International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining


tokyo 5

Many decisions made for the big trip are based on the farthest point we can achieve for the smallest outlay of dollars or miles. Getting across an ocean is typically involved, in this case the Pacific. For previous trips, that meant typically flying Cathay to Hong Kong, but unfortunately no more.  With American or OneWorld miles, it is now Tokyo via Japan Air.

I read a number of reviews of the plane, service, etc., and looked forward to the 12-hour flight.  I even bumped us up, taking advantage of using relatively few miles required (80k per person) for First Class. It is 60k for business, which is still a great deal!

There are just eight suites in the cabin — two rows with a 1-2-1 seat configuration. My time investment attempting to pick the ideal seat was for naught. I put us side by side and ceded the window seat to my left. That turned out to be occupied by an “influencer.” How did I know her “profession?” Because she spent the entire flight on her phone, mostly photographing herself or having the crew photograph her or taking photos of her food or changing outfits. And she wouldn’t lower her window shades (the only ones open in the cabin) because she needed light to take pictures (while many tried to sleep). Twelve hours’ worth of photos.

The staff are incredibly accommodating and do everything in their power to make a passenger happy. It was very enjoyable. Below, a few photos from the flight.  My favorite was the french press coffee! And then we were in Tokyo (Haneda airport, very close to the city).

What to do on this return trip to Tokyo?  Not much, other than acclimate to an enormous time change and hope to see a glimmer of cherry blossoms. The blossoms were gone because of an early spring debut, but I was reminded that we had a spectacular sighting of them in Stockholm last year (see below; read here).

We walked and shopped up and down the Ginza (12,000 steps worth), enjoying some delicious sushi (below) at one of Tokyo’s enormous department stores.

Our big splurge was a fabulous dinner at La Table de Joel Robuchon. Not only is the food special, but the dining room setting is just beautiful — mostly black and white with lavender everywhere.

Clockwise:  Amuse puffs; eggplant with avocado; a take on paella; waygu beef with amazing vegetables.


View from the 34th floor hotel room

It seems like Tokyo and Japan for that matter are on the “favored destination list” of many travelers lately.  There’s good reason for that — it’s safe, clean, beautiful, pleasant, modern and offers a great many things to do and see.  We’d happily return again, and for a longer stay.  For this trip, we head to Singapore for the second stop.

Snippets from the RoadThings I Love



I have a blessed life.  Celebrating my 69th birthday was marked with a brief trip to Santa Barbara, where we were invited to stay in a guesthouse.

Full disclosure:  staying anywhere other than a hotel makes me anxious. I want the ability to call the front desk at 3 a.m. for extra pillows.  I need a pitch black and cool room with coffee at my disposal and a decent TV if only to channel surf.  Many people can fall asleep anywhere at anytime (principally the hubby) but I do not have that gift.

We heard the home is beautiful with a spectacular view from the hills.  That is an understatement as evidenced below.

It is a beautiful hillside home with gardens and extensive artwork both inside and out (the family are longtime collectors).  And they were the most gracious hosts to boot.  We were welcomed with open arms.

Below, a very well stocked guest house!

Above, an outdoor seating area with sculpture, firepit and Flintstones chairs. Below, the Flintstones meet the Jetsons in an original work by artist Kenny Scharf.

If you’re waiting for a but, there isn’t one.  We had wonderful dinners with our hosts at both San Ysidro Ranch and Tre Lune.  We had a long overdue lunch at Ca Dario with another forever client.  They have a a beautiful home as well, near Hope Ranch, where they whale watch from their backyard.

Dinner below at The Stonehouse – San Ysidro Ranch below

And the following night at Tre Lune with amazing pizza

The weekend was capped back home with a family dinner filled with delicious food and love.  And an inordinate amount of excitement for a long-awaited kitchen/family room remodel.  Thank you to the hubby for finally giving in. Gratitude for no leaks or damage during our recent epic storms. Indeed, a blessed life.

Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining



Continuing this 2-part post from the Thanksgiving in New England (read Part 1 HERE), we had three days exploring Maine and a bit of southern New Hampshire.

