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Photo courtesy of Tom Dempsey.

Tuesday, October 23

Italy's Gelato, Siena and Andrea Bocceli

The sweet surprises of Italy, from it's finest gelato, to the fabulous but understated Tuscany city of Siena, and the beautiful tenor voice of Andrea Bocceli. The recent opening of the world first gelato museum, The Gelato Museum Carpigiani in the outskirts of Bologna, in Italy's Tuscany region, has left me reminiscing about Italy's lovely treasures, beyond the typical tourist spots.

What I remember fondly of my travels to Italy was having gelato almost every day. And, why not? With all the walking one does while visiting Italy, it's logical to reward yourself with the splendor treat of a gelato. It's just as refreshing as having a beer on a hot summer day, but, even better, because the kids love it too!

Courtesy of Carpigiani
Courtesy of
Did you know that gelato was once a symbol of prestige, as its key ingredients of ice and salt were very expensive in the times of the House of Medici in Florence, a power prominent family famed for its power and producing popes. An alchemist and astrologer invented gelato in the 16th century. You can learn all about gelato's history, sample a bit, and learn how to make your own gelato at the Gelato Museum Carpigiani.

A lovely surprise while touring Tuscany was landing at the Piazza del Campo in Siena. If we didn't have to find a laundry mat, we wouldn't have discovered the uniquely beautiful city, with a square made of red bricks arranged in fishbone style, divided into a sunburst pattern by nine strips of travertine. The construction was in memory of the Government of the Nine, who ruled Siena from 1292 to 1355.

Siena hosts the famous event of Palio di Siena which is a horse race, in which ten jockeys race on bareback three times around the piazza, and lasts not more than 90 seconds. Preceeding the Palio is the Corteo Storico, a historical costume parade. The Palio takes places during the summer, on July 2 and August 16. The Piazza is also a market filled with wooden Pinocchio dolls. We still have the Pinocchio that we bought for my then 2 1/2 year old daughter.

When I left for Italy, I had a request from a dear client of mine for the CD of Andrea Bocelli. While in search for it, I went shopping in the boutiques of Siena. Although I've been to Milan prior to Siena, it was still great fun to shop and see the fashions offered only in Italy and in the boutiques. There were no Benettons there as there were in every street corner in Rome.

Now that the classical tenor Andrea Bocelli has become a household name in the US, we hear his music a lot. Every time I hear the song "Time To Say Goodbye", which sold 12 million copies worldwide, I am moved and taken back to the delights that an Italian travel could only offer.     

Tuesday, October 2

Octoberfest: Celebrating in Munich and Leavenworth

Oktoberfest: A time for Celebrating in Munich or in Leavenworth

Oktoberfest is the world's largest fair, lasting for 16 days in Munich, Germany, from late September to the first weekend of October. You can partake in the celebration in its birthplace of Munich, or if in the Pacific Northwest, in the Bavarian town of Leavenworth in Washington State.


As an impressionable 19 year old touring Europe for the first time, the Hofbrauhaus was a boisterous venue with good tasting beer, lively music, and the best pretzel in the world. What better way to experience Bavaria, but, to be in Munich!

A few highlights of Munich during Oktoberfest include Augustiner Keller and Lowenbraukeller. As a traditional beer hall, Augustinerkeller boasts a 5,000 seat beer garden. With a 800 year old history, it's no wonder locals regard their beer as one of the best in the world, and can be found in most bars around Munich.

If you want to dress up in the traditional Bavarian wear, head out to Lowenbraukeller, another 800 year old beer hall and garden, and be transported in time. You'll feel like royalty with its medieval castle exterior and tall gothic spire.


Just a two hour drive outside of Seattle is the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. With more sunshine than Seattle, many locals gravitate towards this lively place during the three weekends of Oktoberfest, but, also for all the outdoor activities, including the beautiful Autumn foliage.

Leavenworth invites both young, old, couples, and families to Oktoberfest. We enjoyed the dancing and music. The kids especially liked the Chicken Dance. As the evening progressed, it became more lively, which signaled families to head back to their hotels.

