Montana – Big Sky

Montana, known as “Big Sky” country is aptly named. Even with all of the Rocky Mountains ranges that dot the skyline of this expansive state, the ‘sky’ itself invokes a majesty all its own. The experiences in Montana are as vast as the sky, so I will break up our 10-day road trip to Montana into multiple postings to properly capture the highlights of the trip. Our trip began in Arizona, and we made our way up through Utah, Nevada, Idaho and into Montana. Any one of these states can and will garner a need for their own post – but for now my focus is on Montana.

When you arrive into Montana, it’s like a calm settles over you – your heart rate drops and you breathe easier. People who visit and live here, choose this destination to inhale and enjoy what nature created over the centuries. Montana by land mass ranks as the 4th largest state, but ranks 44th in population. Montana’s largest city, Billings, comes in at 110,000 people – leaving an awful lot of land preserved in its natural state, allowing for wildlife to populate in numbers not seen in many places and lots of room for people and that wildlife to co-habitate together peacefully.

We entered Montana in the southwest corner of the state, driving by the very western edge of  Yellowstone  National Park. This stretch of Hwy 191 is beyond gorgeous. The two lane road winds through lush green forests of pine and birch, and low-lying meadows dotted with ponds and running streams – a perfect setting for some big Montana moose, but sadly we never spotted one. The air was as fresh as the setting was serene. Smiles settled in on our faces, as life’s stresses melted away the deeper we made our way into this beautiful state.

Our first stop in Montana was in Big Sky – a ski resort town, about a 30-minute drive south of Bozeman, that we had visited many times in the 7 years we lived in Montana back in the late 80’s and late 90’s. We were initially drawn to the area for the skiing because it has remained un-commercialized and un-congested unlike its Colorado counterparts i.e. Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen. But the area shows its raw beauty even more in the summer months with no shortage of things to do: hiking, golfing, biking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, tram and chairlift rides, zip lines, rock climbing, and the list goes on and on.

The pathway leading up into the hiking trails along the ski runs at Big Sky.

The zip line comes out into the open below the chair lifts on the backside of the Summit Lodge.

River rafting down the Gallatin along highway 191 between Big Sky and Bozeman.

The entrance of Big Sky intersects the famed Gallatin River (think ‘A River Runs Through It‘) known for its great fly-fishing and white water rafting. Or in our case the place, some 20 years ago, where our chocolate lab puppy decided to test out her water dog skills. My husband was out fly fishing on the Gallatin and our new puppy so wanted to be near him, she jumped into the water, but the water was too strong for this little 8-week-old 12-pound puppy and she went swirling down the river. I never saw my husband move so fast through a fast running river, up onto the bank and down the river bank until he got ahead of where the puppy was in the water and reached down and yanked her out of the water like a fish on the end of a fly fishing pole!

Big Sky is separated into distinct topographies – the lower village (6,800’ elevation) or ‘meadows’ where some great golfing, shopping, galleries and lodging exists. And the upper village (7,500′ elevation) or ‘mountain’ where some of the best skiing in the US exists and most of the main resorts. The highest point of Big Sky is atop Lone Mountain Peak, boasting a tram that takes you across a wide bowl to its highest point at an elevation of 11,166 feet. Not for the faint of heart – this area above the tree line is double-black diamonds to get down the peak to were the bulk of the ski hill lies.

Lone Mountain Peak looms above Lake Levinsky and the blue Lake Condos at the entrance of Big Sky Mountain Village.

The runs at Big Sky show bright and green in the summer sun.

In the winter we went as far as taking the high-speed chairlift to the base of the tram. From there we pointed our skis downward into the single black diamond bowl before you ascend into the tree-lined slopes. Our last trip to Big Sky was to ski. Our son, 8, was a fearless snowboarder, taking black diamonds, through the trees, over jumps. Our, 10, daughter stuck with skiing and on one of our last runs she took off in front of us down into the bowl. In an instant she was tumbling ass over tea-kettle. Our hearts in our throats as we raced to where she had come to a stop – skis going in every direction, body in an upside down pretzel position. Instinctively my husband grabbed her around the waist to gently lift her up out of the contortion of body parts fearful to find our dainty daughter unconscious. Instead, a howl of laughter broke from her lips. She said that was the most fun she’d had all week and can we do it again! Suffice to say our mind was on a bottle of wine to calm our jangled nerves after that escapade! Kids!

But I digress – this trip (and post) is about our summertime fun at Big Sky – some 14 years later. We stayed at the rustic Summit Lodge – replete with log furniture, deer antler chandeliers, and bear skin rugs. With the lodge at the base of ski hill, we had easy access to trek up the mountain to access the hiking trails that meander up and through all the ski runs, over mountain creeks usually hidden by several feet of snow, and along logging trails that double as catwalks in the winter . Reaching some of the higher ridges, it was once again evident as to how the state and this specific ski resort acquired it’s title of ‘Big Sky’. The vistas are breathtaking and sky has no end in sight.

