Category Archives: Travel

Extreme, Exotic India

Extreme, Exotic India

I am on a virtual trip to India

… thanks to my daughter Laurie, who is sharing her travelogue, which I will share with you today. Thank you, Laurie, for guest posting.

Friends  and family warned me that I would both love and hate India. I even read the acronym “I’d Never Do It Again”.

India is chaotic and calm, flawed and fascinating, complex and simplistic. It’s everything at once, which makes it difficult to explain my experience in a coherent fashion.

Extreme, Exotic India

I’ll be meditative in a garden one moment, and swarmed for selfies with smiling babies and soldiers the next. Crossing the street is an art form in itself. I wish I could say this happened, then this happened, etc. but that’s not how it works here. Things that Westerners are used to, like lights, cars, heat and WiFi, can not be relied on to always work.

In contrast, society works; people, families and communities work together. 

Extreme, Exotic India

All cultures and religions are welcomed and accepted. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jews live in harmony and happiness. The differences are not only tolerated but celebrated. Cows, water buffalo, pigs, dogs, monkeys (!!!), tuk tuks, motor bikes, cars, buses, trucks, and people share the street. Their heritage is part of their culture and it is vibrant.

cow selfie

cow selfie

I’ve had sensory overload with pungently aromatic smells of chili peppers in the local spice markets, sweet and savory tastes of masala chai, Laal Mans and Kadi Pakoda, and haunting sounds of jackals howling in the desert.

I’m just going to provide my perspective and hope I don’t offend anyone. I’ve only been here two weeks so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Grand Palace, Udaipur

Grand Palace, Udaipur

India is extreme in every sense of the word. Beautiful, hectic, kind, warm, colorful, diverse, friendly, expressive, corrupt, poverty-stricken, lush and more welcoming than any place I’ve been. I attended an evening service at the Jagdish Temple in Udaipur. Next to the Ranakpur temple, which is truly the most extraordinary display of architecture I will probably ever see, the Kamasutra carvings inside were captivating.

Jain temple outside Udaipur

It boggles my mind that hundreds of years ago, India was so open about sex and now, gay marriage isn’t legal and many public schools don’t offer sex-ed. This is slowly changing but it makes me grateful for my liberal upbringing at Friends’ Central School.

Arriving in India

I’d been awake 40 hours when I arrived in Delhi. I met a new travel buddy, Arielle, who assured me that she had already gotten a lay of the land, felt totally comfortable exploring with me, and knew where we should go. She didn’t. We got lost immediately. It was pathetic and predictable. We bonded that day and stayed  roomies ever since.

Amer fort

Amer fort

There are days I feel like giving up when nothing is working. When a jeep breaks down, we’re told it’s actually a push cart, which means we need to get out and push it, like it was never meant to run properly in the first place. There are so many things that make me want to laugh and cry. India is crazy and there is no place like it.

The sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai started off pretty well. I got the top bunk and it felt like camp. The ride was supposed to take 8-9 hours and ended up taking 17 hours. No announcement, and no exaggeration. Thankfully, the British girls I’ve been traveling with are a great source of comic relief and the countryside is so beautiful. I’m envious of the monkeys who get to swing through the banyan trees all day.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

My guide, Abhi, grew up in Jaipur, my favorite city of all, and is one of the kindest, most genuine, humble and patient people I’ve ever met. We kill time on long train and bus rides discussing our different cultures and families. He helped me understand his beliefs and caste system, how to play cricket (he was team captain at university), and how to fly a kite properly.

Hindu principles encourage a pure lifestyle of thoughtfulness, purpose, respect, honor, and fulfillment. People don’t need money to be happy. Conversely, money is seen as excess and a deterrent to following one’s true path and spiritual journey to happiness, enlightenment and ultimate salvation. 

External factors cannot make a person happy. While I couldn’t be prouder of or more thankful for my heritage, there are aspects of the Hindu and Budhist belief systems that I can adopt and be a better person. I’m impatient (when hungry, so, always) and neurotic, while Indians are chill and level-headed. They believe in karma and reincarnation. So if things aren’t working out in this life, they have 6 more to look forward to. An overarching theme here is simple living and high thinking.

There are days that are so special, I forgive India for being so crazy. Despite obvious flaws, the truth is in the details and they should be experienced by everyone. I haven’t changed but my perspective has shifted. 