It's best to plan ahead with accommodations, because it really is a good idea to be able to walk back to the hotel. Our favorite go-to hotel, The Enzian Inn, with its outdoor and indoor pools, ping pong table, and mini-golf was already booked.

Whether you're in Europe, and come hop on the train to head to Munich, or you're in the Pacific Northwest, with Leavenworth just a few hours drive, Oktoberfest is a celebration not to be missed. With the season changing, and the anticipation of Winter, Oktoberfest in Munich or Leavenworth is a festive way to embrace Autumn.   



Tuesday, September 18

My Bucket List: 3 Must See Travels.

I've been asked on several occasions, what my top 3 places to travel. Consistently, I've replied, Machu Picchu in Peru, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and Bali, Indonesia. 

All three destinations are adventures, and a long journey from Seattle. Why would I want to travel so far? Because Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and Bali have piqued my interest, as they hold mysteries, histories, and beauty, ready to be grabbed and explored.

Let me show you... No need to buy an airline ticket. Enjoy the magical ride with all your senses. Gasp the air at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Feel the splash of a wave in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean. Smile at a monk dressed in bright robes. Taste the exotic food of another country. Touch the soft handwoven fabrics. Dance to a different beat. Feel relaxed from a massage. Wave at the children.

Machu Picchu
Angkor Wat


Tuesday, September 4

Ruby Beach: Profiled Destination

Ruby Beach - Best Beach on the Washington Coast

Ruby Beach along the Washington coastline, and part of the Olympic National Park will surprise you with its spectacular beauty of jagged rock formations, tide pools, endless sandy beach, and windswept trees. You'll find the kid inside of you, as you run along the beach, taking in the breathtaking scenery, while wading in the water or climbing the rocks.

Take a day trip from Seattle, or extend your beach time by staying at the nearby Kalaloch Lodge or Cabins, or year-round camp sites at Kalaloch and South Beach. Located along Highway 101, you can approach Ruby Beach by driving south on I-5 to Olympia, Washington's capital and going east to Aberdeen, hometown of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, and onto Highway 101. An alternative route is by ferry from Edmonds, a suburb of Seattle, to Kingston on Highway 104 to Highway 101. You'll pass by the town of Sequim, known for its lavendar farms and Forks, the Twilight mecca.

If beach combing makes you hungry, have the fresh Penn Cove mussels with infused lemongrass broth at the Kalaloch Lodge Creekside restaurant, and top it with their signature MarionBerry cobbler. Bring your sunscreen, camera, and extra clothes as the kids in all of you will definitely dip in this incredible beach. Disconnect from the world for a little while, as cell phone coverage is limited, although, there is plenty here to keep you occupied.


Tuesday, April 10

City breaks with the Kids Series: San Diego

San Diego, a popular West Coast destination is an easy jaunt from those in the Pacific Northwest, as well as a quick getaway for Californians. With San Diego's beaches, world famous zoo and wildlife park, Hotel del Coronado, a national historical landmark, Titanic Artifact Exhibit, fabulous food, and relaxing vibe, every member of the family will find something to enjoy.
Beach fun
Boardwalk for walking, skating and biking
Located along the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is a beautiful place to be active or to relax. One can enjoy a day on the beach playing games by the water, surfing, taking walks on the sand, and simply watching passerby's on the boardwalk or the frolicking dolphins. And, the sunsets are unbelievable!
View from our beachfront rental
Our beachfront residence in San Diego was a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) condo on Pacific Beach. We were amidst restaurants from breakfast spots, taquerias, and trendy restaurants we can walk to. If a home made meal was on the agenda, the grocery store was a few blocks away, as well as plenty of take out places for pizza and burgers. The nightlife at Pacific Beach starts at Happy Hour on the outdoor decks along the boardwalk.
Entering the party zone
Every morning we woke up to the sun, palm trees, and a temperate climate. With the windows cracked open at night, one can be soothed to sleep with the sound of the waves. The extra convenience of having a vacation rental is that you can have a secure parking spot without having to pay the excessive price of a hotel parking garage.