The Summit Lodge at the base of the runs at Big Sky Mountain Village.

A large deer antler chandelier in the Summit Lodge.

About halfway down the mountain, between the upper and lower villages, is a rustic but high-end resort, Lone Mountain Resort, where you can rent log cabins of multiple configurations and sizes. The restaurant is one of the best in Big Sky and is worth a stop for anything from a great brunch to a fine dining experience. As well as horse back riding in the summer, or sleigh rides in the winter.

The entrance to Lone Mountain Ranch midway between upper and lower villages at Big Sky.

Log cabin accommodations at Lone Mountain Ranch.

A little closer to the lower village is another great area for hiking, called Ousel Falls Trail. It doesn’t have the breathtaking expansive views as the hikes up on the ski hill, but the lush beauty of trekking your way along the fast running South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River and take a breather for a picnic with the Ousel Falls for a backdrop is equally enticing.

Ousel Falls Trail head just above the lower village in Big Sky.

A great picnic spot along the Ousel Falls of the South Fork River.

Down in the meadows of the lower village is an Arnold Palmer designed golf course. As well as multiple galleries showcasing many local artists, our favorite being Harry Koyama. My husband so fell in love with one of his paintings that served as the back drop to the reservation desk at the Summit Lodge, that I commissioned Harry to replicate the same picture (in a much smaller size) for a surprise birthday present for my husband and serves as the backdrop of his home office.

Original painting by Harry Koyama, behind the reception desk at the Summit Lodge in Big Sky, called ‘Bruins of Lone Mountain.’

Interspersed between galleries and gift shops are a multitude of great restaurants. Most taking local flavors – such as elk or bison meat, huckleberries (my personal favorite), or fresh trout from the Gallatin River – and putting their own spin on recipes to satisfy even the pickiest palates.

Enjoy more beautiful pics of the very scenic Big Sky area in the Global Gallery under Montana.


Golfing gals hit Napa!

Napa may be a hotspot for couples, but this gang of golfing gals from Arizona needed a getaway while our home golf course was being taken over by the men for their final golf event of the year in mid-April. Our second love is wine – so Napa was a natural fit. Sorry hubbies – you’re a close third!

Golfing gals do Napa!

After a 90 minute flight from Phoenix to San Fran, followed by a 90 minute chauffeured drive we arrived at our accommodations at Silverado Resort on Silverado Trail in the eastern side of the Rutherford township in the middle of the Napa Valley. Since golf is our first love, we played two days of golf sandwiching a day of hitting wineries.

Entrance to Silverado Resort, off of Silverado Trail in Rutherford, Napa Valley.

As we waited for our rooms to be ready we hit the links at the Silverado North Course, host to the PGA Safeway Open (first tournament of the FedEx Cup season). The benign conditions did not offset the challenge of the heavily tree-lined, narrow fairways lined with thick sticky rough, finishing off on crowned greens that ran fast. One of our gals recently moved to Santa Clara, a 2 hour drive south of Napa. She surprised us with a car filled with wine, beer and snacks. You da best crazy girl!! After a very long day of travel and challenging golf, we indulged in all the above, along with some intensely heated matches of bocce ball and corn hole. Then early to bed to ready ourselves for a day of wine tastings.

Can you guess which one likes to push us over the line and which keeps us toeing the line? 🙂

Testing our tossing abilities after a day of wine tasting with the corn hole toss at the Silverado Resort.

Bocce ball courts at Silverado Resort – a great place to wind down after a day or golf or wine tastings.

The rooms are spacious, each with a private outside entrance, and possible wild life sightings – see pic below. With a Starbucks onsite it was nice to get our days started with a much-needed jolt of energy. My roomy and I traded turns for the morning jaunt to Starbucks – but she wins extra points by spoiling me with a turn down service of 4 Advil to ease the pains of a day of golfing and/or drinking.

A couple of deer made their way through the inner courtyard area outside our patio at Silverado Resort.

Our winery tour day began with car service by Damon of Bliss Wine Tours – pick-up at 9:30 am. The studly and sweet Damon took great care of us gals all day long and we would highly recommend his services! He had a cooler full of water to keep us hydrated between wineries (we aren’t ones to waste a single drop at the wine tastings); he was highly knowledgeable about the area and the wineries; he was prepared with a wine opener and tracked down extra cups for us to enjoy a newly purchased bottle of wine to have with deli sandwiches we pre-ordered from the historical Oakville Grocery.