Ranakpur temple

Ranakpur temple

I watched the sun rise in Pushkar and set at the Taj Mahal. I played with first graders in Tordi, and partied on sand dunes in the desert. I wandered the narrow passage ways in Kumbhargahl Fort, hiked up to Brahma Temple, and unknowingly strolled down The Silk Road. I felt frustrated in Dehli and fell in love with Jaipur. I found my long lost monkey tribe in the mountains outside Udaipur.

sunset in Goa

sunset in Goa

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10 Fun Things to Do in London

I think London is officially my favorite city in the world.

Yes, I love my city of Philadelphia, and I love New York for Broadway and San Diego for the temperate climate and Paris for its romance … but having recently spent a week in London, my heart now belongs there. And beats wildly at the thought of returning someday.

I love London.

For so many reasons. The sheer history everywhere you go is pretty stunning (I visited a church that was built in 1008!). The art and culture and dining and the veddy veddy Britishness that is so charming.

I was lucky to travel with my fabulous friend Lois, who is always up for fun, and our visit was exactly that.

I have already waxed nostalgic over our memorable meals in London. But for what to do when you’re not eating (which for us was less time than I would have thought), here are some of the things we enjoyed most.

There are way more than 10 fun things to do in London.

The thing about London is that you have to go back again and again because there is so much to see and do, you would need a month to do it all. And then some.

So bear in mind, this list barely scratches the surface. My advice? If you are planning a trip to London, you should start thinking about going back again already.

1. The Victoria and Albert Museum

There are two exhibits running that are well worth a look see.

Wedding Dresses 1775-2014

Who doesn’t love looking at wedding dresses? And as the mother of a groom-to-be, I have a special interest. The dresses were beyond spectacular, as you can imagine — creations of key fashion designers such as Charles Frederick Worth, Norman Hartnell, Charles James, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood and Vera Wang.

Lois and I were transfixed watching a video of royal weddings over the years, and got teary-eyed seeing Diana in her beautiful gown.

Fun Things to Do in London

Model Jenny Bishop in Ian Stuart wedding dress © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Disobedient Objects

How does art and design overlap with social activism? This exhibit explores the powerful role of objects in movements for social change, such as a hand-painted placard made by gay rights activists in Russia and anti-Apartheid badges from South Africa. With meager resources, organizers of political demonstrations employ ingenuity and the use of new technologies to mobilize.

Inflatable cobblestone, Barcelona © Oriana Eliçabe/Enmedio.info

Inflatable cobblestone, Barcelona
© Oriana Eliçabe/Enmedio.info

The objects on display, all previously used, have been loaned directly from groups from around the world and are accompanied by newspaper clips and information from the maker to explain how and why the object was created. Especially with the turmoil in the world this summer, I found this to be a powerful experience.

Fun Things to Do in London

2. Kensington Palace

It was blind luck that we happened to be at Kensington Palace on the day of Prince George’s first birthday, so there was quite a bit of excitement (we saw the Queen arrive for the birthday party as we waited by the gate with an enthusiastic crowd and plenty of paparazzi).

Granted, not every day is a future king’s birthday. But don’t let that stop you from going. Kensington Palace is full of magic and majesty; with the ghosts of generations of English royalty whispering around every corner. History unfolds through the costumes, furniture and artifacts in each room. Don’t miss the current exhibit, “Fashion Rules,” a visual feast of selections from the wardrobes of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Fun Things to Do in London

Featuring rare and exquisite dresses from HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, this exhibition will provide a feast for the eyes and a nostalgic glance back at recent decades. – See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/WhatsOn/FashionRules#sthash.Iklr3vWR.dpuf
Featuring rare and exquisite dresses from HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, this exhibition will provide a feast for the eyes and a nostalgic glance back at recent decades. – See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/WhatsOn/FashionRules#sthash.Iklr3vWR.dpuf

Lois and I picked up some awesome souvenirs at the gift shoppe. We couldn’t resist stopping for tea and a scone before we left.

Fun Things to Do in London

3. Carnaby Street

If you’re a boomer like me, you’ll probably think of the Beatles, bell-bottom pants and Peter Max when you hear this name. Carnaby Street back in the day was the cool, counter culture place to hang out, and for teenagers obsessed with the British invasion (music, that is), Carnaby Street was our Mecca. Although now more mainstream, it is still cool, with cute boutiques, trendy restaurants and lots of people still just hanging out. I enjoyed being part of the crowd, and dinner at Antidote just off Carnaby Street with my son and his lovely fiancee was terrific.

