Morocco: Fez Fabulousness

The first building I entered in Morocco was my hotel in Fez. Right away, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore!

Entrance
entrance to Palais Faraj hotel
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Palais Faraj hotel’s courtyard

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This door at Palais Faraj shows off Morocco’s decorative arts in one fell swoop: painted and carved wood, tiles in many patterns, lace-like plaster work…a rich and happy visual heritage that is centuries old.

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This is Fez’s medina, founded in the 9th (!!!) century, as seen from the rooftop terrace of the Palais Faraj.

Now let’s go into the medina…

Fez’s medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site…all 540 acres of it! Hold onto your hats because wandering around the medina is fascinating and fun. Here you will see the major cultural sites of Fez, observe its medieval lifestyle, and see the exotic wares for sale in its little shops.

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Men in djellabas (long robes with pointed hoods) are ubiquitous, not to mention evocative! Djellabas are long coats, worn over clothes: made of wool in winter and cotton for summer.

See the Sites in the Medina

  •  Al Qaraouyine (aka, Karaouinne), is a Koranic college founded in 859, the oldest continuously operating university in the world!
  • Al-Attarine Madrasa (Koranic school) founded in 1325 (adjacent to Al Qaraouyine)
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Note Al-Attarine Madrasa’s gorgeous tiles, woodwork, and carved plaster!  (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Bou Inania Madrasa

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architectural detail at Bou Inania

  • Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts “housed in a beautifully restored caravanserai, a rooming house for traveling merchants.” (Financial Times) This multi-tiered, wood-paneled caravanserai was built in the 14th century.
  • Batha Museum of artisan objects (peaceful garden, pretty carved and painted doors, pottery, etc. with interesting history)
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Our guide, leading us through the medina: Every few hours when the call to prayer was broadcast, he would duck into a mosque to pray for 10 minutes.

A Note about Tour Guides: While I prefer not to be herded around by a guide, I highly recommend hiring one to navigate Fez’s medina because (1) you will most definitely get lost otherwise (2) the merchants will leave you alone (3) our guide, Mohamed,  advised us how much to pay while haggling with various merchants. Hire a guide:

  • Through your hotel. That’s how we got our excellent guide, Mohamed.
  • Hire Mohamed directly (Cell: 0661 2524 88 or mohamedalami410@gmail.com)
  • “…sign on to a savvy local tour: the four-hour “Hidden Fez” offered by Plan-it-Morocco, a travel company run by two women — English and Australian — who live here and know the city inside and out. The tours, usually led by Moroccans, visit the city’s exquisite private palaces, enchanting hidden gardens, spaces where weavers work hand looms, the odoriferous tannery quarter and other places you would probably never find or gain access to on your own. The tour requires a minimum of two visitors and costs 1,600 dirhams. More information is available at plan-it-morocco.com.” (NYTimes, 2017)
  • “there is nothing like a tailor-made tour from Fez-based New Zealand novelist Sandy McCutcheon, a contributor to The View from Fez blog (riadzany.blogspot.com), one of the most useful resources on the city, or his colleague Helen Ranger to give you the inside track on Fez, while showing you the best places to buy Berber rugs and the rest of Fez’s traditional crafts.” (“How to Spend It,” 2011)

TIP: “Many maps of the medina are either poor or incorrect (plan de Fez is the exception),” according to The Ruined Garden restaurant in Fez medina

TIP: “Most of the souks and cafes in the Fez medina are closed on Friday” (NYTimes 2017)

Shopping in the Medina

The things to buy are leather and suede (made by tanneries in the medina), pottery and tiles, carved & inlaid wood, rugs, and metal lamps cut in lace-like patterns. Argan oil is big, too.

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Poterie de Fez

  • Poterie de Fez (Quartier de Poterie, 32 Ain Nokbi Route Sidi Hrazem) — Love this place because they showed us how tiles are made, how tile designs are laid into place, and how pottery is painted. They can make anything your little heart desires.
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Got to have this sink from Poterie de Fez!

Terrasse de Tannerie, El Haj Ali Baba (no. 10 Hay Lblida Chouara) for a huge array of leather and the softest suede clothes, purses, wallets, belts…plus the proprietor offers an interesting explanation of the tanning process, complete with views from its terrace of the dying vats in the square below.

Au Coin du Bois (20, Derb El Hammam, Guerniz) for gorgeous carved and inlaid wooden items

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Au Coin du Bois: This soaring courtyard is typical of Fez’s palace architecture. Today, the palaces are used as riads (small hotels), elegant shops, and private homes.

Talisman Art Gallery (No. 150 Sidi Moussa Guerniz) for many beautifully sophisticated antiques like this chest, for which my husband is still longing…

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bureau of inlaid mother of pearl and camel bone from Talisman Art Gallery

In addition to these beautiful things are others, exotic and intriguing. For example…

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Yep, that’s a camel’s head hanging in front of this butcher’s stall. I was not tempted. I don’t think this woman is interested, either…although they do have similar profiles!

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The local Coke distributor: While walking through the medina, we had to step aside numerous times for donkey-drawn carts to pass. The streets are too narrow for cars.

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A realtor’s display: Not exactly like the glossy photos of houses in our realtors’ windows!

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We saw numerous little stores like this. Can you guess what these are??? Portable thrones for carrying a bride about on some poor men’s shoulders. Who wouldn’t want to be queen for the day?!

Sights Outside of the Medina

  • Royal Palace – While you can’t go inside, this is fun to see. It is one of the king’s 45 palaces.
  • “an afternoon stroll takes you past the swarming Bab Bou Jeloud gate and into the Jnan Sbil gardens, recently reopened and a delicious respite from the city’s pressure-cooker heat…,” per How to Spend It. We recently visited this and while it’s not world-class, it is a nice, open green garden that one can walk through in 15 minutes.
  • “While the Ville Nouvelle, the administrative quarter invented by the colonial French, has wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees, shiny modern cafeterias, office blocks and ATMs, the soul of the city resides in that gigantic medina” (How to Spend It)

Day Trips

  • Field trip: “From there (Fez), a three-hour drive gets you to Chefchaouen, the famed Blue City that is even more dreamy in reality than in photographs. Imagine if there was fresh snowfall in Santorini, in every shade of periwinkle, indigo, sky, and powder blue. There, you can almost feel sustained off the visual stimulation without food, but when hunger sets in the best (casual) meal can be had at Bab Ssour, while prime views of the stacked blue city are had from the top of Lina Ryad, the prettiest riad in town.” (Architectural Digest, 2018) My friend, who went to Chefchaouen this month, says there’s not that much to do here so recommends one night only.
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on the road from Fez to Volubilis

  • Field trip #2: See the beautifully preserved Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site…Easy day trip from Fez (1+ hours drive) and fun to drive through the countryside, which is covered with acres of olive and fruit trees.
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Volubilis

  • To be Combined with Volubilis: One hour’s drive from Volubilis is the 17th century capital of Meknes, one of Morocco’s four imperial cities & a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the FT recommends seeing the mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, Bab Mansour gateway, the ruins of the Sultan’s stables (built to accommodate 12,000 horses!), the Granaries, the Dar Jamai Museum (19th cent. palace) w/collection of ceramics, jewelry, and textiles; nearby is the holy city of Moulay Idriss. The drive back to Fez takes about an hour.
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one of 20 gates interspersed among Meknes’ 40 km. of walls around the city

I recommend our driver, Karim Khalil, of Transport Touristique VIP (karim2011khalil@gmail.com). Our hotel, Palais Faraj, arranged for him to drive us from Fez to Volubilis to Meknes and back, which was a great day.

Let’s Eat!

Cocktails & Restaurants

When you make dinner reservations in the medina,  the restaurant asks “with or without a porter?” Take the porter. Otherwise, you will be fruitlessly wandering the medina, hungry and confused!