We started our day of winery visits at Robert Mondavi Winery – the first winery I ever visited some 30 years ago when there were only a couple of dozen wineries compared to over 450 wineries today in the Napa Valley. Mondavi has matured into one of the pinnacle wineries of the Napa Valley. The Mission-style winery sits on a 35-acre vineyard and we were treated to a full tour of their beautiful, lush, expansive, extremely clean winery while becoming informed about the wine business as a whole.

Robert Mondavi Winery.

The gals experiencing the first wine tasting of the day, 10 am, at Robert Mondavi.

After lunch it was off to a very unique winery – Raymond Vineyards. A beautiful setting with a large garden area replete with a mini-animal farm with goats and chickens. A fairly nondescript entrance is an offset to what lies behind several doors; The Red Room – reminiscent of a speak-easy highlighted in hues of red from the furniture to the lighting; the Crystal Cellar – we playfully dubbed the S&M room with fuchsia lighting flooding the ornate cases of cut crystal ware, animal skin covered wine barrels, and mannequin swinging from a trapeze – oh the parties that must go on in this room; and the more subdued Library – walls lined with rows and rows of bottles instead of books and a library ladder to reach them all. Be sure to check out the Corridor of Senses. Sadly the Raymond wine did not pass our tastebud test, but the winery itself was worth the visit.

Mannequins hanging from a trapeze in the Crystal wine tasting room at Raymond Winery.

The mini-animal farm at Raymond Winery. The whole scene is a real head scratcher, but oh so entertaining.

Our winery tour day was on a warm spring day and after a couple of wineries we were ready to mix it up a bit with a couple of beers. On cue Damon scored a few more brownie points knowing right where to take us for one of the coldest beers we have ever tasted – and that’s saying a lot! We played a few games of pool at this no-name dive bar, enjoying our cold beers, while Damon tracked down another great winery for us to properly fill out our wine tour day.

Truly a ‘no name’ bar for the gals to take a breather from the wine tastings.

A little billiards and ice-cold beer at the no name bar in Rutherford.

Goosecross Cellars was not on our original line-up of wineries, but when we found ourselves with a little extra time before our final wine tour, Damon made a call and got us into this family owned Yountville winery. The recently built ‘hospitality’ structure has a nouveau rustic look and feel with a relaxing back patio overlooking their expansive vineyard. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines – reds were bold, but smooth and the whites were crisp, but refreshing. Not a bad little find. Thank you Damon.

Goosecross Winery.

Our day finished with an opportunity to meet Sue McNerney, owner of Le Chanceux, a boutique winery consisting of a 1 acre plot of cabernet sauvignon grapevines. What she has been able achieve with that micro plot has earned her high accolades in a very short period of time (nee’ 2002). Sue is a genuine soul who ran with a dream and made it a reality. Her cabernet sauvignon, grown from French root-stock, can hold its own against some of the long-standing heavy hitters from the Napa Valley. I have found over the years I often get a headache from lesser quality cabernet sauvignons – but am happy to report no headaches from Sue’s premium variety.

Sue McNerney, proprietor of Le Chanceux winery – ‘One Woman, One Wine’!

Our third day in Napa had us back at the golf course – the South Course at Silverado Resort. After a day of being plied with great wines, we all apparently loosened up and a more enjoyable day of golf than we did on the North Course. The South Course is a more open course and with a more consistent feel hole to hole and green to green with a level of beautify that we all felt eclipsed the North Course.

Approach into the beautiful 13th hole from the center cut of the fairway.

One of our group was not able to join us in Napa in time to take in the winery tours, so on our way back to the San Fran airport for our trip back to AZ we searched out one last winery to share what Napa is all about for this winery virgin. We struck out on our first two attempts at Domaine Carneros – apparently a great place for a champagne tasting, and Del Dotto Vineyards, specifically their Napa Historic Winery and Caves . They were listed as having walk-in tastings available, but by the time we arrived at 10 am on a Saturday morning both vineyards were so full they could not accommodate any more walk-ins. We eventually found a quaint little winery down the road from Domaine Carneros called Madonna Estate. They were able to accommodate us and show this group of golfing gals a good time, finishing our golf/wine outing in true Napa style.

Golf/wine gals wind-up the Napa weekend at Madonna winery. We shall return to expand our search for more Napa wine and golf!

Check out more fun pics from trip ‘Napa Gals Trip‘ in the Global Gallery tab.

I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!





Lisbon, Portagul

Another guest blog by my daughter, Allison Malecha. A recap of the second part of her summer trip to Spain/Portugal.

Lisbon, August 2015

Last year, I went to a personal finance workshop sponsored by the startup LearnVest, thanks to a cousin who is a client. The part that stuck with me was a lecture by a Harvard professor who spoke about happiness. He discussed a survey where children were asked a fairly standard question: What do you want to be when you grow up? The children responded in expected ways: a doctor, a lawyer, a what-have-you just like my mom/dad. But the professor was not completely satisfied with these answers. The children had named career goals, professions. They had not said: “When I grow up, I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled.” They had not been taught that these were things worth striving for.

