things like mountains of the world and a page of shuffleboard rules, which I hate to say never came in handy. The Frommer’s book has a handy pocket in the front and some business card pockets in the back and the whole book can be held together with an attached elastic band.

So, there you have it. Now I just need to pack it all up and go!

October 25, 2007

Slow Travel Get Together in Palm Desert

Last weekend we attended a most amazing gathering of people from Slow Travel. It was hosted by Palma and Brad in their beautiful home in Palm Desert. And I have to digress for just a moment and say how much I love the name Palma and the fact that this particular Palma lives in Palm Desert. Palma is also an exceptional cook, a master of entertaining and her love of Italy and all things Italian shows in everything that she does. So, this was a get together that was not to be missed.

We started at about 4:00 on a quite warm afternoon and I don't think we left until 1:30 am or so. What on earth did we do that whole time? Well, eating accounted for a lot of it. Talking was almost continuous and laughter was the glue that held it all together.

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After lavish appetizers, we had a leisurely three course sit down dinner and later we had dessert. Every bit of food was delicious and I still cannot get over how amazing those chocolate dipped homemade caramels sprinkled with sea salt were.

And lest you think it was all about eating, let me reassure you that there was quite a bit more going on. Palma performed for us by singing her own words to classic songs, and she was backed up by a group of "slow chicks" adorned with feather boas. There was also a clever "show and tell" game where people brought something Italian in a bag. One of the favorites was Grappa in a Spray Bottle!

But by and large the main purpose of the event was for us to meet old and new friends, so the non-stop talking and laughter was ample evidence that the party was a roaring success. My thanks to Palma and Brad for giving so generously of their time, their hospitality and their friendship.

For more perspectives on the get together, check out Palma's blog, Jerry's blog, Sandi's blog and the Slow Travel Photo Album (that has over 180 photo from the event!). Video footage may be coming soon, I'll keep you posted.

February 4, 2008

Beautiful Paso Robles

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For some reason I didn't take many photos on our recent trip to Paso Robles. I guess I was busy eating, drinking wine and socializing. But on the drive from Castoro to Tablas Creek Winery we pulled over to the side of the road so I could take this shot. The whole drive was one of those beautiful picturesque country drives, and this image in particular really stood out. If you are ever in Paso Robles, please do make the scenic drive along Vineyard Dr.

February 6, 2008

Travel Reading Meme

I got this meme from Blonde Momentos and it looks like fun.

1. What book are you reading right now? Do you like it?
I’m reading Living for Design: The Yves Saint Laurent Story by Axel Madsen. It’s probably out of print since it was published in 1979. It was in a bag of books that my mother gave me that she wanted to get rid of. I thought I’d read my way through any that looked interesting before donating them. This one is interesting but it does feel a little dated.

2. What was the last book you read on a plane?
I read White Rose (War of the Roses) by R. Garcia y Robertson on the plane on the way back from Amsterdam. It was a bit of fluff to get my mind off the fact that the vacation was over. The basic premise was that a woman from modern day Hollywood is transported in time back to England during the War of the Roses. The disappointing part of it was that it was the third book in a trilogy, but the ending was completely up in the air. So, either the author plans to write another book, or we are left completely guessing. Either way I’m not sure that I recommend it.

3. What was the last book you read on a roadtrip?
On the way back from San Diego on New Year’s Day I was reading Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl. A good foodie book, I really enjoyed it.

4. What is the most unusual place you found yourself reading?
Some people think it’s unusual that I can read while in motion, on the train or in the car (while someone else is driving of course). I don’t find it unusual, though. I like to read whenever and wherever I get the chance.

5. What books would you take to keep you occupied on a 2 week vacation to the beach?
Can it be a vacation to a beach in Italy? Let’s see I think I’d take five:

The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. This the same author who wrote The Food of Love, a charming story of a girl who goes to Rome and falls in love with a cook. This book looks like it takes place in Naples and carries on the tradition of mixing romance with cooking, so I’m sure it would be a fun thing to read on vacation.

The Italian Lover by Robert Hellenga. Here’s another safe bet that I’m interested in reading. It’s the sequel to Sixteen Pleasures, which I really enjoyed.

Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy by Michael Tucker. It’s always nice to read a travel memoir while on vacation. This one is by former LA Law star and takes place in Umbria.

A Donna Leon “Commissario Guido Brunetti” mystery. I’ve only just recently read one of this series (Aqua Alta), so any of the others will do. It’s nice to have one page turner mystery in your beach bag.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - This one takes place in Barcelona, not Italy (but perhaps my vacation is a week on the Italian Riviera and a week in Southern Spain, that sounds like a nice plan.) Anyway, Kim just mentioned this one and it sounds like a good read.

