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TRAVEL THE AWARD-WINNING TRAVEL MAGAZINE

WINTER 2016 SUMMER 2017

THE FIRST IN WDT’S DISCOVERY SERIES

DISCOVERING SLOVENIA THE AMAZING JOURNEY HOLIDAYS NEW ORLEANS’ STYLE CROATIA’S FEEL-GOOD ISLAND POSTCARDS FROM TANZANIA CRUISING THE “KING” RIVER IN EUROPE PHOTOGRAPHER’S HOLIDAY IN CUBA VISITING THE FAB FOUR’S LIVERPOOL

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WE’RE SERIOUS ABOUT GREAT JOURNALISM SIX MAJOR NEW AWARDS FOR WDT

Since our first year Wine Dine & Travel has earned dozens of awards for everything that makes a great magazine. We’ve won top awards in every key category, including editorial, design, humor, photography and columns. We’re proud of that we continue to receive these accolades year in and out from the most respected journalism organizations in the nation. That means that you know you’re reading one of the best travel publications in the industry. And that’s due to our dedicated family of world-class travel writers and photographers. We couldn’t do this without them.

SDPC EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM AWARDS 2016 Travel Story Humor Feature Layout & Design Still Photography Best Column THE AWARD-WINNING PRINT & DIGITAL TRAVEL MAGAZINE

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Ron & Mary James

To the Kindness of Strangers

Y

ou may have noticed recently that the world seems

Just a few days earlier, we were on a train in France standing

to be spinning out of control. Crudity, ignorance,

at the door, ready to get off at the upcoming station with our

dishonesty and heartlessness cascade from the

three heavy suitcases. A man dressed in a suit stood up and

highest offices in the land, setting toxic examples

came over to us to tell us this wasn’t the stop we wanted. We

for young and old everywhere. Hardly a day goes by when we

looked at our tickets and realized he was right. The two sta-

don’t wince as we look at the latest examples of inhumanity

tions shared similar names which is why we were confused.

across the planet.

Our benefactor didn’t have to go out of his way to help strangers who didn’t even ask for help. He did it out of kindness.

As an antidote to this turmoil, let’s take a moment to look at the kinder, gentler side of life from a traveler’s perspective.

We could recount many other examples of the kindness of

Reflecting on two experiences on our recent trip, the world

strangers, of unselfish deeds large and small. If you travel, you

looks friendlier and more caring -- a place where universal

understand because it likely has happened to you. Kindness

goodness is expressed uncountable number of times a day

can come from anyone anywhere, gifting us with a much

in every city, town and village on Earth. We’ve seen it, experi-

needed reminder that goodness is in our DNA.

enced it - and try to practice it wherever and anytime we have the opportunity.

So the next time you’re depressed by the politics of hate and divisiveness, think about all of the kind deeds being commit-

In Venice, Italy, in late spring, Ron reached into his wallet, paid

ted around the world every second of everyday. And be sure

for dinner and walked away from the cashier. He was going

to practice a bit of kindness as often as you can. The world

out the door when a customer tapped him on the shoulder

will be better place because of it – and you.

and handed him some Euros along with $60 American dollars. “Excuse me sir,” the kind and honest fellow said, “you dropped this at the register.”

Happy Trails Friends,

Ron & Mary James WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM

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WINE DINE &

TRAVEL IN OUR NEXT ISSUE

THE JOY OF REPOSITIONING CRUISES MORE THAN A FOOD TOUR IN AMSTERDAM CRUISING THE RHINE ON THE CHEAP 24 HOURS IN BEAUJOLAIS DISCOVER SLOVENIA PART 2 6

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WDT TEAM PUBLISHERS Ron & Mary James EXECUTIVE EDITOR /ART DIRECTOR Ron James EDITOR Mary James STAFF WRITERS Alison DaRosa Priscilla Lister John Muncie Jody Jaffe COLUMNISTS Robert Whitley Susan McBeth FEATURE WRITERS Sharon Whitley Larsen Carl Larsen Photo by Ron James

Maribeth Mellin Amy Laughinghouse Judy Garrison Stacy Taylor Maryanne McGuire and Ellen Federico

Wine Dine & Travel Magazine is popular with Slovenian monks who don’t get out as much as they used to. Here’s one fan who would have chatted with us about the magazine, but he had sworn an oath of silence, so he toasted to us instead.

WDT respects the intellectual property rights of others, and we ask that our readers do the same. We have adopted a policy in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) and other applicable laws.

Wine Dine & Travel Magazine is a Wine Country Interactive Inc. publication @ 2017 Contact editor@winedineandtravel.com

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OUR JOURALISTS Ron James Ron James is the "wine, food and travel guy." He is a nationally award-winning print and online journalist, graphic designer, television producer and radio personality. The native Californian's nationally syndicated wine and food columns have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. He is passionate about great wine and food and enthusiastically enjoys them every day!

Maribeth Mellin Maribeth Mellin is an award-winning journalist whose travel articles have appeared in Endless Vacation Magazine, U-T San Diego and Dallas Morning News among others. She also travels and writes for several websites including CNN Travel, Concierge.com and Zagat, and has authored travel books on Peru, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Hawaii and California. Though known as a Mexico pro, Maribeth has written about every continent and was especially thrilled by the ice, air and penguins in Antarctica.

Priscilla Lister Priscilla Lister is a longtime journalist in her native San Diego. She has covered many subjects over the years, but travel is her favorite. Her work, including photography, has appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Alaska Airlines’ magazine and numerous other publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is the author of “Take a Hike: San Diego County,” a comprehensive hiking guide to 260 trails in amazing San Diego County. But when the distant road beckons, she can’t wait to pack her bags.

Robert Whitley Robert Whitley writes the syndicated “Wine Talk” column for Creators Syndicate and is publisher of the online wine magazine, Wine Review Online. Whitley frequently serves as a judge at wine competitions around the world, including Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Sunset Magazine International and the Dallas Morning News TexSom wine competitions. Robert also operates four major international wine competitions in San Diego: Critics Challenge, Winemaker Challenge, Sommelier Challenge and the San Diego International.

Jody Jaffe & John Muncie Jody and John are the co-authors of the novels, “Thief of Words,” and “Shenandoah Summer,” published by Warner Books. John was feature editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune, arts editor of The Baltimore Sun and writer-editor-columnist for the travel department of The Los Angeles Times. His travel articles have been published in many major newspapers; he's a Lowell Thomas award-winner. Jody is the author of "Horse of a Different Killer,"'Chestnut Mare, Beware," and "In Colt Blood,” As a journalist at the Charlotte Observer, she was on a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. Her articles have been published in many newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. They live on a farm in Lexington, Va., with eleven horses, three cats and an explosion of stink bugs.

Stacy Taylor After receiving a degree in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Florida, Stacy Taylor entered the radio field where he worked for nearly 40 yrs, the final 30 as a talk show host. His last gig was at the legendary KGO in San Francisco. After retirement, he moved to Northern Baja Mexico where he lives today.

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Mary James Mary Hellman James is an award-winning San Diego journalist and editor. After a 29-yearcareer with the San Diego Union-Tribune, she currently is a freelance garden writer and a columnist for San Diego Home-Garden/Lifestyles magazine. Mary and her husband, Ron James, travel extensively.

Alison DaRosa Alison DaRosa is a six-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for travel writing, the most prestigious prize in travel journalism. She served 15 years as Travel Editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune and was the award-winning editor of the San Diego News Network Travel Page. She created San Diego Essential Guide, a highly rated travel app for mobile devices. Alison writes a monthly Travel Deals column for the San Diego Union-Tribune and is a regular freelance contributor to the travel sections of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and AOL Travel.

Carl H. Larsen Carl H. Larsen is a veteran journalist based in San Diego. He now focuses on travel writing, and is summoned to pull out his notebook whenever there’s the plaintive cry of a steam locomotive nearby. In San Diego, he is a college-extension instructor who has led courses on the Titanic and the popular TV series “Downton Abbey.”

Judy & Len Garrison Judy is the editor of Georgia Connector Magazine and Peach State Publications as well as a freelance writer/photographer/traveler for national/international publications including Deep South Magazine, Interval Magazine, Simply Buckhead, US Airways Magazine, Southern Hospitality Traveler and has a bi-monthly blog in Blue Ridge Country’s online edition. Her first book, North Georgia Moonshine: A History of the Lovells and other Liquor Makers, is available at Amazon.com. She and Len own Seeing Southern,L.L.C., a documentary photography company.

Sharon Whitley Larsen Sharon Whitley Larsen’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Los Angeles Times Magazine, U-T San Diego, Reader’s Digest (and 19 international editions), Creators Syndicate, and several “Chicken Soup for the Soul” editions. Although she enjoys writing essays, op-ed, and people features, her favorite topic is travel (favorite destination London). She’s been lucky to attend a private evening champagne reception in Buckingham Palace to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, to dine with best-selling author Diana Gabaldon in the Scottish Highlands, and hike with a barefoot Aborigine in the Australian Outback. Exploring sites from exotic travels in the Arctic Circle to ritzy Rio, with passport in hand, she’s always ready for the next adventure!

Amy Laughinghouse London-based writer and photographer Amy Laughinghouse has attempted to overcome her fears (and sometimes basic common sense) through her adventures in 30 countries around the world. She dishes on the perks and perils of globetrotting for publications like LonelyPlanet.com, AAA Journey Magazine, Virtuoso Life, and The Dallas Morning News. Her travel tales can also be found on her website, www.amylaughinghouse.com.

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Contents

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DISCOVERING SLOVENIA Slovenia offered the best of Europe wrapped up in a small country package. Quaint ancient towns and villages, stunning landscapes from the Alps to the Mediterranean

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seaside towns, the country is flat out gorgeous.

A VIETNAM POSTSCRIPT In Vietnam there was a friendly, albeit reserved, population, and stores, galleries, and boutiques dealing in luxury goods. In the center of Saigon is a 5-story shopping mall that makes the Century City Mall in L.A. look like a flea market.

THE MAGIC OF LOSINJ Scientists’ pursuit of perfect climate and pristine environment led them to Losinj, an island in the northern Adriatic, about 30 miles off the coast of what is now Croatia. Its Croatia’s feel good island.

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HOLIDAY NEW ORLEAN’S STYLE “ During that month, more than 50 of this food city’s great restaurants celebrate the season with reveillon dinner menus that offer special multi-course feasts.”

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THE FAB FOUR’S LIVERPOOL

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PARADISE FOUND

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From staying at the Hard Days Night Hotel-to taking a ferry ‘cross the Mersey--to touring the Beatles’ childhood homes and historic sites--this city of 465,000 is Fabulous “Fab Four” Fun.

In the dimly-lit afterlife, towering stalactites and dagger-like stalagmites punctuate sinuous corridors that wind through bulbous, dimpled rock, like the pathways of a giant, labyrinthine brain. There are even handrails to prevent you from falling into the abyss.

TRINBAGONIAN VIBES Teens, grownups and elders drummed and danced, girls’ hair whipping side to side... and melodies from rows of shiny steelpans balanced on perches in a barren back lot on a dusky Trinidanian evening.

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POSTCARD FROM TANZANIA We saw our first big cat a half hour after entering Tarangire National Park. We were late to the viewing. By the time we drove up, eight other safari trucks and at least 23 zoom-lenses, some the size of an elephant’s leg, were already ahead of us.

A PHOTOGRAPHER’S CUBA From the Jet Blue window it looked like most Caribbean islands, but this island was Cuba, an outlawed destination for Americans until recently. We were living a life-long dream -- ten days in Cuba through the lens of our cameras.

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Travel Gear WDT TESTED & APPROVED Classy Wine Transport Here’s a wine bag we love. It’s great looking and keeps wines safe and cool. It’s from Vessel, known for their chic, high quality bags, backpacks and totes.. The sleek, modern bags are made of carbon fiber to keep your wine protected and at the perfect temperature. We also like that it offers the perfect combination of style and cause. With each bag purchased, Vessel gives a school backpack to a child in need, helping them get the education they deserve. Since this innovative program began, Vessel customers have helped provide over 13,000 backpacks for children in need! http://vesselbags.com

The Ultimate Portable Safe It can be tricky to keep your wallet and other valuables safe when you’re staying in a hotel, at the beach or visiting an amusement park. Don’t try to hide your phone in a beach bag or under a towel because chances are it will be stolen! In fact, each year in the U.S. more than three million cell phones are stolen, and most of these occurrences happen in plain sight at beaches, pools and parks. SAFEGO is the best way to stash your stuff. This stylish, lightweight safe is the ultimate theft deterrent for safeguarding valuables. With its heavy-duty lock and unique flexible steel cable. We tried it and found it works and looks as advertised and a great investment for travelers who love the beach. https://safego.us/

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Upgrade to First Class With eShave’s 5 Blades Travel Razor A cult brand favorite among men’s grooming product aficionados, eShave’s new 5 Blades Travel Razors designed for portability and worry-free travel. The Travel Razor comes with a canister that cleverly serves a dual purpose: it protects the razor while maintaining the fashionable jet-setters sense of style with a “James Bond” look and feel. When finished using it, simply disassemble and put the razor back in its velvet bag and store in the sturdy and durable canister. The Travel

The Ultimate SD Hiking Guide If you’re a local or a traveler who enjoys walks in the backcountry, canyons and mountains of an unparalleled region, this hiking guide will take you to the best trails and walks in San Diego County. We bought one and can’t wait to hike the new trails we discovered in the book.

Razor offers comfort, reliable shaving results in a portable,

As one reader put it, “I’ve lived in San Diego all my life and

small package.

never realized how much of it I was missing. Excellent book.

We tried resulting in a close shave and a thumb’s up. Available at: www.eShave.com ($115)

I’ve purchased multiple copies as gifts for friends, too.” Winner of The Geisel Award 2017 for book of the year from the San Diego Book Awards. Buy it at Amazon or your favorite local bookseller. www.takeahikesandiego.com.

Wine Education in a Tube Vinebox, the first wine-by-the-glass subscription service for for wine lovers to find a way to bring sampling of small, European wine producers to the masses. The subscripton offers spectacular wines delivered every month obsessively selected by their team of sommeliers. This is not your standard wine club; it’s a new way to sample and learn about wines from around the world. We tried it and loved the the very approachable, sophisticated wines and the concept. Find out more at https://www.getvinebox.com/

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LOOKING FOR A GREAT DINING EXPERIENCE?

RON & MARY JAMES OFFER THEIR SELECTION OF MORE THAN A HUNDRED OF THE BEST EATERIES IN SAN DIEGO IN THE CURRENT FODOR’S TRAVEL GUIDE SAN DIEGO EDITION. FREE ONLINE OR BUY IT IN PRINT ON AMAZON OR AT YOUR FAVORITE BOOKSTORE.

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Susan McBeth

Travel by the Book Fast Into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow

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he largest and most sparsely populated U.S. state has held intrigue since it was purchased from the Russian Empire in 1867. Quickly dubbed “Seward’s Folly” when U.S. Secretary of State William Seward negotiated the icebox acquisition for a cool seven million dollars, 150 years later, confusion still reigns as to its identity with respect to the “lower fortyeight” as Alaskans refer to the rest of the continental U.S. While it is not popular knowledge that the state flag was designed by a thirteen-year old boy, or that Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined, or that Juneau is the only state capitol that is not accessible by road, it probably comes as no surprise that the official state sport is dog mushing, including the grandest representation of all, the grueling Iditarod. Legend has it that the race evolved from a life-saving sled dog relay that occurred in January, 1925 when the children of Nome were suffering from a deadly outbreak of diphtheria. Their survival depended on obtaining a batch of anti-toxin serum that was only available 1,100 miles away in Anchorage. The wintery, ice-choked harbor and subzero temperatures precluded sea and train transport leaving the only reliable alternative: sled dogs. Three weeks later, the life-saving serum was delivered. In reality, the idea of a race was conceived of to commemorate the important role of dog teams in Alaska state history, after the introduction of iron dogs (snowmobiles) led to mass abandonment of dog teams. Various iterations of racing developed, but in 1973, the iconic Iditarod Sled Dog Race was born, and has now become the most famous sled dog race in the world. So why would anybody want to run an 1,100 mile sled dog race in the midst of an Alaskan winter, through some of the harshest conditions on Earth? Perhaps Debbie Clarke Moderow’s memoir, Fast Into the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016), can shed some light. After reeling from a near-death fall into an icy crevasse upon her initial arrival in Alaska, followed by several miscarriages, a friend condolently gifted her with Salt, a retired Iditarod sled dog. The bond that developed between the two quickly turned to Debbie’s passion once the family invited other dogs into their lives, and her newfound hobby eventually turned into a

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dream of running the Iditarod. Meticulously related, Fast Into the Night offers readers a glimpse of the overwhelming logistics involved in planning for, and running, this punishing eight to fifteen day endeavor, including management of a starting field of sixteen dogs, nearly two tons of food, drop bags, clothing, thousands of dog booties, life-saving tools and medical supplies. Yet, what really determines race success is the musher’s relationship with her dogs, and even the best equipped racer, as Debbie soon discovered, may not be enough. The real story in Debbie’s book, is not the Iditarod, although fascinating, or even in Debbie’s quest to run the race, which she first attempted at the age of 47. She had trained her select team - Kanga, the team leader, along with Juliet, Lil’ Su, Piney, Creek, Nacho, Zeppy, and Taiga - on many occasions in preparation, and never had she encountered any substantial problems that would lead her to believe they were not capable of completing the biggest race of her career as a dog musher. Yet that is precisely what happened. Just 200 miles short of the finish line, her beloved dogs balked and in a moment, all the preparation, the training, the harsh terrain and weather conditions that they had endured up to that point seemed for naught. Yes, she was disappointed that they did not finish the race. After battling injuries, hallucinations, raging storms, and bouts of selfdoubt during those first fatiguing 900 miles, this was nothing compared to the crushing realization that Debbie had lost touch with her beloved dogs. Applying the same fierce determination she used to train for the Iditarod in the first place, Debbie embarked on a mission to get at the heart of the breakdown to see if a second race was in their future. The book will take you along thru the treacherous trails, the hostile landscape, the dark and barren wilderness, the icy and pristine beauty of the trail, but where it really takes the reader is into the mind of this fiercely devoted dog musher who finally comes to understand that what her dogs need is her truth and that, without that, none of them would ever win. ~ by Susan McBeth


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A WDT Discovery Series Part 1

Discovering

SLOVENIA

six days in a traveler’s paradise Story & Photography by Ron James

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Camel and burror rides offered to weary walkers in front of the ancient Roman amphitheater in Petra.


