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Paris Greeters Program – Meeting The Friendly French, No Kidding

Paris Greeters, a volunteer organization of amiable Parisians who look forward to welcoming visitors to their city are changing the impression that Paris is a less than friendly city, one tour at a time, every day.

As Linda and I make our away across the city from the broad perfumed boulevards of the Champs Elysee to the gritty, lyrical lanes of the Left Bank,  we are giddy with anticipation.  We are about to meet a new friend that we met a few weeks ago online thanks to the Paris Greeters organization.  Our Paris Greeter / guide, Laurent, has volunteered to show us his city on this particular Saturday afternoon.  We’ve been in touch by email to set a time and place to meet, discussed our mutual interests, and exchanged photos so we can recognize each other outside the Metro station.

Within minutes of meeting we are talking, laughing and already appreciating the nuances of Left Bank neighborhoods and seeing French culture through new eyes.  Beyond a litany of Louis’ and their royal accomplishments (how DO they keep 18 Louis straight?) we stroll by a Pierre Herme´ pastry shrine  (you really can’t call it a bake shop when there are 50 people waiting in line to get in the door!); Paris Market - Wild Asparagusthen on to Gelati D’Alberto where the iced delights look like rose blossoms, and  of course we can’t resist ogling the decadent cheeses and fragrant produce at an open market.  Oh to be a Parisian on market day! Laurent schools us on choosing restaurants to dine in, “NEVER enter a restaurant that has ‘French Cuisine’ on the sign or menu”, he admonishes,  “they are just for poor unsuspecting tourist!”

Cat Island Bahamas – The Paradise You’ve Been Dreaming Of!

Don't wait another minute to discover Cat Island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas - you'll find miles and miles of gorgeous (undeveloped) beachfront and delightful laid-back intimate resorts.  I'm just back from a fabulous vacation at the Fernandez Bay Village on Cat Island...

Cat Island Adventure – Day Two

We’ve been on Cat Island at the Fernandez Bay Village for just over 24 hours and have already begun to loose track of what day of the week it is.  Yesterday afternoon we  meandered among the 17 cottages and villas- all perched just off the water’s edge on Fernandez Bay.  SeaGrape is our home for the stay – a quaint two bedroom villa constructed with local limestone and white washed lumber with comfortable rattan furnishings and gaily colored cushions.  We can look right out to the turquoise bay from every room and the sound of lapping waves is music to our (previously frosted) ears. 

Cat Island – Day One

Just a quick post to say we've arrived at Cat Island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas - piece of cake.  A quick non-stop flight to Nassau on JetBlue ($104 each way) and then Tony the owner of Fernandez Bay Village 'picked us up'...

New England Fall Foliage Trains – Scenic Views Without The Traffic

          New England is blessed with some of the most spectacular fall foliage displays in the world.  The diverse variety of hardwood forests climbing dramatic mountainsides and reflected in shimmering lakes guarantee scenic overload.  This year skip the traffic jams on the highways and view the...

Dublin ‘On The Cheap’ Gets Easy!

If you're heading over to the Emerald Isle, don't go unless you've spent some time exploring VisitDublin.com. The site is loaded with tons of ways to save money and guarantee a fabulous visit.  The site is a prime example of a tourist bureau doing things...

6 Heavenly New York Brunch Spots

Just because the stores and museums are closed, doesn’t mean Sunday mornings need to be dull in NYC.  Beat the heat and the city noise by heading to a rooftop garden restaurant for brunch close to the heavens. Few cities are as vertically exuberant as New York, with skyscrapers reaching for the clouds everywhere you look.  This summer there’s a new trend in dining, “high-altitude brunches” where great food meets awesome views – a perfect pairing.  Here are 6 locations around the city to enjoy cooling breezes, spectacular views and delicious cuisine:

#1  230 Fifth Let the bubbly flow on Saturdays and Sundays (year round) at the Champagne Party Brunch.  This is Manhattan’s largest rooftop venue, offering 14,000 square feet of palm-decorated dining and stunning views of the city including the Empire State Building.

#2  Hotel Gansevoort Super chic hotel in the former meat packing district. The Plunge Bar invites you to a “Get Up Get Down Brunch” (Sat & Sun) where diners are wowed with 360 degree views of the Hudson River and Manhattan. 