February 13, 2008

A Valentine for Venice

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Here is my valentine tribute to that most romantic of cities—Venice. I created this collage out of some drawings, maps and cards that I picked up from our travels there several years ago. I think I was also inspired by these blogs which have had entries lately about Venice, collages and digital scrapbooking.

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 23, 2008

Chess on the Streets of Amsterdam

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The last few days I've been going through photos of my trip last fall to Europe. I'm putting together an iPhoto book specifically of photos from the Switzerland portion of the trip. But somehow I strayed into the Amsterdam photos, and this one caught my eye. I remember exactly when I took it. We had just had lunch at Wagamama and came across this group of people playing chess on the streets of Amsterdam. I wanted a photo, but I didn't want to make people nervous. So I snapped just one photo as quickly and discretely as possible. I wasn't expecting anything fantastic, but I'm happy to have captured a little slice of life on the streets. And, I have to say that I think that guy's Puma bag is pretty cool.

February 26, 2008

Lucca View

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A view from the window of our bed and breakfast in Lucca. Since I have a fascination with open air markets of all types, this was the perfect view for me. We were only in Lucca for three nights on that trip, and I have been thinking about going back for a longer stay ever since. And next time it will be in an apartment, so that I can shop at all of the wonderful markets.

April 1, 2008

Happy April Fool's Day

It's April Fool's Day over at Slow Travel, and they have announced some exciting new ventures: Slow Travel Tours. In 2005 they brought you Slow Tours (my personal favorites were the Hidden Florence and the Uffizi Tour.)

In 2007 Slow Travel Planning Services were announced, with the brilliant addition of a special Slow Pets tour.

And this year, what everyone's been waiting for: SlowAir, because, really, who hasn't been looking for an airline that would slow things down?

But who could forget 2006, when Slow Villas was launched? I'm still on the waiting list for the Apartment in Florence. And here's my review for the Apartment in Rome:


Vacation Rental Review

Apartment in Rome
Agency: Slow Travel Villas, etc.

When
April 1, 2006, 1 week

Location
Outside the city center, but quite convenient if you don’t mind mastering the public transportation system, approximately 2 hour and 43 minute walk to Pantheon or approximately 2 hour and 36 minutes by bus, metro and tram. Not a good idea to try to take a taxi to the apartment as most taxi drivers refused to drive into that neighborhood for some reason.

Nearby Amenities
Fabulous pasticceria, only a 45 minute walk away. Convenient hardware store about 2 blocks away, but most things we needed there were so large that we opted to have them delivered anyway (new front door, a shower unit, etc.)

The House/Apartment
The apartment is on the 6th floor (7th, American), with no lift. The 5-6 foot ceilings could be a problem for taller people, but we didn’t mind and got used to waking hunched over a little.

Garden
We were told by Paolo that there would be a roof top garden terrace, but this turned out to be not the case. Perhaps there was a garden at one time, but the neighbor appeared to be expanding his apartment onto the roof. The noise was not an issue at all, as we were making a bit of noise ourselves.

Furnishings/Cleanliness/Living Areas
The furniture was an eclectic mix of antique and just plain old. The apartment was as clean as could be expected, given a little construction debris.

Bedrooms/Bathrooms
It had the largest bathroom we have ever seen in Europe, but unfortunately it was not quite finished and we needed to work on it a little before we could use it. After the walls went in, it really wasn’t quite as large as it had first appeared. In the bedroom, the straw filled mattress was quite comfortable the first few nights, but did not hold up well and we ended up buying a futon and using that for the rest of our stay.

Kitchen
The kitchen was in a small cupboard that opened off the hall a couple floors down. Interesting antique appliances that I had never seen before. We ate out for all meals.

Problems or Bonuses
The only problems we had were related to the construction. We thought most of the projects would be simple and take a few minutes, but most extended to fill the entire week, isn't that always the case? The bonus was that we had quite a sense of accomplishment by the time we left.

Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Of course, but with a couple of caveats.... not for the faint of heart (literally, that climb will really do a number on you!). Also, would really be best for someone who is a licensed contractor. But we loved it and would stay there every time we come to Rome!

February 13, 2009

The Greek Theatre in Taormina

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Here's a photo that we took in Taormina of the so-called Greek Theatre or Teatro Greco. So-called because it dates from Roman times, but like many things in Sicily it was probably built upon the foundations of an earlier Greek structure. I dug this photo up out of the archives, so to speak, since it's from our trip to Sicily in 2003. It's nice to look back at photos from old trips and remember those impossibly blue skies and beautiful views... and to dream of going there again someday.