From our stay Manchester, it was on to Maine via a stop for lunch in Concord, New Hampshire.  While I drive and Sam navigates (along with managing the playlist), the hubby generally does the “where to lunch” search. The Concord stop included good burgers at The Barley House, a view of the state capitol and a bit of shopping at Pitchfork Records for fans of vinyl.

Above, the capitol in Concord; below, searching for vinyl gems

From there the drive to Portland, Maine, is under two hours.  Portland not only is Maine’s biggest city, but a bustling “foodie scene” — which is always a plus.  It is well located for travel to other parts of the state and just a couple hours north of Boston.  One day it was north to Freeport (best known as LL Bean’s headquarters) and Augusta.  Another day it was south to Kennebunk and Portsmith (NH).  Clearly, one can see a lot in a relatively short period.

Below, delicious dinner at Scale’s in Portsmith — pick your seafood; arctic char; grilled bread; apple cake

Below, the only beer drinker in the family.  Fun fact:  there are more breweries per capita in Maine than any other US state. 

Below – “Marketing 101” courtesy of LL Bean                                                                     

Below, the capitol building in Augusta.

Dinner at Chaval in Portland featuring French/Spanish small plates — excellent Coq au Vin.

Below, seeing Strange World in Portsmith, NH, on Thanksgiving.  Thrilled to see Hannah’s name in the credits (again). 

Downtown Portsmith below 

Below, our travel map.  The longest route was Boston – Manchester.  Everything else was a couple of hours max.  I research everything in advance! 

And then the trip ended as it began.  The last day was back to Boston in time for spectacular pizza at Regina’s below and a rendevous with east coast cousins near Logan Airport.

So what is the “key ingredient” I teased in Part 1?  Flying home on Friday instead of Saturday after Thanksgiving.  The flight was nowhere near full, meaning empty middle seats.  I managed upgrades for the hubby and me (no cost or miles!).  American Airlines is employing new transcontinental Airbus planes and they are terrific.  Spacious, good entertainment options, and seat outlets. All pluses in my book. From landing to home was about an hour.  With checked bags.  That is unheard of.

Enjoy some previous Thanksgiving destinations via the following links (The Carolina’s, Napa, Portland-Oregon).  One fun discussion is always “where to next year.”  I’m happy to report we have a unanimous decision.  But you’ll just have to be patient to find out where.  One hint:  staying in our time zone. As always, I’m very grateful to have this family time. I hope yours was special too.

Below, the Bush family home “Walker’s Point” (viewed from the back), Kennebunkport, Maine

Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel



After 14 years of near-consecutive Thanksgiving travel, I’m happy to report we finally have the key ingredient.  But more about that later …

This year’s trip took the hubby, son Sam and daughter Hannah to Vermont and Maine with flights in and out of Boston.  Add in New York and New Hampshire to the mix as these states have very peculiar boundaries (mostly crooked).  And, yes, we knew it would be cold in answer to many queries posed to four Southern Californians as to why there and at this time of year.

No, we didn’t see fall foliage, but we did experience some snow with mostly clear and quite cool weather the rest of the time. I’ll have to do one of those fall foliage trips when baseball no longer co-ops every October (i.e., a long time from now).  The good news is one stop on the next “big spring trip” is in New Zealand, where it is the fall season in May along with spectacular foliage there.  I look forward to that!

Hannah departed a few days ahead of us to spend extra time in Boston with a dear friend. We followed suit on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  For our Boston overnight, it is clear the “North End” is absolutely thriving.  Every restaurant on Hanover Street was packed, including Bricco where we dined.  To their credit, they seated us promptly for our 9pm reservation.  People were still piling in when we left around 10:30.  Now, if we could have been spared the $30(!) valet charge.  And that’s paid upfront.  Below, perfect eggplant parm followed by seared ahi.

With Hannah rejoining us, we left Boston on Sunday for our first stop in Manchester, Vermont. The spectacular Green Mountains are a year-around destination.  The area is host to many outdoor activities, along with charming inns and restaurants, outlet stores and excellent roads.