A

fter touring Slovenia for a just a couple of days it didn’t take us long to fall in love with this remarkable country. And it’s not just because the word love is part of its name.

Lake Bled with the Bled Castle perched on shear rocky cliffs.

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W

e’ve learned that discovering great destinations are

Maps, I noticed a small unfamiliar country arched between Italy

often the result of simple serendipity - like throwing a

and Croatia, shaped somewhat like a chicken. “Hmmm – Slove-

dart at a world map.

nia – looks interesting,” I thought.

In this case, our dart throwing came as we researched an upcom-

The more we learned, the more intrigued we became. This

ing trip to Europe that would include a stay in Venice and a ferry

country met all our criteria for visiting new destinations -- beauty,

ride across the Adriatic Sea to explore Croatia. Looking at Google

cultural and historical uniqueness, affordability, and, friendly

In an ancient looking wine bar in downtown Ljubljana, the sommelier opens a bottle of Slovenia’s best. Center: Streets are lively at The Triple Bridge is a group of three bridges across the Ljubljanica River. It connects the Ljubljana’s historical, medieval, town on one bank, and the modern city of Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, on the other.

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educated people. It also helped to learn that most Slovenians

On our trip, we found Slovenia offers the best of Europe without

speak some English. We decided to give it a try.

crowds and high cost. As one travel writer suggested, Slovenia has a unique style and attitude: it runs as efficiently as Germany

Working with the Slovenian Tourist Board and Nataša Kejžar, we

but has the laid-back attitude of Italy. Author and Europe expert

planned a jam-packed six-day itinerary to explore the country in

Rick Steves was absolutely right when he wrote “In hindsight,

the company of an expert young guide Jani PelJhan. The tourist

most travelers cite Slovenia as the biggest pleasant surprise of

board website is invaluable to anyone wanting to visit. You’ll find

their itinerary — and wish they’d budgeted more time there.”

links to it and other resources at the end of this story.

The river rages through the Tolmin Gorges.

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DISCOVERING SLOVENIA LJUBLJANA

Kranjska Gora

LAKE BLED Bovec

RADOVLJICA

Lipica

Portorož

JULIAN ALPS/TRIGLAVE PARK

TOLMIN GORGES

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LIPICA STUD FA


ARM

PREDJAMA CASTLE

Dravograd

Lendava Ljutomer Ormož

POSTOJNA CAVE

Podčetrtek

SLOVENSKE KONJICE

ZICE CHARTERHOUSE

POROROZ & PIRAN

Photos and illustration Ron James. Map courtesy Slovenian Tourist Agency.

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SLOVENIA 101

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Beautiful pastures covered with wildflowers in the Radovljica area.

There are geographic and historical explanations for Slovenian temperament. Here’s a brief primer. Slovenia is a small country with a big heart. It covers around 8,000 square miles with a population of slightly more than two million. For comparison, that’s about the size of New Jersey with only a quarter of the residents. Although their language is kin with Slavic people from the Balkan Peninsula, the Slovenians are culturally an Alpine folk with much in common with northern Italians, southern Germans, and the Swiss.

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Slovenians live in a new country that is very old and carries a lot of historical and cultural baggage. They have been conquered ruled by despots, emperors and kings of every stripe. Their historic timeline is laced with periods of good times and oppression. Until the 20th century, the area of Slovenia was ruled by foreigners, including the Romans, French and Italians, but mostly by the Hapsburgs and the Austro-Hungary monarchy. Slovenia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after the First World War, and then part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the Second World War. After more than 70 years of living in Yugoslavia, the Slovenians had built a consensus for an independent path. Despite hundreds of years of oppression the Slovenians emerged as a nation and forged their own identity. In the 1990 vote for independence, almost ninety percent of the population voted for their freedom. In 2004, Slovenia joined the EU and became a member of NATO.

Tiny village with ancient bridge spanning the Soca River. Right: Old stone walls and doors decorated with geraniums high above Piran. Opposite: Quaint red tiled towns abound always crowned with church steeples.

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After all of that you can understand why Slovenians

of occupation. The future is in their hands -- for

are hopeful for their nation’s future and maybe a lit-

them everything is possible.

tle bit apprehensive, because they know how fragile

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freedom can be. We heard several times that their

A Slovenian legend has it that God initially forgot

grandmother & grandfathers lived in three different

the country when allotting nature’s bounty. Once

countries, and never moved. That was then -- now

aware of the mistake, he took some best bits from

there’s a new generation that has not felt the yoke

the rest of Europe – from mountains to sea – for

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The majestic Julian Alps . Italy is just on the other side.

Slovenia. The results are stunning and among the

its rich cultural stew that impacts everything from

nation’s greatest treasures.

music and dance to regional dialects and what’s served for dinner.

Slovenia borders Italy on the west, the Adriatic Sea on the southwest, Croatia on the south and east,

The country is crowned by the magnificent Julian

Hungary on the northeast and Austria on the north.

Alps. Its highest peak, Triglav, that soars more than

All have influenced parts of the country, adding to

9,300 feet, is pictured on the country’s flag.

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Concert and festival day in the town square of Piran WDT MAGAZINE SPRING 2017


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SLOVENIA 101 The mountains give way to incredible green valleys decorated with 16 thousand miles of lakes, rivers and streams. Of the 59 major rivers in the country, the Soca River is certainly one of the jewels -- this river from our experience has to be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. There are lots of rivers in Slovenia, but very little coastline, so perhaps the most important real estate to Slovenians is their 29 miles of beautiful coastline along the Adriatic Sea. Slovenians we met appreciated their country’s grandeur, beauty and cultural charms and enjoyed showing it off. They also take advantage of it. Most are outdoor enthusiasts who love to hike, bike, ski, climb really tall mountains, kayak or raft down swiftly flowing rivers and splash in the Adriatic. That love of nature likely explains why Slovenians care deeply about their environment. During our stay we saw about two-thirds of the country and noticed very little urban sprawl, industrial eye-sores or pollution. That’s by design; more than 11 percent of Slovenia’s territory is specially protected.

Top: The Soca river has to be one of the most beautiful rivers not only in Slovenia but in the world. Right: The many landscapes of Slovenia.

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At Petra, came stone gorges an make up one of


els, donkeys, dramatic sandnd cliffs, and stunning ruins f the world’s great treasures.

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RADOVLJICA

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Living History

T

ake the town of Radovljica, founded in the 13th century on a plateau high above the Sava River. The old town center looks pretty much the same as it did in its hey-

day in the 16th century with administrative buildings on one side of the square and crafts and trade buildings on the other. In the early days of the town fortifications including 16 towers, walls and a moat encircled the town. Still visible, that moat is the only one preserved in the country. Old town’s buildings, including the Radovljica Mansion that dominates the square, are among the best-preserved examples of sixteenth century Slovene town architecture. Today the mansion is home to a fascinating beekeeping museum and another dedicated to the country’s most famous composer, Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756–1795). Bee keeping in Slovenia spans several centuries and still thrives today. We were fascinated by the story of how the Carniolan honey bee, famous for its production and nonaggressive behaviour, became a worldwide favourite, including in our hometown of San Diego. Another highlight was the museum’s impressive collection of rare antique beehive panels, painted wooden planks that decorated bee boxes as far back as the 1700s. Authentic beehive panels are important Slovene folk art and very hard to find, though we did spot some knock-offs in a couple Ljubljana tourist shops.

Left: An upscale jeweler in the Gold Souk. Middle: Tourist shops abound in Dubai. Here’s a popular shop for cruisers selling spices, candies and t-shirts .

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While in Radovljica, we also tried our hand decorating gingerbread hearts at Lectar House, home to a rustic inn and restaurant since 1822. The house also contains a gingerbread museum in the space used for making gingerbread since 1766. Today artisans in period costumes and using antique tools and ovens, make, shape and decorate the confection according to age-old recipes for customers to purchase. Although this gingerbread shaped into hearts and holiday ornaments are edible, most are kept as mementos of weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. Don’t miss the fascinating mini-museum of hearts made many decades ago. We had the pleasure of trying our hand decorating a heart with the traditional folkloric designs and learned very quickly, it’s harder than it looks.

Right: Mary and I try our hand at deorating gingerbread hearts.. Top: Servers tending their ancient tables at the Lectar House. Right: A museum dedicated to the country’s most famous composer, Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756–1795).

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Our last stop in Radovljica was the tourist center with its attractive displays of local products and crafts. We were fortunate to meet charming young women in 18th century period dress offering samplings of handcrafted chocolates and schnapps – both delicious. The tourist office offers free town tours every Tuesday morning.

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Top: Bee keeping museum showcases historical bee boxes and bee keeping equipment.


Above: Local drink that burns when it goes down served by pretty lady in period dress on the right.

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SLOVENSKE KONJICE

S

lovenske Konjice is another quaint Slovenian town where its history is woven into the modern fabric of life. Reminders of the past – good times and not so good – greeted us all around the old village.

Figures of horses abound, for example, reminders that the town was a crossroads for horse riders and carriages for many years, when its main industry was care and trading of the great steeds. Brave St. George is a significant character here too. Inside the church built in 1140 that bears his name, we discovered a magnificent alter with an 18th-century golden sculpture of the youthful, round-faced knight. Under his heel is a small vanquished golden dragon, a reminder of the town’s destruction by fire four times over the centuries. After the last fire the town was rebuilt mostly using stones from the nearby ruins of the Zice Charterhouse. Our guide recounted the local legend that virgins were sent to the dragon as an offering to keep the beast from torching things. The deal worked for several years until the daughter of the town’s leader was next to be sacrificed. Enter St. George who slays the dragon, marries the fair maiden and lives happily after.

Church of St. George with full slain dragon. Lower center: Herb shop keeper in period dress. Right: The figure of a horse is a symbol of the town’s past and can be seen in several forms around the village.

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THE SPIRIT OF THE ZICE CHARTERHOUSE

Illustration of the guard towers and gate of the Charterhouse entrance by Ron James

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“I asked my guide where exactly where are they buried. “You’re standing on them,” she said in a serious tone. Then she smiled and walked on. ”

A

short drive away through pristine countryside is the remote, narrow valley named St. John the Baptist to the remains of the Zice Charterhouse. There’s

spiritual quality to this locale that perhaps explains why it was chosen by a fiercely spiritual order, Zice Carthusians, as its home some 850 years ago. The brothers closed up shop in the 18th century, but their presence lives on in their

The restored ruins of the Charterhouse of the fiercely spiritual order, Zice Carthusians.

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compound’s ruins and restored buildings that house permanent

is a serious tone, “You’re standing on them.” Then she smiled and

exhibitions documenting the monks’ remarkably austere lives.

walked on.

It was a bit creepy to visit areas where each monk lived in silence

A highlight of the tour was a visit to the exotic Viva Sana herb

in solitary stone dwellings, mostly just mounds of grass now.

shop where the proprietor dressed in the official monk’s garb

In the middle was a roofless and crumbling small chapel where

served of shots of nasty tasting stuff that’s supposed to be good

ceremonies preceded burials in a nearby graveyard. When I

for you. Its other herbal potions for sale carried on the traditions

asked my guide where exactly the monks were interred, she said

of the monks who operated a pharmacy here in the 16th century.

Above: The proprietor dressed in the official monk’s garb served of shots of nasty tasting stuff that’s supposed to be good for you. .

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Before leaving, we stopped in a wooden structure built in the 15th century as an inn for visitors to monastery. The Gastuž Inn, still going strong, is one of the oldest still operating inns in Central Europe. As we enjoyed sparkling wines from nearby Konjice, I thought about the many thirsty patrons that had preceded us in this old inn. I also acknowledged the irony that Konjice had “borrowed’ stone from the monks’ compound to rebuild after the town’s last great fire.

Walking the holy burial grounds of the Charterhouse where they buried the monks sans casket. Below: The Gastuž Inn, still going strong, is one of the oldest still operating inns in Central Europe.

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THE LIPICA STUD FARM

Horsing Around

O

n the rainy day we were scheduled to stop at the Lipica Stud Farm, I admit I wasn’t enthused. What would we do there - watch horses make little horses? But my attitude changed when

ized jumps and other movements known as “airs above the ground.” Obviously my curiosity was piqued. We learned that Lipizzaners were bred here for Austrian

our guide Jani explained that we were at the original home of

Hapsburg nobles starting in the 1580s, which makes Lipica

the world-famous Lipizzaner Stallions of the Spanish Riding

Europe’s oldest stud farm still in operation. The farm is a

School of Vienna, Austria. These statuesque white horses and

large verdant estate dotted with historic stables and build-

their riders tour the world demonstrating the precise move-

ings, including a full chapel built mostly in the 1700s.. In

ments of classical dressage, including highly controlled, styl-

1996 the Lipica Stud Farm and its horses were declared a

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Lipica mares looking after their youngsters. Right: The Queen of England looking over her gift horse Kanizo and Ron & Mary making friends with the same horse many years later.

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Slovenian cultural monument and enjoys special government

Before leaving, we were delight to pet one of Lipica’s most fa-

protection.

mous horses, Kanizo. In 2008, during a state visit to Slovenia,

Watching foals and yearlings, we discovered the horses are

inburgh, was presented with Kanizo, then a beautiful 16-year

black or dark brown, only turning gray-white as they mature.

old stallion. Extremely gentle and social, Kanizo was happy

Each of the stylish, historic stables house horses of similar

for some affection even if it wasn’t from royalty. As I stroked

ages, sex or responsibilities. There’s even a nursery of sorts,

the old beauty’s neck, I realized this would be as close to the

the Borjača Stable, where moms look after their youngsters

Queen of England as I ever was likely to ever get.

England’s Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the Duke of Ed-

until they are ready for training.

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After saying goodbye Kanizo, we boarded a carriage pulled by two Lipizzaners for a scenic tour around the farm’s beautiful tree lined paths and roads, including one lined with giant trees, each representing a horse sold over the years. With each sale, new

Mary touring the Lipica Stud Farm grounds, stables and horses.. Left: Old painting of the stud farm. Right: Ron and Mary take a carriage ride.

trees are planted to this day. To get the most out of a visit to Lipica, engage the services of a guide – they are for hire at the ticket booth. Or use the Lipica mobile phone guide. And if you’re lucky enough to meet Kanizo, give her a pet for us.

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PREDJAMA CASTLE Castle and Cave Like No Others

A

hand tools at the beginning of the 13th century. As we entered its cool dank interior, our guide pointed out holes in the ceil-

castle is a castle is a castle ... except when at Pred-

ing where defenders poured boiling oil on enemies who had

jama Castle. Nothing prepared us for our first view of

managed to make it that far. Our tour took us past stacks of

this dramatic four-story medieval rock fortress seem-

giant round boulders flung into the castle by catapults and a

ingly stuck in the mouth of a gigantic cave.

dungeon outfitted with the latest 16th century torture gear.

It took 300 years to build the castle, working with primitive

Much of the castle showcases how the robbers and other

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Touring Predjama Castle -- a dramatic fourstory medieval rock fortress built at the entrance to a cave.

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outlaws who dwelt there lived – and died. If you’re willing to

century robber-baron who, like Robin Hood, stole from the rich

stow your dignity, don a medieval metal helmet in the armory

to give to the poor. Erazem also supported the Hungarians

as I did for a once-in-a-lifetime selfie.

during a war with the Austrians, who mounted a blockade of the castle in 1484. To their chagrin, Erazem mocked his

At the top of the cave, our guide pointed out an ingenious hid-

attackers by showering them with fresh cherries, gathered via

ing place called Erazem’s Nook, after Erazem Lueger, a 15th-

a secret tunnel that allowed him to bring in fresh provisions.

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(For an extra fee, nimble non-claustrophobic visitors can climb through the narrow route now known as Erazem’s Passage.)

The armory, dungeon and the author trying on the latest headwear.

As fate would have it Erazem got it in the end so to speak. He was inside the medieval outhouse perched at the edge of the castle when a large catapulted stone smashed the facility and ended his days forever.

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POSTOJNA CAVE

O

ur next stop, also part of the area’s Karst cave sys-

galleries and halls filled with beautiful stalagmites and stalac-

tem, Postojna Cave, one of the most popular tourist

tites of all shapes and sizes. A small electric train fortunately

attractions in Slovenia with some 37 million visitors

transports you to the main galleries where no garish colored

annually. Recalling visits to other caverns including those in

lights compete with the natural beauty. Plus any cave that cel-

Halong Bay in Viet Nam and Reed Flute Cave in China, we

ebrates a salamander as a mascot and logo is a friend of mine.

didn’t expect to be blown away. When the cave opened to the public more than 140 years ago, But we were: This Cave is a monster, with 15 miles of tunnels,

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visitors had to trek for hours to get the main chambers, then lit


Clockwise: One of the largest galleries in the cave system; The restaurant and ticket office; The entrance to the cave and train into the caverns.

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Scenes from the caverns and the human or dragon fish which can grow to 11 inches, live up to 100 years and survive without food for years at a time..

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with candles. Today tour guides fluent in a host of languages

One fascinating titbit is that more than 150 animal species live

are assigned help visitors from around the world appreciate

in the Karst caves. The largest is a salamander (mentioned

the cave. All emphasize two rules: no flash photography- it

earlier) that is said to be the offspring of dragons. Locals call

can discolour the cave interior - and no standing up on the

them human fish or sometimes dragon fish. These pale little

train. (Of course one guy in the train ahead of us stood up to

creatures can grow to 11 inches, live up to 100 years and sur-

shoot a photo with a flash. He was quickly reprimanded.)

vive without food for years at a time.

After exiting the train, we walked from one gallery or hall to

Good walking shoes and a jacket or sweater to ward off the

another via ramps and walkways with slip-resistant coatings

chill are recommended for this tour. And remember - Don’t

as our guide shared the history and natural science behind

stand up and take flash pictures. Yes, I’m talking to you.

each dazzling vista.