The Titanic Artifact Exhibit commemorating Titanic's 100th anniversary is currently showing at the San Diego Natural History located in picturesque Balboa Park. It has a wonderful display of artifacts including porcelain china served in the first class dining room, leather luggage, shaving brushes, and beauty cremes. 
Titanic view outside the exhibit. No photography allowed inside.
At the historical Southern Californian gem of  Hotel del Coronado, where US presidents of past and present have visited, the hotel lobby takes you back into time with its old fashioned elevators and chandeliers. With the nearby naval base, the restaurants and shops are dotted with military families.
Balmy night strolling the Hotel Del Coronado
The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park will delight both the kids and adults. From the cuddly pandas, the sleepy lions, and lightening fast cheetahs, the animals will captivate you. Make sure to wear your walking shoes, as both venues are vast and lots of walking is required. You can buy admission for both venues to maximize your visit and save money.
Panda exhibit at the San Diego Zoo
Up close with a peacock at the zoo
Along the tram on the African Safari at the San Diego Safari Park
Sleepy lion on a Range Rover at the Safari Park
Flamingos galore at the San Diego Zoo
The VIP packages at the Safari Park is an exceptional experience. As a member of a small group of cheetah participants in a Show and Tell and Question and Answer session, our family was treated to up close encounters with the wild's fastest animal (going 0 to 70mph in 4 strides). It truly was a treat and worth the ticket price.
Along the Cheetah Run at the Wildlife Park
Up close with a cheetah at the Cheetah Safari
On our lunch break in La Jolla, a ten minute drive from San Diego, we were pleasantly surprised by a colony of seals basking on the beach. To top of our San Diego visit, we shopped at La Jolla's boutiques geared for all budgets, and had tasty Oscar cookies at a local cafe to celebrate the award show the following night.

La Jolla's local favorite Girard's Deli

Friday, February 17

Pinterest: Adventures in Travel

I'm one of the recent 10 million+ Pinterest users enjoying the visual vacation that Pinterest allows me in front of my computer. On Pinterest, I began adding pictures of places where I've been to and loved, and of places where I'd like to visit some day. By visiting my Adventures and Travel Board, I can get a break from my routine, enjoy a pictorial view of destinations around the globe, without spending a dime.

Let's take a tour... Adventure and Travel Pinterest style

With the rainy days in Seattle, I can't seem to get Seychelles off my mind. It's a long ways to the Indian Ocean, but, this destination tops my list this winter. Clear blue waters. White sand between your toes. Rock formations. Palm trees. A warm breeze. Can't you just imagine laying on a hammock in this little piece of heaven?

With Valentine's Day this past week, what's one of the most romantic places in the world that comes to mind? Paris of course! I was 18 years old when I first visited Paris, and I will always remember how beautiful the Seine river cruise was during sunset. I said to myself, I'll visit again, either with a lover or a husband. Perhaps I'll plan my next wedding anniversary there. One can only dream...

Daydreaming is almost over. It's winter after all, so to end our time together, I leave you with the beautiful castle of Neuschwanstein, which Walt Disney patterned Cinderella's castle at Disneyland.

Read about Pinterest the fastest growing website ever. If you'd like to try out Pinterest, please comment on this blog with your email address, and I would be happy to send you an invitation to join. Au revoir!

Wednesday, February 1

City breaks with the Kids Series: Seattle

Long weekends and staycations are becoming more popular with travelers. Being a tourist in your own city is a great way to spend time with the family without costing a fortune, or incurring extra vacation days from work. It is also a great way to discover new adventures in your own backyard. Like the photo above, you can participate in a Seafair annual summer celebration in one of Seattle's neighborhoods.

Seattle: Taking a look at my own backyard

Last year, my family's schedule didn't allow for a full blown Spring break trip. To make the most of our limited time, I booked a stay at a luxury hotel in downtown Seattle, so we can experience the life of a vacationer, from ordering room service, dipping in the pool, and touring the city to discover the delights of the Pike Place Market, the industrial space turned Olympic Sculpture Park, and unique attractions like the Fremont Troll.