  • “…it’s an adventure in itself to venture—with a porter to guide you—into the medina after dark to savor the six-course prix fixe menus at Nur, open in September for its second “season” of fine modern-Moroccan-with-a-Mexican-twist cuisine, made from ingredients purchased each morning in the market and formed into innovative dishes later (they’re closed in summer),” per Architectural Digest, 2018). CNTraveler (2017), Wall Street Journal (2017) & NYTimes (2017) also recommend Nur, as does Mimi’s Travel File. The decor is modern, elegant medina.
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Our best meal in Morocco was at Nur. This is an aerial view. The restaurant has extremely high ceilings and is small. Stylish and deelish!

  • “The candlelit tiled courtyard of the five-room riad hotel Dar Roumana (House of the Pomegranate) offers a romantic setting in which to discover the excellent cooking of Younes Idrissi. The changing prix fixe menus are inspired by the French and Moroccan kitchens.” (NYTimes, 2017) Mimi’s Travel File can attest to the food and romantic ambiance of this traditionally beautiful riad in the medina.
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Dar Roumana is a beautiful riad with good food in an elegant setting.

  • “The casual Café Fez, in a walled, lushly planted garden, is run by the renowned French antiques dealer Michel Biehn…Reasonably priced, friendly and serving fresh, inventive Franco-Moroccan cooking, this place is especially popular with local expats.” (NYTimes 2017) Mimi’s Travel File recommends CF (it’s fun!), as does CN Traveler, 2017.
  • Eden, the restaurant in the Palais Amani, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017. If you would like a break from traditional Moroccan decor, this modern, white and pretty (slightly cold in feel) restaurant is a good get. I liked the bar at Palais Amani.
  • The Ruined Garden, in Riad Idrissy, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017
  • Cafe Clock  was suggested by Travel +Leisure, 2015

Hotels

  • Palais Amani (Andrew HarperNew York Times, 2017 & Mr. and Mrs. Smith recommend this; Mimi’s Travel File visited it and thought it attractive)
  • Palais Faraj (Abercrombie & Kent, 2016 and Travel+Leisure 2015) – highly recommend! We stayed here for a week last month and loved the decor, location and nice staff. PF is built up against the medina, on the outside the wall.
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Palais Faraj bedroom: note the Berber rugs on tiled floor, carved wood door frames and terrace

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fountain in Palais Faraj’s courtyard

  • Architectural Digest (2018) said: “It should be required to stay at a riad (the Moroccan term for a house with gardens) inside the medina, many of which have been lovingly restored into intimate boutique hotels. There are handfuls of particularly pristine and transportive ones to choose from, including
    • the Relais & Chateaux property Riad Fes, with its peaceful pool and incredibly chic wine bar, and (Departures, 2016 likes this, too)
    • Palais Amani, the regally outfitted 17th-century bolt-hole of stained glass and Technicolor tile work whose ceilings are sky-high and whose rooftop is being transformed for open-air cooking classes and dining.
    • Karawan Riad opened two years ago after a painstaking ten-year restoration and renovation that comprises intricate moucharaby paneling and a lounge wallpapered with rich red rugs. (T+L, 2015, also recommended it) A friend of mine stayed here this month, loved it & said, “It’s gorgeous!”
    • The food at all these riads is mouth-watering…”
  • “Overlooking the medina, the 50-room Sahrai became Fez’s first real boutique hotel when it opened in 2014. Using rich local materials like biscuit-colored Taza stone and custom-made décor like copper-framed lanterns, the Parisian designer Christophe Pillet coined a new decorative idiom of contemporary Moroccan chic that has made this stylish establishment a favorite of the local beau monde. Join this cosmopolitan crowd for cocktails either in the curtained open-air gallery near the bar or in the rooftop bar overlooking the city.” (NYTimes, 2017) Travel+Leisure (2016) also recommended it.

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BTW, while many Moroccans speak English, more speak French, and all speak Arabic or Berber. How’s your Berber?

Bon voyage!

Fascinating article on the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair: Had to Share it with You!

The contemporary African art fair 1-54 made its African debut in Marrakech, Morocco, in the Grand Salon of the ritzy La Mamounia, one of Winston Churchill’s favorite hotels. Held over the weekend, 1-54 welcomed 17 international galleries, which exhibited more than 60 contemporary artists from across Africa and its diaspora. Sales were strong but, with the…

via Strong Sales at the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair, But Don’t Talk About ‘African’ Art — artnet News

Amalfi Coast, Mi Amore

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(photo courtesy of Getty Images)

The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage sight for many reasons…mountains shooting up out of the deep, blue sea; pastel villages on the two-lane road that hugs the mountains along the water; long, languorous, al fresco lunches of fish just-plucked from the sea; lemon groves; medieval villages rich in history; colorful ceramics galore; water gazing and big, bright views. Let’s go!

Stay

BOOK NOW: “By March, the best hotels start to sell out.” (I can personally vouch for this great advice from Andrew Harper)

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Il San Pietro di Positano: Definitely go for a drink on one of the world’s more beautiful terraces!

  • Il San Pietro and Le Sirenuse hotels are the two grandes dames of the Amalfi Coast, and both are in Positano. While Positano is crowded, these hotels are glorious.
    • Il San Pietro di Positano   Il San Pietro sits by itself just outside of Positano, clinging to a cliff overlooking the sea.  Decor is classic Italian. Definitely go for a drink on this spectacular terrace, as I did. This uber-glamorous hotel is recommended by Vogue and Andrew Harper, although you will probably run into a lot of Americans.
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Il San Pietro di Positano

  • Positano
    • Le Sirenuse (recommended by Andrew Harper, the NYTimes, goop.com & me) is super glam, with a lemon tree scented terrace overlooking the deep, blue sea; you will run into lots of Americans here. Decor is old world Italian. An extremely well-traveled and good friend of mine recently stayed at Le Sirenuse and loved it! Read the Sirenuse Journal on their website for excellent tips on the Amalfi Coast. (58 rooms and suites)
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Le Sirenuse

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Le Sirenuse’ beautiful dining room overlooking the water

  • also in Positano
    • Villa Treville looks beautiful and stylishly decorated. No wonder Gwyneth Paltrow (see her goop.com) recommended it! This is your place if you are afraid of heights because it is not as high up as some of the other hotels.
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Villa Treville

  • in Ravello (relaxed pace, less crowded than Amalfi & Positano)
    • Belmond Hotel Caruso , former 11th century palace recommended by impeccable sources: Town & Country, Vogue, Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop.com, and Andrew Harper
    • Palazzo Avino (formerly Palazzo Sasso) Travel aficionado Andrew Harper recommends this 33 room hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant in a former 12th century private villa
    • Villa Cimbrone Recommended by Elle Décor, Vogue & NY Times, the Villa Cimbrone is noted for its beautiful gardens
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Villa Cimbrone

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Villa Cimbrone

  • In Conca dei Marini (not crowded)
    • Monastero Santa Rosa (recommended by the NY Times, Town & Country, Bazaar, How to Spend It, & Vogue–pretty impressive!) — This is the place to stay if you want to get away from the crowds in Positano and Amalfi. This former 17th century monastery, whose decor is not overly sophisticated, is in a tiny town with a charming little church, breathtaking views AND a great-looking Michelin-starred restaurant. I think it would be a peaceful, beautiful experience. (20 rooms and suites)
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Monastero Santa Rosa – a former monastery – reminds me of those monasteries sitting atop cliffs in Tibet – but with waaaay more services

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Pretty hard to beat this view from Monastero Santa Rosa’s pool!