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LAKE BLED

Picture-perfect Scenes

and fed by natural springs which make it the region’s spacentral, Bled draws a wide range of tourists – honeymooners

L

ake Bled tends to be Slovenia’s best known destination.

to outdoor enthusiasts - who make it their hub for relaxing as

The emerald-green Alpine lake with the country’s only

well as biking, kayaking and river rafting.

natural island topped by a storybook church is everyone’s postcard shot. Framed by the Julian Alps and Karavanke range

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We joined a gaggle of Japanese tourists armed with selfie


sticks on one of the traditional wooden boats called pletnas

Our pletnar was a young blond who must have made young

that have transported visitors across the lake to the island

girls’ hearts flutter as he propelled us across the lake. Did he

for centuries. No powerboats here, just the muscle of stand-

ever wish his father and grandfathers had been investment

ing rowers called pletnars, members of local families granted

bankers instead of pletnars, I asked. He just smiled wistfully

boating rights generations ago.

and kept on rowing.

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Once landing at the island, it was our turn for some athleticism. We had to climb 99 steps – a feat my old out-of-shape body managed to achieve – to enter the Assumption of Mary Church. Our motivation, beside spectacular views, was to test the local legend that promises a wish will come true if you ring the 16th-century church bell. I managed to pull the heavy rope and the bell tolled. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before my wish to return as a blond muscular investment banker comes true. Beside the island and church, the lake’s other most photographed attraction is the castle towering on a cliff above the lake. The 12th -century castle is home many weddings and to a museum collection. Not to be missed is the castle cellar where can bottle wine and seal it with wax. The dollar doesn’t go as far in popular Bled as elsewhere in Slovenia, but by American standards it’s still a deal. Midsummer is the most popular time to visit, so plan accordingly.

Three boats called pletnars, our rower is a member of local families granted boating rights generations ago. Left: Ron ringing a church bell and making a wish.

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THE JULIAN ALPS & TRIGLAV NATIONAL PARK

B

eautiful Lake Bled is a tough act to follow, but the

ing a mountain with a bike or cleats or taming a river in a raft

Julian Alps and Triglav National Park were up to the

or kayak.

challenge. Their majesty – grand in beauty and scale

– are essential to Slovenia’s identity and spirit. The country’s

Our journey up a narrow mountain road, with vistas around

Alpine culture was born of rugged men and women who

every curve, brought us to the highest pass, where we

trapped, farmed, ranched and mined here, eking out a living in

stopped to admire the vast expanse and snap a few photos.

the most inhospitable circumstances. Today many Slovenians

Here above the tree line, the only sign of civilization was a

salute those first settlers in a recreational way, be it conquer-

weathered shack selling snacks and souvenirs, including

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photos of the edelweiss and other Alpine flowers that bloom there.

Storm clouds over the mighty Julian Alps.

As impressive as the mighty Alps were, the trip down the mountain was equally breathtaking. We cruised through bright green Alpine meadows, thick with colorful wildflowers and bordered by the roaring Soca River, a brilliant glowing turquoise blue that seemed otherworldly. No wonder “Narnia” and other fantastical films have been shot here.

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My garden-writing wife Mary happily stopped at Alpinum Juliana,

IDs. See it as soon as possible, before climate change, already

a 70 year-old botanical garden part of Triglav National Park. The

taking a toll, alters this rare growing ground forever.

garden sprawls across steep, rocky acres filled with rare colorful flowers and plants from the Eastern and Western Julian Alps,

For an in-depth education on the area’s natural and cultural

Friulian hills, and meadows of Karst. An inexpensive booklet filled

history, include a visit at the Dom Trenta Information Center

with color photos and descriptions in English helps with plant

and Museum of the Triglav National Park, set at the base of

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the Alps near the village of Bovec. The exhibits are sophisticated and comprehensive, ranging from a reconstructed

Alpine settings from Triglav National Park including the rustic gift shop at the Julian Alps pass and the Soca River.

primitive cabin to an interactive display of bird calls. Some of our favourites include a film installation that captured the seasonal beauty of Trenta Valley forests and a slick eight-screen video about the magical underwater world of the Soca river.

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Before leaving the mountains for the seashore, we walked the

steps lead down the mile- long gorge for dramatic views of

amazing Tolmin Georges at the confluence of Tolminka and

pools, roaring waters and waterfalls, including the famed Sum

Zadlaščica streams where they have carved deep gorges into

waterfall. Afterwards I celebrated our two days of Alpine dis-

the rocks. We following a guide around this natural wonder

covery with a large bottle of Slovenia’s favourite beer, served

that has attracted tourists from around world since its dis-

at a friendly cafe just outside the park.

covery in the late 19th century. Wooden walkways and stone

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Mary touring Alpinum Juliana, a 70 year-old botanical garden which is part of Triglav National Park.

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PIRAN & PORTOROZ

Sand, Sea and Salt

S

town has several high-end hotels and some very good restaurants. We stayed in the historic Hotel Kempinski Palace in a

lovenia’s 29 miles of Adriatic coastline, sandwiched

room with a balcony that looked over the scenic bay board-

between Croatia and Italy, is an invaluable lifeline

walk lined with beaches, restaurants and shops. If you’re feel-

for trade, recreation and tourism. To appreciate its

importance spend a couple days in the “Pearls of Slovenia’s Riviera” – the charming coastal towns of Portoroz and Piran. Portoroz is known for its unique health spas that use the world-famous nearby salt and mud in their treatments. The

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The Adriatic Sea and beautiful Tartini Square in Piran. Right: Folk dancers gather in an alley getting ready to dance in the square and the board walk lined with cafes.


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ing lucky there are three casinos in the town too. Many visitors

beautiful Tartini Square framed by colorful boats bobbing in

to Slovenia use accommodations in Portoroz, as we did, as a

the harbour and historic buildings built on soil dredged from

base to visit the local wine country and medieval town of Piran.

the sea. Our timing was perfect – blue skies, soft breezes and a festival in full swing. An orchestra played in the shadow of a

Piran was part of Italy until the end of World War II, which

statue of Piran’s most famous native son, violin virtuoso and

explains the Italian ambience of its ancient medieval streets,

composer Giuseppe Tartini. Locals dressed in period costumes

quaint shops and bustling seaside cafes. Our guide met us in

performed or manned booths showcasing the area’s history,

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including work in the local salt pans. Not so long ago, salt was like gold, bringing jobs and wealth to the small fishing village that would evolve into a thriving port. There is a Salt-Making Festival every year in April in Tartini Square, where a charming store and small museum showcase Piran’s “fleur de sel” that often outranks French

A festival and concert in Tartini Square in Piran. Right: Sea wall stone carvings, and women in period dress showing Piran sea salt.

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Scenes from our walking tour of Piran.

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sea salts in taste tests. Gourmet chefs back home will be de-

seafood, white truffles and great affordable Slovenian wines.

lighted to receive a small pouch of this prized salt as a gift.

People of Piran savor and support their culinary traditions. We were told that a McDonald’s opened a bit ago but closed in

Zigzagging narrow streets lead up to an impressive church

less than a year.

and viewpoints across town’s red-tiled roofs to the bay lapping Italy and Croatia in the distance. When you return to the

Our visit here was far too short. Piran’s rich mix of history, cul-

cafe-lined boardwalk where many buildings date to Roman

ture, and beauty are sure to bring us back once more.

times, stop to sample local delicacies including super-fresh

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LJUBLJANA

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A Capital Find

I

Like Amsterdam, youthful optimistic energy enlivens the streets day and night. Those along the banks of the Ljubljanica

f this is the first time you’ve heard of Ljubljana, or if you’re

River, which flows through the city’s heart, are gathering places,

wondering how to pronounce it, you’re probably not alone.

with lots of benches for people watching and outdoor cafes

Don’t feel bad. Until our visit to Slovenia’s capital city earlier

and wine bars that offer great food and drink at surprisingly

this year, it was off our radar too. That’s changing as more

affordable prices. Within walking distance of city center, there

travellers discover this dynamic, progressive, affordable and

are open air markets and shops selling everything any other

exciting place to visit.

modern European city might offer.

Ljubljana (Lub-li-yana) is the nation’s largest city of 278,000

The heart and symbol of the city is the Ljubljana Castle. Its

– 50,000 are students - and happens to be one of Europe’s

role has changed over the centuries from a mighty medieval

greenest and most liveable capitals. Cars are not allowed in

fortress, to a civic center and tourist attraction for over a million

the center of the city and free electric carts will shuttle you

visitors this last year.

from one end of it to another. Yes, free!

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Looking over the newer part of Ljubljana to the Julian Alps. Right: The old city oozes charm and cars are not allowed .

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The streets of old town Ljublyana belong to walkers and bick riders, no cars or buses allowed Top left: The free electric shuttle that took is from our hotel to the museum and back to our restaurnat for lunch. Left: Bronze door at the Church of St. Nicholas depicting Six Bishops of Ljubljana resting on the body of Christ with the symbol of water at the side which means eternal life

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The Castle is also a cultural centre, hosting concerts, exhibi-

You can walk or bike up to the castle or do as we did take the

tions, stage plays, social gatherings and state receptions. The

The Ljubljana Castle Funicular is a funicular railway that goes

Watchtower offers a wonderful vista over Ljubljana and its

from Krek Square near the Ljubljana Central Market to the

surroundings, and visitors. There’s a permanent exhibition of

Castle.

Slovenian History, and the Rustika gallery of cottage industry and arts and crafts. The castle even has its own vineyard.

Slovenian history and culture are celebrated here too. There are spectacular public art installations at every turn, from

We had the pleasure of dining at the Gostilna Na gradu Res-

whimsical to classical Roman. Retail galleries offer everything

taurant led by living legend chef Ana RoĹĄ and Valter Kramar.

from abstract to impressionism from local artists. Dozens of

The castle restaurant, that showcases modern Slovenian cui-

first rate museums and other cultural institutions are all within

sine, is now considered one of the most extraordinary dining

walking distance of the city center.

spots in the country. The food and service reflected the high standards we found on our entire trip.

As youthful and energetic as the city is, there is also visible

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recognition of the importance of city’s history and culture. You

visiting museums, the expansive Tivoli Park and outdoor mar-

can find it everywhere, from the food and drink to the carefully

kets. The highlight of our day was a personal tour by reknown

restored modern, minimalist design buildings by Slovenia’s

curator Andrej Smrekar, PhD .of the National Gallery which

master architect, Jože Plečnik.

features breathtaking Slovenian art

To appreciate it all, a guide is invaluable. The two tourist centers

We watched river boats cruising down the river, sampled re-

in the city center are staffed with friendly and knowledgeable

gional delicacies in local shops and were delighted once again

Slovenians eager to help you experience Ljubljana. They offer

by a last Slovenian dining experience at Atelje Restaurant. But

several tours ranging from history to food and wine tasting.

by this time, nothing much surprised us. This was Slovenia after all – a country that lives up to the love in its name.

After six days exploring Slovenia, we were sad to see our visit come to an end.. We spent our last day walking around the city,

The National Gallery of Slovenia boasts a collection of 13,000 priceless Slovenian treasures dating from the 13th up till the 20th century. Right: Curator Andrej Smrekar, PhD of the National Gallery leading us on a tour.

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IF YOU GO

Slovenia Official Tourist Guide Everything you wanted to know about Slovenia https://www.slovenia.info/en Slovenian Tourist Board is active on the following social media channels: •

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/slovenia.info

Twitter - https://twitter.com/SloveniaInfo

Twitter (corporate account) - https://twitter.com/tourism_slo

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/feelslovenia

YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/slovenia

LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/company/slovenian-tourist-board

Pinterest - https://www.pinterest.com/feelslovenia/

Ljubljana Tourism Visit Ljubljana tourism website, the official guide to Ljubljana and Central Slovenia. https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/visitors/

Ljubljana In Your Pocket Guide Another excellent source of information about Ljubljana https://www.inyourpocket.com/ljubljana

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A very special thanks to the Slovenian Tourist Board and our Slovenian gaurdian angels, Nataša Kejžar and

Lake Bled Tourism

Jani Peljhan who made this the trip of a lifetime.

http://www.bled.si/en/

Julian Alps http://www.julijske-alpe.com/english/

Radovljica Tourism http://www.radolca.si/en/radovljica-medieval-town/

Triglav National Park http://www.tnp.si/get_to_know/C176/

Bovec Tourism https://www.bovec.si/en/

Juliana Bortanical Park http://www.pms-lj.si/juliana/en/

Dom Trenta Information Center https://www.outdooractive.com/en/museum/slovenia/

Piran/Portoroz http://www.portoroz.si/en/portoroz-and-piran/

Slvenske Konjice http://www.destinacija-rogla.si/slovenske-konjice-town-centre

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OUR ACCOMODATIONS

O

ur plan was to stay in upscale, comfortable ac-

American standards and each one included a Western style

commodations that our readers would consider if

breakfast, and WIFI.

they were making the tour through Slovenia. We

86

wanted range of experiences as well and as you will read in

We know that not every one of our readers want or can

this section that’s exactly what we did – all very comfortable

afford top tier hotels. Fortunately Slovenia offers a host of

, yet each one a little different. All were most affordable by

very different types of accommodations including staying

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in a castle or a working farm. If you want indulgence, choose a

The accommodation in private rooms and guest houses is a

hotel as we did a number of times,

great opportunity to get acquainted with local customs, sights and cuisine. In Slovenia, there is a wide choice of providers of

If you value an authentic contact with hospitable locals, then the

private rooms, apartments and holiday houses. They mostly

guest houses and pensions or private rooms are the right choice

belong to the two- or three-star category and provide accom-

for you. A direct contact with green nature is offered by the

modation at relatively reasonable prices. The following pages

camping grounds and tourist farms. Cyclists and hikers will find

detail the places we stayed in or visited this remarkable country.

specialised accommodation, both in the valleys and mountains.

WINE GROWER’S MANSION ZLATI GRIC HOTEL

B

oasting one of the most modern wineries in the Styria region, a Golf course and apartments in the Wine Growers’s Mansion from the 15th century, Zlati Grič is truly

one of its hidden gems. We visited the ultramodern winery churning out some of Slovenia’s best wines and boasted an 9 hole golf course and a fine dining quality restaurant. Because the winery, restaurant , golf course and local town make it a destination for travelers around the world, they also offer luxury accommodations apartments in the Wine Growers’s Mansion from the 15th century in the middle of the vineyards as shown in the photos.. http://www.zlati-gric.si/

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RIMSKE TERME SPA AND HOTEL

O

K, I will be the first to admit, I’m not much of a spa

kind of tub and pool ever conceived of. It’s a top tier hotel with

guy, so I wasn’t thrilled to see a spa on our sched-

suites that would put a Las Vegas presidential suite to shame

uled but it didn’t take long to change my opinion

and its a full-on dining destinations with a variety of offerings

about what a spa can be. Rimske Terme is a spa with every

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-- from burgers and shakes to ultra-fine dining.


The sprawling destination is also a historical and cultural

nobility and ever a few scoundrels. We also had our most

gem in Slovenia built on the source of some of the healthiest

entertaining and memorable meals here which will be chroni-

water in Europe. It even has it’s own museum showcasing

cled in the next edition of the magazine in part 2 of Discover

it’s rich history which reads like a historical thriller filled with

Slovenia. https://www.rimske-terme.si/en/

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GRAND UNION HOTEL, LJUBLJANA

W

e could see why the Grand Union Hotel is the go

can get. It has the feel of a hip upscale eatery in New York or

to place in Ljubljana for business folks, meeting

San Francisco. Lots of wood, lights and a comfortably casual

and conventions. The meeting and banquet rooms

rustic decor make diners feel relaxed as they feast on some

are beautiful as is the historic facade of the main hotel. We

very sophisticated yet deceptively simple fusion dishes fea-

stayed in the business section of the hotel which has its own

turing local produce, meats and fish.

lobby and front desk trained to take care of busy executives and upscale travelers. The staff here is first rate, responding

The slightly charred octopus I had was the most flavorful and

to every request, including securing the free electric shuttles

tender I’ve expereinced. The staff was polished yet friendly

that will take you to any location within the old town walking

and recommended some great local wines. The young chef,

district.

Jorg Zupan, shown on the right is known as one of the best in Slovenia and I suspect his name will be known to foodies

The Grand Union’s new restaurant, Atelje Restaurant and bar,

around the world very soon. http://www.union-hotels.eu/en/

is about as far from the traditional hotel dining room as you

grand-hotel-union/

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HOTEL JAMA, POSTOJNA

T

he completely refurbished Hotel Jama, is a first rate hotel located in the heart of the Postojna Cave Park, is a perfect choice for visitors to Postojna Cave and Pred-

jama Castle. It’s an easy walk from the cave entrance. Our room was modern and spacious and had a great view of the Alpine countryside. We had one of our best meals in the restaurant, not always the case in hotels, but in Slovenia, good restaurants with amazing wine lists seem to be the norm. https://www. postojnska-jama.eu/

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GARDEN VILLAGE, BLED

W

e were just a little concerned when we were told that our first night in Slovenia would be in a tent. We have been Glamping before – once in Jordan and another at the Pushkar Camel Festival in India. It didn’t

work out so well then, but once we saw our tent we knew that all would be well. It was the most fun accommodation of the trip and as comfortable as any hotel we stayed at. The tent had two sleeping areas, a dining room, and living room with a couch and flat screened TV, a modern bath and two showers. Just outside the tent was a covered porch and a wooden hot tub. The breakfast at the cafe was great and the bar had a nice wine list with very affordable Slovenian wines by the bottle and glass. https://gardenvillagebled.com/

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HOTEL MANGART, BOVEC

S

lovenia has accommodations for almost every pocketbook. The Hotel Mangart is kind of an upscale Best Western with comfortable rooms and a great breakfast. The view from our balcony as seen on the right was amazing. It’s a wonderfully affordable

place to hang your hat, fishing pole, skis or your kayak for two or three days of outdoor fun along the river Soča. http://www.hotel-mangart.com/

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HOTEL KEMPINSKI PALACE, PORTOROZ

I

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guess if it good enough for Yul Brynner, and Orson

the beautifully appointed rooms with views to Croatia. It’s

Welles, it good enough for me. That trio and many more

a real five star hotel for those who only want the best –

celebrities call this place home since it opened in 1910.

pricy for Slovenia, but not for the rest of Europe. A won-

The hotel lives up to its reputation of pampering guests

derful place to setup camp to visit Piran and the surround-

with professional friendly service and first-rate ambiance

ing wine country villages. https://www.kempinski.com/en/

from the formal gardens just yards from the Adriatic to

istria/palace-portoroz/

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WINING AND DINING SLOVENIAN

STYLE DISCOVERING SLOVENIA PART 2 COMING THIS FALL

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A VIET NAM POSTSCRIPT A SAN DIEGO RADIO MAVERICK SEARCHES FOR A COUNTRY’S SOUL Story & Photography by Stacy Taylor

W

aves of goose-stepping

makes the Century City Mall in L.A. look

soldiers and boast-

like a flea market.

ful displays of missile launchers, as we

recently witnessed in Pyongyang? Glum internal-security apparatchiks keeping a watchful eye on anything non-conforming? A grim population of robotic drones, their shoulders to the wheel, grinding out 12 hours workdays? A stark unavailability of consumer goods? Actually, none of those clichés turned out to be reality. No soldiers, few cops, a friendly, albeit reserved, population, and stores, galleries, and boutiques dealing in luxury goods. In the center of Saigon is a 5-story shopping mall, named Saigon Centre, “your fashion destination”, that

The streets are alive with motor bikes and shoppers on the streets of Saigon.