New York, where I live, is a city where most everyone is trying to be something, or someone. We are future writers, hedge fund managers, ad agency executives, Nobel Prize winners. When I arrived in Lisbon, I had the feeling that perhaps, there, a few more children might wish to be happy when they grow up. To be fair, I spent three days in the city, and one of those days mostly on a sad little ferry back and forth across the Tagus. But the air had a different quality, people’s faces were more prone to smiles, and I felt, even looking up the three flights of dirt-studded white stone stairs up to our street, inexplicably, deliriously happy.

Lisbon is not counted among National Geographic’s “Top 10 happiest cities” nor was Portugal named one of the Top 20 happiest countries in the recent United Nations World Happiness Report. It is entirely possible that my perception of the place is more attributable to the fact of being on vacation than to the place itself.

We didn’t have the most obvious start to what turned out to be the highlight of the my Spain/Portugal trip. My travel mate and I missed our train to Lisbon. We were coming from Porto (Portugal) with tickets purchased online and sent to my Brooklyn mailbox. It turned out that we had bought vouchers, not tickets, and the ticket collector was kind enough to tell us so—4 minutes before the train’s departure. So I waited in the 20-minute ticket line and we caught the next train. My first experience of Lisbon was running through it, a backpack slamming against my spine and a camera drumming my chest as we followed the blue dot on my friend’s iPhone to the front door of our Airbnb. We were about to make our temporary landlord late for a work meeting, but she gave us a tour: roomy bedroom, a kitchen of mint-green cabinets, a corner bathroom with gas-lit hot water, a washing machine and clothing lines out the window, a fifth-floor view onto, on one side, a church courtyard, and on the other, a view of the entire red-roofed and white-spired city. She pointed out the square where we would find the train station to take us to Sintra. She didn’t look a bit like she was already late to somewhere else.

My friend in our Airbnb kitchen.

My friend in our Airbnb kitchen.

The Sao Cristovao Church, on our street.

The Sao Cristovao Church, on our street.

The view from our Airbnb apartment.

The view from our Airbnb apartment.

That night we zigzagged our way to Mesa de Frades, a place my friend had recommended to me to listen to live fado, a type of folk music specific to Portugal. We arrived at 10:40 and were told to come back at 11. We made a few loops on the cobblestone streets and returned to be seated in two extra chairs pushed up to a four-top, where a middle-aged couple and their in-laws had just finished dinner. A hush fell over the tiny, mural-wrapped dining room as the restaurant door was pulled closed and the musicians positioned themselves in front of it: a mandolin player, a guitarist, and a singer. All younger than I expected, quick to laughter in the moments between songs. But what happened during those songs was pure magic—not a single fork tine scratched, no iPhones lit up, no one whispered. The brunette clasped her hands in front of her and lavished her voice upon the room: rich and mournful, resonant without the help of a microphone. After the first set she was replaced by an older vocalist, with a deeper, more dexterous voice and a leopard-print poncho, clearly recognized by some in the room. My travel mate and I walked home afterwards in a bit of a trance, not yet wanting the spell to be broken.

One of the many tiny, beautiful cobblestoned streets on the way to Mesa de Frades.

One of the many tiny, beautiful cobblestoned streets on the way to Mesa de Frades.

Mesa de Frades, Lisbon.

Mesa de Frades, Lisbon.

Our first full day in Lisbon we rented bikes from bike Iberia (word to the wise: budget bikes are exactly what they sound like) and hopped onto the Poetry Bike Lane, which was more of a series of pedestrian paths and sidewalks and parking lots than a bike lane. It also left the poetry up to the riders but hugged the broad and glittering Tagus all the way to historical Belem. Things got dicey when we wheeled our bikes onto the aforementioned ferry. We missed the stop we were supposed to get off on, so instead of a beach, we found ourselves staring at a large hill with only one way to go: up. We narrowly avoided turning onto a freeway and I was close to tears after my gear got off track, but even this misadventure had a happy ending—on a long, winding downhill back towards the (correct) ferry port, self-made wind in our hair and a vibrant palette of green and blue before us. Back on the bike lane, we made our way to the Monument to the Discoveries, a striking mass of carved stone aimed out toward sea, and ended at Belém Tower, with a pit stop at the sumptuous National Coach Museum.

Along the Tagus, Lisbon.

Along the Tagus, Lisbon.

A pit stop along the Poetry Bike Lane for sardine sandwiches and beer at Sol e Pesca.

A pit stop along the Poetry Bike Lane for sardine sandwiches and beer at Sol e Pesca.

A happy ending to an unintentional detour.