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Oh, waiter! I’d like a Limoncello mojito, por favore. (photo courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa)

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Let’s order lemon risotto for lunch! (photo courtesy of Casa Angelina)

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Casa Angelina’s jr. suite terrace

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Take an elevator down through the cliffs (so cool!) to sit on Casa Angelina’s beach.

Mangia, Mangia

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Il Refettorio — This has to be the most fun Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Nothing stuffy here!

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Il Pirata

In an excellent article in Food & Wine, Mario Batali recommends:

  • in hard-to-find Massa Lubrense, La Scoglio, Taverna del Capitano, and Quattro Passi
  • La Tagliate in Montepertuso – “
I love this town dearly as a relief from the chichi beach and Armani crowd,” said Mario Battali in Food & Wine.Vogue likes it, too!
  • in Positano, Il Capitano (“high above the sea”), Chez Black (“right on the water” & Vogue magazine also likes Chez Black), and “the restaurant in Le Sirenuse is quite tasty.”
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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse

 

da Adolfo, “a hippie spot” on Laurito Beach where Carla Sersale, who runs Emporio, the boutique at her family’s hotel (the fab Le Sirenuse), spends some of her time off, according to an interview in Veranda Magazine. Click here for details. This place looks like so much fun! The Financial Times‘ excellent “How to Spend It” magazine also recommended it, as do goop.com and Vogue magazine.

See the Sights

Drive the Drive: The drive from Vietri to Positano along the Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s how spectacular it is!!! While nerve-wracking at times, you MUST do the  drive as it is gorgeous. We had to back up on this narrow, two-lane road with STEEP drop-off to make room for a truck; take your time!).

Village Hop along the Way: For a great article by Elle Decor on which towns to visit along the Amalfi Coast, click here

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(photo courtesy of Casa Angelina)

Boat the Coast: For a  different perspective, see the Amalfi Coast by boat! Take the Travelmar ferry to points along the coast

Hike for Views: An alternative way to take in the stunning sea views is suggested by the NYT: “For better views and less congestion, head to Bomerano, a mountaintop hamlet, to hike Il Sentiero degli Dei, or the Path of the Gods. As the name suggests, the up-in-the-clouds views are spectacular along this well-marked trail. Though not recommended for anyone prone to vertigo, it’s a relatively easy three-hour hike to the town of Nocelle, where hundreds of steps then lead down to the beach at Arienzo and a well-deserved dip in the sea.”

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

See Amalfi’s Duomo’s façade of mosaics and striped arches and Chiostro del Paradiso, a 13th-century cloister

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

 

BTW, have I mentioned that Positano and Amalfi are crowded?! The NYTimes  (“36 Hours on the Amalfi Coast” ), Vogue and/or Elle Décor (recommend seeking out these following charming smaller towns:

  • Cetara (medieval village, anchovy sauce)
  • Vietri sul Mare (ceramics, majolicas)
  • Praiano (click here to read the NYTimes‘ article on Praiano & click here to read Vogue‘s article)
  • Conca dei Marini
  • Maiori (has a sand beach, unlike most of the other AC beaches, which are all pebbles; Collegiate di Santa Maria a Mare)
  • Minori (Villa Marittima, a first-century Roman villa ruins)
  • Ravello (Click here to read Vogue‘s article on Ravello; Villa Cimbrone’s gardens; Villa Rufolo — the inspiration for the magic garden of Klingsor in Wagner’s “Parsifal;” Ravello Festival attracts world class music talent from July-September)
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Ravello Music Festival (photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

 

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

Day trips

  • Pompeii is an easy day trip by train from Sorrento
  • Capri — Take a day-trip on a Riva speedboat

SHOP

Lucio Liguori, Via San Vito 49, Raito, 84019 Vietri sul Mare. Tel +39 339 310 7071. Studio visits on request.

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

in Positano

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(photo courtesy of Emporio Le Sirenuse)

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(photo courtesy of Emporio Le Sirenuse)

For more shopping opp’s, see goop.com

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You  will see lots of beautiful tiles like this for sale in boutiques along the Amalfi Coast. (photo courtesy of Villa Treville)

When to Visit

Elle Décor recommends May-June and Sept-Oct, when the weather is slightly cooler.

My husband and I spent part of our  honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast 20 years ago, so I thought it would be the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day post.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Hong Kong

“Hong Kong makes New York City look sleepy,” said my globe-trotting father. I could not imagine any place more energized than NYC…until I got to HK. Let’s hop on a plane right now and go! Here’s what we will see…

The Rolls-Royce Fleet on Tsing Ma Bridge (horizontal - mid)

Here we are, being driven to the Peninsula Hotel in one of its famous Rolls Royces! Click here for more on the Rolls Royces.

Naturally, we will stay at the Peninsula Hotel. In addition to its consistently best-in-HK rank, the Peninsula has great views of the sparkling Victoria Harbour and an interesting history. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, they took over the best rooms at the Peninsula, until an American bomber pilot smoked them out! Click on the image at the bottom of this post to watch a beautiful video that will give you a feel for Hong Kong and the Peninsula.

Victoria Harbour View from The Pool (mid)

This is the Peninsula’s rooftop pool. One wall opens up to the outside, with its spectacular view of Hong Kong Island. My husband and I swam here, sipped cocktails here, and had this heaven all to ourselves.

See the Sights!

Walk the streets of Kowloon near the Peninsula to get a feel for the city. Look up and you will see factories on second, third and fourth stories of skyscrapers with laundry hanging from the windows. On the street level, you will see tiny storefronts offering everything under the sun, including reflexology. Such an exciting city!

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Get oriented (no pun intended): Hire a car and driver for a day-long tour of Hong Kong to see the major sights. Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which are separated by Victoria Bay.

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Situated between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, Victoria Bay is the third largest in the world.

The Peak — The Peak is the highest place on Hong Kong Island and a good place to get your bearings.  Click here for more info.

Mong Kok Bird Market — One of the most memorable sights we saw, birds are sold at this charming market and Chinese congregate with their pet birds. Chinese people believe that caged birds need fresh air and the company of other birds to stay healthy. Click here to learn more about this market, from the vantage point of the senior security agent of the Peninsula Hotel, who grew up in HK

Ride the Star Ferry “For less than 50 cents, grab a Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, a service that’s been in operation since the 19th century. It’s essential to get out on the water (you’ll see myriad fisherman motoring home with their daily catch), as there’s nothing quite like the view of Victoria Harbour…you can almost imagine what it would have been like back in the tea trading days,” according to Gwyneth Paltrow on her goop.com. We rode this ferry night and day and loved it.

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Take the Aqua Luna harbor tour Gwyneth recommends it, despite its cheesy-ness, and my father still remembers it fondly, 20 years later.

Hollywood Road, Cat Street & Man Mo Temple —  “Hollywood Road was the second road to be built when the Hong Kong colony was established by the British. Today, it is an intriguing collection of shops, from high-end Chinese antiques shops to sculpture and rug galleries to Maoist memorabilia shops.” (per the Peninsula’s website)

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Man Mo Temple, the oldest Taoist temple on HK & dedicated to the gods of literature and war…curious combination! (photo courtesy of stripped pixel.com)

Click here to learn more about Cat Street and Man Mo Temple from the Peninsula’s general manager, who grew up in HK.

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Man Mo Temple’s interior: The gold cones hanging from the ceiling are incense sticks that have been molded into this upwardly spiraling shape. When lit, the incense sends your prayers–in the form of scented smoke–up, up, up to the gods in heaven. (photo courtesy of stripped pixel.com)

Ginseng and Bird’s Nest Street, Dried Seafood Street, and Herbal Medicine Street — the tourist names for Wing Lok Street, Des Voeux Road West, and Ko Shing Streets — make up a neighborhood of small streets selling delicacies and remedies. “Traditional Chinese medicine is still very popular with the local population, and this is where they come to shop.” (per FathomAway.com) Most memorable was a shop with large, clear, glass jars filled with several birds’ nests, each jar from a different kind of bird. This shop sold skin remedies. When I told them I would like softer skin, they mashed up parts of several different nests, added some secret ingredients, and presented this tailor-made new skin potion to me.