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In the southern coastal area, the beaches are lined with high-end resorts, mostly catering to European tourists, fancy, French-inspired restaurants, and beachfront Tiki bars, along with the quaint fishing villages you would expect to see. Mui Ne beach, near the fishing town of Phan Thiet, is the kite surfing capital of the world. Yes, commies kite surf. Most of the tourists I bumped into in the more affordable beach areas were Russians , by and large a dour and humorless lot, clad in their uniforms of tanktops, baggy shorts, and rubber flip flop sandals, swilling beer and vodka from mid-morning on.


“In the southern coastal area, the beaches are lined with high-end resorts, mostly catering to European tourists...”

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Very casual dning at a Vietnam Home Restaurant, in Mui Ne.

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“...menu that offered up grilled cobra, marinated ostrich, crocodile, fried lizard, curried sea eel...”

T

he high end resorts were populated

eel, and barracuda, in addition to the more

mostly by slender, fashionable

mundane dishes like fried snapper. The

Asians, sipping Mojitos and taking

atmosphere at Vietnam Home was, to say

selfies. The locals were concentrated in nearby fishing coves, mending their nets and selling their catch, or drying anchovies in the sun in preparation for the production of their famous fish sauce, nước mắm .

the least, “casual. Residents of Ho Chi Minh City still refer to it as Saigon, and the old, ornate French architecture co-exists alongside shiny new high-rises. The streets are teeming with motor scooters and pedestrians. In fact,

Apparently the South China Sea, unlike

there was little on display, either culturally

the oceans off the coast of the United

or economically, that screamed “com-

States, are still fertile with sea life. In Mui

munism”. Marijuana is openly sold and

Ne, locals and tourists have their choice of

smoked on the side streets and, at night,

dozens of seafood restaurants, all serving

young Vietnamese hipsters pack the bars

fresh catch, creatively prepared Vietnam/

and discos.

French style, in hot pots, wrapped in banana leaves, pan fried, raw, or steamed.

There is the Ben Thanh central market (cleaner and more orderly than similar

One local restaurant where I dined one

ones found in Latin America), along with

evening, Vietnam Home, had a menu

a few other reminders of Vietnam’s 2nd

that offered up grilled cobra, marinated

world status.

ostrich, crocodile, fried lizard, curried sea

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“ After all, it was my generation and my country that shredded and incinerated their country...”

Aside from the Gothic and Romanesque

around abstractions like “communism”, “so-

allowed trade between the U.S. and Viet-

architecture, some of the remaining

cialism” and “planned economy”, I obsessed

nam). There was still a pavilion devoted to

vestiges of the French occupation include

a bit on the war and what thoughts the

American war crimes, that included dozens

hundreds of little open-air coffee shops,

Vietnamese people harbored when con-

of enlarged photos of the aftermath of the

family owned and operated, along with

fronting American tourists. After all, it was

My Lai massacre and the effects of agent

lots of food stalls selling ham-and-cheese

my generation and my country that shred-

orange. While viewing the depressing ex-

baguette sandwiches, known locally as

ded and incinerated their country, while

hibits, the Dylan song A Hard Rains Gonna

bánh mì . Yes, there is also Pho. I did

dispatching 2 million souls in the process.

Fall kept looping in my brain. It was, to say

not sample it. I would prefer to imagine it better than the chicken soup version available in the states. Aside from trying to wrap my mind

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I did visit the War Remnants Museum,

the least, a sobering experience.

originally called the The Exhibition House

The only conversation about the war I had

For Crimes of War and Aggression ( the

in Vietnam was with a Mekong Delta tour

name altered as part of the 1995 deal that

guide who spoke decent English. He took


Left to right: Fishermen working their nets in Mui Ne; Father and son on their scooter: Display of weapons of war at the War Remnants Museum.

a somewhat sanguine approach to the war,

Meanwhile, all I could think about was a

these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of

suggesting that neither the U.S. combatants

tidbit from history. Ho Chi Minh was a

Happiness.”

nor the Vietnamese resistance had much

notorious admirer of America’s revolution-

choice in the matter. He told me about his

ary history and practically begged the U.S.

father, a “collaborator” who had provided

to merely recognize his revolution, unsuc-

some kind of conveyance service to Ameri-

cessfully of course. When he drew up the

cans in Saigon, but then fled in fear when

constitution for the new country he would

the Army of North Vietnam triumphantly

ultimately lead, this was the preamble:

entered the city in 1975. He died of cancer

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,

after 9 years of exile in the Soviet Union,

that all men are created equal, that they

never seeing his family again.

are endowed, by their Creator, with

It has taken centuries of war and occupation, first by the Chinese, then by the French and the United States, and years of recriminations, re-education camps, and purges, but my feeling is that Vietnam is finally approaching the ideal.embedded in those famous words.

certain unalienable Rights, that among

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The Magic of Losinj CROATIA’S FEEL-GOOD ISLAND

It’s one of the most photographed sites in the Southern Caribbean and the Grenadines, Tobago Cays.

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Story & Photography by

Alison DaRosa

B

ack in the late 19th century, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the world’s great powers, rulers

set out to find the healthiest, most restorative, feel-good spot in the land. Scientists’ pursuit of perfect climate and pristine environment led them to Losinj, an island in the northern Adriatic, about 30 miles off the coast of what is

Colorful shops on the harbor at Veli Losinj. Top: Even the yachting set must deal with real-life laundry. At Ilovik harbor.

“This perfect climatological stew leaves Losinj with 300 days of sunshine and the warmest average temperature of any town at its latitude...”

now Croatia. They discovered that a warm Southern Mediterranean sea current hugs the island. It has a positive impact on everything that grows here – which in turn helps produce the island’s exceptional air quality. This perfect climatological stew leaves Losinj with 300 days of sunshine and the warmest average temperature of any town at its latitude: 75.2 degrees.

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By 1892, after a flurry of visits and studies, a national ordinance de-

What I found in abundance was crystal-clear air, gorgeous scenery,

clared the destination the official health resort of the realm. Within

storied history and culture, exquisite food and wines, 5-star ac-

a few years, Viennese aristocracy built villas and holiday homes

commodations, luxurious spa treatments – and warm, welcoming

here – retreats for themselves and their families, others for their

locals eager to share the bounty of their island with visitors.

mistresses. Many of these structures remain – serving today as 5-star inns and restaurants for the mostly European tourist trade.

Croatia claims at least 1,185 islands, islets and reefs in the Adriatic; just 47 are inhabited. Losinj (pronounced low-sheen) sits

During a week on Losinj this spring, the only Americans I found

in the Northern Adriatic’s Kvarner Gulf, embraced by the Istrian

were the friends I’d traveled with.

Peninsula to the northwest and the Croatian mainland on the

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east. It’s about 21 miles long and three miles wide – with a

rivaled even the merchant fleet of Venice. Pine forests are

population of about 11,000.

everywhere – thanks to visionary environmentalist and stillrevered climatologist Ambroz Haračić, who in the 1880s start-

Its gentle sub-Mediterranean climate works wonders for the

ed the Losinj Afforestation Society, which planted hundreds

local flora: More than a thousand species of plants grow on

of thousands of evergreens, mostly Aleppo pines, sequoias,

the island – including 230 aromatic and medicinal herbs.

juniper and cypress, throughout the island.

Most plants are native and grow wild – but some species were imported by sea captains who roamed the world back

For citified visitors, the simple act of breathing is a pleasure

when Losinj was a ship-building hub and its merchant fleet

on Losinj. Inhale a bouquet of rosemary, lavender, sage, laurel,

“Croatia claims 1,185 islands, islets and reefs in the Adriatic; just 47 are inhabited. Losinj (pronounced low-sheen) sits in the Northern Adriatic’s Kvarner Gulf...”

Bike riders enjoying the view of the harbor at Veli Losinj.

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myrtle, immortelle and wild roses. Savor the scents of lemon,

Margan-Sulc pointed to studies she says prove that a stay of

fig, orange, mandarin, olive and loquat trees. Add pines,

11 days, on average, can improve lung function for those with

palms, pomegranates.

pulmonary disorders.

“There’s more biodiversity on this island than there is in all of

I spent hours luxuriating in the tranquility of Losinj. My home

England,” said Dr. Anamarija Margan-Sulc, an internist at the

was Hotel Bellevue on Cikat Bay, a sheltered inlet where the

island’s Marine Medical Center. “There’s always something

seeds of today’s 5-star tourism were planted 125 years ago.

in bloom here; gardens blossom with 80 kinds of tropical

I savored solo walks along the bayfront promenade where

flowers. Plus you have the salt air of the sea – salt air that is

archduke Franz Ferdinand once strolled, where Hapsburg

infused by droplets of essential oils. It is why for so many

Emperor Franz Joseph I built Villa Karolina for his mistress. I

years, people are coming here to heal, to breathe with their full

walked in early evening, as the setting sun’s golden glow dap-

lungs.”

pled pebbly coves, burnished bows of bobbing boats, warmed the breeze that ruffled the pines of Cikat Forest Park. I’d

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walk to Cape Annunziata where I said a silent prayer at the

connection to the place.

church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in 1534, enlarged in 1858. It’s where generations of seafar-

When I wasn’t vegging on Losinj, I was exploring.

ers were sent off and welcomed back home – a place of joy and tears. As the daughter of a sea captain, I felt a personal

First I nailed a quick primer on the island’s recent history: Through much of the 19th century, Losinj was one of the

Hotel Bellevue on Cikat Bay,. Opposite top: The many flowers at Ilovik. Oppostie: A team of chefs take a few minutes to sample a vintage wine before the Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine-pairing dinner at Hotel Alhambra’s Restaurant Alfred Keller.

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busiest seaports in Europe – at one

square. Hills are terraced with red tile

time, home to 11 shipyards and 400 sea

roofs of gracious homes once owned by

captains. The island remained part of

sea captains – passed down to great-

the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the

grandchildren who run pirate-themed

end of World War I, when the Treaty of

excursion boats or ice cream parlors.

Rapallo gave it to Italy. After World War II, it was incorporated into Yugoslavia.

The Museum of Apoxyomenos is one of

In 1991, it became part of present-day

Mali Losinj’s proudest achievements. It’s

independent Croatia.

dedicated entirely to an ancient Greek statue discovered in 1996, just off the

The island was untouched during Croa-

Losinj coast – where it had rested for

tia’s war for independence, said guide

about 2,000 years. If you missed see-

Damir Badurina. Only the colors of

ing the ancient bronze when it visited

towns changed – from shades of gray

the Getty or the Louvre, don’t miss it in

to pastels.

its home. The sculpture depicts the timeless beauty of a young male athlete’s

A short walk from Cikat Bay, Mali Losinj

nude body – and the museum is a con-

is the island’s largest town. It still has a

temporary love letter to that perfectly

Maritime Academy where young people

preserved treasure.

can learn to become sea captains – but today’s graduates will most likely skip-

Veli Losinj is a colorful seafront village

per private yachts and tour boats that

on the southeast end of island. The

line the docks of the bay. Mali’s harbor

town dates to the 13th century – and,

is edged with outdoor cafes and shops

like Mali, was home to generations of

where tourists sample olive oils and lo-

boat builders and seafarers. Its baroque

cal honey. Children skip rope in the town

Basilica of St. Anthony, rebuilt in the late

Above: A sea captain in Mali Losinj is happy to greet a visitor. Left: ‘Late afternoon sun reflects on Cikat Bay.

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18th century, remains the heart of the community – but the best views are from the town’s 15th century Tower Museum. Losinj’s closest island neighbor, just to the north, is Cres (pronunciation is subtle and sibilant, try ‘stress’ with a rolling t). Cres and Losinj were one island until Roman times, when shipbuilders carved a canal splitting them. The 36-foot-wide canal remains, with a rotating bridge connecting the islands. Cres is more than five times the size of Losinj – but with less than half the population. It’s more rugged, with rolling hills covered in scrub, rather than pines. Settlement began here as long as 12,000 years ago. We spent an entire day exploring the island – and oh what

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Above: Traditional “”peka” at. Veli Zal restaurant on Losinj Opposite: . Marta Kuljanic showing off her sheepskin.

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Dinner at Konoba Cigale on Cikat Bay: Perfectly grilled sea bass on a bed of light pesto risotto with a berry strudel dessert.

a day: We visited an herbs distillery run for 33 years by

his cellar and honored us by bringing out his really, really

Gverino and Irena Kucic – tasting everything from olive

good stuff.

oils to lemoncello and local honey. We bought small jars of immortelle face cream, hoping to recreate the glow that

“Zivjeli,” we toasted our host. Pronounced jee-via-lee, it

emanated from the faces of so many island women.

means “Cheers, life is beautiful.”

In the ancient village of Lubenice, perched on a bluff

At days end, while we waited for the rotating bridge to

high above the Adriatic, we counted six Roman Catholic

span the canal separating Cres and Losinj, we roamed the

churches among the rocky ruins – and only five full-time

cobblestone historic heart of Osor. We walked medieval

residents. Natives Marta and Maria Kuljanic presented soft

Roman ruins as bells chimed from a 15th century cathedral.

white sheep skins for sale. Nearby, we tried on woolen

At the town’s archaeology museum, we inspected myriad

hats offered by the man who made them from scratch

household artifacts dating back 4,000 years through the

– starting with spinning the wool. A few miles away, at

Middle Ages, all unearthed on the island. At the small

a small restaurant called TRS, we sat outdoors under awn-

café out front, locals focused on more immediate fare: the

ings shaded by an enormous fig tree. Owner/chef/waiter

town’s annual summer classic music festival.

Ante Muzic fed us lamb from his own farm, prepared three traditional ways. When we told him how much we enjoyed

Jadranka, for 70 years the leading tourism company on

the feast, his homemade wine and olive oil, he sprinted to

Losinj, operates everything from campgrounds to private luxury villas. It owns eight hotels, seven restaurants, 15

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yachts and three planes. Arranging an outing on the tur-

drooling on the sheets, I settled in for a soothing facial. If

quoise waters of the Kvarner Gulf was as easy as phoning

it weren’t for the irresistible lure of being outdoors, inhal-

the Bellevue’s front desk.

ing Losinj, I’d have spent every afternoon cocooned in the Bellevue’s Spa Zone. It’s the ultimate rabbit hole for free

The captain of our 45-foot sailboat motored along lime-

pampering treats: addictive “experience” showers that

stone shelves that skirt Losinj, noting points of interest

change colors and rhythms and are infused with scent, a

– including a nude beach. He offered us secluded coves

trio of saunas, relaxation rooms outfitted with warm stone

with crystal clear water for swimming. When we’d worked

recliners and waterbeds…

up an appetite, he docked at Ilovik, the “Island of Flowers,” just south of Losinj. Our appetizers were sweet ripe

But I wanted more. As I and so many others have discov-

loquats we plucked from trees, mulberries we picked from

ered over the past century, the real magic of Losinj – the

vines. At Dalmatinka restaurant on the harbor, we dined

transformation that heals body and mind – happens

family style on fresh-from-the-bay turbot baked with veg-

outdoors. It happens during late-afternoon walks. Or while

gies picked that morning from the chef’s garden. Dessert

sitting with new friends at a seaside café, sipping herb-in-

was sweet thin pastry slathered in skuta – a ricotta-like

fused Croatian brandy. It happens as the nightingale sings

cheese made from sheep’s milk, an island specialty.

and the sickle moon dances on the tide. Just inhale. Fill up your lungs. It happens.