Our snow encounter happened just prior to arriving in Manchester. Fortunately, the Nissan Rogue rental car came properly equipped and made the driving relatively easy. Our accommodations at The Kimpton Taconic Inn in Manchester were already booked when I saw it is ranked #3 of the 30 Best New England Hotels by Conde Nast Traveler.

 Above, the sitting room at the Taconic Inn

Dinner at Ye Olde Tavern in Manchester is as classic a New England spot if ever there was one .. below baked brie with apples; pumpkin soup; duck flamed tableside.

We ventured up to Burlington – Vermont’s largest city – along Lake Champlain. That was clearly the coldest day, maybe low 30’s.  Note the parking rates at the garage!  In Los Angeles, it seems like $1 per minute ..  Below, bundled up after lunch at Henry’s Diner (est. 1925).  Ever wonder what food pix look like AFTER?  We had classic diner food of course.

The photo of Lake Champlain below was taken as the sun was setting — about 4:30 pm!

Dinner at The Dorset Inn, just 10 minutes from Manchester, was a big hit. Mind you, many of the buildings date back to the 1700’s which add a great deal to their charm.  The food was delicious (as seen below):  Fennel salad with crispy shallots; Faroe Island salmon (Perhaps we were the only diners who have actually have been to the Faroes — read here); delicious carrot cake.

Stay tuned for Part 2 — there is much more to cover with lots of photos.  And, of course, the “key ingredient” will be revealed!



International TravelThings You Should Know


Venice 7

What a day.

Getting from Florence (see last post) to Venice isn’t really all that complicated.  One can fly, hire a driver, take the train, or rent a car and do the driving.  With all we wanted to accomplish, option 4 got the nod.

Except on this and every Sunday, one needs to backtrack to the airport to access most car rentals.  No problem as we were heading in that direction.  But then the words, “Is this the biggest car you have?”  Well, we’ll manage.  Four adults, four full size suitcases and one carry-on each required some engineering to make it all fit.  All I can say is, the hubby is one helluva good sport (see below).  I drove, Sam navigated and the hubby and Hannah were in the back, wedged in between luggage.

Below — our engineering feat; a very compliant hubby; and finally in the Venice water taxi

What a day.  Did I mention this was Mother’s Day?

Our ambitious itinerary: First to Pisa (how can one not see Pisa?) for the photo op.  Then the walled city of Lucca, but that didn’t happen.  A marathon was taking place and access was impossible. Then to the designer outlet mall (again, how can one not? But where will we fit any purchases??).  Then an attempt at Bologna, but the timing was terrible.  No parking.  I mean NONE.

So, on to Venice.  Here’s a tip:  Do not show up in Venice without first securing parking!  It is easy. We needed the car for our tour the following day so we kept it overnight. And then walking the bags from the garage to the water taxis.  And then the ride to the hotel, the Bauer Palazzo on the Grand Canal.  Here’s some irony:  the rooms were larger and less expensive than in Florence.  A win/win for sure.  But between the endless tolls and the water taxi, it was a lot of euros.  A lot.

As a Venice aside, in case one wonders about the future of this magnificent destination, two luxury hotel brands are making major investments as we speak.  The Bauer Palazzo where we stayed was just acquired.  It will shut down at the end of this year and reopen in 2025 as a Rosewood Hotel property.  Likewise, the Danieli — a few doors away also on the Grand Canal — is shutting down and reopening in 2025 as a Four Seasons.  So it seems the future of Venice is bright.

What was on our itinerary?  A visit to see the artistry of Murano glass being created.  A visit to the remarkable Peggy Guggenheim Museum.  Several strolls through St. Marks square (Piazza San Marco).  Photo ops everywhere.  A gondola ride (I know, but how can one not?) And one helluva dinner (among some great meals).