A happy ending to an unintentional detour.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon.

In front of Belem Tower, Lisbon.

In front of Belem Tower, Lisbon.

On our last evening, I stood in our kitchen slicing chorizo and ladling olives into a bowl. My friend took her glass of port out onto the balcony and called me over. A crowd was gathering around the church steps, and two chairs appeared from somewhere. A mandolin player sat in one, a guitarist in the other, and the singer stood behind them—an impromptu fado concert to send us on our way.

Fado graffiti near our Airbnb.

Fado graffiti near our Airbnb.

A plate of incredible grilled octopus at Solar 31.

A plate of incredible grilled octopus at Solar 31.


Madrid on a budget

This summer found my daughter and a girlfriend of hers taking in the sights and sounds and flavors of Spain and Portugal. This post is a recap of their time spent in Madrid. A testament to the abilities to eat well and live well on a budget.

Madrid: a real-life grown-up vacation by Allison Malecha

View of Madrid from Tartan Roof (completely worth the 4 euro entry fee).

View of Madrid from Tartan Roof (completely worth the 4 euro entry fee).

During college, the Barcelona-Madrid duo was popular among the study abroad crowd. The general post-trip consensus was: Barcelona—so fun! Madrid—so much art! (but kind of boring.) This year, as I was planning a trip with a friend who’d traveled around Spain the previous fall, I was a little skeptical to only have Madrid and (in Portugal) Porto and Lisbon on our itinerary. But from my first morning in Spain’s capital city, I loved it, and I soon realized that my priorities weren’t to “go out” or meet fun new people. I do enough of that in New York. I felt tired. I wanted days spent walking along gorgeous old streets instead of sitting at my desk; evenings full of cheap, delicious food, even cheaper, more delicious wine, and comfortable conversation; and a bedtime several hours before dawn. Madrid was happy to provide.

We upgraded from college hostels to an Airbnb, and stayed in a spacious second-floor apartment that doubled as a gallery space for the artist-owner. Mixed media sculptures and moody paintings on the walls. Tea sachets and little bowls of brittle biscuits on the kitchen counter. Fresh, not-entirely-absorbent towels neatly folded in the bathroom. An Ikea-outfitted space right near the center of everything.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Madrid.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Madrid.

My traveling partner and I are both serial snackers, so we easily slid into the eat-and-mosy-and-eat-a-little-more pattern of tapas dining. Tapas (derived from the Spanish verb “tapar,” to cover) are strongly associated with Spanish cuisine in general, but the tradition originated in the southern region of Andalusia, and is not as deeply ingrained in the north, where Barcelona is. In Madrid (Spain’s belly button geographically), many dishes are offered in either small-plate portions (the traditional tapas) or meal sizes (“raciones”), but why have one when you can have four (or five or seven)? We consecrated the beginning of our first morning in the city, a Sunday, with slushed sangria and huge hunks of toast topped with iberico ham and olive oil-soaked octopus from El Capricho Extremeno. My traveling partner taught me her favorite Spanish word, “bacalhau” (cod), and I fell in love with saying it too—the way the l opens into the h. At some point in the day, we stopped for bacalhau with a smear of olive oil on toast and a less-than-two-euro glass of house vermouth on ice at Bodegas Ricla, operated by a mother and her two sons. We ate 2-euro (lightly, barely, beautifully fried) calamari sandwiches just off the scaffolding-smothered Plaza Mayor and a 15-euro skillet of luscious paella at La Barraca. We did the traditional food-march along Cava Baja: vino tinto and queso at Tempranillo, vino tinto and jamón and teeny sardines at Txakolina, vino tinto and tomato-rubbed toast at the place across from a place that ran out of empanadas. For good measure, we ate a plateful of salty ham, with pork haunches hanging all around, at Museu del Jamón. The menu prices in Madrid are reasonable, cheap even, but at each tapas place, with each drink, you also get a freebie of sorts: a tea plate filled with dry sausage slices and pretzel crackers, a dainty wedge of manchego on toast, or patatas bravas (which we never actually got, but apparently they’re everywhere). By bedtime, we had inevitably consumed a small pig and a loaf or two of pure carbs.

From El Capricho Extremeno.

From El Capricho Extremeno.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Seafood paella at La Barraca in Madrid.

Seafood paella at La Barraca in Madrid.

Museu del Jamón.

Museu del Jamón.

Pre-dinner reading break around the corner from La Barraca, Madrid.

Pre-dinner reading break around the corner from La Barraca, Madrid.