We were back at Hotel Bellevue that afternoon in time for spa treatments. After a hot-stone massage that had me

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IF YOU GO Getting there: The easiest way to get to Losinj is by private plane arranged by the Jadranka Group. Flights are available from most European airports. Fares start about $400 for up to three passengers flying one way from Pula on Croatia’s Istria peninsula. Double the fare for the six-passenger plane. Ground transfers from various Croatian airports to Losinj, which include a van for up to eight passengers, a driver and ferry tickets, start at about $220 one way from the Rijeka Airport. It’s about $325 from Zagreb. Staying there: Hotel Bellevue, overlooking Cikat Bay, is TripAdvisor’s number one rated among 13 hotels on Losinj. It reopened three years ago after a major redo. Today there are 185 rooms, 21 suites, three dining venues and a luxurious 27,000-square-foot spa. Rooms for two start at about $270 a night, including a lavish breakfast for two. Steps from the Bellevue, the Boutique Hotel Alhambra is all about small-scale luxury. Designed as a Villa in 1912 by leading Austrian architect Alfred Keller, it was completely renovated in 2015 and is now a member of prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World. There are 51 rooms, two restaurants and a full-service spa. Service is white-gloves, but not stuffy. Rates start at about $450 a night including breakfast for two. Vitality Hotel Punta in Veli Losinj is a family oriented complex with 289 guest rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts and a full-service spa. The hotel was built in the ‘60s, renovated in 2014. Rooms for two start at about $150 a night, including breakfast. Villa Hortensia on Cikat Bay dates to the Austro-Hungarian era – but inside its 10 bedrooms (and 10 baths) are ultra contemporary. There’s an indoor sauna, whirlpool and fitness studio – plus an outdoor pool filled with heated seawater. There’s a 10-person staff – including a chef and kitchen crew to

prepare and serve all your meals, which are included with your stay. Rates range from $7,800 to $10,000 a night, depending on the number of guests. Most hotels offer multi-day health and fitness packages. Get more info about Losinj lodging at www.Losinj-hotels.com. Dining there: The island’s rich natural setting provides the basis for its healthy Mediterranean-style cuisine. Seafood, olive oil and fresh herbs are staples of most menus. Locally raised lamb dishes are popular. There are plenty of moderately priced seafront restaurants. Among my favorites: Veli Zal, where we shared “peka” family style. It’s a traditional Croatian dish: just-caught skarpina (a cod-like fish) slowcooked in a clay pot with potatoes, carrots, fennel, onions, garlic and olive oil. At Konoba Cigale, where we dined under the stars, savoring shrimp tartar, perfectly grilled sea bass on a bed of light pesto risotto and a dessert of berry strudel with ice cream, we decided the experience deserved an encore. It was just as good on our second visit. Restaurant Alfred Keller at Boutique Hotel Alhambra, is recognized by Gault & Millau as one of the best restaurants in the world. It’s known for its haute cuisine, extensive wine list, wine-pairing dinners and MasterClass events featuring some of the most important vintners in the world. I joined a class led by Herve Gouin from Chateau Mouton Rothschild. He introduced us to a dozen or so Rothschild vintages. Later I savored an exquisite six-course dinner paired with some of the wines we’d tasted that afternoon. Extraordinary. Winepairing dinners at Alfred Keller can run $350-$400 per person, depending on the winesv served. Learn more about travel to Losinj at http://visitlosinj. hr/?lang=en-GB

Above: Dining on Adriatic tuna on the outdoor terrace at Hotel Bellevue.

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HOLIDAYS New Orleans’ Style Story & Photos by Priscilla Lister

No destination makes my mouth water as much as “The Queen City of the South.”

A

nd there is no better time to visit New Orleans

Nickell, my friend and traveling companion who lived here for

for its characteristic cuisine than the December

25 years until Hurricane Katrina pushed her out. We had come

holidays. During that month, more than 50 of this

to New Orleans with our mutual friend, Patricia Harris, to toast

food city’s great restaurants celebrate the season

the season in one of our favorite destinations.

with reveillon dinner menus that offer special multi-course feasts.

The name of the special dinner is based on the French word “reveil,” meaning “waking.” It refers to the French Creole tradi-

“Reveillon dinners date from the Creole era in the mid-19th

tion of feasting after midnight mass on Christmas Eve, follow-

century — the city’s apex before the Civil War,” said Patti

ing that day of fasting.

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Left to right; The season is sparkling at Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter; Ron at Arnaud’s prepares Cafe Brulot, a coffee/brandy concoction that is the best way to end a meal at New Orleans’ classic Creole restaurants.; Jackson Square is ready for the holidays

“ During that month, more than 50 of this food city’s great restaurants celebrate the season with reveillon dinner menus that offer special multi-course feasts.”

“Some 98 percent of New Orleans in that era was Catholic,”

here and you have found a splendid sweet spot to celebrate

Nickell told us. “The feast after Christmas Eve mass was a

the season.

way to give thanks, while the second reveillon on New Year’s Eve was just to party.” New Orleans does that really well anytime.

Patti, Pat and I split our time between two French Quarter hotels. First, we checked into Maison Dupuy on Toulouse at Bur-

But add this culinary twist to the holiday decorations that

gundy in a quiet residential section of the French Quarter.

festoon virtually every hotel lobby and wrought-iron balcony

Built in 1973, it was the last hotel to be built in the historic

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quarter since future hotel development was banned in 1975. Maison Dupuy combined five brick townhouses, all

“...classic Creole dishes — creamy sauces, fresh seafood and rich desserts define New Orleans’ cuisine...”

centered on the French Quarter’s largest courtyard — a classic design element in homes here. This charming courtyard becomes a neighborhood gathering spot once a month when local craftspeople and cocktails combine to raise funds for local charities — we were there for the lighting of the Christmas tree all benefiting the Salvation Army. (www. maisondupuy.com.) Then we moved to Hotel Le Marais, on Conti between Bourbon and Royal streets, an upscale boutique hotel that recently remodeled itself to be the most up-to-date in the French Quarter. This is a modern hotel with touches of old-world charm where every staff person becomes your friend. That welcome cocktail of choice on check-in sets the Big Easy tone from the get-go. Conde Nast readers in 2016 put Hotel Le Marais among the top four hotels in New Orleans, “one of the rare boutique hotels that manages to at once evoke the charming, old-world essence of the Big Easy, all while reminding guests it’s set firmly in the modern age (gratis Wi-Fi, heated saltwater pool).” (www. hotellemarais.com.) Both French Quarter hotels made walking our preferred mode of transportation. We could easily amble to most of our restaurants of choice as well as our sites of leisure activities, which naturally included some holiday shopping. The French Quarter is loaded with kitschy souvenir shops or even those fabled voodoo emporiums. But stroll down Royal Street and you’ll find some

Galatoire’s, one of the city’s longtime beloved Creole classics, held an auction the week we were there for locals who wanted to secure a table for New Year’s Eve.

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of the most gorgeous estate jewelry

tion about 25 years ago,” Nickell told us.

you’ve ever seen as well as silver serv-

“It started with the old Creole restau-

ing pieces, porcelain sculpture and

rants, but now it’s offered throughout

dinnerware, glassware and antique

the whole city.”

furnishings that belie this city’s grandest aspirations over its 300 years.

The classic Creole dishes — creamy sauces, fresh seafood and rich desserts

If you have time for only one such shop,

that define New Orleans’ cuisine — in-

find Keil’s Antiques at 325 Royal Street.

spire today’s reveillon menus, but each

A family firm since 1899, Keil’s is literally

restaurant puts its own modern twists

“a treasure house of antiques” that had

on them.

my jaw dropping with desire over marble mantels, chandeliers, silver mustard pots and, especially, some truly beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. You could make your special someone very happy here.

We made our first foray into this culinary ritual at Tujague’s, the city’s secondoldest (after Antoine’s) restaurant that’s been a locals’ favorite for 150 years. The first course offered a choice of oysters en brochette, crispy bacon-wrapped

New Orleans restaurants were about to

Louisiana oysters on garlic crostini,

make us very happy, too.

topped with creole meuniere sauce;

Reveillon dinners have always been luxurious and decadent — feasts after the fast, after all. The Creole tradition fell

marinated crab claws salad; or crawfish and goat cheese crepes served with a chardonnay creole cream.

out of favor among families here in the

The second course was a truly classic

1900s, partly because these extravagant

NOLA dish, Creole Turtle Soup.

meals are harder to prepare. “Local restaurants decided to bring back the tradi-

Top: The classic courtyard at the historic Williams’ residence in the French Quarter, one of several historic homes open for touring. Below: Strolling the streets of the French Quarter never gets old.

The third course offered a choice of filet mignon with Yukon gold mashed

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The Crab & Green Papaya Remoulade at Brennan’s features New Orleans-grown green papaya with Louisiana jumbo lump crab with a satsuma dressing. Right: Sarah Arceneaux, floor captain and sommelier at Brennan’s, prepares Crepes Fitzgerald table side. They’re flambeed twice with local praline liqueur as well as Maker’s Mark bourbon.

potatoes and broccoli; chicken Pontalba, a breast served on a bed of Brabant potatoes with Neuske ham, green onions and mushrooms, topped with bearnaise sauce; pan-sauteed Puppy Drum, a white fish topped with Louisiana jumbo lump crab and beurre blanc; or grilled double-cut pork chop topped with Steen’s cane apple glaze, served with roasted sweet potatoes and Swiss chard. (www.tujagues.com.)

Dessert offered a choice of white chocolate bread

pudding with bourbon caramel sauce or Madagascar vanilla bean creme brûlée.

After dinner at Tujague’s on Decatur Street, walk

several blocks east to the connecting Frenchmen Street in the adjacent Faubourg Marigny neighborhood where some of New Orleans’ best music clubs reside. Check out The Spotted Cat, Apple Barrel or The Blue Nile.

Also on Frenchmen Street (619 Frenchmen) is the

Frenchmen Art Market, NOLA’s only weekly nighttime art market that offers original art, jewelry and crafts by local and regional artists — another good shopping destination during the holidays. This market opens Thursdays-Mondays from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Sundays from 6 p.m. to midnight).

The next morning, we walked to Brennan’s, one of

the city’s most famous restaurants where Bananas Foster began and where breakfast became another celebratory meal in this city. The restaurant was closed for a few years

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Patrick Brennan, sous chef at Brennan’s, continues his family traditions.

for an extensive renovation before reopening in 2014. It is absolutely splendid today, the epitome of New Orleans’ ambience and architecture that combines classic old-world elegance with plenty of fanciful touches, like the whimsical murals of the Mardi Gras Proteus Parade of 1895. (www.brennansneworleans.com.)

This lovely old pink building was originally built in

1795 by the great grandfather of Edgar Degas, once housed Louisiana State Bank, and was a private residence frequented by President Andrew Jackson. Today its eight glamorous dining rooms are not only frequented for breakfast, but are favored for private parties, weddings and plenty of Mardi Gras festivity.

We breakfasted in the Chanteclair Room, the main

dining room that is “a fantasy interpretation of a French Orangerie (that) holds hands with the courtyard through a spectacular wall of glass,” says interior designer Keith Langham of his favorite room at Brennan’s.

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Co-owner Ralph Brennan, nephew of Brennan’s original

Slade Rushing is Brennan’s acclaimed chef. He told me that

founder, Owen Brennan, has worked here since he was 14, he

my choice of omelette “is simplicity at its best,” this version

told us in that gorgeous dining room. “This is a special place

adorned by sautéed shrimp, chives, tarragon, chervil and

for my family and we continue that tradition.” His daughter,

creme fraiche, “very elegant.”

Kathryn, works up front, and son Patrick, a CIA Greystone Napa graduate, is sous chef in the kitchen. “Patrick started at 9 at Redfish Grill and has been in the kitchen ever since,” said his proud papa.

Brennan’s Eggs Sardou featuring poached beauties atop crispy artichokes, Parmesan creamed spinach and choron sauce.

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Eggs Sardou featured fried artichoke hearts topped with creamed spinach, poached egg and choron sauce, which is like a tomato hollandaise. Eggs Hussarde, “one of my favorite dishes,” said Slade, presents poached eggs on housemade


English muffins with coffee-cured Canadian bacon, hollan-

in 1938,” my docent, Kurt Owens, told me. “They completely

daise and marchand de vin sauce.

restored it and lived here for 20 years. The Vieux Carre wasn’t

Bananas Foster, of course, may be de rigeur to follow, but we tried Crepes Fitzgerald, another Brennan’s original that features crepes stuffed with seasonal fruit. This holiday season’s version featured a stuffing of pumpkin and praline with cream cheese brûlée. Like Bananas Foster, Crepes Fitzgerald

always romantic,” he said about the French Quarter, “In the early 20th century, it was poor and run down. The Williams bought and restored this home and encouraged others to restore properties in the Quarter.” Their dedication is a primary reason the French Quarter is so beloved today.

is flambeed twice with a local praline liqueur and Maker’s Mark

At the Gallier Historic House, also on Royal, Michael Mae, our

bourbon.

docent and architectural historian, regaled us with stories of

To walk off some of this indulgence, I sought historic homes

life in the 1860 Greek Revival home.

to tour, also expecting some holiday decorations to adorn

Gallier was a famed architect who designed New Orlean’s

them. I was not disappointed.

French Opera House (which no longer stands). He built this

First I found the Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street, which includes a museum of Louisiana history and art and the former home of General and Mrs. L. Kemper Williams. Tours here began in the 1970s.

home for himself, his wife and four daughters. He died here in 1868, while his wife died here in 1906 and one their daughters died here in 1909. After subsequent owners, the home was turned into a museum in 1974. “Creoles didn’t like closets because there was no air and clothes would mildew, so they

“The Williams acquired this 1792 Spanish Creole building

The courtyard at Brennan’s is one of the city’s prettiest for fair weather dining.

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relied on armoires,” Mae told us. “They kept clothes wrapped

Women’s Exchange also owns and operates the Hermann-

in peppercorn and vetiver and tobacco leaves to keep them

Grima Historic House, on St. Louis. The Hermann-Grima house

from mildew and moths.” Gallier was so ahead of his time, he

preserves life here as it was during the 1800s. (The Hermann-

invented ceiling vents and this home had indoor plumbing in

Grima and Gallier Historic Houses, www.hgghh.org.). I will

1860.

never forget the story of its ice house, where they stored huge

The Gallier House is operated by the Women’s Exchange, a group formed in 1881 after the Civil War to provide a place for war widows to sell their handmade goods anonymously. The

Redfish Bienville at Tableau, with friseefingerling potato salad and blue crab butter sauce.

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chunks of ice that had been carved from glaciers in Canada and barged all the way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Top left: An appetizer sampler from Tableau: Shrimp Remoulade “Bloody Mary,” Fried Oysters Maison with rosemary bacon jam, Truffled Crab Fingers, and Crabmeat Ravigote on cucumber with lemon aioli.


Dinner was another extravaganza at Dickie

Houmas House was bought some 14 years ago

Brennan’s Tableau, the newest restaurant in

by New Orleanian Kevin Kelly who not only

Dickie Brennan’s stable. Located on Jackson

restored it to exceptional glory, but turned it into

Square, Tableau showcases classic French

a wonderful restaurant with several venues as

creole dishes with a twist — “sophisticated yet

well as a high-end hotel with 21 guest rooms in

true to tradition.” The open kitchen provides

beautiful new cottages. Next time, I’ll spend a

some of its own theater, while next door is Le

night here. (www.houmashouse.com.)

Petit Theatre.

Kelly bought this property when it was a gutted

Tableau features a different reveillon menu

shell with no gardens. His associate, Jimmy

during each of its December nights, which you

Blanchard, an extraordinary artist and designer,

can find closer to the event on its website, www.

brought it to newfound glory.

tableaufrenchquarter.com.

Named after local Indians, the Ouma, Houmas

But I’ll share a few of the taste treats we en-

House originated in 1720 with a brick hacienda,

joyed.

Blanchard told us. In 1858, it was sold to John

For starters, we loved the shrimp remoulade

Burnside for $1 million.

“Bloody Mary,” which showcased Gulf shrimp

“Known as the Sugar Palace, It was then

with pickled vegetables in a bloody mary

the largest sugar plantation in America with

vinaigrette, and the crabmeat ravigote, which

250,000 acres,” Blanchard said.

featured local jumbo lump crabmeat with chow chow, cucumber and lemon aioli on lavash. For a main course, steak, pork chops and veal are on offer as is a charred cauliflower steak or barbecued shrimp and grits . But I went for the pan-roasted redfish Bienville, a fine white redfish with frisee-fingerling potato salad and a blue crab butter sauce.

It was also the largest slave holder in Louisiana then with more than 800 slaves, according to the National Park Service. “It was so Catholic, Christian and French, slave plantations here were different from the rest of the country because we had many free blacks who owned slaves,” Blanchard told us. “It was a whole different, complicated world… In fact, a

One day we ventured out of town for a truly

black person in Louisiana discovered how to

transporting experience. We drove a little more

crystallize sugar so it could be shipped.”

than an hour to the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, “The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road.”

Tour this former plantation home and prepare to be amazed. Blanchard has designed every room with fascinating, unique, evocative pieces

Louisiana’s Great Mississippi River Road is

that are simply remarkable. “It’s been a home

a corridor about 70 miles long on each side

for 300 years, so we show things from every

of the river between Baton Rouge and New

era — it’s eclectic. Most plantation houses don’t

Orleans. Here are the state’s most famous

live anymore, but this one is still lived in.”

monumental plantation houses, most built by wealthy sugar plantation owners in the Greek Revival Style. The National Park Service has a map, itinerary and list of sites on Louisana’s

Indeed, Kelly told us — he lives full-time here — “my bedroom is on tour from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day.”

River Road, www.nps.gov/nr/travel/louisiana/

The many various dining rooms as well as the

riverroad.htm.

glorious gardens — with one of the largest

Top: Dessert sampler at Tableau: Vanilla Bean Creme Brûlée, Flourless Chocolate Cake and Bananas Foster Cheesecake. . Bottom: Shrimp po-boy at Houmas House Plantation on Louisiana’s famed River Road.

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collections of bromeliads not to mention the ancient live oaks that adorn the grounds —make for an unforgettable sojourn. “You can’t find this atmosphere anywhere else,” said Blanchard, “We get a lot of proposals.” Back in the city, we dined that night at Arnaud’s on Bienville. One of the city’s classic Creole vanguards, Arnaud’s has been in favor since 1918. (www.arnaudsrestaurant.com.) One dish on Arnaud’s reveillon dinner menu never changes:

year,” chef Tommy DiGiovanni told the Times-Picayune. Other classics include Duck Rillettes, “with the nouveau additions of caramelized onions and cherry confit — ‘nouveau’ as in trends that are a few decades old as opposed to 100 years old,” laughed DiGiovanni. Seafood dishes feature Gulf drum, shrimp and oysters in a hearty tomato sauce, a strong Spanish element in Creole cuisine.

Creole Onion Soup en Croute. “People look forward to it every

Commander’s Palace, often voted the best restaurant in the city, is housed in an old Garden District mansion.

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Whatever you choose, do not forgo a plate of souffle pota-

We dined in the Garden Room, a perennial favorite, indulging

toes, a dish I’ve only ever had in New Orleans’ grand Creole

first in the famous “25-cent martinis — classic, Commander’s

restaurants, including Arnaud’s, Antoine’s and Galatoire’s.

(the turquoise one), Cosmopolitan or Ray’s melon — limit

Here’s how Arnaud’s describes these pillows of delight:

three per person ‘cause that’s enough.”

“Legend has it that Collinet, French King Louis Phillipe’s (reign 1830-1848) chef unintentionally created souffle potatoes by plunging already fried potatoes into extremely hot oil to reheat them… to the chef’s surprise and king’s delight, the potatoes puffed up like little balloons.” They are served with bearnaise sauce. This may be my favorite potato dish in the world.