Tour Western District — “Hong Kong is losing much of its past. However, there are still places to savor this vanishing world. Go on a walking tour through Western District, one of the most atmospheric parts of the city. There the streets are dedicated to sellers of specific products: Queen’s Road West has herbal remedies and temple goods; Bonham Road is dried seafood; and Man Wa Lane sells beautifully carved “chops” in a variety of material,” per trusted travel expert, Andrew Harper. Chops make good souvenirs! We had one made for my father, who uses it to this day on letters and his email signature.

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Hong Kong Park

See the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware — “Hong Kong Park contains a fascinating small museum. The Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware is dedicated to the history of tea ware…Steps away, the newer K.S. Lo Gallery wing houses an extraordinary collection of Chinese name seals, or “chops,” per Andrew Harper.

PMQ The initials stand for Police Married Quarters. Formerly living accommodations for police officers and having stood vacant for years, PMQ has been refurbished and transformed into studios, offices and shops for the creative industries, including those involved in fashion, furniture design, jewelry and food, including restaurants and cafes, per Andrew Harper.

Exterior

(photo courtesy of PMQ)

Asia Society Hong Kong Center — “a three-and-a-half-acre site has been converted to house the Hong Kong branch of the Asia Society, with spaces for performances, exhibitions and screenings. The visually striking AMMO restaurant was once a 19th-century ammunition storage depot for the British army. (You can still follow the rail tracks used for transporting munitions.)” per Andrew Harper.

Tour the Hong Kong Museum of History — “From prehistoric times to the modern era, the Hong Kong Museum of History squeezes 400 million years of the city’s history under one roof, ” according to USNews.Travel.com. While I haven’t been here, it sounds promising.

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Happy Valley Racecourse — “Every Wednesday from September to July, thousands of Hong Kong residents flood the stands of the Happy Valley Racecourse…Even if you’re not into betting, you should visit this local institution simply for the electric atmosphere, not to mention the surrounding city skyline, which sparkles once the sun goes down.” (usnews.travel.com) We went to the track in Bangkok and it was a blast!

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Happy Valley Racecourse (photo courtesy of scmp.com)

World’s Longest Outdoor Escalator — “The Central-Mid-Levels Escalator — an 800-meter-long chain of moving stairs and walkways…it’s a series of 18 reversible escalators and three travelators, all covered to protect against sudden downpours…Snaking through narrow streets in the busiest neighborhood in town, it’s actually a great way to tour Hong Kong’s dramatic cityscape — from dai pai dong food stalls in small alleys to the trendiest bars in Mid-Levels, from colorful old walk-ups to sleek modern skyscrapers,” per CNNtravel. I loved this! So memorable to ride up, up, up, passing different neighborhoods.

To read the NY Times “36 Hours in Hong Kong,” click here.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For cocktails, I recommend the Lobby Lounge at the InterContinental Hotel for its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the spectacular Victoria Harbour.

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Lobby Lounge at The InterContinental (photo courtesy of nextstophongkong.com): My mother stayed up most of one night watching the non-stop harbor activity & twinkling lights beyond from their IC hotel room. That’s how beautiful it is!

Gwyneth Paltrow loves Sevva. It’s website looks beautiful! Elle Decor raved about its outdoor wrap-around terrace with big, gorgeous views of HK’s harbor.

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Sevva’s transporting  terrace

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In addition to its lovely, imaginative decor, Sevva has great music, too!

For recommendations by Andrew Harper of authentic restaurants and those with spectacular views of the harbor, click here.

The Financial Times’ excellent “How to Spend It” magazine (2017) recommends:

  • Mak’s Noodle — “this restaurant serves wonton noodle soup and is a slice of Hong Kong heritage…has been in the same family for generations” (no website)
  • Cheung Hing — “a traditional tea house in Happy Valley…opened in 1951…pale green and grey mosaic tiles are quintessential 1950s Hong Kong.” (no website)
  • Fook Lam Moon — “another Jong Kong instituion, which has been serving traditional Cantones food since the 1940s.”

China Tang — (Departures magazine, 2014)

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beautiful dining room at China Tang Harbour City

Travel + Leisure (2015) recommended:

  • Little Bao (the NYTimes and Forbes also like LB) –“What Momofuku’s David Chang has done for the steamed pork bun (a.k.a.bao) in New York, the rising chef May Chow is emulating at her Little Bao restaurant in Hong Kong,” per the NYT.
  • Ho Lee Fook — pan-Asian food around the corner from Little Bao
  • Mott 32 — “Cantonese cuisine takes a luxurious turn at Mott 32, a chic subterranean space”; Forbes Travel Guide also likes it, as does Vogue magazine (2017)
  • Seventh Son — “The stylishly restrained dining room serves Cantonese mainstays without the cliquey, club-like vibe”

Additional Hotels

Hotel Indigo (138 rooms) has a bright, locally inspired décor—goldfish pillows, Chinese lanterns–along with a glass-bottom, rooftop pool cantilevered over the bustling sidewalks 29 floors below.” (NY Times 2016)

The Pottinger — “is a boutique hotel with a beautiful and subtle Chinese aesthetic” (Travel+Leisure 2015)

The Upper House — “a beautiful world-class hotel with a fabulous restaurant,” per Vogue magazine (2015); Andrew Harper likes it, too (“occupying floors 38 through 49 of the stylish Pacific Place complex, which is home to one of the city’s most luxurious shopping malls.”) The Upper House’s Cafe Gray Bar on the 49th floor has great views of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Gwyneth Paltrow likes the UH but I think it’s website looks cold.

Shop!

Gwyneth  Paltrow has a good guide to HK shopping on her site, goop.com. Click here to see her recommendations. Lala Curio looks especially good.

Have a suit or dress or whatever tailor-made!

  • The Peninsula recommended Fat Tai Eddie Siu Custom Tailors Co., where my husband had a couple of jackets made and our friend ordered a beautiful sky-blue cheongsam dress. So happy with both price and quality! They have kept my husband’s measurements and he has since ordered additional jackets from afar over the years.
  • Gwyneth recommends William Cheng & Son. 
  • TIP: Avoid the cheap tailors on the street level on many of the main streets in HK, as they tend to produce low quality clothes. Fat Tai Eddie Siu’s shop is on the second floor.

Click here for Vogue magazine’s most recent article on shopping in HK.

Tai Ping Shan Street..”is lined with independent shops and studios” (recommended by Lane Crawford’s chief brand officer in Travel+Leisure, 2015)

Field Trip

“Tai O village is about as far as you can get from central Hong Kong — both literally and figuratively. On a remote bay on lush, mountainous Lantau Island, Tai O is one of the last surviving fishing villages in Hong Kong — a relaxing relic of a bygone era, with simple homes on stilts fringing the water and narrow, car-free lanes lined with stalls selling shrimp paste (one of the village’s best known industries) and all manner of dried seafood. After strolling through town, sit down for seafood fried rice with local shrimp paste ( 98 Hong Kong dollars) at the Tai O Heritage Hotel, a renovated former police station built by the British in 1902 to safeguard Hong Kong’s border with China. It’s here, perched above the waters of the South China Sea, that one can appreciate what Hong Kong was like before its transformation to global commercial center — a sleepy outpost, deeply traditional and dependent on catches from the sea.” (NY Times 2016)

“Hong Kong is home to more than 260 outlying islands — each with its own personality. A few of the easiest to reach are Lantau Island, home to water buffalo and amazing hiking trails; Lamma, known for its laid-back village life and alfresco seafood restaurants; and Cheung Chau, which is perfect for a bike ride or hike through the mountains. Many of the islands can be reached from the Central Ferry Pier, with rides ranging from about 30 minutes to 1 hour.” (Forbes Travel Guide 2017)

Don’t Bother Going to nearby Macau: It’s not that interesting, unless you like to gamble.