To let our stomachs settle, we saw art. Goya, Velázquez, and the deliciously imaginative Bosch at the Prado. A Vogue-sponsored exhibit of waifs in saturated states of dress and undress, in gilt Versailles halls and algae-wrapped bathtubs, in the basement of the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Paintings made melancholy by age and a gorgeously show-offy staircase at the Cerralbo. We rode the glassed-in elevator and played a high-brow version of I spy with the Reina Sofia’s Salvador Dalí paintings (. . . a Hitler mustache . . . . a swarm of ants . . . two tiny humans on the horizon).

"Vogue, Like a Painting" exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

“Vogue, Like a Painting” exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

I started day three with a 9 a.m. run through Retiro Park (the full Spanish name translates to “park of the pleasant retreat”). Un-hungover, ready for another day of flexing our legs and stomachs and consuming all the wonderful culture of a grown-up city.

Vermouth and vacation reads at Café de Ruiz, Madrid.

Vermouth and vacation reads at Café de Ruiz, Madrid.

Martha’s Vineyard

Earlier this summer I crossed another item off of my bucket list. I have always wanted to visit the New England islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. To experience what has drawn the local population of the nearby mainlands to summer at these challenging to get to destinations. Because we love traveling by train and wanted to experience the ferry ride from the mainland to the island(s), we were limited to visiting only Martha’s Vineyard. We went on Memorial Day weekend and the ferries from the mainland and the ferries between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were not in service yet.

For a four-day weekend, Martha’s Vineyard served up plenty to do to fill our days and nights. The island is small enough to drop your bags in one location and see the rest of the island from wherever you choose to make base camp. Since we knew nothing about the island, and didn’t really know anybody who did, we chose the town based on the accommodation that drew us in. And for our wants and needs we chose well.

We began our journey on an Amtrak train from New York, arriving 3 hours later into New Bedford, Rhode Island – the suggested port for easiest access to Martha’s Vineyard. The sun was beginning to set as we neared the island and the air was crisp and clear with a hint of sea salt. Having no idea where we were going we relied on one of the many island buses lined up along the end of the dock ready to take the ferry passengers to their destination of choice. Driving by a spot on the island used to film part of Jaws, we made our way to our lodging for the weekend, The Charlotte Inn, in Edgartown.

The sun setting as we approached Martha's Vineyard on the ferry.

The sun setting as we approached Martha’s Vineyard on the ferry.

The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. Lodging at it's finest.

The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Lodging at it’s finest.

The stay at the Charlotte Inn was a treat in itself. We could have easily spent every hour of our trip at the Inn and been content. Service is definitely job 1 at this place that has been owned by the same couple for over 40 years. They bought a dilapidated old hotel and spent years creating a homey, warm, inviting space that is full of character. In the ensuing years the owners bought four surrounding buildings, turning them all into uniquely, spacious, comfortable rooms. Every room has a library of interesting books and comfortable seating – indoors and outdoors. The immaculate condition of the Inn and the rooms was as I could as I have experienced anywhere.

The old carriage house, one of the buildings at the Charlotte Inn, providing beautifully unique lodging on MV.

The old carriage house, one of the buildings at the Charlotte Inn, providing beautifully unique lodging on MV.

The collection of books in our room, sitting on the steps of a stairway to nowhere.

The collection of books in our room, sitting on the steps of a stairway to nowhere.

The main building houses several sitting rooms, one with a roaring fireplace that we finished our days in, sipping on a cocktail, reading our books. The Inn’s restaurant, appropriately named The Terrace for its old world terrace look with French and Italian accenting, is a high-end dining experience of American cuisine. The owners live on the property and still work the reception desk, unloading delivery trucks, and walk the property to make sure their guests needs are being met. But our favorite part of our whole stay was our regular visits with the mascots of the Inn, the brother and sister Golden Retriever duo, Nicky and Bailey. They have free reign of their owner’s property and were always up for a good belly rub.

The Terrace restaurant at The Charlotte Inn - a fine dining experience of American cuisine.

The Terrace restaurant at The Charlotte Inn – a fine dining experience of American cuisine.

Nicky, the Inn Mascot enjoying a nice pat on the head while sitting in her favorite chair.

Nicky, the Inn Mascot enjoying a nice pat on the head while sitting in her favorite chair.

As for Edgartown, one needn’t leave this little village to be fulfilled. We started every day with a coffee or tea from Espresso Love, 3 blocks from our hotel. Then it was back to Main Street to make our way through the local independent bookstore, the boutique shops and the gallery showcasing local artists in a building that is 250 years old with original flooring and used to be a boat making building. For lunch we headed across the parking lot to take in some fresh seafood at the Seafood Shanty where we could watch a specialized mini-ferries transport 3 cars at a time from the Edgartown port across about 100 yd channel to Chappaquiddick Island – of famed Teddy Kennedy history.

The newly opened gallery selling works of art from local artists, housed in a 250-year old boat house.

The newly opened gallery selling works of art from local artists, housed in a 250-year old boat house.