Favorite daytime favorites here include smoked corn stoneground grits, Commander’s turtle soup finished table side with sherry, Creole gumbo du jour, and cast-iron seared Gulf fish with Louisiana crab and boiled peanuts pureed with brown butter. Another classic is its cornbread crusted catfish with Cajun andouille sausage, grilled Visalia onions, Louisiana red beans and roasted tomatoes

And also do not miss Cafe

with smoked corn grits.

Brulot, another classic on

If you save room, here also is

many upscale old-line

NOLA’s “most iconic des-

Creole menus here. This

sert” — Creole Bread Pudding

is an after-dinner coffee/

Souffle, created in 1981 by

brandy drink that is pre-

Prudhomme.

pared tableside, including some very theatrical flam-

Walk it all off around the Gar-

ing techniques in special

den District to view some of

equipment that gleams of

the city’s grandest homes.

silver. This is no ordinary

Our final culinary adventure

after-dinner drink, but

was dinner at Broussard’s on

then, this is New Orleans.

Conti Street. Considered the

(www.arnaudsrestaurant.

fourth of the grand-dame Cre-

com.)

ole French restaurants in the

Lunch the next day at Commander’s Palace put us in another

French Quarter (the others being Antoine’s, Galatoire’s and

Brennan temple to Creole cuisine. You may notice there are

Arnaud’s), Broussard’s opened in 1920. Its outdoor courtyard

a lot of Brennans in the restaurant business in New Orleans.

for patio dining is one of the prettiest in the city. (www.brous-

They are in the second and third and fourth generations now,

sards.com.)

and to map the uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers and cousins

It offers one of the city’s favorite reveillon menus of classic

who hail from this clan would be exhausting.

Creole dishes. We loved its shrimp remoulade featuring Gulf

Commander’s Palace may be the most famous — and lauded

shrimp in that classic Creole sauce, akin to a slightly spicy

— of all. It has been named best restaurant in New Orleans

tartar sauce. The crabmeat gratin featured grilled cauliflower.

and even best restaurant in the United States many times.

Entrees of Louisiana Bonaparte — fresh local fish sautéed

(www.commanderspalace.com.)

and topped with lump crabmeat, lemon butter and grilled as-

A Garden District landmark since 1893, Commander’s Palace

paragus; shrimp and crab penne diablo — with corn and reg-

is housed in an old mansion, many different rooms becom-

giano parmesan; and Gulf shrimp King Creole — with sesame

ing favorite dining rooms. In 1974, Ella, Dottie, Dick and John

herb sticky rice, were each truly delectable.

Brennan took it over and the accolades began. Famous chefs

Is your mouth watering yet?

Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme both cooked here early in their careers.

Mine, too.

Garlic Seared Gulf Shrimp at Commander’s Palace, with grilled rapini greens, slowroasted tomato, wild rice, charred shallots, brown butter pureed Louisiana yams, cebollita emulsion and sweet corn soubise. On the side is its smoked corn stone ground grits.

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Visiting the Fab Four’s Liverpool By Sharon Whitley Larsen

R

ecently I was lucky to visit

The rest, as they say, is history. The

Liverpool for the fourth

Beatles really put Liverpool on the map.

time, reveling in the midst of Beatles Territory--the Mersey-

side hometown of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

Salvation Army orphanage that lent its name to “Strawberry Fields Forever” . Courtesy Eirik Newth from Oslo, Oslo.

This vibrant city was designated European Capital of Culture 2008; prior to that, in 2004, areas of the city center and waterfront were named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also declared in 2015 as UNESCO City

“...Brian Epstein, visited the Cavern Club where they were performing to see what the fuss was all about...”

of Music. And no wonder. It was in October 1961 that a teen strolled into a local record store and asked for a recording of “My Bonnie”-- then popular in Germany by a young group of moptop Liverpudlians. Shortly after, the manager of the familyowned record shop, Brian Epstein, visited the Cavern Club where they were performing to see what the fuss was all about.

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And from staying at the Hard Days Night Hotel--to taking a ferry ‘cross the Mersey--to touring the Beatles’ childhood homes and historic sites--this city of 465,000 is Fabulous “Fab Four” Fun. A “must” for every Beatles fan is to visit The Beatles Story on Albert Dock (and its smaller counterpart at Pier Head-which also includes history and artifacts on other popular 1960s musical groups). The self-guided audio tour entertains with detailed history, interviews and anecdotes about the Fab Four as fans peruse the costumes, photos, posters, instruments, news clips--and sights and sounds of Beatlemania. There are replicas, including one of John Lennon’s “White Room” with its grand piano--and of the Cavern Club, where visitors can rest their feet and en-


The early years of The Fab Four (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr). From the cover of Beatles – LP Live At The BBC – volume 2 . Photo courtesy Wiki Commons.

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joy a video documentary. You’re allowed to take photos, and

hood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney--or to have

several tourists snapped away. I spent nearly three hours

a private driver/guide show me the sites of their Liverpool

on my recent tour here, stopping in the cafe for a bite to eat

lifestyle and inspiration for the famous songs--such as Penny

afterwards--and browsing through the gift shop that sells

Lane, Eleanor Rigby, and Strawberry Field.

Beatles T-shirts galore. I’ve sipped wine at the Jacaranda Club and The Grapes pub During my visits here, I have worked in a Beatles-themed

(and the reconstructed Cavern Club), where the Beatles per-

tour, whether joining other fans on a van to visit the child-

formed or hung out. Near St. Peter’s Anglican Church, where

Bronze scupture of Eleanor Rigby in Liverpool.a gift from Britain’s 1950s rock ‘n’ roll idol Tommy Steele, “for all the lonely people.” Center: The sculpture of John Lennon outside The Cavern Pub was unveiled on 16 January 1997. Photo courtesy George Groutas from Idalion, Cyprus. Right: A view down Penny Lane at the opposite end from the roundabout, approaching the junction with Greenbank Road near to Sefton Park..

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Paul first met John in 1957 at the annual Woolton garden

statue of the Fab Four installed in 2015 on Pier Head, where

party, is the churchyard cemetery, where one gravestone

tourists love to pose for photos.

reads: “In loving memory of. . .Eleanor Rigby. . .died 10th Oct. 1939, aged 44 years. . . .”

As one elderly taxi driver told me, “I’ve lived here all my life and saw the Beatles at the Cavern in 1961. It was crowded,

Today in central Liverpool there’s a statue of Eleanor Rigby

hot, and smoky. I knew there was something special about

sitting on a park bench, a gift from Britain’s 1950s rock ‘n’ roll

them, their music was different from other sounds.”

idol Tommy Steele, “for all the lonely people.” And there’s a

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And here I was, reliving that musical history as I rode down

worked; the Liverpool College of Art where John and Cynthia

Penny Lane with my private guide Sylvia.

met; the Liverpool Institute next door which both Paul and George attended (they didn’t meet there, but on the top of a

“So many fans through the years have constantly ‘borrowed’

double-decker bus, when Paul noticed that George was wear-

the Penny Lane street sign that it’s now painted on,” noted

ing the same shirt and had a guitar).

Sylvia as she pulled the car over, insisting on taking my picture beside the famous landmark.

We drive past 197 Queen’s Drive, the former elegant home of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s family and, of course, tour

Here I was, under “the blue suburban sky” on Penny Lane-

the downtown reconstructed Cavern Club, where the Beatles

-a rather nondescript and somewhat disappointing street, I

performed 292 times between February 9, 1961, and August 3,

thought.

1963.

However, as we con-

Fans can see modest 12

tinued driving down

Arnold Grove, George’s

the two-lane road,

birthplace, where he lived

Sylvia pointed out

until age 7, and 25 Upton

that the end of the

Green, where the family

street “was where the

later moved--as well as the

bus terminated when

tiny working-class row-

you came out of the

house at 9 Madryn Street

city; it was an impor-

where Ringo was born, and

tant intersection.”

10 Admiral Grove, where he lived from ages 5-23.

“The shelter in the middle of a rounda-

A special highlight is to

bout” became “Sgt.

tour the childhood homes

Pepper’s Bistro.”

of John Lennon and Paul

And the barbershop

McCartney, now owned by

(“In Penny Lane the

The National Trust.

barber shaves another customer; we see the banker sitting waiting for a trim. . .”) is still there.

As my husband Carl and I joined a dozen others for a van tour, we were told the rules: Buckle-up, no gum-chewing, and no

“The Beatles didn’t do barbers any good,” Sylvia says with a

cameras or cell phones allowed inside the houses.

chuckle. “We don’t want to hear, ‘Guess where I am? Paul McCartney’s “They were only schoolboys--they had no great life experi-

bedroom!’” cheerily noted our guide.

ence; they had to travel on buses, carry their guitars. Because George and John lived in the suburbs, this bus stop was the

We first stopped at 251 Menlove Ave. — “Mendips” — in Wool-

most important place to get together.”

ton, where John had lived with his Aunt Mimi from 1945-1963, from ages 5-23.

On our tour Sylvia zips her car around, pointing out the Beatles’ sites (I’m amazed at how close they lived to one another-

“The National Trust and Yoko Ono welcome you,” greeted our

-within a few miles): St. Barnabas, where Paul was a choirboy

guide.

(the Anglican Cathedral had rejected him, saying his voice was not good enough!); the Woolworth’s where Cynthia Lennon

The author and her husband Carl Larsen pose next to their Beatles’ tour van.. Photo courtesy Sharon Whitley Larsen.

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The two-story, three-bedroom, one-bath duplex, built in 1933


— a very neat, middle-class home (described by Paul as “posh”

had various jobs, including working as a barmaid, and who

when he first visited) — looks much the same as when John

played the piano and banjo) was killed by a car as she crossed

lived here, with 1950s decor.

the street in front when he was 17.

The middle-class house had both happy and sad memories

We began the tour on the side yard, entering the tiny kitchen

for John, as his fun-loving and flamboyant mother Julia (who

where Mimi used to cook John his favorite meal, eggs and chips. Next to the kitchen is the sunny, small family room where John spent a lot of time drawing, listening to the radio (he was a fan of “The Goon Show”) — and where Mimi loved to sew on her Singer sewing machine. Across the tiny hall is the back dining room, where John and his first wife, Cynthia, lived during their first year of marriage. Today, visitors can peruse family items, including photo albums and John’s Sunday School record of attendance when

The Beatles at the Cavern Club. 1962 Photo: courtesty Apple Corps Ltd. Left: The Cavern Club today. Photo courtesy Wiki Commons.

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he was 6 and a framed program on the wall from the “St. Peter’s Church Garden Fete — 3 p.m., July 6, 1957” —where John and his Quarrymen first met Paul. The more formal, small front living room, with built-in bookshelves lining both sides of the fireplace, was where John would sit and write poetry and song lyrics, telling Mimi, “You should keep these because I’m going to be famous one day and they’ll be worth something!” This is also where he and Paul sat down to play guitars together, and where they would rehearse on Sunday afternoons with friends, including one with a six-piece drum set, until Mimi banished them for peace and quiet. “The guitar’s all right, John, but you’ll never make a living with it,” she once told him. Later she cheerfully answered the huge piles of his fan mail at the window desk. “Come here!” the guide exclaimed, motioning me out the front door. “Sing something!” When I protested that I couldn’t carry a tune, he then pointed out the small, enclosed, windowed front porch, where John and Paul rehearsed, finding the acoustics perfect for harmonizing. After climbing the wooden staircase in the entry hall, I toured John’s tiny, narrow front bedroom, which had a twin bed pushed to one side, and small dresser. It was here where he would spend hours on the bed reading, with his feet up on the wall, drawing, dreaming, gazing out the bay window to the street, and writing songs — including “Please, Please Me.” Yoko Ono, who purchased Mendips in 2002 and donated it to The National Trust, which opened it to the public the following year, wrote in the guidebook: “Everything that happened afterwards germinated from John’s dreaming in his little bedroom.” Next we rode to nearby 20 Forthlin Rd., Allerton, a two-story

John and Paul pose in front of drum set. Coutesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Top: John Lennon’s childhood home. photo courtesy Havaska and Wiki Commons. Bottom: Paul McCartney’s childhood home. Courtesy Wiki Commons..

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brick, three-bedroom, one-bath, mid-

The Beatles Story, Albert Dock: www.

terrace house where Paul had moved

beatlesstory.com/albert-dock

with his family in 1955, when he was 13 and his brother Mike, 12.

The Beatles Story, Pier Head: www. beatlesstory.com/pier-head

A custom-made sign inside above the front door says, “In loving memory of

(Ticket is good for both museums for

Mum and Dad, Mary and Jim.” It was

two days.)

put there by Paul and his brother. For more information: www.beatlessA recording by Paul greets visitors in

tory.com/day-tripper

the small, front living room: “Many of my favorite years were spent in this

The National Trust, touring John’s and

house — many lovely years — some

Paul’s childhood homes (important to

sad, yes, but most of my memories are

book ahead):

very happy ... Enjoy your trip around!” The living room, with fireplace, is furnished with cozy 1950s decor — a small television, armchair, sofa, and upright piano — and is similar to how it looked when the McCartneys lived here. It was in this front room where John and Paul wrote many songs, including “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Upstairs are the bedrooms — and a tiny one in front was Paul’s, furnished with a twin bed against one wall. As Paul sums up in the guidebook, “My mum and dad would have found it very hard to believe that the house is now a National Trust Property. You expect The National Trust to own places like Blenheim Palace, not a little terrace house like this. But they would be chuffed about it, and so am I.”

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatleschildhood-homes Museum of Liverpool (also has Beatles’ relics--including a short film--and it’s free): www.liverpoolmuseums.org. uk/mol/ Port Sunlight Museum (a short train ride away) features some Beatles’ items, including an interesting radio interview when they were first starting out. www.portsunlightvillage.com/ The village’s Hulme Hall is where Ringo first performed with the group on August 18, 1962: www.hulmehall. com/ Hard Days Night Hotel: www.harddaysnighthotel.com/ Treat yourself to a drink and munchies at Panoramic34--with a magnificent 34th-floor city view. Reservations recommended: www.panoramic34.com/ For more information: Visit Liverpool: www.visitliverpool.com Visit England: www.visitengland.comVisit Britain: www.visitbritain.com

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Beatles with Birmingham Police officers . Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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Paradise Found Tuscany’s Thermal Spas Are Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Amy Laughinghouse

I

’ve been to hell and back -- and it’s

There are even handrails to prevent you

nary a muffled scream of agony. It must

not at all what you might expect.

from falling into the abyss. (Health and

be the demons day off, as the only

Contrary to popular belief, the road

safety measures in the devil’s digs?

souls I see are figures in white hooded

isn’t paved with good intentions, but

Presumably, even the pitchforks come

robes, kicking back in deck chairs and

with concrete.

with a warning: “Caution. Pointy on one

sweating for their sins.

end.”)

In the dimly-lit afterlife, towering

Fortunately for me, this intriguing neth-

stalactites and dagger-like stalagmites

It’s also surprisingly easy to pass

erworld is actually the largest thermal

punctuate sinuous corridors that wind

between Paradise, Purgatory, and the

cave in Europe, nestled deep within

through bulbous, dimpled rock, like the

sultry Inferno, where a sign advises “Si-

Grotta Giusti resort in Tuscany. Quarry

pathways of a giant, labyrinthine brain.

lence Helps Relaxation.” Indeed, there’s

workers accidentally discovered the

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“It must be the demons day off, as the only souls I see are figures in white hooded robes, kicking back in deck chairs and sweating for their sins.”

grotto, home to a 130 million-year-old

Today, the enterprise encompasses

mineral-rich spring, in 1849 near the

a 64-room hotel, which debuted a 15

villa of Italian poet Giuseppe Giusti.

million Euro refurbishment this spring.

Shortly afterwards, the entrepreneurial

The revamp revealed refreshed gues-

wordsmith converted his estate into a

trooms and a lighter, airier restaurant

spa and hotel. When the 19th century

and piano bar, without sacrificing the

composer Giuseppe Verdi gave the

villa’s original frescoes and selection of

grotto a big thumbs up, dubbing it “the

period antiques. Two outdoor thermal

eighth wonder of the world,” it’s reputa-

pools feature hydro-massage jets,

tion was made.

where guests bob like poached eggs,

Guests relax in Grotta Giusti’s steamy grotto, which is heated by a thermal spring. Courtesy Grotta Giusti, Italian Hospitality Collection. Opposite: Grotta Giusti spa is located within an elaborate stone building erected in the mid-19th century, shortly after the thermal grotto was discovered. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse.

and an expansive spa offers everything

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from massage to mud therapy, anti-

trail, tennis courts, rock climbing, and

around 82 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit.

ageing and anti-cellulite treatments,

paragliding, while a nearby golf course

A 50-minute tour is meant to allevi-

and a recently launched “Equilibrium”

treats guests to a discount.

ate a laundry list of ailments, including

program focusing on nutrition, relaxa-

respiratory, circulatory, osteo-muscular,

tion techniques, thermal therapy and

It’s the grotto, though, that steals the

exercise. The surrounding 110-acre park

show. Vapors from the thermal spring

provides plenty of ways to escape the

transform the cavern into a natural

According to the hotel’s marketing

creeping tendrils of inertia, with a hiking

sauna where temperatures vary from

director, Barbara Guidi, “the heat helps

Portrait of Roald Dahl courtesy Carl Van Vechten - Van Vechten Collection.

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nervous and skin conditions.


muscles totally relax and absorb these

patients to go to hell, at least they don’t

usti is the only hotel in the world where

minerals into the bones. It stimulates

have to pay full price for the privilege.

you can scuba dive in a thermal cave

the production of endorphins, which is

system, but as I’ve always been keen Visitors can also enjoy full immersion

on breathing oxygen that doesn’t come

therapy – a baptism, if you like – in the

from a can, I opt instead for “floatation

In fact, it’s so much like a drug that the

Lago del Limbo, the crystal clear, 93-de-

therapy” in the lake with Luciano Tanini,

Italian government subsidizes citizens’

gree lake that stretches out beneath the

who has been exploring these caves

visits here. So when a doctor tells their

cavern’s cathedral-like arches. Grotta Gi-

since 1980.

why you feel so relaxed. It’s like a drug.”