Best Time to Visit: October-March is warm and dry; May-September is rainy, hot and humid.

Literary & DVD Traveling Companions:

  • “The World of Suzy Wong,” by Richard Mason, is well-written and will get you in a Hong Kong frame of mind.
  • James Bond’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”

Watch this Evocative Video from The Peninsula Hotel to get you in that HK frame of mind…

 

 

Washington, D.C. Christmas

Christmas is Washington’s most wonderful time of the year. Why? No crowds (like during spring break), no overpowering humidity (like during the summer), and most important, distinctly DC sights that are all dressed up for “the festive season.” I am a native Washingtonian and have picked out our very best sights and described them here, as my Christmas present to you!

Downtown DC

Behold the National Christmas Tree at the White House! Note how perfectly perfect it is…almost too perfect to be real (though it is) or visually interesting…but you have to see it at least once.

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National Christmas Tree on the White House lawn

The very first National Christmas Tree was decorated in 1923, when “First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House…That Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and “pushed the button” to light the 48-foot Balsam fir, as enthusiastic spectators looked on,” according to nationalchristmastree.org. Click here to read more about the history of the National Christmas Tree. To find out how to attend the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, click here.

To tour the sumptuous Christmas decorations inside the White House, click here.

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Can’t get tickets to tour the White House at Christmas? No problem! Just order Laura Dowling’s book, A White House Christmas. Laura was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House during the Obama administrations. Her book will give you an up-close-and-personal look at the WH Christmas decorations, plus how to make some of them. Let’s look at pictures from it…

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The Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, decorated for Christmas by Laura Dowling (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

The gorgeous wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room (above) was installed by Jackie Kennedy in 1961. For more on Jackie’s renovation of the DRR, click here.

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Laura Dowling does the Red Room: What could be more festive or elegant?! (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

In her book, Laura takes us behind-the-scenes of the highly detailed,  year-long planning process for creating Christmas decorations befitting the White House.

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Laura Dowling’s Christmas tree in the White House’s Blue Room (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

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This is the main hallway on the first floor of the White House, decorated by Laura and her team. (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is the Prettiest

The Capitol’s Christmas tree is the prettiest outdoor tree in DC. It stands alone in a peaceful place at the base of Capitol Hill. It doesn’t have the commercial, for-tourists feel of the National Christmas Tree at the White House. There are no crowds of admirers…I don’t know why. Gazing at its simple decorations with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop is a lovely, quiet sight. When you turn your back to the Capitol, you will look down the National Mall at the Washington Monument.

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(photo courtesy of rainforestsislandsferry.com)

“The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964 when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. McCormack (D-MA) placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage…Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide “The People’s Tree.” (from the Capitol Christmas Tree website)

U.S. Botanic Garden: Trains & Plants

Just a few steps from the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree is the Botanic Garden. Every Christmas, they create a model train exhibit whose tracks are laced in and out of the fabulous plants in the BG. The US Botanic Garden is small and beautiful.  Go!

USBG holiday show - Holiday tree train detail“Take a trip across America as our annual holiday show, Season’s Greenings, showcases Roadside Attractions! In our model train show, trains will chug around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights from across the United States. This year, the theme is “Seasons Greetings: Roadside Attractions.” (from the BG website)

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The Botanic Garden even has a miniature of the new National African American Museum on the Mall

Sample itinerary: Downtown

  • Visit the trains at the Botanic Garden
  • Take in the quiet beauty of the Christmas tree at the base of Capitol Hill
  • Stop for a drink at the Willard Hotel, where “Kentucky Statesman Henry Clay first introduces the Mint Julep outside of Kentucky in the Round Robin Bar,” according to the history of the hotel on the WH’s website. It’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, of course!
  • Walk the Pathway of Peace to see the National Christmas Tree and state trees.
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lobby of the Willard Hotel

Georgetown

The Washington National Cathedral sits at the top of Wisconsin Avenue, which leads into Georgetown, a hop skip and a jump away, so let’s start here. If you don’t have the Christmas spirit, visit the Cathedral and you will get it! Its gorgeous decorations (the altar guild ladies have great taste and talent), charming Creche Collection (of nativity scenes from around the world, on display from late November to early January), and gift shop will infuse you with the spirit. The Joy of Christmas concert is a Washington tradition that is particularly festive, cheerful, uplifting, and beautiful in this glorious setting.

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The Washington National Cathedral

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The Washington National Cathedral

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Charming creches from around the world each reflect where they were made. The one above is from Bolivia, I believe.

Since you’re at the Cathedral and the Cathedral is so close to Georgetown, saunter on down Wisconsin Avenue towards the Potomac River to do a little…

Christmas Shopping, House Gazing and Merry-Making

  • Everards’ Clothing in the 1800 block of Wisconsin Ave has nice clothes for men and women, despite its somewhat austere website.
  • While Georgetown has it fair share of chain stores, plenty of boutiques abound. The 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue is especially good. Patisserie Poupon is a nice little place in this block for a quick lunch. Look at the beautiful things (plates, serving pieces, jewelry, linens, and lots more) in A Mano
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A Mano boutique in Georgetown

Dine at 1789

1789 Christmas

A long-time DC favorite, every table at 1789 is full at Christmas-time (photo courtesy of 1789 Restaurant)

Dine at wonderful, old 1789 Restaurant, right next to Georgetown University, on a night they have carolers (December 15-24). They are tuxedo-clad and stand in front of this fireplace…this is an important point because they don’t saunter from table to table, forcing you to smile encouragingly while staring at them for an entire song sung in front of your table. So festive and elegant! Plus, very good food and warm ambience.

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(photo courtesy of 1789 Restaurant)

Mt. Vernon

And last but not least, cross the Potomac River to visit our first president at Christmas at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. Click through to explore Mt. Vernon’s numerous and varied Christmas-themed tours.

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(photo courtesy of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon)

Voici some fun facts about our first president and Christmas:

  • “44-year old George Washington made one of the boldest decisions in military history when he led his troops across the icy Delaware River on Christmas evening, 1776″ (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
  • Click here for an intriguing list of GW’s whereabouts on various Christmases, including the detached kitchen of his burned-down boyhood home; on a ship returning from Barbados to Virginia; visiting an “Indian Queen;” and hauling in fish nets on the Potomac River. Did George ever sit still?!?
  • “On December 23, 1783, George Washington resigned his military commission in Annapolis and returned to Mt. Vernon in time for Christmas, bearing gifts for his family.” (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
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(photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Costa Rica Thanksgiving

Some places are transporting, take you away from all your worldly cares and soothe. Casa Chameleon in Costa Rica is one of them. During our stay there last month, all I wanted to do was lounge by CC’s gorgeous pool and stare at the views. I forced myself to go “off property” twice…(“You really should explore!”)…but secretly wish I had lazed on our balcony, gazing at the mountains and water, instead. Thanks for the memories, Casa Chameleon! I am still thinking about CC’s…

Views

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You will walk into CC’s open air reception area and be magnetically drawn to the view beyond.

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You have arrived in the land of peace and beauty!

 

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View from our room: can you see why I didn’t want to leave it?

 

Design Details

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“All We Have is Now” is painted on this towel rack on the balcony of our casita.

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door pull

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Pool

CNN recently named CC’s pool among the top 10 most beautiful in the world! Click here to read all about it.

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Cocktail Lounge

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The bar looks over the infinity pool and beyond to the great blue sea!

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Sunset drinks, anyone?