4. Highclere Castle

If you are a Downton Abbey fan — or addict, as the case may be — this day trip from London to see the home of the fictional Crawley family is not to be missed. About an hour and a half west of London,  the castle is, in a word, extraordinary. You can stroll through the first two floors and marvel over the exquisite furnishings and architecture, and peek into the bedrooms of Ladies Mary, Edith and Sybil.  Incidentally, just to give you a sense of how vast it is, the third floor — off limits to visitors — has 80 bedrooms!

Fun Things to Do in London

The castle sits on a property of 5,000 acres. There are fields of grazing sheep and magnificent gardens. These are just a few of the many photos I took of the flowers.

5. Harrod’s and Selfridge’s

These famous department stores are fun to browse through. Harrod’s is the more upscale and high end. Think Neiman Marcus vs. Macy’s, if you want a visual. But the food courts at both are ah-maz-ing!

6. The London Dungeon

Call it hokey or cheesy or what have you. This attraction, which takes you on a sometimes scary, sometimes macabre but always fun tour back through London’s darker days, is a screamingly good time. Actors portray a variety of criminals and no goodniks and, with a wicked sense of humor and the use of special effects, pull audience members into the fray. You’ll meet Jack the Ripper and Guy Fawkes and other sinister characters amidst blood curdling shrieks and rattling jail cells. Poor Lois was thrown in jail for, um, impertinence? I begged her captor for her release and thank God, her captor showed mercy.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

7. London theatre

Be sure to catch a play when you are there. London theatre is terrific and there are many shows to choose from. We saw “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” which was excellent. By the way, “Curious” opens on Broadway this fall, and I highly recommend it.

Fun Things to Do in London

8. Afternoon Tea

Of course, a visit to London would not be complete without at least one of these. We learned that the correct name is “afternoon tea,” not “high tea.” The explanation was that, starting in the 19th century, high tea was what workers had at the end of a long day — after dinner — and afternoon tea was what the privileged class had in the late afternoon before dinner. Anyway, you can find many places in the city that serve afternoon tea, and if you happen to be shopping at Harrod’s, you can spend a relaxing interlude from shopping sipping tea and eating dainty tea sandwiches and pastries at the tea room in the store.

Fun Things to Do in London

9. Take the tube

By the end of the week, Lois and I were taking the tube like rock stars (although, I guess in reality rock stars take limos). Taxis can get pricey, and traffic is frequently bottle-necked, so London’s underground system is the best way to get around. It’s efficient, inexpensive and clean. Here we are looking very pleased with ourselves.

Fun Things to Do in London

10. Walk and explore.

Wear comfortable shoes because London is a city made for walking. Before we left for our trip, Lois and I read about Books About Town, a collection of 50 book sculptures in bench form. We were intrigued, and set off on a walk to find them. Since they are spread out all over the city, we only saw a few, but enjoyed discovering these benches adorned with artistic renditions of some of our favorite books.

And they were perfect for taking a rest before moving on to our next adventure.

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Fit for a Queen: Dining in London

Since returning from a trip to London in July, my jet lag has dissipated, but not the warm and fuzzy memories of a truly enjoyable week.

I almost can’t believe it happened.

Did I imagine it, or was that really me strolling through the magnificent Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey? Was it a dream, or did I really see Queen Elizabeth arrive at Kensington Palace in a chauffer driven Rolls, sitting primly in the back seat (and eschewing the royal wave) for great grandson Prince George’s first birthday party? Did I swoon over the luscious food courts at both Harrod’s and Selfridge’s?

Yes, yes and yes. And sharing all this and more with the best traveling buddy ever, my friend Lois, was the icing on the cake.

Lady Lois and Lady Helene

Lady Lois and Lady Helene

And speaking of cake? There was. We did. It was awesome.

Dining in London

But first, let’s debunk the myth that dining in London is one huge snooze fest. Not so! We dined with gusto at Indian, Italian, Thai and Turkish restaurants, devoured street food in Southbank and enjoyed nouvelle cuisine pre-theatre, and came away suitably satisfied with our choices.

Out of all of them, though, two in particular were so divine that I can … and must … recommend them unequivocally. You’ll thank me for this.

So, back to the cake.

Afternoon Tea at the Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge

What is a visit to London without afternoon tea? Unthinkable, say Lois and I. And to prove it, we had three-hour leisurely afternoon tea three times. All were lovely. But one place took the, ahem, cake.

Prêt-à-Portea — A Fashionista’s Afternoon Tea — is the quintessential English tea experience that every woman needs to indulge in at least once.