Two mini ferries take turns taking vehicles and people back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island.

Two mini ferries take turns taking vehicles and people back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island.

As enjoyable as Edgartown is, there are other island destinations that are worth checking out. On Sunday morning, we rented bikes and made the 3-mile ride down to the long expanse of beach at Katama Beach (aka South Beach). The island is full of bike paths – from flat paved easy level trails to off-road dirt trails for the experienced rider. I’m sure in high-season Katama Beach is full of beachgoers – but on this weekend it was isolated and we enjoyed a nice private stroll before heading back to town on our bikes.

My daughter walking the Katama Beach, on the southern edge of Martha's Vineyard.

My daughter walking the Katama Beach, on the southern edge of Martha’s Vineyard.

Another option to getting around the island is to rent a car. The rental places stock all kinds of fun rentals, from Jeep Wranglers to Mini-Cooopers to Mustangs and Camaros – and even a Ferrari or two – all convertibles of some sort. We ordered a Jeep Wrangler, but were given a Mini-Cooper – which was way roomier than we figured and even my 6’3″ husband squeezed into this snazzy little car. Two-lane roads wind around the island linking all the little towns together. With the wind blowing in our hair, we headed out to our first destination:

The little Mini-Cooper we rented to tool around the island!

The little Mini-Cooper we rented to tool around the island!

Chilmark – we headed directly to the north end of town to the fishing village of Menemsha, where we stood in line at Larsen’s Fish Market to order up a plate of fresh lobster – literally. You are given a freshly boiled whole lobster on a paper plate and a small cup of drawn butter, and not enough napkins. If you’re lucky enough to score one of three picnic tables, it’s a big help – it’s a messy undertaking getting at that sweet fresh lobster meat, but oh so worth it.

No respect! - as we 'patiently' waited in the long line for our freshly boiled lobster.

No respect! – as we ‘patiently’ waited in the long line for our freshly boiled lobster.

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Aquinnah – situated on the farthest point on the west end of the island, this area is known for its untouchable clay cliffs, and for the Gay Head Lighthouse – no access is allowed to either. One of the first whaling ports in the US, this raw windy corner of the world has to be amazing for storm watching.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah, on the western tip of Martha's Vineyard. They are protected and untouched by man.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah, on the western tip of Martha’s Vineyard. They are protected and untouched by man.

The Gay Head lighthouse, used as a marker by some of the country's earliest whaling boats.

The Gay Head lighthouse, used as a marker by some of the country’s earliest whaling boats.

After a pit stop back at the Charlotte Inn for a rest and change of clothes it was off to dinner in the center of the island, at a working farm that doubles as an Inn with a fine dining restaurant, just outside of West Tisbury. The Lambert’s Cove Inn is tucked back into the deep woods of the island on a tight windy road that would be a tight fit for two cars to pass each other.

The next morning we hopped into the Mini-Cooper to check out the two remaining main towns on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland:

Vineyard Haven – located on the northern tip of the island, this is one of the more populated towns on the island and similar to Edgartown has a few main streets lined with boutique shops, another great independent bookstore and wonderfully unique restaurants like the Waterfront Market. This is also where most of the larger ferries port, especially the ferries carrying vehicles.

The Bunch of Grapes independent bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard.

The Bunch of Grapes independent bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard.

The outdoor time clock in front the bookstore - "Time to read"

The outdoor time clock in front the bookstore – “Time to read”

Oak Bluffs – the largest town on the island, is home of the country’s oldest working merry-go-round and a collection of quaint gingerbread houses creating its own little unique neighborhood, covering several blocks. There is a large green space across the road from the port to sit and relax while waiting for your ferry. A great town to stay in for a younger family.

The Flying Horses Merry-Go-Round at Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.

The Flying Horses Carousel at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the many 'Gingerbread' houses creating a unique neighborhood of these quaint small colorful houses.

One of the many ‘Gingerbread’ houses creating a unique neighborhood of these quaint small colorful houses.

Martha’s Vineyard is a long way to go from most parts of the country, and not easy to get to from anywhere. I certainly understand why most people who go there, plan to stay for an extended period of time, many for the whole summer. Understandably a great draw for people who love to write, read, paint, love seafood and long walks. Sounds like heaven on earth to me!

Check my most recent food review post for reviews on island restaurants.

Check the Global Gallery to see more pictures from Martha’s Vineyard.

Books (creative), books (travel), books (journal)

To continue on the path attributing the affect my father had on my life, I would be remiss to omit the two most major influences he had on me – reading and writing. I am lucky enough these days that I can travel on a regular basis, to see and experience all that our amazing world has to offer. But for most of my childhood years my travel came in the form of reading. The public library was my portal to destinations near and far, real and make-believe.