World's Most Luscious Food Markets

Local food markets give a glimpse into the soul of a destination.  The crops that local farmers grow and the culinary creations that food artisans produce speak to the history of the location and the traditions of its citizens.  Nothing is more pleasing and engrossing than roaming among the stalls of a neighborhood farmer’s market or the grand food halls of a metropolitan city.  In China I was almost afraid to look (bugs on a stick?!), in Vancouver the smells and colors were dazzling, in Hawaii I found vegetables I had never seen before in my life, and the markets in Rome and Paris were sensuous.  Now that it’s harvest time around the world, don’t miss the opportunity to visit a luscious food market wherever you roam – here are some of the world’s favorites:

Americas
New York
Chelsea Market, a hub of foodie activity
San Francisco
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, large Organics Markets, operates 3 times per week
New Orleans – Crescent City Farmers Market
, Uptown and Downtown fabulous fruits
Seattle – Freemont Sunday Market
– more than fruits & veggies – treasures of all description
Hawaii – Hawaii Farmers Markets Online, several gorgeous markets on every island
Vancouver – Granville Island Public Market
, The ethnic diversity of Vancouver makes this market a sensory explosion
Mexico City –
Mercado de la Merced, nirvana for chili pepper lovers – every color of the rainbow!

5 Fun and Surprising Outdoor Activities in Paris

Beach It In Paris – yes, Paris!
Each July and August since 2002, Paris creates its own beaches right along the banks of the River Seine (by the Pont Neuf, Notre-Dame and Pont au Change).  Industrious crews bring in over 3,000 tons of sand to create an urban beach right along the city’s beloved Seine River, for all Parisians (and visitors) to soak up some rays and participate in (my favorite activity) – eye popping people watching!  But it doesn’t stop with sand – we’re talking palm trees, chaise lounges, umbrellas, hammocks, wifi, games and books, grassy lawns and raised decking – a sun lovers paradise for sure!  Find all the details at Paris Plage
Swim The Seine, really – no pollution involved
A number of giant swimming barges (floating swimming pools) have been anchored along the banks of the Seine creating the illusion of being able to swim in the river.  Perhaps the most notable is the Josephine Baker, where a 25 meter pool can delight 375 swimmers at once.  After your refreshing swim, relax in the cafe, on the sun deck, or work out in the gym facilities.  Their sliding roof makes this spot perfect on any day, in any weather.  Here’s where you can find all the info on the Josephine Baker Swimming Pool.

The Out Islands of the Bahamas Are Heavenly In Spring

It’s been a long cold winter and you haven’t had a good dose of sunshine and sand between your toes in a long time. Spring breezes may have you itching to dig in the garden, but for me, Spring brings yearnings for crystal clear waters lapping on endless miles of pristine beaches. Yes my friends, May and June are the perfect months to fly off to the Out Islands of the Bahamas where temperatures are in the 80’s and life is a beach!  Grab your flip flops and several bathing suits and you’re ready to go.

If your vision of the Bahamas is Nassau and Paradise Island, you have a whole new world of soft adventure waiting to explore.  There are roughly 700 islands in  the Bahamas chain, and one is more beautiful than the next. 

Furnas and Nordeste – The Best Yet!

Just when I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, we ventured off to the eastern expanses of Sao Miguel Island where we were totally wowed! Now let me say we had already experienced 7 days of incredibly beautiful landscapes and were in a bit of panorama overload, but the eastern regions of the island woke up our senses once again and had our jaws dropping at the wild and dramatic coastal views.  Everywhere were glimpses of riotous pink azaleas in full bloom cascading down steep headlands.  Cows munched precariously on upland pastures – I thought they should have a sign, “Beware of Falling Cows – instead of falling boulders!”  What touched me the most was seeing charming little picnic parks tucked all along the winding roadways.  Families in the Azores take to the parks every weekend all year long to enjoy family gatherings.  Each park has a dramatic scenic view, picnic benches, masonry barbecues, sinks for food prep, toilets, and often playground equipment for the kids – and always a profusion of flowers in bloom – Martha you should see this!!

Incredible sites along the way included a lava formed swimming pool in the middle of the ocean (talk about your infinity pool!), Europe’s only tea plantation where bright green tea plants blanket the hillsides (and you can tour the tea processing plant), cascading waterfalls, farmers collecting milk from the fields with horse and wagon, and chanting groups of religious Pilgrims who encircle the island for 7 days during Lent, visiting every church, cemetery and memorial.  It’s time to head off to Furnas to soak our well traveled feet in the hot springs!

Sao Miguel – Bustling Cities and Thermal Pools

Sorry for the delay in posting about the finish to our trip.  We had very sporadic access to the web.  One day I was muttering to myself about the lack of internet access, and then took a look around and realized we were staying in the middle of a volcano crater – no wonder the signals were a bit challenged!  Here’s a recap of the marvelous sites we visited on the Island of Sao Miguel and the capitol city of Ponta Delgada.

Ponta Delgada is a study in black and white.  Streets and sidewalks are decoratively adorned with intricate mosaic designs executed in small blocks of black basalt rock and white sandstone.  Tightly woven streets are lined with white stucco buildings accented with black basalt trim.  Numerous city parks were planted with cheery flowers, but alas with the unusually cool weather while we were there, they were yet to ‘pop’, so the city appeared a bit colorless in spots.  I am certain that in a week or two all the trees will have leafed out and flowers will provide bright accents making Ponta Delgada a charming seaside city.  The city reminded me of the wonderful mosaic displays in Lisbon, and we learned that while Ponta Delgada’s designs are done in black with white accents, Lisbon’s are done in white with black accents.  Sao Miguel has the black basalt stone and Lisbon has the white sandstone – so they trade!