Inspired by the current designs of the fashion world, Prêt-à-Portea serves delectable teacakes and pastries that are created to look like the very latest designs you may have seen in the pages of Vogue or draped on models strutting on the catwalk. Every six months, as fashions change, the menu changes as well.

Of course, the actual tea is just as special as the delicacies. Lois and I mulled over a dizzying array of flavors and when we couldn’t make up our minds, our knowledgeable server recommended we sample a few. I happily sipped a loose leaf Pear Caramel, an herbal infusion Wild Blossom and Berries, and a fruit infusion Gorgeous Ginger.

As you leave, you are given a couple of pastries tucked in a sweet little box.

Dining in London

I can’t wait to go back someday and take my daughters and my future daughter-in-law.

Dinner at Fera at Claridges, Mayfair

If you are looking for a very special dining experience, with tasty and imaginative dishes, a sophisticated wine list, delightful ambience and incomparable service, look no further.

Tucked in a corner of the venerable Claridge’s is Fera, which opened this spring.

Claridge's

Claridge’s

Lois and I were seated in the beautiful art deco-inspired room and greeted by our friendly and attentive waiter. He assisted us as we wavered between ordering from the regular menu or going with the 15-course tasting menu.

In the end, gluttony prevailed.

You can kid yourself that it’s not all that much food, since every course is a dainty bite-sized morsel, and each course leaves you expectantly awaiting the next one to see what intriguing flavors and textures will be married together.

But yeah. It’s 15 courses.

The name Fera means “wild” in Latin, and harkens to the profusion of natural ingredients in the dishes. Chef Simon Rogan is renowned for his dedication to using fresh ingredients found locally, and consequently the menu changes frequently depending on what is available.

It is this freshness — both in the quality of the food and the creativity in the use of ingredients and presentation — that made this experience so memorable.

Each course had its own unique garnish, edible flowers or wild greens, and creatively displayed. Some came on a board or beautiful bowl; others on smoothed pebbles.

But a truly fine restaurant has to be more than simply excellent food. What struck me was the enthusiasm with which each server answered our questions. And the pride with which they presented each course. The passion for fine food made from the freshest of ingredients is shared across the board, from Chef Rogan to restaurant manager Benjamin Hofer to the entire team.

That is what makes this restaurant shine. And made our dinner an unforgettable experience.

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Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

Can you remember when airline travel was considered glamorous?

Not that old? Well, let me tell you.

When I think about travel back in its heyday, when I was a young girl, I just have to laugh.

One Christmas vacation, my parents took my brother and me to Disney World. We were so excited. Not just because we would see Mickey and Minnie – we were going to be on an airplane. What a treat!

I remember standing in front of my closet, debating which dress would be appropriate for the flight. With my mother’s help, I picked out my favorite yellow jumper, my black patent leather shoes, and my nylons, of course. And to accessorize, my little black patent leather purse. Hey, look at me!

Once at the airport, we sailed in (with no security to go through) and walked outside the terminal to board the plane. Then it was up the steps and into the cabin, where the smiling, handsome pilot greeted everyone. He would invite my brother to come in to the cockpit and sit in the captain’s seat, and then hand him one of those TWA wings or some such to pin on his jacket. The stewardesses would engage with us kids right away and offer my parents a magazine or newspaper. My mother often asked for a deck of cards so she could play Solitaire or challenge us to Gin Rummy. Settled in our sumptuous seats, we would have a drink or a snack in hand before the plane left the tarmac.

This was coach, mind you.

Can you even imagine?

Now it seems every time I board a plane the seats are more narrow and uncomfortable. The food is meager and disgusting unappetizing. The experience is more odious than getting a tooth pulled.

But not so with Virgin Atlantic.

I was pleasantly surprised when I flew Virgin Atlantic for the very first time. And no, I am not being compensated for this post. This is strictly my opinion.

In fact, I liked it so much that even though it requires that I depart from an airport an hour and a half from my home, I will gladly make that sacrifice again.

Here is why.

In my book, nice counts for a lot.

Everyone I had contact with, whether it was the woman at Virgin Atlantic check-in who wished me a good trip to the pilot to the helpful flight attendants, was courteous and friendly. Much more than what I’ve experienced elsewhere.

Roominess

The cabin was not packed. Maybe that was just a lucky break, but refreshing nonetheless. The person sitting across the aisle from me had four seats to herself, lucky duck.

Settling in

You get a pillow, a blanket and … a Feel Good Kit! With a toothbrush, pen, booties, eye mask and earplugs.

Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

A menu

OK, it’s not like you can order from a list of options. But it’s a nice touch to see what’s for dinner before it comes.

Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

The food is not bad. Not bad at all.

The food is definitely better than most. I’m not going to lie and tell you it was gourmet. But for airplane food, a cut above the competition. Also, on the transatlantic flights I took, they fed us constantly.

Passing the time

Entertainment options on your personal screen are numerous enough to occupy yourself or your children for a long time. There were two children sitting next to me who were engrossed in movies for the entire trip.

Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

Seating

The seats? Not great, but slightly better than the competition. I will say that although I did not get the window seat I prefer, I managed to sleep okay with the neck pillow I brought with me.

Flying will never have the cachet it used to be. But compared to British Airways, US Air and Air Canada – the other airlines I have tried when crossing the pond – Virgin Atlantic is the best I’ve found.

And I’ll be back.

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Downton Abbey at Winterthur Museum

If you’re like me — shamelessly obsessed with PBS’s Downton Abbey — you have followed the saga of the Crowley family from Season One, Episode One and suffer serious withdrawal during the hiatus.

Are you bereft when the too-short seasons end? Do you search for a replacement in that Sunday night time slot and come up short? Have you been known to absently hum the Downton Abbey theme? Are you counting the days until Season Five debuts?

Me too.

If you’re impatient — like me –and need a Downton Abbey fix NOW, I’ve got the answer.

Downton Abbey at Winterthur Museum

Winterthur Museum, located in Delaware, is exhibiting the Costumes of Downton Abbey until January 2015.  If you live in the northeast USA, or are planning a visit, you’re in luck. it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC.

It took under an hour to drive my three equally besotted Downton Abbey friends to the museum from my home outside Philadelphia.

Just off a main thoroughfare, the museum’s entrance takes you down a winding road with rolling hills of verdant farmland all around. Once inside the Visitor’s Center, you can hop on a tram that winds through the glorious grounds to take you to the Downton Abbey exhibit.

Downton Abbey at Winterthur MuseumA Visual Feast

Oh my. The actual costumes close up are even more magnificent than on the screen. Each one is featured next to the scene in the show in which it appeared, so you can see up close how truly fabulous and intricate those costumes are.

It’s fun to see the costumes up close, and those of us who are truly obsessed will recognize them right away.

Scattered about are some of the humorous quotes from the show. Remember Violet’s famous line, “What is a weekend?”

And the many barbs Mrs. Patmore peppered poor Daisy with? Reading those lines will make you chuckle – and also appreciate even more the brilliant writing on the show.

Some of the costumes are positioned next to actual footage from the show. The final scene in Season Two, when Matthew proposed to Mary, with the snow falling all around? So romantic, so tragic (it turns out). I confess that I stood in front of this video for an inordinately long time, watching the scene over and over.

Downton Abbey at Winterthur Museum

But don’t leave yet.

After  you’ve gotten your Downton Abbey fix, stick around, because there is so much more to see at Winterthur.

Located on 1,000 acres of tree-lined paths, beautiful architecture and lush gardens, Winterthur (pronounced “Winter-tour”) was founded by Henry Franics du Pont (1880-1969) who lived here with his family. He always wanted to share his art and gardens with the public, so in his later years, he and his wife moved to a smaller home on the grounds and allowed the main residence to be turned into a museum.

Mr. du Pont wrote at that time,

I sincerely hope that the Museum will be a continuing source of inspiration and education for all time, and that the gardens and grounds will of themselves be a country place museum where visitors may enjoy as I have, not only the flowers, trees and shrubs, but also the sunlit meadows, shady wood paths, and the peace and great calm of a country place which has been loved and taken care of for three generations.

How lucky we are to benefit from his largesse.

You’ll want to save time for a tour of the mansion, because it is truly spectacular. Mr. duPont was an avid art and furniture collector, and the 175-room mansion is resplendent with gorgeous antiques, rugs and special touches that only someone like a du Pont can implement or acquire. For example, he was known to import Oriental wallpaper and reconstruct the size of a room to accommodate it.

He was also a visionary gardener, and created a 60-acre “naturalistic” garden that is just breathtaking. If you take the tram ride from the Visitor’s Center to the museum, the guide will tell you fascinating things about the making of this garden and the varieties of plantings all around. Families with young children must make a stop at the Enchanted Woods, truly a fantastic and magical place for kids to explore.

Before we left, my friends and I made a stop at the Campbell Soup’s Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens right there on the premises. The antique tureens are among the treasures Mr. du Pont collected.

You can imagine one of the 30 Winterthur house staff polishing the fine silver, perhaps just as diligently as did the housemaids of Downton Abbey.