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walking down to casitas

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Rooms with Best Views

5 & 10, although we were happy as clams in room 4 (avoid rooms 7 & 8, as views are not as good)

Best Time to Go

November to February, per one local advisor (but look online to check out weather and decide for yourself)

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the excellent travel website, recommends CC. Click here to read what they have to say.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip (part 4/4): California

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Carmel (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Santa Cruz to Carmel (45 miles)

The drive along California’s coast from Santa Cruz to Carmel-by-the-Sea is about an hour. Stay at La Playa Carmel, a beautiful hotel whose elevated terrace overlooks its sumptuous gardens, pool and giant chess board.

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La Playa’s elevated terrace: Note the Pacific Ocean in the background

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La Playa

Daisies, fuchsia, nasturtiums, geraniums, Mexican salvia and many more flowers fill La Playa’s gardens.

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La Playa’s garden (note chessboard on the left)

Bike around Carmel’s peaceful streets, filled with charming houses with distinctive architecture in a variety of styles and gorgeous gardens. Click here for the story behind Carmel’s fairytale cottages, like those in the two photos, below. Such an interesting story!

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Someone actually lives in this storybook cottage! (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

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Carmel’s main street (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

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Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Carmel (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Click here to read the interesting history of Carmel Mission (below).

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Carmel Mission, circa 1771 (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Finished the day with a delicious dinner at fun and pretty Grasing’s

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Our best meal in Carmel (photo courtesy of Grasing’s)

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Grasing’s bar is warm, friendly & filled with casually stylish locals.

Returned to our cheerful, big room with a fireplace at La Playa.

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room at La Playa Carmel (note the Pacific Ocean view)

Carmel to Montecito (245 miles)

The drive along the Pacific Ocean from Carmel to Montecito is five hours along Highway 1. Such a DRAMATIC and BEAUTIFUL coast!

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You will drive over the much-photographed Bixby Bridge near Big Sur.

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Bixby Bridge

Montecito is a beautiful and rich town with big and diverse houses. Oprah has a house here; in fact, she is the largest land owner in the area. Montecito is the next town south of Santa Barbara, which is pretty but not particularly interesting.

Checked into the San Ysidro Ranch, which was stupidly expensive (cheapest room=$700=ours; no meals included; while pretty, our room was half the size of our $440 room in Carmel) but gorgeous gardens, including an extensive kitchen garden, and nice staff. Jack and Jackie honeymoon-ed at San Ysidro Ranch.

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San Ysidro Ranch’s charming main building

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gardens at San Ysidro Ranch

We lay by the pool alone here for three flawless hours…ahhh!

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Old Mission (founded 1786) in Santa Barbara

Drive into nearby Santa Barbara, visited its historic Mission, drive down State Street (its main street), and have a little cocktail at the Four Seasons Biltmore.

Montecito to La Jolla (210 miles)

The drive from Montecito to La Jolla is approx. 4 hours down Highway 1. The water is a blue/green and doted with surfers and some paddle boarders…SO California!

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(photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

The water and beach are beautiful until you get to Malibu…famous Malibu, where the beach-side houses completely block the water views. Seriously claustrophobic. Let’s hope the rich and famous flock to Malibu because there is an enclave of fab houses somewhere there, though they were not evident to us. Plus,we encountered no traffic on our entire drive from Seattle through California…until we got to Malibu. From then on, the roads were more congested.

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the beach at Crystal Cove (photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

We stopped by Crystal Cove along the way. Ever heard of it? Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, CC is a step back in time…to the time of luau parties with CEO’s mixing with beach bums and artists beginning in the 1920’s.

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

Think sunset cocktails in the 46 quirky cottages pieced together in the 1920’s out of salvaged materials…

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

…in 2001 when the California State Parks department evicted the residents, a proposal for a beach resort met with protests, at which point the parks department restored the cottages to their kitschy 1930’s and 40’s glory, and open 13 of them for overnight stays. Now referred to as the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District you can rent a beach cottage and pretend you are back in its luau party days (click here). Don’t you think this would be fun!?!

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

On the drive into La Jolla, you will see a reconstructed Middle Eastern desert village (low, one-story huts) up from the beach on the Pacific. It was built for training purposes by one a number of big military bases in and around San Diego, which is 14 miles from La Jolla. We drove through one of these bases (hundreds of acres, on the outskirts of SD) on either side of Highway 1.

We stayed at La Valencia in La Jolla, a peach-colored stucco grand dame. Built in the 1920’s, it hugs a hill in front of the park on the beach. Palm trees, Bougainvillea, flowering hedges, & pots of roses dot the grounds. Lovely, retro-glam pool!

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La Valencia in La Jolla

La Jolla is easy to see on foot and nice enough, although its abundance of tacky, tourist-town art galleries detract. Drive to the Hotel del Coronado (where “Some Like it Hot” was filmed) for lunch. The architecture is exaggerated and wonderful, and its location is very pretty but it is too big (600 + rooms). There are lines for the ladies’ room! However, we had a very nice lunch there, looking at the white sand, sparkling blue water, palm trees and people walking by.

San Diego is 15 miles from Mexico and the second largest city in CA.

End-of-Trip Observations

  • The trip from Seattle, WA to La Jolla, CA is 2,165 miles, traveling on Highways 101 and 1. We did the entire trip without interstates, except for a short part where we had no alternative. Most of this drive is on two lanes and uncrowded = a pleasure and probably did not add much to the travel time.
  • The people on the West Coast were way nicer and more laid back than those on the East Coast–consistently.
  • Surfers are everywhere along California’s coast…true to stereotype!
  • Washington, Oregon and northern California (north of San Francisco) have small populations.
  • The green of the NW coast is in stark contrast to the brown of the SW coast.
  • I can see why the NWesterners are “crunchy.” The natural landscape is so exaggeratedly beautiful (redwoods, mountains, beaches) that their focus is outdoors.
  • The most beautiful, polished art we saw on our entire trip was in Western Art & Architecture magazine in our room at Tu Tu T’un Lodge in Oregon. Well-executed “cowboy art” of landscapes and men on horseback and animals. Beautiful, sophisticated horses made of polished redwoods, river rocks and stones, lots of glass.
  • For most of our drive north of Malibu, the drivers were much more considerate than those on the East Coast.
  • In southern CA, we saw many fields of workers picking crops by hand—back-breaking!
  • We encountered little evidence of the history of the West Coast, except for the pretty Spanish missions (churches attached to monasteries) and not many of those.

Hang ten!

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: California (part 3/4)

Redwoods coast better

(photo courtesy of Redwood National Park)

The sun came out the second we drove across the boarder from Oregon into California. No wonder they call it “sunny California!” Washington and Oregon are gloriously green because it rains a lot but, I have to admit, California’s sunshine was a relief.

Gold Beach, OR to Eureka, CA (136 miles)

Redwood National Park starts at the Oregon/California boarder and is 50 miles long. RNP looks exactly like the travel photos you have seen in magazines: picture perfect, awe-inspiring and peaceful.

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RNP has it all: beach, mountains, woods & lakes. (photo courtesy of Redwoods National Park)

Drive the Avenue of the Giants in Humbolt Redwoods State Park, a 31-mile country road that parallels and intersects Highway 101 with 51,222 acres of mighty redwood groves!

Redwoods in fog and sun

Be sure to chat with your hiking partner as you walk these trails because bears like them, too, and they don’t like to be surprised! Needless to say, I chatted up a storm. (photo courtesy of Redwoods National Park)

Our first overnight stop in CA was in Eureka at the Carter House Inns. Eureka is a Greek word and a mining term meaning, “I found it!” (you needed to know that). The town is unattractive except for a few short blocks, where the Carter House Inns are located.