Above, a Murano artist at work; below, outstanding pizza at 1000 Gourmet

Da Ivo is famous most notably for being a celebrity go-to, long before George Clooney and his pals dined there the night before his wedding.  If one is to believe the proprietor, the group just showed up, with maybe a five-minute advance warning.  One can enter the restaurant directly from a small canal, as in stepping off a water taxi right next to where I happened to be sitting (see below).  There’s also an entrance from the front walkway.  It is very small inside with maybe seating for 40 people.  It is both formal (as in staff in suits and ties) but not stuffy.  An LA restauranteur friend connected us with the propietor Giovanni Fracassi.

That introduction led to a tour of the kitchen — modern, upgraded and producing incredible food in such a small space.  He also took us into the wine cellar, which is out the back and over a small bridge to a nearby building.  Oh, the magic of what is required to run a restaurant in Venice.  It is eye-popping.  That was a wonderful experience.

Above, simply delicious tuna tartare; below, the jam-packed wine cellar.

With Gianni in the kitchen above; words to live by below.

Venice doesn’t require much pre-planning to be enjoyed.  The views, the strolling, the people-watching, the endless shops.  Just go where the mood takes you.  As we did until it was time to say good-bye.  The hubby and I headed home after 24 days of travel; the kids headed to Milan via the train for a couple of days to wind up their two-week trip.  One final water taxi for all, with the last stop at the airport.  Suffice it to say, where else can one take a water taxi to get on an airplane?  Only in Venice …

International TravelThings I Love

FLORENCE! Spring Trip Part 5

florence 2

When it comes to travel stories, there’s likely an element of uncertainty.  We appreciate everything unfolding like “clockwork” and let go of anything that might not work out so well.

Thus, seeing our kids Sam & Hannah waiting outside our hotel in Florence felt like a victory!  Us coming from four prior countries (see previous posts here) and them coming from a few days in Rome (see below) required lots of coordination.  This trip was postponed from 2020 for obvious reasons, so the fact that it finally happened only enhanced the joy.  And it was the beginning of eight wonderful days together, first in Florence and then Venice.

Florence was the second stop on a 2001 trip for me and the hubby.  Those accommodations were at the superb Villa La Massa, a short drive away.  Having accommodations this trip on the Arno with the ability to walk virtually anywhere is an entirely difference experience.  While the Westin Excelsior “excelled” at taking care of all of our needs with very professional staff, the hotel is a bit “long in the tooth.”  Nevertheless, the location and aforementioned personnel more than made up for the smallish bathrooms.  The sweeping rooftop view is below.

The Ponte Vecchio below, a tourist must-see for sure, with the countless jewelry shops from end to end.   Built in 1345!

Son Sam definitely has the “foodie” gene and did lots of research for meals.  It is a pleasure to not be making all the decisions!  Of course finding good food anywhere in Italy is fairly easy.  And the gelato .. oh, my.  Some places get higher ratings than others, but it is difficult to discern.  Vivoli came highly recommended and did not disappoint.  One can just admire the longevity, having first opened in 1929.  We met a fellow American who ate there sometimes twice a day, every day of his Florence stay which was not short.  My flavors below (chocolate mint and coconut).

BELOW:  Repeat visit to Osteria Cinghiale Bianco

Hearing all about the state of hospitality in Italy with proprietor Massimo Masselli above; delicious pastas, ribollita and truffles below. 

I will be devoting a separate blog from our cooking class, which took most of our first day.  A phenomenal and fun experience!  Without question, the other “high point” of Florence was seeing Michelangelo’s David (again for the hubby and me).  This towering masterpiece stands 17′ tall.  David is simply exquisite.  It just takes one’s breath away. And it was created out of a single block of  marble. “How in the world” is all one can ponder …

What else did we do?  Walking, walking, walking.  A bit of shopping but mostly just the windows.  Photos.  And eating.  See for yourself with the included re-caps below.  Not much else is necessary to have a damn good time roaming around this gorgeous, delicious, and historic destination.

Above at Osteria de’Cicalini and below at Le Volte Ristorante — so simple; so delicious.
Favorite meal alert below (if I had to pick) at Ristorante Belcore where we savored the classic “Bistecca alla Fiorentina.”  So good!!

Next post:  The crazy drive to and the how we spent our time in Venice.  Stay tuned.