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Wordless Wednesday: London Street Art

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The Spring Break I’d Like to Forget but Can’t

My children are beyond the spring break stage, but the photos on Facebook of happy parents reuniting with their sons and daughters studying abroad take me back a few years when our youngest daughter, Laurie, spent a glorious semester in Paris.

When she wasn’t in class, she hopped on the Métro and visited museums, discovered the best macarons in St. Germain, strolled on the Rive Gauche and sipped coffee at outdoor cafes. She took a wine-tasting course and was proud when she was able to identify wines from different regions of France. Dining out was an adventure, too. She sampled Coquille St. Jacques for the first time and discovered the delectable Croque Monsieur (the French version of a grilled cheese sandwich). Her ability to converse in French grew stronger every day.

On weekends, she and her friends would hop on a train or plane to other European destinations. They visited Brussels, Madrid, London, Prague, Amsterdam and Switzerland where she … gulp … went skydiving. She didn’t tell me about this until it was over.

spring break skydiving

Laurie couldn’t wait to play tour guide when my husband and I joined her for spring break. But just two weeks before our trip we got a call from her that filled my heart with dread.

Her neck had felt stiff and sore for about five days, she told me. Thinking it was just a muscle pull, she had pushed through the week, attending classes but falling into bed in exhaustion at the end of the day.

I begged her to tell her program coordinator, Alexandra, who referred her to a free health clinic. Laurie dragged herself there. But the line was long and she was dizzy so she went back to her apartment. Her neck was swollen and painful and all she wanted to do was sleep.

Totally panicked, I contacted Alexandra myself and told her this was a serious situation and I needed her to get involved right away. Alexandra agreed to take Laurie to the doctor herself but Monday morning was the first available appointment. I waited by the phone, biting my nails.

After what seemed like days rather than hours, Alexandra called to say that the doctor wanted Laurie admitted to the hospital for tests. He thought she had an infection but did not have a definitive diagnosis. Alexandra promised to stay at the hospital.

With mounting panic, I realized there was no way I could stay home and get this information second-hand. I needed to be with my daughter and decided to get on the next flight to Paris with my older daughter, Emily, who insisted on accompanying me. We hurriedly threw some clothes in a suitcase and were ready to go to the airport.  While waiting for Emily in the car, I absently flipped through my passport.

The unthinkable happened even before we left.

No. No, no, no. This can’t be.

My passport had expired.

How had I not known this? We were supposed to leave in two weeks and I hadn’t checked to see if my passport was still valid? What was wrong with me? Now what?

Inside I was disintegrating, but I had to keep calm to figure out what to do. I don’t remember who I talked to — maybe someone at the airline? –but I found out that there is a way to renew an expired passport on an emergency basis.. Emily and I drove to the Philadelphia Passport Agency, our suitcases in the car, praying for a miracle.

After a full day of long lines and lots of waiting, I was issued a new passport.With barely enough time to get to the airport, we managed to make the flight to Paris. We arrived at 6 the next morning, grabbed a taxi and arrived at the massive Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital where we found our girl, flushed with fever but so relieved to see us. She perked up long enough to tell us this was the hospital where Princess Diana had died.

Paris hospital

One hour later, she was taken into surgery. A cyst in her neck that had become infected was successfully drained and removed, with several stitches to show for it.

The spring break that wasn’t.

Laurie recovered completely after a week in the hospital and a week of rest and room service at the hotel with me. We were even able to salvage part of our vacation when my husband and son joined us for a long weekend (although sadly, Emily had left by this time).

Laurie refused to let this setback slow her down. Before the semester ended, she and her friends visited Barcelona and Ibiza. She met up with her brother for a weekend in Istanbul.

spring break Istanbul

After much angst, a happy ending.

Laurie came home with wonderful memories of Paris. The only lasting after-effect of her illness was a tiny scar that has faded over time, a souvenir of an unexpected adventure that did not diminish her enthusiasm for travel one bit.

We vow that that someday we will all go back to Paris together and this time, do it right.

The Spring Break from Hell

Laurie (right) and room mate on the balcony of their apartment.

 

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When in New York, Visit Eataly

I hesitate to say it. I don’t want to jinx things. But (whispering) I think spring is here.

No matter that sludgy clumps of snow still adorn our front yard. According to the calendar, spring has sprung. And I’m ready for a weekend getaway to celebrate.

I’m lucky to live in proximity of the fabulous New York City, always a desirable destination, but especially lovely in springtime.