If you haven't tried bidding on Priceline, it's a good opportunity to take this route for a great value on a mid-week stay in the city. I bid on a 4-star downtown hotel and ended up with the Grand Hyatt. At check-in, I requested a quiet room, away from the elevators. The Front Desk staff was so friendly, that they offered us a room at the end of the floor, which was a suite configuration with a separate seating room, and a marvelous view of the Space Needle. Because the hotel was not at full capacity, they were able to offer us this type of accommodation for the price of a regular room. The only drawback was the outrageous price of parking overnight.

Being centrally located, we had the kid friendly (for kids and kids at heart) Gameworks right across the street. With interactive games, simulators, air hockey etc., the kids had a variety of activities to choose from. After being a little hungry from a dance simulator game, we had a little snack at Starbucks by the hotel to get geared up to walk 7 blocks to Pike Place Market in the cold and rain. It doesn't seem to matter how many times we've visited the Market, we never tire of the sights and sounds we experience at every visit. Plus, it allows us to discover new favorite places.

One of our new favorites is the French restaurant Maxmilien. With a panoramic view of the of Puget Sound, and with its antique mirrors decor, we felt like we stepped into one of Paris' cafes. We ordered the delectable Les moules Marinière, mussels steamed with butter, shallots, white wine, garlic and parsley. Since we had a late lunch, the restaurant was not busy, and we enjoyed prompt service and incredible food while delighting in our view.

A little mom time included a stop at the Sur La Table, originating in Seattle since 1972, it's first store at the Pike Place Market, offers a wide selection of cookware and kitchen gadgets. For the arts lover, numerous art galleries can be found steps away including the Steinbrueck Native Gallery. One of my favorite Native American artists is David Boxley, and I found a beloved piece for my collection there.

Photo courtesy of Renee Behnke of Sur La Table

Courtesy of Steinbrueck Native Gallery
The final stop of our tourist Day 1 is the Dahlia Lounge, one of the city's top restaurants by chef extraordinaire Tom Douglas. You may recognize the restaurant from the classic film Sleepless In Seattle. Order anything on the menu for its fresh and creative presentation, but, leave room for their desserts. Our family's favorite is the triple coconut creme pie. If you're not able to get a reservation, don't fret as next door you'll find it, along with pastries and sandwiches at the Dahlia Bakery.

Creme pie recipe courtesy of Tom Douglas

After the walk up hill to our hotel, it was time for some rest and relaxation at the pool. The Grand Hyatt had a balmy mini pool, which we had to ourselves as the hotel business guests were still at their meetings. Afterward, it was time for some dining and movie viewing. It is truly priceless to be able to have room service while watching a newly released movie laying on a king size bed with the Space Needle as our companion view. The cherry on top of our wonderful staycation evening was the crème brûlée ordered from the Ruth Chris steakhouse housed inside the hotel.

Day 2 was a tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park, an ingenious endeavor by the Seattle Art Museum to utilize nine acres of waterfront industrial space into an outdoor community space. One can appreciate art and natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, with a stop at this park. And the kids can run around, and still learn a bit of art education in the process. Admission is free, and is readily accessible by bus from downtown.

Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum

Later in the morning, we visited a local gem at Capitol Hill's Volunteer Park Conservatory. With free admission, it is a wonderful getaway from the blustery weather outside, with it's tropical setting of orchids and cacti.

Courtesy of Volunteer Park Conservatory

Next stop for more gems off the beaten path is to visit the famous troll in Fremont, one of Seattle's funky neighborhoods. And to have one of best desserts in town at Simply Desserts. My favorite is the strawberry white chocolate cake.

Courtesy of Simply Desserts

Bidding adieu to our staycation was a final stop at Gasworks Park for a beautiful postcard view of the Seattle skyline over Lake Union. When the weather is nice, you can ride on the Burke-Gilman trail which offers views of the park, and have a picnic along the grassy hill.

Photo courtesy of Lonely Planet