My father gave my daughter and I matching nightgowns for Christmas - "So many books, so little time"

My father gave my daughter and I matching nightgowns for Christmas – “So many books, so little time”

Reading wasn’t just about pretty illustrations, or interesting tales, or something to fill my hours. But a way to be transported to a different location, a new world, an enchanting culture. Reading brings the meaning of escapism to a whole new level – via creative travel writing. I think so often when people read, they may get so caught up in the story line they don’t appreciate the setting.

Think of Gone with the Wind – set in the deep south on beautiful plantations. Or The Thorn Birds set in the Australian outback. Or The Sound of Music set in the hills of Austria. Reading was the catalyst that in later years would entice me to a love of traveling the world around us. My father and I were/are not big chit-chatters. We would spend hours sitting together, not saying a word, our noses in our respective books. In my early years I climbed on to his lap with a book every chance I got. Initially so he could read to me; then when I got older I either read to him or we read our own books. It was just a very special bonding time.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800's.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800’s.

And then he carried that tradition on with his grandchildren, and even had the chance to do that with his great-granddaughter before he passed on. The pictures of he and my daughter sitting side by side reading are priceless. And her love of reading has undoubtedly lead to a deep love of travel for her. As I write this, she is off to Spain and Portugal for nine days – wondering how she was going to manage bringing all of her reading and writing materials. Most girls worry about managing their travel wardrobe.

Great-grandpa reading to his great-granddaughter.

Great-grandpa reading to his great-granddaughter.

Grandpa, once an English and History teacher, sharing with his granddaughter one of his favorite historical novels.

Grandpa, once an English and History teacher, sharing with his granddaughter one of his favorite historical novels.

Now before I go on a trip, I head to the closest book store and buy up every book I can on my intended destination. In the past that meant mainly guide books. But in the last decade or so, travel writing has taken off and now it is common to find a creative non-fiction account of so many of the major destinations. And with the success of these books are coming more books about the hidden gems of travel. Books are being lauded as much for their setting as their thematic content – and not just being cast into a certain genre. I find it rare that I pick up a book that doesn’t create in me a desire to visit the area it is set in, and experience the culture, the people, the visuals that inspired the writer to create a story utilizing all of these aspects of a location.

Many of favorite travel books are:

Anything by Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here Nor There, At Home

Anything by Frances Mayes – Under the Tuscan Sun, Every Day in Tuscany, Bella Tuscany

Brad Newsham – Take Me With You

The Best American Travel Writing – an annual anthology of short travel stories, with guest editors

The other element of the influences my Dad had on me – is writing. My father journaled every day for nearly 40 years, and probably long before that at some level. But he saved his journals from his decades of writing in them, and bequeathed them to me in hopes of reading through them to either write his life story, or pick and choose from his experiences and memories to create a fictional depiction based on a certain part of his life. So looks like I’ll have plenty of writing material to work from in the coming decades – many from some amazing travel experiences he had while in the military and as an adult who had a similar love of culture and golf and all the amazing places both can take you. Now if I only I can decipher his writing!

Grandpa reading to Eli, while looking out of Lake Superior on a beautiful spring day - which he will journal about early the next day.

Grandpa reading to Eli, while looking out of Lake Superior on a beautiful spring day – which he will journal about early the next day.

I have not been the best at daily journaling, but where his influence on journaling has taken hold is journaling where I travel. I try to find a small chunk of time every day while traveling to jot down my experiences of the day – or using the long flights home to relive the whole travel experience. Utilizing the 5 senses to fill my journal with reminders of what stood out to me in what was special about the place I was visiting. Journaling captions to go along with the pictures I take has also become a big part of remembering a place so that when I am ready to write a post I am not lost looking at a picture with no recollection of why I took it.

Journaling sitting riverside in the Rocky Mountains of Big Sky, Montana.

Journaling sitting riverside in the Rocky Mountains of Big Sky, Montana.

So next time you are stuck as to where you want to travel to, pick up a book and see if that doesn’t get your travel juices flowing! Or better yet, take the book with you on your travels to enhance your existing travel experience.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

Husband reading on the patio at the Charleston Inn on Martha's Vineyard.

Husband reading on the patio at the Charleston Inn on Martha’s Vineyard.

My daughter reading while waiting for a massage at the Glenmere Mansion in New York.

My daughter reading while waiting for a massage at the Glenmere Mansion in New York.

"Don't bother us, Eli and I are reading!"

“Don’t bother us, Eli and I are reading!”

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My husband reading while looking out over the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

My husband reading while looking out over the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

My daughter reading at the base of Low Library on the Columbia University campus.

My daughter reading at the base of Low Library steps on the Columbia University campus.

My daughter reading in a Parisian cafe' - oh there's that glass of wine!

My daughter reading in a Parisian cafe’ – oh there’s that glass of wine!