New York, New York

You’ve heard ofi love new york April in Paris, yes? Well, April in New York is just as jolie. The days are longer and warmer and tourist season is not yet underway, so the hustle and bustle hovers at a moderate level, at least per New York standards.

Traipsing the streets is so much more fun when you don’t have to dodge mountains of snow and ice. Central Park, resplendent in daffodils and dogwood blossoms, is filled with young families pushing strollers and couples walking hand in hand.. daffodils New York eataly

With so much going on in the Big Apple, it is best to make plans in advance but save some wiggle room for last minute spontaneity. Whether your interests lie in sightseeing, shopping, theater, sports or a combination thereof, planning your visit is key. To get you started, here are some ideas. On a budget? Did you know all the things there are to do in New York that are free?

Which brings me to one of them that is a favorite of mine.

Eataly

Eataly is a dazzling food emporium in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood. It has the feel of a bustling, open-air Italian market; it just  happens to be inside. Take a walk through this huge hall where purveyors display the most delectable pastas, cheeses, fish, meats, produce, breads, desserts and more. Be prepared for sensory overload.

You could drop a chunk of change here, don’t get my wrong. The seductive aromas of so much deliciousness could just lure that wallet right out of your pocket or purse. Plus, if you want to spend money on a meal, there are several restaurants to choose from.

eataly restaurant

But walking and gawking? Totally free. Amble up and down the aisles and marvel over the stunningly arranged items the purveyors have on display. If you’re lucky, there could be a freebie or two to nibble on.

As renowned food cognoscenti, Eataly partners and gastronomes Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali have among them dozens of beloved restaurants, cooking shows and cookbooks. Their unbridled passion for good eating, good drinking and savoring life is reflected in every aisle, every corner of Eataly.

As they say on Eataly’s website,

The Secret to Quality of Life?  Quality Products.

By creating and offering the best products, we improve our own lives, and bring added value to yours. Enter a world dedicated to quality: that means quality food, quality drink and ultimately quality time.

Feast your eyes on this visual extravaganza, artistic in its panoply of colors and textures, a celebration of all that’s good about eating and enjoying the best that life has to offer.

Located just off Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th Street in the Flatiron neighborhood, Eataly is a foodie’s mecca but a fun destination for anyone.

I was not hired to write this review and was not compensated for it. It is my personal opinion.

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Dreaming of California Weather

As a pale and winter-weary East Coaster who escaped the latest snowpocalypse by just one day,  I felt like I had landed in Shangri-la when I stepped off the plane in San Diego last week.

My oversize suitcase and I shuffled past the baggage claim carousels and through the sliding glass doors. Outside, I gasped.  I felt like Dorothy opening the door of her house after it had landed in the technicolor Land of Oz.

My friend Lois, who picked me up, probably thought I was a little wacko as I waxed poetic over the palm trees while stripping off layers of sweaters. “You can’t imagine what it’s like back home,” I babbled as Lois nodded politely.

A Different World.

Ahh, California. The Land of Sunshine and Up Talk. Where orange is pronounced aw-range and every sentence is a question. Where people shiver if the temperature drops below 60 degrees.

Given the numbing cold we’ve had this season, it was the best winter ever for an East Coaster to visit California. Every day was a golden, sun-dappled gift.

I texted my family. “We need to move here. Who’s in?” I got four little thumbs up icons in response.

The week ended too soon. As I flew home to reality, I contemplated the ways a temperate climate affects human behavior. Here are some of my observations.

Californians are not fixated on the weather forecast.

Here in the East, the weather forecast rules our lives. I watch it on morning TV, sometimes at noon and definitely at night. I switch on our news and weather radio station when I’m driving the car. The weather forecast governs my agenda, my plans for the week and my emotional status.

It also provides an excellent foray to small talk when you’re standing in line buying your milk and bread. In the summer we’ve got “How ’bout those Phillies?’ In the winter, it’s “How many days were you out of power?’

I don’t mean to minimize the weather issues Californians face: earthquakes, fires and mud slides, all terrible. But for the most part, it is blue skies and sunshine. Every day.  

No one listens to the forecast in California. It’s not necessary. Chances are excellent that the weather will be some kind of fabulous every day.

Meteorologists just might be superfluous.

Sorry, California weather people, but you’ve got the cushiest  job ever? I mean, like, ever? Just look out the window?

East Coast meteorologists have to be on their toes.  What with the weather maps to draw arrows on, the Nor’Easters from the south and the Polar Vortexes from the north, they’ve got their hands full. And just let them miscall a storm. That frays our collective nerves like you can’t imagine.