Eureka to Healdsburg (202 miles)

Departing Eureka, we continued our drive down the stunning California coast through Mendocino (Did you know that “Murder, She Wrote” was filmed here?). Mendocino is a beautiful, small (pop. 900) town, perched on a rocky cliff. Visit the Mendocino Headlands State Park and the lovely Point Cabrillo Light, built in 1909.

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(photo by Alison de Grassi, courtesy of Mendocino County Tourism Commission)

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(photo by Alison de Grassi, courtesy of Mendocino County Tourism Commission)

We tore ourselves away from beauty queen Mendocino to drive inland two hours to Healdsburg in Sonoma County. As we drove, the scenery changed rapidly from craggy beaches to rolling hill-after-hill of vineyards, similar to Burgundy, France.

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near Healdsburg (photo courtesy of the Wine Road)

Three million TONS of wine grapes are grown in CA each year! Sonoma County is all vineyards and conveniently located just one hour north of San Francisco.

Stayed at the Hotel Healdsburg. It’s fun, nice and well-located.

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Hotel Healdsburg’s pool with main building in the background. Beam me up!

Ride bikes along the pretty, rolling hills of Dry Creek Valley near the hotel. Then, spend the day wandering around Healdsburg, tasting wines (including sparkling 🙂 and exploring the little boutiques. Healdsburg is the only town I have ever been to that has multiple blocks of small tasting room/stores, each representing a different vineyard.

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near Healdsburg (photo courtesy of the Wine Road)

Drive the Wine Road, which includes six of Sonoma County’s 14 wine growing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley (very attractive, well-tended vineyards and wineries, with fancy signs and gardens at their entrances), Green Valley, Chalk Hill and Rockpile. Taste the wines, eat oysters and loose yourself in the views of the vineyard-covered countryside.

Healdsburg to Pt. Reyes (67 miles)

Next stop south along Highway 101 to Highway 1: Point Reyes National Seashore, 71,000 acres of nature reserve on a peninsula sticking out into the Pacific Ocean.

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Chimney Rock Trail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore Park (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Point Reyes is made up of low, sand-colored mountains surrounded by water. Soft, pretty light at dusk. Very undeveloped with enough small towns to give it interest. PR is only an hour by car from San Francisco. We spent a day driving around the peninsula, with big views of scrub-covered low mountains dotted with cows and occasional ranches. Had a fun lunch on Tomales Bay, sitting outside by the water while imbibing just-plucked-from-the-water oysters at Marshall Store Oyster Bar & Smokehouse.  Delish clam chowder and simple, wonderful ambience!

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Pt. Reyes (NPS photo/Dan Wells)

Tiny Pt. Reyes Station is a boho town near the park and a bit of a foodie destination. We had a sophisticated and mmm, mmm, good dinner at The Olema’s ground floor restaurant called Sir and Star. Located in tiny Olema, two miles from Pt. Reyes Station, The Olema is also an inn and has been so since 1876. Read this NYT article for more. We stayed at Manka’s Inverness Lodge whose rooms were each in converted campers. Stylish idea, charming furnishings but our camper/room was stub-your-toe crowded. Would not recommend it because of management’s “we can do no wrong” attitude. If I went back to Pt. Reyes Peninsula again, I would stay in Nick’s Cove and Cottages, whose rooms are converted fishermen’s shacks on the water. Kitsch appeal!

Next stop: Santa Cruz, three hours south down Highway 1.

Pt. Reyes to Santa Cruz (140 miles)

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(photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

What a glorious drive! On our left, we passed siren-scented Eucalyptus trees, pumpkin patches and lush fields of crops; and on our right, the mighty Pacific Ocean. The farther south we drove, the higher the hills climbed. We drove through few towns and then, suddenly, Santa Cruz (pop. 65,000). Where’s Gidget, I wondered, because SC is a well-polished throw back to the 1960’s.

By now, you may be tired of nature shots so here’s a photo tour of the cheery, ’60’s-chic interiors of our hotel, the Dream Inn

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(photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

From your balcony, you will see the long 1904-built pier to your left and Cliff Walk to your right. Have a cocktail or two at the old-timey bar on the municipal pier looking onto Monterey Bay, watching the surfers catch waves.

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Does this not take you back to 1962?! Get a room overlooking the pool on the top floor. Saunter along Cliff Walk (in the background of this photo) to see its pretty houses. (photo courtesy of Dream Inn)

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(photo courtesy of Dream Inn)

Surfing was introduced to the US in 1885 at Santa Cruz when three Hawaiian princes who were attending military school nearby commissioned a woodworker to make three planks (surfboards) out of local Redwood. They spent their school vacation in Santa Cruz surfing. And that was how the craze began!

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Hallway at the Dream Inn—love it!!! (photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

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The Dream Inn’s hotel lobby: They are really working the surfing theme. Love it!

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Dream Inn’s fire pit overlooking the pier (left), beach, and cliff walk (right): Nightcap, anyone???

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Even the Dream Inn’s coffee shop is cute! It’s name is Verve, as in the record label

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Santa Cruz’s amusement park was built in the early 1900’s & is in mint condition. Really fun to explore! (photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

Whew! California is a big state. We are going to have to finish up our CA coastal drive in the next post. Stay tuned!

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: Oregon (part 2/4)

Sure, you could drive the entire Oregon coast in 10-12 hours, but then you would miss gazing at…

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Ecola State Park, part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail (photo courtesy of Andrew Harper)

Quinault, WA to Manzanita, OR (157 miles)

Almost as soon as we crossed into Oregon from southern Washington, the towns were more attractive. Our first stop was Manzanita, a relaxed little town (population 600) developed 100 years ago with a charming main street, some nice shops…and a BIG gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean at the end of its main street.

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Manzanita’s main street (photo courtesy of Sunset Vacation Rentals)

Suggest you stay at the Inn at Manzanita and request a room with a balcony looking toward the ocean.

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Manzanita’s WIDE beach: No wonder this pup is so happy! Few houses dot this beach, despite how it looks in this photo. (photo courtesy of Katie Bell, courtesy of Manzanita Visitors Center)

You can catch Chinook salmon, sturgeon and steelhead trout in this bay, as well as Dungeness crabs and, at low tide, clams. And you know what that means: good seafood available at local restaurants!

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Manzanita’s beach is seven miles long. Note the lovely river in upper left. This is a photo from the Manzanita Visitors Center, so I am not sure who these girls are! (photo by Melissa Perry)

And speaking of hiking, once you have explored Manzanita, go up, up, up to the trail along the ridge of Neahkahnie Mountain, which overlooks the town and beach. That’s what the girls in photo above are doing. You will walk through meadows and woods of tall pines that border the trail along the ridge of the mountain, all the while looking at the great arc of the ocean below. What a view!

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The trail was treacherously steep and on the edge of a sheer cliff, in some parts.

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The trail along Neahkahnie Mountain leads to this beach, where we had a windy picnic.

While staying in Manzanita, drive 15 miles north along the coast to the grand and glorious Cannon Beach. Here’s why…

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sea stacks on Cannon Beach

In his Oregon coast itinerary, Andrew Harper recommends staying at the Stephanie Inn at Cannon Beach, but we prefer Manzanita to Cannon Beach because the town is smaller with more charm. We also prefer the Inn at Manzanita. While probably not the most glamorous place you have ever stayed and not on the beach (though we could see the ocean from our balcony), the Inn at M is simple and nice, versus The Stephanie Inn, which felt a bit impersonal and slightly blue-hair.

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Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach

A Bit of History from the Ecola State Park timeline: “1806 – On hearing news of a beached whale, a party from the Lewis and Clark expedition that was encamped at Fort Clatsop
near present day Astoria, visited what is now Cannon Beach in hopes of acquiring blubber and oil. The expedition party, including Captain William Clark and Sacagawea, crossed over Tillamook Head and found the whale near the mouth of a creek Clark named Ecola, the native term for whale. Clark’s journals and interaction with the native inhabitants provide the earliest documentation of the Tillamook people that inhabited the region.”