Cradling me in his arms, Luciano stretches and bends my limbs as he moves me gently through the balmy water. Swaying like seaweed, entrusting myself to the strong hands of a stranger, I’m as carefree as flotsam and jetsam on an infinite ocean. You might even say that I’m as happy as a pig in mud…but just what is it about mud that’s supposed to induce such euphoria? That’s what I aim to find out when I travel 28 miles west to Bagni di Pisa, which places a special emphasis on fangotherapy. (It’s nothing to do with vampires. That’s spa-speak for detoxifying, anti-inflammatory treatments using hot clay steeped in thermal waters).

Grotta Giusti’s 64-room hotel is set within a 19th century villa in Monsummano Terme, Tuscany. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse. Left: A woman tests the warm thermal waters in the Hammam dei Granduchi at Bagni di Pisa spa resort in Tuscany. The hammam is built into an intimate natural grotto. Courtesy Bagni di Pisa, Italian Hospitality Collection. Opposite: Grotta Giusti in Italy’s Monsummano Terme is the only hotel in the world offering diving in a thermal cave system. Courtesy Grotta Giusti, Italian Hospitality Collection.

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L

ike Grotta Giusti, the 61-room Bagni di Pisa is part of the Italian Hospitality Collection, and it’s also housed in an historic Tuscan property with a renowned thermal spa. The

Bagni di Pisa villa, replete with historic frescoes, was owned by the Medicis before the Lorena family adopted it as their summer residence, less than four miles from the city of Pisa. Through the centuries, Bagni di Pisa has hosted illustrious guests like George IV of England, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley, for whom the hotel’s glamourous Shelley Bar is named. (Maybe Mary dreamt up Frankenstein after one too many martinis?) It’s easy to imagine such glitterati sitting down to dinner in the elegant Dei Lorena restaurant, although perhaps not so casually attired as some guests today, who don’t hesitate to rock up in their spa robes and slippers, particularly at lunch. Set amid flowering fruit trees and botanical gardens, Bagni di Pisa features an outdoor thermal pool and four indoor pools; the Hammam dei Granduchi, a romantic natural grotto with a twoperson bath fed by a thermal waterfall; and the Salidarium, where I’m buried up to my neck in a bed of warm salt crystals, emerging some twenty minutes later feeling as delectable as a salted cod. But the resort’s piece de resistance is the afore-mentioned fangotherapy, which is also subsidized by the Italian government. Before I meet the mud, a man in a white lab coat takes my blood pressure, which proves to be low – hardly surprising, considering I’ve already spent two days kicking back at Grotta Giusti.

Bagni di Pisa spa resort in Tuscany features a large outdoor swimming pool filled with thermal water. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse. Opposite top: The Bioaquam Circuit in Bagni di Pisa’s Levante Spa is a 70-squaremetre thermal pool containing a series of hydro-massage stations, situated beneath an arched glass roof. Courtesy Bagni di Pisa, Italian Hospitality Collection. Opposite bottom: A suite with a soaring frescoed ceiling at Bagni di Pisa spa resort in Tuscany. Courtesy Bagni di Pisa, Italian Hospitality Collection.

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“... I’m buried up to my ne salt crystals, emerging so later feeling as delectable


eck in a bed of warm ome twenty minutes e as a salted cod.�

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A

“Then she swaddles m a thick orange blanket back, where I lay like a

fter he explains that the mineral-infused mud will be applied to my back, shoulders and flanks, I’m ushered to the treatment area, where I meet Rossella.

With her mass of black curls framing a kindly face, she just about puts me at ease, despite the fact that she’s wearing a plastic apron and gloves. (It’s possible I’ve seen too many episodes of “Dexter.”) Stripping down to a pair of paper panties, I sit on bed en-

shrouded in gauze while Rossella slathers me in medicinal muck dispensed from an industrial-looking silver pipe. Then she swaddles me in a sheet of plastic and a thick orange blanket before easing me onto my back, where I lay like a helpless burrito. “Cinque, cinque, cinque!” Rossella smiles, flashing five fingers at me repeatedly to indicate that I’ll baste for fifteen minutes. Occasionally, she returns to check on my progress, mopping my brow with a tissue and bestowing a beatific smile, like Mother Theresa in a Saran Wrap habit. When Rossella finally frees me from my cocoon, such is her delight that you would have thought she was unwrapping her first bicycle, rather than my sweating, shriveled carcass. “Bueno!” she says, clapping her hands, clearly pleased with the lagoon of perspiration I’ve produced. Never have I been so roundly applauded for so little effort, but nevertheless, I feel myself blushing with pride…or possibly heatstroke. Finally, Rossella leads me to a warm tub, handing me a shower nozzle that issues blessedly cool water. Then she withdraws, leaving me to simmer like suet pudding. Closing my eyes, I take stock of my various body parts and realize that, for the first time in ages, the tangled knots of tension that usually plague my back are gone. Perhaps we should all take a page from the piggies’ playbook. I’ve found my paradise at last. The Shelley Bar at Bagni di Pisa spa resort is named for Mary Shelley, one of the famous guests who have visited this historic villa in San Giuliano Terme, Tuscany. Courtesy Bagni di Pisa, Italian Hospitality Collection.

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me in a sheet of plastic and before easing me onto my helpless burrito.”

IF YOU GO Getting there: Grotta Giusti is about a 50-minute drive from Pisa and Florence airports. Bagni di Pisa is 20 minutes from Pisa airport and approximately an hour from Florence airport. Stay: Grotta Giusti, four-star resort in Monsummano Terme, from 135 Euros ($150) per person, www.grottagiustispa.com. Bagni di Pisa, five-star resort in San Giuliano Terme, from 144 Euros ($160) per person, www.bagnidipisa.com. The Italian Hospitality Collection also includes a third Tuscan resort, Fonteverde, which features along with Grotta Giusti and Bagni di Pisa on the new nine-night “Tuscan Route.” All three properties offer thermal spas and the collection’s signature Equilibrium program, developed by Dr. Nicola Angelo Fortunati. For details, visit www.italianhospitalitycollection.com.

Grotta Giusti is set on a 45-hectare estate in Monsummano Terme, Tuscany. A hiking trail leads through fields of wildflowers and an olive grove. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse.

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Trinbagonian VIibes Discovering cultural and natural wealth in Trinidad and Tobago

Story & Photography by Maribeth Mellin

T

eens, grownups and elders drummed and danced, girls’ hair whipping side to side and grins growing ever wider, as the Invaders played an exuberant version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” They coaxed an impossible range of notes and melodies from rows of shiny steelpans

balanced on perches in a barren back lot on a dusky Trinidanian evening. Onlook-

ers swayed their hips and shuffled their feet as the band segued into Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” A few reggae favorites made it into the mix, and the air rang with an irresistible vibe. The steelpan, a local invention from the 1930s, became my new favorite instrument, playing in the background during a weeklong writer’s conference that included several excursions in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

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Tobago’s Pigeon Point is popular for watersports.

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The two Caribbean Islands lie just seven miles off the coast of Venezuela and are part of South America. Together they comprise the third richest country in GDP in the Americas, thanks to abundant sources of oil and natural gas. I missed that part of the islands’ fame, concentrating instead on everyday island fun. As Warren Solomon, the republic’s Minister of Tourism, joked during the conference’s opening ceremony, “I think the real energy comes from our people. We enjoy everything to the last drop.”

Cultural Influences Trinidad and Tobago claim to have the most holiday celebrations in the Caribbean, thanks to the many nationalities among the 1.3 million residents. The islands went through Spanish, Dutch, French and British rule before gaining independence in 1962. Indentured workers were imported from East India in the mid-1800s, and more than 35 percent of the islanders are of Indian descent. Another 30-something percent are of African descent, and the rest is a mix of European, Asian and Lebanese influences.

Top: The Hindu god Hanuman rises 85 feet high. Bottom; Trips to the mountains include stops for candy and fruit.

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“I think the real energy comes from our people. We enjoy everything to the last drop.” “We Trinis like to boast about our heritage,” one tour guide told me. “We’re like callaloo,” a multi-ingredient soup. I was pleased to find a strong Indian influence in the regional cuisine, and happily devoured doubles (curried chick peas in a flour shell) and roti (a flour wrap with curried veggies and/ or meat) from roadside stands. Thanks to the Indian influence, Hinduism is the second-largest religion practiced on the islands (after Roman Catholicism), and temples dot the landscape. One even sits on the sea. The circular Waterloo Temple was the dream project of indentured laborer and devoted Hindu Seedas Sadhu, who began his construction in 1947. Unfortunately, he chose a state-owned island for his temple, which was destroyed by the government five years later. Sadhu spent the following 25 years creating his new temple in the shallow sea, building a base from stones and earth he transported to the site by bicycle. In 1994, the government helped complete the temple and a gardenedged pier lined with prayer flags, and it’s now both a Hindu sacred site and

Statue of the Hindu god Ganesh at the Waterloo Temple.

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a must-see attraction. Flowers and coins are placed before

What may be the Caribbean’s largest Hindu celebration

elaborately painted statues of Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu and

takes place on Trinidad in October or November, depend-

other Hindu deities draped in silk and gilded jewels and

ing on the moon’s cycles. The Indo-Trinidanian culture is

windows around the building face the open water. Nearby,

celebrated with nine days of music and dance culminat-

another deity, the protective god Hanuman, is honored with

ing in a fireworks display on the national holiday of Divali,

an 85-foot-high statue at the Dattatreya Yoga Center.

when people light candles and lamps honoring the powers of good and light over evil and darkness.

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“...Divali, when people light candles and lamps honoring the powers of good and light over evil and darkness...”

Clockwise: Scarlet Ibis flock to an island in Caroni Swamp; Trinidad’s backcountry hills have views of stunning bays.; Steelpan practice.; Stops at rum shops are an important part of backcountry explorations.

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Natural Exuberance Butterflies and birds abound in the islands’ undeveloped rainforests, marshes, coastlines and mountains, and my favorite excursions included lots of natural exposure. Port of Spain, Trinidad’s main city, quickly gives way to a green-on-green landscape broken by small towns with all the requisite businesses, from KFC to roti take outs to fruit and candy stands (don’t miss

the pickled green

mango called

chow). According

to my guide,

the omnipresent

rum shops

are essential in

even the

tiniest outposts.

“Rum is an

integral part of

our culture,”

he said. “Rum

shops are

the first business

to open and

the last to close.”

The tour

included stops, of

course. We also lingered at Richard’s in Maracas Beach for bake and shark, an island classic with seasoned shark inside fried bread. There were easily a dozen sauces for further flavor, including yummy garlic, tamarind and cilantro versions and lip-searing pepper and chile potions best avoided. The long, popular beach is lined with similar casual stands. In the past, the shark came straight from nearby waters, but the creatures are disappearing due to overfishing, and some stands offer dorado, calamari and even vegetarian options. The sand looked tempting, but we were soon off to the lush mountains for staggering views of the coast. I devoted several hours to a similar country tour on Tobago, spotting jewel-covered hummingbirds and posing for photos of the sculptured roots of a 350-year-old silk cotton tree. Healthy-looking goats grazed beside simple wooden houses in small villages and the countryside. Turns out Tobago’s goat races are legendary. Racers train by swimming in the ocean (we didn’t spot any paddling goats, unfortunately) and are

Left to Right: Ladies prepare Bake and Shark at Richard’s.; Sunset at Caroni Swamp; Shops and stands in small towns sell all necessary supplies.

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“ Turns out Tobago’s go Racers train by swimm


oat races are legendary. ming in the ocean...”

given race names like Dragonfly and Spring Feet. On Easter Monday and Tuesday the goats, dressed in colored coats, race along a track, urged on by barefoot jockeys pulling long ropes. Crab races are also held, should the goats not provide sufficient amusement. I did manage

to snag several

beach hours

at Tobago’s

lovely Pigeon

Point, where

activities

included paddle

boarding,

kayaking, kite

boarding and

my personal

favorite—

lounging on the

beach with

chatty locals. I

was eager to

get out in the

wilderness

after hearing the

islands’ offered primo prime bird watching along with sightings of howler monkeys and nesting sea turtles. But my one long hike on lacked any sort of wildlife as a storm brewed in the distance. Seems all creatures save my guide and I were smart enough to take cover. The best natural encounter by far took place during an evening boat ride in Trinidad’s Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary. We floated through spooky dark canals vaguely reminiscent of the Amazon, ducking under mangrove branches and watching white egrets and blue herons gracefully skim the silvery water. As 4 p.m. approached, we stopped far offshore a small island for the daily arrival of hundreds of scarlet ibis, the national bird. Sure enough, we began to spot a few red dots on the horizon, then more and more as the graceful birds flew in formation and roosted in the island’s mangroves as the setting sun glowed over the treetops. The only thing missing was the beat of a steelpan band in the background for the perfect ending to a Trinbagonian adventure.

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m o r f s d r a c Post

a i n a z n Ta

POSTCARDS FROM JOHN & JODY

This is the latest in a series of “postcards” sent to WDT Magazine publisher, Ron James, from veteran journalists and friends Jody Jaffe and John Muncie as they travel the globe.

Dear Ron, We saw our first big cat a half hour after entering Tarangire National Park. We were late to the viewing. By the time we drove up, eight other safari trucks and at least 23 zoom-lenses, some the size of an elephant’s leg, were already ahead of us. Under a tree by the side of the dirt track lay the carcass of a half-eaten antelope. About 60 yards away, on the other side of a stream, was the perpetrator – a leopard, whose spectacular fur would have been great camouflage at a 1960s’ fashion shoot. The leopard eyed all of us with feline aplomb. He licked his fur, yawned, yawned again, flicked his tail. Then he slumped down for a post-prandial nap.

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A male lion saunters across our path in Ngorongoro Crater; on photo safari in Serengeti National Park.


Some of the trucks motored off but we stayed a few minutes

Elephants, rinos, hippos cooling in muddy pools, gazelles

longer. Suddenly the leopard got up, ambled over to a tree

of every sort, hyenas, jackals, massive herds of wildebeests

and, stretching up, scratched the bark like it was the arm of

migrating across endless emerald veldt, thousands of tubby

a sofa. Then, with supernatural grace, he jumped up into the

zebras, warthogs, water buffalo, baboons. Eagles, ostriches,

branches and disappeared behind the trunk.

flamingos, storks; too many other birds to keep track. And giraffes -- their massive grace delighting us every time.

It was the first day of our week-long Tanzanian safari. Just the two of us and Baraka Ng’wavi, our guide and mentor. Seven

But the cats are the safari stars. They attract Land Cruisers like

nights, three national game reserves, one dark-green Land

bees to honey. They’re beautiful; they’re deadly. Baraka’s first

Cruiser and countless hours stalking the iconic wildlife of East

safari rule: “You never get out of the truck. Wild animals are

Africa.

wild animals.”

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One day we were safari-ing in Ngorongoro when Baraka

“He’s just looking for water,” Baraka assured her, so matter-

made a quick stop. Out of the low grassland that covers most

of-factly he could have been ordering coffee. And, in fact,

of the 100-square-mile collapsed volcanic crater (one of Tan-

the lion walked by us, oblivious to potential hors d’oeuvres

zania’s world wonders) a male lion, it’s massive head framed

crossed the road, drank from a puddle of water then ambled

by a multicolored mane, sauntered up.

off toward a nervous herd of wildebeests.

Sauntered up to the Cruiser’s passenger side -- Jody’s side,

Every big cat encounter is special. We saw lion cubs nursing

the windows-rolled-down-side, the easy-bite-for-lunch side

and lions mating. (Ten seconds max, and no foreplay.) We

– until the Lion King was so close Jody could have reached

saw a mama cheetah teaching her two cheetah kids to stalk

down and scratched his head. “Baraka,” she said, leaning

a line of zebras in the Serengeti. We saw a leopard dragging a

nervously back into the truck, “should I at least close the

Thompson’s gazelle across a rain-swept grassland stopping

window?”

every few yards to check for competitors and catch its breath.

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But the highlight of the highlights came among the “kopjes”

Jody leaned further out and the lioness opened her eyes. She

of southeast Serengeti. A “kopje” (a Dutch/Afrikaans word

stared at Jody, and Jody stared back. They stayed locked in that

meaning “little head”) is an outcrop of ancient granite that

gaze for several minutes, until finally Jody looked away. “It was

sticks abruptly up out of the savannah. Kopjes are home to

like she looked into my soul!”

some unique African reptile species and are good vantage points for predators.

Love, John and Jody

After leaving our tented camp one morning we drove into a kopje complex and straight into the middle of a lion pride. We stopped by a house-sized boulder, leaned out of our popped roof and slowly turned 360, spotting lions all around us. We counted 11 males and females. All were lounging, sleeping or dozing, oblivious to our vehicle and us, looking like giant versions of our house cats. Right outside our truck lay a lioness.

A cheetah on the hunt in the Serengeti plains; a lady lion looks us over in the “kopje” region of the Serengeti.

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“Glamping” in the Naona Maru tented camp in the Serengeti.

Dear Ron,

camping” -- in Tanzania’s 5,700-square-mile Serengeti National Park.

We sat down to dinner in a room with three oriental rugs, two chandeliers, white cloth napkins folded to look like giraffes

This particular “glamp” was called Naona Moru Camp– one

and, of course, African-print table cloths.

in the Nasikia group – and consisted of eight regular-sized tents and two slightly bigger “honeymoon” tents with red

A young man came out of the kitchen, tapped on a glass and

light-bulbed chandeliers. “To create a romantic atmosphere,”

announced the menu: Pumpkin soup, followed by rice, green

manager Charles Mwanisawa explained to us.

beans, chicken with a special “spicey sauce,” and, for dessert, a lemon tart.

By “regular sized” tent we mean 40-by-20 feet plus a 10-foot covered front porch lit by three kerosene lanterns. Our regular

Ah. Just another night of “glamping” – that’s “glamorous

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tent was outfitted with mosquito-netted king-sized bed and


adjacent reading area with a writing desk, a separate bathroom,

Naona Moru was part of our first all-inclusive trip. Usually we

shower and toilet area stocked with fluffy bathrobes.

make all arrangements. Not this time. Our 13-day, 12-night Tanzania adventure involved lodging outside Arusha (near the

A flashlight hung on a porch tent-pole outside. A couple of

base of Mt. Kilimanjaro), seven nights on safari, and five days/

flashes and someone would come to escort us to the bar/

four nights in Zanzibar, including a two-night stay at a beach

lounge tent or dining tent. “After dark it’s a good idea not to

resort. Throw in some tours and in-country flights and it was a

walk around,” Charles said, “We don’t want any surprises.”

logistical nightmare.