August 9, 2009

A Sustainable Wine Tasting Tour

Recently my husband, Steve and I went on a wine tasting tour with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours. I have to confess that I have never actually gone on a wine tour. We've been to plenty of wineries on our own or with a group, but never actually done the tour approach. Perhaps it was because the idea of getting into a giant gas guzzling bus with a horde of people didn't sound all that appealing. But the premise of Sustainable Vine Wine Tours is altogether different and quite appealing. In the interest of full disclosure, they also happen to be an advertiser in Edible Santa Barbara for which I am the editor and co-publisher. I knew that their business seemed like a good fit for what we were doing with the magazine, but I really wanted to experience one of their tours first hand to find out more about it.

To start off, transportation is in a 9-passenger Mercedes biodiesel van, so right away you're feeling better about the environment. Owner and tour guide Bryan Hope is as passionate about sustainability in all things as he is knowledgeable about the wine industry in our area. So, as soon as he started to give us a little overview of organic and biodynamic winemaking on the drive out there, I knew this was going to be an incredible experience. The day's agenda is paced perfectly: three vineyards/wineries to visit and lunch in between. The wineries can vary, so the three that we went to on our tour were Cimerone, Alma Rosa and Demetria. Others in the lineup might include Beckman, Ampelos, Coquelicot, Sunstone or Presidio.

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Bryan Hope of Sustainable Vine Wine Tours

We started off our tour at Three Creek Vineyard which makes Cimerone wines. It is located in the area known as Happy Canyon, which will soon have it's own sought after AVA (American Viticultural Area) status. Cimerone is not open to the public, so we would have never have been able to go there on our own. And what a treat to meet owners Roger and Priscilla Higgins.

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Above Roger shows us the ripening grapes protected from the birds by netting. We tasted a grape and learned what they look for to determine when to pick — the taste of the grape and the taste of the seed, as well as how the color of the skin influences the flesh of the grape.

The vineyard grows their grapes organically but the wine is not technically organic, due to the fact that sulfites are used to protect the wine from damage by oxygen. Without the addition of sulfites, wine is much more unstable and susceptible to spoilage. So rather than try to look for organic wines, you are much better off looking for wines which are made from organic grapes.

The winemaker for Cimerone is Doug Margerum, who is well known as the original owner of The Wine Cask, and he also produces critically acclaimed wine under the Margerum wine label.

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Stepping into the immaculate and chilly barrel room, we were all overwhelmed with the delicious smell of the wine, and we were thrilled when we got a barrel tasting of some of their fantastic syrah. Notice how winery dog Kali, who is the mascot on their logo, keeps an eye on us.

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Our next stop was Alma Rosa. Owner Richard Sanford first planted Pinot Noir vines in Santa Barbara County in 1970. Whether you refer to him as a pioneer or a legend, clearly he is a pivotal figure in the wine industry, and he was on hand to chat with us as we tasted some of their delicious wines. Their vineyards are certified organic and owners Richard and Thekla are both committed to the environment and to promoting sustainability. From their Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris to their well loved Chardonnay and their stellar Pinot Noir, it was a fantastic tasting and a perfect prelude to our gourmet and organic lunch.

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Left to right: myself, Michael, Trish, Bryan, Steve and Tiffany (from New Hampshire)

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We gathered in front of the winery for a group shot and Richard Sanford joined us (second from right).

Our final stop for the day was Demetria Estate, one of only a handful of biodynamic vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Demetria is only open by appointment, so it is not for the casual visitor. Tucked amidst stunning scenery, the winery is picture postcard beautiful.

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We sat out on the terrace and tasted the wines while learning a little bit about the principals of biodynamic farming. Similar to organic in that they don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, biodynamic goes a step further in trying to achieve a holistic and balanced ecosystem. The features of biodynamic farming include using a lunar calendar when planting, pruning and picking and controlling pests or weeds by using their ashes as a deterrent. Some of the attributes of biodynamics seem to stray into philosophy and the concepts of anthroposophy as taught by founder Rudulf Steiner... and as the conversation become more esoteric it all somehow seemed fitting while relaxing on the terrace and drinking their stunning wines.

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After a tour of the winery and a more detailed description of how they make the wine, we were all completely satisfied, and it was time to head back to Santa Barbara after a full and rewarding day.

I felt so privileged to have gone on this tour—what a fantastic experience. Many of us who live in this area forget how amazing our wine region is. We have so many world class vintners in our midst. But finding out about some of these organic and biodynamic vineyards takes it to another level. Going on this tour deepened my awareness and respect for what they are doing, and once again reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in Santa Barbara County.

For more information about taking a tour with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours call (805) 698-3911 or visit their website.

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