Manzanita to Gold Beach, OR (272 miles)

Depart lovely Manzanita and drive south along Oregon’s SPECTACULAR coast. After six gorgeous hours, you will arrive at TuTu’Tun Lodge, a very nice fishing lodge on the Rogue River, which is eight miles inland from the Pacific coast. “The Tututni (Tu Tu’ Tunne) Native Americans of the Rogue were the first inhabitants to settle the area. The name of the lodge was inspired by ‘the people of the place by the river’ – a rough translation of the Tututni encampment where the lodge now stands,” per TuTu’Tun’s website.

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TuTu’Tun Lodge

The architectural style of the lodge is Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mission style with a touch of Asian. “The wonderful Northwest textures are everywhere in the cedar beams, fir wainscoting, slate hearths and river rock fireplaces. Even the grass cloth walls evoke a modern take on the plant weavings of the Tututni.” (per TTTL’s website)

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TuTuT’un Lodge’s pool overlooks the peaceful Rogue River.

At dusk, guests gather on the main lodge’s terrace overlooking the winding Rogue River. WONDERFUL hors d’oeuvres are passed as you sip your cocktail, before proceeding into the lodge for dinner. While dining with a table of strangers is not my fav, we had a good time and the meal was as outstanding. The hotel managed to create the feel of a convivial dinner party.

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inside the main lodge at TuTu’Tun, where the meals were DELICIOUS

TuTu’Tun is a fishing lodge. We don’t fish…and yet, we had a great time. Why? Because the lodge is upscale (these photos do not do it justice) with lovely flower arrangements sprinkled throughout and nice architecture, as well as beautiful grounds, a big, lush dahlia garden, set on a bucolic winding river. Plus, there are lots of fun things to do: fishing (steelhead salmon, Chinook salmon, silver salmon and Coho), spa-ing, jet boating (really fun!), kayaking, paddle boarding, pool lounging, and hiking. Being fabulously sporty at all times 😉 we of course partook in all of these activities, except the fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

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Rogue River as seen from TuTuT’un Lodge

After exploring the Rogue River via jet boat, hiking its surrounding trails, and lounging by its pool, continue down Oregon’s wild and lovely coast towards your next stop: California!

IMG_1506 (1)Be watching your inbox for the third and fourth installments of our road trip down the west coast of the US!!

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: Washington (part 1/4)

We’ve all seen this photo of Seattle. But what if you got on this boat with your car, crossed the water, and drove the entire west coast of the US??? We did just that and it was a blast. Follow me to see what we saw…

Seattle to Forks, WA (138 miles)

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car ferry departing Seattle for Bainbridge Island and the open road! (photo courtesy of rebels-by-bus.net)

The car ferry to Bainbridge Island is a lovely, 30-minute ride.

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Public dock where the car ferry arrives from Seattle onto Bainbridge Island…exhale! (photo courtesy of Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce)

Drive from the Bainbridge Island ferry dock, along the north coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, through travel-poster scenes of dense forests shooting up tall mountains, surrounding big lakes. Watch the sights change from big city Seattle, to kids on sailboats, to people-less mountain scenes, then beaches and dense rain forests.

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The Olympic Peninsula looks this good in real life! (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

After four hours driving through stunning scenes, you will arrive at Kalaloch Lodge, near Forks, Washington in Olympic National Park. While the lodge is not glamorous, it is clean AND its location is spectacular!

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Kalaloch Lodge (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

Our room at Kalaloch Lodge had big picture windows looking onto this beach…60 miles of undeveloped shoreline!

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Kalaloch Lodge sits on the bluff to the left (photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

What is all that mess on the beach, you wonder? And why don’t they clean it up? These “logs” are 100′ long tree trunks that have been undercut by swollen rivers up in the mountains just behind this beach. The trees fall into the river, which delivers them onto the beach, where they protect the land from eroding. More “driftwood” here than anyplace in the world!

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The long-pine tree trunks littering the beach are called “bleached bones.”

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This river flows from the mountains behind this photo to the beach. You can see one of Kalaloch Lodge’s cabins on the left. (photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

Visit nearby Beach Number 4 (surely, the Park Service could have come up with a better name?!) to see the huge rocks on the beach into which Mother Nature has carved little tide pools (below), which support incredible diversity of life, especially starfish and anemones . Bonus: no other people on this beach, despite its dramatic beauty!

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When the tide goes out, these tide pools become exposed. Can you see the anemones in this one?

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These lime-green “sunflowers” are anemones: “Waiting patiently to capture food, sea anemones wave flower-like tentacles filled with stinging cells. Any organic matter delivered by the ocean will do, dead or alive. Their tentacles stuff captured food into a central mouth…Because anemones can reproduce by cloning, over time one anemone can produce an entire colony of itself.” (from Olympic National Park brochure) Thanks goodness people can’t clone themselves!

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“By pumping seawater through its vascular system to the tips of its tube feet, a sea star creates suction to grip mussel and barnacle shells. The sea star tries to pull the creature open; the shellfish struggles to remain closed. With enough time, the sea star usually wins. Ochre sea stars–in both orange and purple color phases–are the most abundant sea stars on this coast,  but there are many other species, ranging from delicate brittle stars to two-foot wide sunflower stars.” (from Olympic National Park brochure) Magnifique!

Visit spectacular Ruby Beach (near Kalaloch Lodge) to learn about the sea stacks, “drowned reminders of a time when the coastline was likely 30 miles further west…Tall sea stacks, often inhabited by nesting seabirds and topped by wind-sheared trees, dot the Pacific coast of the north Olympic Peninsula.” (per Olympic Peninsula Park brochure)

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Ruby Beach’s sea stacks and “bleached bones” (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

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This is you, walking along Ruby Beach.

After your beach walking jaunt, go inland to hike the short Hoh Rain Forest Moss Trail: it is otherworldly. Phrases from “Evangeline” kept wafting through my mind: “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss, and in garments green …”

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Upper Hoh Road near the Hoh Rain Forest (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

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Hoh Rain Forest Moss Trail (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

The moss trail provides soft, squishy, quiet, peaceful walking. Twelve feet of rain falls here each year, hence the green greens and moss-covered trees.

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(photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

“Although only 0.8 miles long, the Hall of Moss Trail landscape epitomizes the rainforest ecosystem…Here, old-growth Sitka spruce reach heights of up 250 feet, and western hemlocks dominate the forest canopy. The forest floor is blanketed in soft mosses and countless ferns, and bigleaf maples droop with the weight of soggy epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants). ” (per the Olympic National Park brochure)

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sunset from Kalaloch Lodge

Forks, WA to Lake Quinault, WA (67 miles)

We left the lovely Kalaloch beach and drove inland to the forest-surrounded Lake Quinault, also in Olympic National Park. The Quinault Valley’s six champion conifer trees are the largest living specimens of their species; only the Redwoods and Sequoias are taller.

The place to stay here is the Quinault Lodge, where the Nature Conservancy was meeting for a retreat when we were there, so you KNOW the location is beautiful.

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Classic! (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

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Note the American Indian motif going up the chimney (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

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Quinault Lodge has a big fireplace in its old-timey lobby with good views of the lake. (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

Take a hike through the Quinault Rain Forest to see the  world’s largest Sitka spruce tree: 55’7″ in circumference and 191′ tall!

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TIP: On our drive from Quinault towards Oregon, we took a detour to explore Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. Don’t do this. LBP is 28 miles of depressed, unattractively developed land.

Next stop: Oregon! 

Stay tuned for post #2 of 4 covering the road trip from Seattle to San Diego.