But there were no rifles at Naona Moru. Apparently, tourists

Everybody we talked to -- even a friend who has lived on and

are not on the predator menu. (We didn’t ask about potential

off in Tanzania for 15 years and speaks Swahili – said, “Hire

zebra stampedes.) If there’s any trouble, Charles said, they call

somebody.” So we handed the whole trip over to Infinite Safari

a nearby ranger camp.

Adventures and founder Alan Feldstein, a Tanzania specialist. WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM

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We couldn’t afford the “luxury” level trip (one night at & Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, overlooking the crater, could set you back $1,700 per person or more) but we told Alan to do his best to organize and pamper us. And he did. We were picked up at Arusha and 13 days later dropped off at the Dar es Salaam airport. Everything in between was covered. Including, of course, glamping and the indelible sights and sounds of Naona Moru. Like coming back one afternoon in the rain and seeing the crew rush out with umbrellas to escort us in. Like the patter of rain on the tent or the thunder of zebras passing nearby during breakfast. Like sitting by the outdoor evening fire (they call it “bush TV”). Like a lesson in night sounds from crewman Sam Rajab, who identified for us hyenas and wildebeests and the deep coughing noise we heard at 5:30 one morning. “That was a lion’s roar,” he told us. “Your wake-up call.” Like dessert the second night that was delivered by the entire crew who formed a conga line and danced though the dining room tables singing “Malaika” and ending up with “Happy Birthday!” It was John’s 70th. We could get used to this. Love, John and Jody

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Dear Ron, We met our safari guide Baraka Ng’wavi when we exited the Kilimanjaro airport. “Baraka means ‘a blessing,’ ” he told us with a wide smile. “You are blessed.” He was right. We were. We were about to embark on a private safari -- just one guide and the two of us. Eight days, seven nights. Yes, bucket list. Our outfitter, Infinite Safari Adventures, had assigned him to us. We had no idea what we would get. But the dice were rolled, they came up seven, and we raked in the chips. By the end of our week together Baraka had become not only our driver-guide, but also our naturalist, historian, linguist and sociologist. When we weren’t talking about the biological connections among Acacia trees, ethylene gas, and giraffes we were discussing Tanzanian infrastructure problems and its impact on Baraka’s plan for farming onions. As professional snoopers, we pestered him with questions but he never seemed to mind. He took on any subject, from the environmental impact of Masai cattle herds to hyenas to tribal boys with faces painted for circumcision ceremonies On the drive from the airport to our first night’s lodging outside the city of Arusha, we learned that Baraka was 40; he and his wife, Mary, had three kids; he had been a safari guide for 15 years and with Infinite Safari Adventures for five. He had climbed Kilimanjaro more than 50 times. He had studied for three years at mechanic’s school and three more combining wildlife and hospitality. Ethnically, he was of the Hehe tribe from south-central Tanzania; he and Mary were devout Christians

Impromptu animal biology lesson from our guide, Baraka Ng’wavi, in Tarangire National Park; line of migrating wildebeests in the Serengeti.

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He had a high-pitched chuckle and he chuckled frequently.

“You planted it there,” we teased him with fake outrage. “It’s a

He was a nerd about scientific biological terms. He was a big

stuffed leopard.” Then, of course, it moved.

birder. He kept in contact with other guides by walkie-talkie radio and seemed to be acquainted with every guide in every

We pestered him for Swahili words. Our first lesson was “yes,”

truck. When he sensed we’d had enough of any one scene,

“no,” “hello,” and “goodbye” (“ndiyo,” “hapana,” “jambo,” and

he’d turn and say, “Shall we?” And off we’d go after another

“kwaheri”). Later we added phrases like “chacula ni kitamu”

elephant or lion or pod of hippos.

(the food is tasty). And, of course, the names of animals: “simba” (lion), “twiga” (giraffe), “tembo” (elephant) and “punda”

His animal radar was uncanny. Driving up out of Ngorongoro

(zebra).

crater, he suddenly pulled over and stopped. “Do you see the leopard?” he asked, pointing to a steep forested slope at least

In turn, he taught us a vocabulary of animal sounds. In case

200 yards away. What? No way! “Yes, at the crook of that tree,

you ever want to call over a zebra, make a kind of bright “hoo-

half way up.”

hoo” noise.

Following his instructions we finally caught a glimpse using

By our fifth day together, we’re like three college roommates.

our camera’s zoom lens. We couldn’t believe he spotted it.

We spend an hour over lunch at the entrance to Serengeti Na-

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Mud-caked rinos in Ngorongoro Crater; snoozing baby hippo lakeside in Ngorongoro; rampaging wildebeests in the Serengeti.

tional Park discussing the future of Tanzania and his future in

Our final safari day ended when Baraka drove us to a small

it. We advise him to forget the onions, (“vitunguu” in Swahili).

airstrip somewhere in the Serengeti, where we were to catch

What about spices? Exporting herbs? A line of spice-based

an eight-seat prop job for a flight to Dar es Salaam. (Life in the

cosmetics?

African bush: prior to the landing rangers checked the runway for wildebeests.)

We loved his enthusiasm. He once ended a mini lecture involving elephants, acacia tree bark, bug larva and wood-

It was time to say goodbye. But before we did we needed one

peckers with words that might have been his personal slogan:

last Swahili lesson. “Baraka,” John asked, “how do you say

“Nature is so amazing.””

‘friend’?’”

And one afternoon, after sighting zebras, zebras and more

“Rafiki,” he answered.

zebras (“punda wengi”) in Tarangire National Park we stopped to lunch by a river. Not 50 yards away from us were yet additional zebras. “I never get tired of the animals,” he said to us over sandwiches. “Every day it looks like new to me.”

“OK, then. Kwaheri rafiki!” And we ran off to catch the flight. Love, John and Jody

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Photographer’s Holiday In Cuba THE FORBIDDEN ISLAND THROUGH THE LENS Story Maryanne McGuire and Ellen Federico Photography by Maryanne McGuire

F

rom the Jet Blue window it looked like most Carib- bean

the plane Havana. It would remain that way until March when

islands, but this island was Cuba, an outlawed destination

it would turn hot, humid and buggy. We navigated through the

for Americans until recently. My travelling companion and

crowded customs and baggage pickup and exchanged our dollars

fellow photographer and I were living a life-long dream and we

for Cuban, jumped in a taxi and headed for our hotel.

were beyond excited -- ten days in Cuba to experience the island and its people through the lens of our cameras.

Old Havana was like diving into an Easter basket of con- fection colored architecture that mirrors its diverse social and political

It was January and the weather was pleasant as we stepped off

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past. The Spanish, Greek, Italian, and Moorish colonial-style build-


ings were adorned with beautiful wrought iron, stonework, and elaborate mosaics. Music escaped sidewalk cafés and passing Classic 50’s- 60s’ cars waxed to a blinding colorful sheen and, as

Castle of los Tres Reyes del Morro; the iconic landmark at the entrance of Havana Habor.

we would later discover, drivers with personalities that match. Tip: The taxis to our hotel cost us 25 CUC -- fares start at flat rate of 1 CUC and runs 1 CUC each additional kilometer. Vintage taxis fares are negotiable. CUC currency (about 1 to 1). WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM

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HAVANA

Aromas of coffee and cigars wafted on the breeze as chil-dren

We felt that staying at a family-owned Casa Particular would make

ran about while nearby relatives played dominos. Instead of a

it easier to develop genuine Cuban relation- ships and become in-

traditional hotel we decided to find a cool neighborhood Casa

volved in the local culture. We stayed at Casa El Arco, for 20 CUC

Particular, a family owned home that provides accommodations –

per person per night. Our hosts were very gracious and the room

they can be recognized by a white sign on the door with two blue

was clean. Tip: If you decide on a traditional hotel, keep in mind

triangles (‘roofs’).

that most five-star hotels in Cuba are more like three star properties in the States.

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Street scenes in Old Havana. Bottom right: Plaza de San Francisco.

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The first of the five central plazas in Old Havana was the cobHappy Cubas around the Plaza de Cathedral.

blestoned Plaza Vieja where we let our camera shut- ters doing most of the talking! Not far from the Plaza Vieja is the Plaza de la Catedral, home to the Catedral de San Cristóbal, a grand symbol of La Habana Vieja. These plazas are flanked with gorgeous 18th century Cuban Baroque limestone mansions decorated with embedded local coral and seashells. A few steps from San Cristóbal, on Calle Empedrado is the legendary bar, La Bodeguita del Medio. It was small and packed with camera toting, mojito swilling tourists -- it would have surly annoyed it’s most famous customer Ernest Hemingway. At four Cuban bucks a pop the rum, sugar and mint drinks were very good, indeed. Strolling down the street from the bar is the Ambos Mun- dos Hotel, where Hemingway started writing his novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” You can hear those church bells tolling all day in Havana.

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CUBAN COUNTRYSIDE Valle de Vinales Our journey from Havana to Vinales took about two and a half hours. We shared a taxi called Collectivos, an eight seat truck which cost us 20 dollars each. We had to wait about 20 minutes for others going to the same destination to fill the truck. Don’t be surprised if your taxi driver pulls to the side of the road to chat with friends and family. Our driver waived at pretty much everyone and even stopped a few times pulled over for a quick conversation. It didn’t bother us, as he delightfully entertained us, laughing and singing our way Vinales. Vinales is a beautiful, lush valley about 26 kilometres north of the city of Pinar del Río. It is said to be Fidel Castro’s favorite place in Cuba. No wonder, with its dramatic limestone, mountains called mogotes “haystacks”. It was ideal for photographing in the morning when a soft mist looms over the rounded peaks, or late afternoon when the sun bathes farm fields and orchards in golden light. Van Gogh would have been right at home here.

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There are two types of food establishments in Cuba, state-run and private eateries called Paladares, also known as in-home restaurants. In Vinales the food and service at Paladares are generally very good. Check out Paladar La Pimiente for lunch, and my favorite restaurant was Tres Jotas ‘3J’ Tapas Bar with fun owner Salvador who made me his first dirty martini! Although Spain and Africa contributed most to Cuban cuisine, traditional dishes generally lack seasonings and sauces. The most common meals include those made with pork, chicken, rice, beans, tomatoes, and lettuce. Hot spices are rarely used in Cuban cooking. Fresh seafood is abundant and lobster is so popular it’s becoming endangered in Cuba.

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Fields and colorful houses abound in Vinales


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The the baths at ‘Baños of San Juan River’. and the e 20-dollar a night wicker and straw huts at the Las Terrazas Eco Resort, Candelaria,

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Other traditional dishes are, fufú (boiled green bananas mashed

foliage on cobblestone paths and bridges lead to the restaurant

into paste), and empanadas de carne (meat-filled pies). Popular

and the baths at ‘Baños of San Juan River’ popular with Cuban

desserts include flan, chu (puff pastries filled with meringue), and

tourists who picnic along the riverbank.

churrizo (fried doughnut rings). When friends at home asked where we stayed in Cuba, I show Our last night in the country was spent at the 20-dollar a night

them photos of the huts on stilts to raised brows and, “Are you

wicker and straw hut at the Las Terrazas Eco Resort, Candelaria,

crazy!” - Maybe, but we felt safe and slept well.

Artemisa Province. A 20-minute walk through gorgeous tropical

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HAVANA

Returning to Havana we were once again surrounded by color, church bells and music! Our last two nights in Cuba we spent in El Vedado, a central business district and urban neighborhood bordered on the east by Central Havana, and the west by the Miramar Playa (beach) district. Vedado is a modern part of Havana developed in the first half of the 20th century, during the Republic period. In the northern section is the 5-mile waterfront seawall known as the Malecon, a famous and popular roadway for social gatherings in the city. We walked the Malecon at sunset taking in beautiful views. The locals fished off the seawall, classic cars cruised by on the road lined with restaurants.

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Classic cars cruise the Malecon and the music come out at night on the streest of Old Havana..

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Right: Oh what the walls could tell in The Classic cars always under repair on streests French House. of Old Havana..

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The nearby Plaza de la Revolucion Square is where many political

On our last night we stayed at a Casa Particular across from

rallies take place. It was here that Fidel Castro frequently spoke to

La Colonial -- we fell in love with the amazing owners. In our

the Cuban people. The square is dominated by the 358-foot tall

very short time we felt like we had known them for years. Our

tower and 59-foot José Martí Memorial.

flight was early; they woke with us at the crack of dawn, fed us breakfast, and drove us to the airport for a small fee. We hugged

We couldn’t leave Havana without an evening at the Buenavista

goodbye and they watched us waiving until they couldn’t see us.

Social Club. You can purchase tickets at the tourist bureau 60

Like family saying goodbye to a loved one. We departed Cuba

dollars for dinner/music. The food is not so great, but the music

filled with love, wonder, and gratitude.

featuring some of the original Afro Cuban All Stars was fantastic. We were so inspired that we decided to take Salsa lessons -- a must for a true Cuban experience.

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Beautiful traffic on a historic Paseo del Prado.

Right: At a cafe in Old Havana I watched mesmerized as two Cuban strangers paired off on the dance floor and moved in rhythm with a fevered passion that could have set the roof on fire! Music and dance is the life spirit of Cuba.

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IF YOU GO TO CUBA

T

ourism remains prohibited to Cuba, but new policies make it easier for Americans without family ties to travel to Cuba for a variety of reasons, including the “people-to-people” contacts, a category of permitted travel based on the idea that exchanges between people from the two countries will strengthen Cuban society. Americans can also go for religious purposes, conferences, public performances, or sporting events. Americans will still need to certify in writing they have a valid reason to travel to Cuba and retain records with receipts for five years per the Treasury Department. https://www.treasury.gov/resourcecenter/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new. pdf

their arrival. A Cuban visa is also known as a tourist card. The Cuban visa is valid for a single entry and allows the holder a 30-day stay. The visa is a two-part card, Cuban immigration officials will take one half upon arrival, and guests will surrender the other half upon departure. A Cuban visa can be purchased from Jet Blue at a “gateway airport” (the final airport before departing the U.S.) for $50 per person.

Documents for U.S. and non-Cuban foreign residents:

Peso Convertible - CUC - the main currency used by tourists. (Use this one!)

1-You must have a valid U.S. passport for the entire length of your stay. 2 - the Cuban government requires all visitors to have Cuban health insurance. When purchasing your Jet Blue ticket, health insurance is provided by ESICUBA and administered by Asistur automatically included in the cost of your airfare ($25 surcharge). Terms and conditions of this health insurance can be reviewed on the ESICUBA website: http://www.esicuba.cu/ProdPersonas.html 3 - Citizens traveling to Cuba must obtain a visa prior to

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Note: Travel to Cuba is easier to coordinate through a licensed Travel Agent. Cuban Currency:

Peso Cubano - CUP (or M.N - moneda nacional) - used by Cubans at ration stores. Currency Note: Exchange US Dollars for CUC at airport and count your CUC for accuracy! Credit Cards are usually NOT accepted outside hotels and major restaurants. Tipping: goes a long way in Cuba. Leaving a small tip of 1 CUC can make a big difference.


Resorts/Hotels: We recommend tipping for good bellboys, maids and bar/restaurant staff. Musicians: Are found on every corner and playing in most restaurants, especially at dinner. Tip .50 CUC to 1 CUC when the hat comes around. Tour guides/drivers: 3 CUC per day. Restaurants: Tip 10% for standard service if not included15% for excellent service. Taxis: 1 CUC is fine for short-haul trips, 10% for longer trips. Shopping: U.S. travelers can bring back $400 worth of goods and merchandise—but only up to $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products. Additionally, ‘information materials,’ such as artwork, posters, music, movies, books, photos and the like can be purchased and brought home legally, with no limit on quantity or value. Photography Guidelines In Cuba: It is illegal to take a photograph of any military, police or airport personnel in Cuba. Enforcement of this law is erratic, but if you want to avoid speculation of spying or unpleasant interrogations from the authorities, just don’t get snap-happy in front of these officials.

Packing Suggestion: Pack trinkets for Cuban children, crayons and little toys. It was fun to give presents. Nice to bring a few extra beauty novelties from the States, like lipsticks and nail polish in bright colors to give as thank you. Men enjoy U.S. baseball caps or tee shirts. Politics: Suggest you don’t discuss Cuban politics or religion so not to offend anyone. LINKS: https://www.cubaccommodation.com https://www.lonelyplanet.com/cuba https://www.traveladvisor.com

For more information: Angela Polidor, Travel Specialist Phone: 858-551-9795 • Fax: 858.551.4025 • Visit: www.virtuoso.com/advisor/angelapolidor Joe Lagana, CTC | Global Account Manager PROTRAVEL INTERNATIONAL, LLC Direct: 646-747-9399 Joe.lagana@protravelinc.com

Cuban fashion highlights Plaza de la Cathedral.

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17 20 d ar ry w nt ds l A E ar se ed w ei h A G blis ok he Pu Bo f T st o r o Be ieg ne r D in Fo an S W

Here’s what people are saying: “Perfect guide for hiking in San Diego city and county. Have followed Priscilla Lister’s column for years and recommended it to others. Her knowledge of urban, suburban and country trails is unparalleled. Because of her enthusiasm and engaging writing style, I am learning more about the history of San Diego, its topography, and people.” “I’ve lived in San Diego all my life and never realized how much of it I was missing. Excellent book. I’ve purchased multiple copies as gifts for friends too.” www.takeahikesandiego.com.

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INCREDIBLE INDIA FOR THE ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME

I would totally recommend Sabu and his Icon India tour company. We had the experience of a lifetime. ~ Ron James, publisher WDT.

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ICON

INDIA

GO BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION

CONTACT: SABU RAM www.iconindiatours.com +91 855 984 54 40 www.iconindiatours.com

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WINE DINE & TRAVEL SUMMER 2017  

This issue of Wine Dine & Travel Magazine is loaded with summer fun. 198 pages of travel stories with destinations around the world. In this...

WINE DINE & TRAVEL SUMMER 2017  

This issue of Wine Dine & Travel Magazine is loaded with summer fun. 198 pages of travel stories with destinations around the world. In this...

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