Just listening to the five-day forecast can be traumatic.

“Sleet and freezing rain, followed by snow and back to freezing rain, with temperatures dipping into the single digits by tonight. Predicted snowfall could be a few inches or up to a foot, depending on the track of the storm. Icy conditions will make driving hazardous. And we’re watching another system headed our way.”

In California, you’ve got something like this.

“We’ve got a sunny day on tap here in the valley, followed by sunshine tomorrow and Wednesday. Thursday, look for sunshine that should last through Friday. The weekend is looking good, with sunshine likely both days.

Californians are really, really nice.

Here in the East, we are snotty, aloof and sometimes outright hostile. In California it seems that everyone woke up on the right side of the bed and is having an awesome day. Plus, they want to make sure your day is awesome. So they might tell you more than once to have a good day.

Bus drivers. Restaurant workers. Airline personnel. They’re all so damn cheerful.

Here on the East Coast, crankiness is the norm. I didn’t come across a cranky Californian my entire stay.

I concluded that this all makes perfect sense. What’s there to kvetch about when a good portion of your state looks like this.

 

California ocean

photo credit; Evan Schiff

Or this.

California beach

photo credit: Evan Schiff

And this is what I came home to.

mound of snowI am dreaming of you, California. I can’t wait to come back.

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How to Celebrate an Anniversary in Philadelphia

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way by the Ritz Carlton, Zama or The Barnes Foundation for this post. All opinions are my own.

Knowing us, I doubt my husband and I would have ever thought to treat ourselves to a night at a fancy five-star hotel in downtown Philadelphia. After all, we live only half an hour away. It would have seemed frivolous. Unnecessary. Why bother?

It turns out that our children were the wiser ones in this case when they decided to give us a weekend package —  a night at The Ritz Carlton Hotel, breakfast the next morning, and tickets to the fabulous Barnes Foundation — as our birthday gift.

But since our birthdays were in the spring and we had weekend commitments in the summer, we opted to wait until last weekend for our special getaway, especially since it was also our anniversary weekend. It would be a double celebration.

Saturday, 4 p.m.

As we walked through the Ritz Carlton’s grand lobby to the check-in desk, we were greeted by many smiling hotel staff members ready and anxious to assist. Would I like a glass of champagne, one asked as she came over carrying a silver tray with flutes? Why yes, I would.

Ritz Carlton Philadelphia hotel lobby

After dropping off our suitcase in our sumptuous deluxe hotel room, we decided to catch an early showing of “Blue Jasmine” at one of our favorite movie theaters in Philadelphia. It was at this very theater that we had our second date so many years ago: “Chariots of Fire.” I liked it better than he did.

movie theaterOn the way, we passed by the exact spot where my husband and I first met one snowy January night. It was nostalgic, but how things have changed. What used to be the stately PNB Building is now a Walgreen’s.

Broad and Chestnut, Philadelphia

It all began on this corner 31 years ago.

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Since the evening air was so delightfully balmy, we decided to stroll up lively Walnut Street, savoring the tantalizing aromas emanating from each restaurant along the way. Here is a view of City Hall from the corner of Broad and Walnut.

city hallWe had dinner at the trendy and fun Japanese restaurant, Zama. The sushi was to die for.

plates of sushiWe were comfortably full and resisted dessert, figuring we could get something later if we really felt like it. We ambled by leafy Rittenhouse Square on the way back to the hotel, stopping at a Barnes and Noble to browse for a few minutes. The very first time we met, on that snowy January night, we talked about books. We really did.

Saturday, 10 p.m.

When we got to the room, look what was waiting for us: dessert! A chocolate chip birthday cake and chocolate candy from the hotel.

cake

Sunday, 9 a.m.

One of us went on a six-mile run on the scenic Kelly Drive along the river and the other one read the newspaper and watched the Sunday morning pundits on TV. I bet you can guess who did what.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before checking out of the hotel.

fruit and omelette

Sunday, 12 p.m.

The pièce de resistance of our special getaway was the visit to the incomparable Barnes Foundation. We spent several hours visually drinking in the beauty of this glorious collection of Impressionist art. I highly recommend adding the Barnes to your sightseeing plans if you visit Philadelphia.

Every minute of our 24-hour vacation was enjoyable and a fantastic way to celebrate a special occasion. We are so lucky to have such thoughtful children who picked the perfect gift for us.

As we drove home, we wondered why we don’t do this every year.

in front of the Barnes Museum

in front of the Barnes Museum

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