To be honest, we didn’t spend much time in the city center.  The countryside is so appealing that we scurried out to explore at every opportunity.  We hired a taxi (who’s driver spoke good English) for approx $20 an hour (for the 4 of us) and headed off to explore.  Our first visit was to Vila Franca Do Campo, the first capitol city of Sao Miguel.  There we sat across from the harbor ramp choked with brightly colored fishing boats and had one of the best meals of our trip at the Atlantico Restaurant.  Fresh fish was abundant throughout our stay – with many varieties we had never heard of – we often just ordered the filet of fish of the day and were never disappointed.  The Azores has a robust tuna fishing industry – although it was still early in the season to see a catch being brought in. 

Faial – Island of Yachts, Windmills and Volcanos

We took a bouncy half hour ferry ride from Pico to the Island of Faial.  Horta, the capitol of Faial, is a cheery harbor town with a yachting flare. For centuries boats have been provisioning here before making the run across the Atlantic.  Today you can see paintings all along the break-front where boaters have left their artistic signatures and highlights of their journey – many on around-the-world adventures.  Even though Faial is smaller in size than Pico, the town of Horta is much busier and bustling with shops and colorful local pubs.  Raising a glass or two at Peters is almost compulsory!

The harbor front boasts several 4 star hotels, including a very dramatic Pousada (historic inn) fashioned out of the city fortress – complete with drawbridge and iron gate.  A huge open air swimming pool fronts the harbor offering dramatic views while you swim. 

Pico, Island of Whales, Wine and Dramatic Ocean Scenery

We’ve been on Pico Island for four days now and have been completely captivated.  There is nothing to do here, and everything at the same time.  If you are ‘into’ nature, enjoy short hikes and mingling with local folk in tiny village cafes, you would adore Pico.  Let me set the scene.

Pico Island is famous for the pods of whales that visit just off shore most of the year, hand made lace, locally produced wine, divine Pico cheese and beef so tender you can cut it with a fork.  We start every meal saying we won’t eat all of the cheese plate brought to the table, but you guessed it, we always gobble up every crumb.  The cheese is light yellow, spreadable, with a mild slightly nutty flavor.  Each of the Azores Islands make their own cheese which differ slightly from each other.  There are contented cattle roaming on all the hillsides, munching away on vivid green grasses.  Here in the Azores it stays warm all year, so there are no barns for the cattle, they roam free all year.  On Pico the pastures and vineyards are divided by miles and miles of neatly stacked black volcanic rock walls.

World’s Best Chocolate Vacations!

For everyone who loves chocolate as much as I do, it's time to plan a vacation swirling with chocolate tours and adventures. Nothing matches the euphoric lift after munching on a creamy chocolate delight. Here are eight destinations for immersing yourself in...

Skipping Hut to Hut in the White Mountains National Forest

Lonesome Lake HutDon’t I wish! Clint and I just returned from an adventurous 3 day hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, superbly guided by folks at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). If you’ve ever thought of going on a scenic hike in the mountains, read on…. this is a tale of ‘girl challenges mountain and the mountain nearly won’!

Lonesome LakeWhat was I thinking?!! A perky jaunt over well trodden trails to peaks revealing breathtaking vistas….. just the thing to challenge our aging frames? My aim was to get us out of our “comfort zone”, meet some like minded people, and enjoy the summer mountain air. Let me say, Heidi I’m not – I totally misjudged my capacity for up hill hiking. Our comfort zone was stretched beyond all recognition and my short little legs quivered like licorice sticks by the time we arrived at our hut on the second day. Clint’s previously broken leg actually stood up really well – I was wishing I had some of that titanium riveted in mine on a few occasions (not really).

It's the Guy's Turn for a Father and Son Getaway

Move over gals, it time for the guys to get away for a few days of male family bonding. Mother/Daughter “girls getaways” have become all the rage – so it’s only fair that we propose a memorable Father/Son summer escape. The good folks at AAA Southern New England suggest a sports-minded mini-vacation that will guarantee memories to last a lifetime.

Babe Ruth PhotoYou may have heard that the Baseball Hall of Fame is coming to Boston this summer! The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, has created a traveling exhibit that will be at the Boston Museum of Science until September 1st. Over 500 exhibits of treasured memorabilia include: record-breaking home run bats of Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling’s bloody sock from game two of the 2004 World Series, and the hat worn by Mike Lowell when he was the 2007 World Series MVP.

If you’re in for some great entertainment and a spirited discussion, plan to get tickets for the August 9th visit by Red Sox legend “The Spaceman” Bill Lee for his spirited discussion of the Art and Science of Pitching.