International TravelThings You Should Know



Stop number four was quite a big change from the prior destination (Bali – read HERE).  Not only was there a considerable distance, but a time change of four hours and cool, rainy weather.

For this return visit to New Zealand, the focus was the south island – specifically Queenstown.  This was a deliberate choice as a quick visit to the area in 2010 was the catalyst to return for a longer stay.  The main goal above all was seeing iconic Milford Sound (the whole story in the next post).  Below, Lake Wakatipu waterfront near the town center.

Upon arrival, we got our rental car.  It’s right-hand driving in NZ, which I have done before.  It requires a lot more attention! The biggest adjustment by far is the turn indicator, which I would go to use and the windshield wipers would come on (opposite side again).  And for someone who takes great pride in her parallel parking skills, the photo below was an epic fail!  For the record, I did re-park.

One is immediately reminded of the stunning beauty in the area upon arrival.  The fact that it is late fall with lots of leaves turning is a big part of it.  The air is clean and crisp, and every direction is prettier than the next.  Our accommodations at the Sofitel in town proved the right choice as we could walk for meals and shopping.

Where did we go from our base in Queenstown? First was Glenorchy, a truly small town along the banks of the Dart River made famous by Lord of the Rings.  As we continued to drive, the scenery with low clouds, leaves changing, and animals made for a visually stunning day.

The next day we headed in the opposite direction to their wine country.  A wine shop proprietor in the quaint village of Arrowtown recommended four places.  Luck of the draw, we picked Mt. Rosa and loved it. The winery is a small producer of 5,000 cases. We sat and chatted with the general manager for quite some time as well as other staff.  With reasonable shipping costs, a number of bottles are en route as we speak.

Above, outside the winery.  Below, is there a better combination (with wine)?  I think not.

Above, Arrowtown’s main “drag”; below, our car after the prior day’s muddy drive!

Below, the magnificent property of Millbrook  offering “Luxury Golf & Lifestyle Resort.” If this isn’t the down-under version of Napa Valley’s Silverado, there simply isn’t one! Golf course, private properties, rental properties, restaurants, etc., in the wine area.  And the scenery is spectacular.

I suppose one could go to Queenstown and not eat something from Ferg’s, but I’m not sure one would want to.  There’s Fergburger with lines out the door pretty much all day; Ferg Baker, Mrs. Ferg Gelato and then Ferg’s Bar.  Each one of the Ferg shops were busy as well depending upon the time of the day.  Everything is baked/made on the premises, with ovens (hamburger buns and baked goods) going nearly around the clock.  The verdict: LOVED the gelato (pretty much daily); I liked the burger better than the hubby did. Bottom line, well worth a stop.  I never did find out who exactly Ferg is or was.  Someone took over the business roughly 10 years ago with social media savvy and boom! Crazy busy.

Below, Ferg owns the block:  (right to left) Bar, Burgers, Bakery, Gelato.

Stay tuned for the dramatic story regarding Millford Sound.  Until then, I’ll close with this: There’s a reason every person I’ve spoken to who has been to New Zealand agrees: it is a gorgeous and exceptional place to visit again and again.

Things You Should KnowU.S. TravelWining/Dining



If you have either been to Napa and/or know those who have, the concensus is clear.  It appeals on so many different levels to so many people.

Nonetheless, every travel experience contains at least one head-scratcher.  Our flight from Burbank to Oakland was flawless, arriving early with a half-full plane. However,  the rental car pick up was anything but “flawless.”  Remember the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry has a car reservation, but there’s no car available? Bingo. “Anyone can T A K E a reservation,” a frustrated Jerry says to the woman behind the counter.  “But you have to H O L D the reservation.” How exactly does a car rental company have no cars for their bookings?  Fortunately, steps away from Fox was Avis who solved the problem and off we went.

Silverado Country Club offers spacious units with three bedrooms and two baths so that was our choice.  Our family of four could spread out, bring in food for breakfast with the full kitchen and be very comfortable.  COVID meant none of the typical services, but the front desk responded promptly to all our requests.

Over the course of the week, our adventures would satisfy the most dedicated oenophiles.  Son Sam created and with the hubby operates a family enterprise, The Cellar Beverly Hills.  Now in our third year, we offer private wine storage with concierge services and much more.  Given the business has been built almost entirely by word of mouth, imagine our collective glee hearing from a prominent winery that TCBH is quite well known among Wine Country vinters. We were ecstatic.

The images below are from Wheeler, a custom crush facility where we had a tasting from Accendo Cellars.  The bottom photo is Wheeler’s open kitchen (to die for).

Make no mistake — this was a working trip.  Thanksgiving provided a much-needed respite, but the rest of the days were spent making and enhancing winery relationships (21 in all).  If you want to help this area from a devastating year — not just from COVID closures but the fires — buy wine!

We did our part.

Along with wine, the other joy of Napa is eating lots of great food.  Because there are so many choices, strategy was needed to try everywhere we wanted to go.  A couple of restaurants were nixed because of closing for the transition to complete outdoor dining (Avow and The Charter Oak).  A mix of new and old made up the rest:  Mustard’s Grill, Oenotri, Bistro Don Giovani, Celadon, Gott’s Roadside (a must), Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch and our favorite, Poesia in San Francisco.

Tasting at Hartford in Sonoma

You should know a word about outdoor dining this time of year. It’s cold. Very, very cold.  When the sun goes down, Napa drops at least 20 degrees. Every night was mid-40’s. One night required keeping my gloves on between the courses.  The establishments do their best with heaters but those unfortunately don’t reach one’s feet. Brrrr.

Mustard’s on Hwy 29
Celadon entrance

Poesia was a last-minute find for Thanksgiving dinner.  The food (shown below) was fantastic but even more fun was Pietro, the crazy, animated, fun and enthusiastic caretaker of our table.  This Italian/Jewish/filmmaker might just show up on our doorstep one day.  Prego!

Above (clockwise from upper left):  Eggplant parm, Cabbage salad with pears, walnuts & goat cheese; incredible rigatoni marinara; ravioli with pumpkin filling, sage and balsamic.

Below, the quartet of desserts:  Hazelnut gelato with hard chocolate shell; (take the gun but leave the) cannoli; millefoglie with apple; tiramisu.  All magnifico!

Pietro at Poesia

A few precious and careful visits with friends and family were icing on the proverbial cake to this spectacular week.  As a result, layers of ongoing and much welcomed (small) gatherings were added with cousin visits in Silverado, San Francisco and Lafayette.  We got in a quick coffee in Sebastopol with a high school friend, along with tastings at Jeff Cohn Cellars and Littorai in Sonoma.

Touring Mayacamas

Napa continues to be one of the best — if not the best — vacation destinations there is, so go!

Snippets from the RoadThings I Love



Let’s start with the gratitude first.  My family is healthy, we have everything we need and are employed.  For that we are truly grateful.

Sunday, April 19th, should have been the first day of our Italy trip — starting in Rome.  Obviously that could not happen.  In addition to traditionally traveling with the hubby after the normal end to tax season, we were bringing our kids to celebrate their 30th birthday’s — Sam’s last August and Hannah’s this December.  Rome/Florence/Venice/Milan — their first and our fifth trip to this magical country.

So how to soften the blow (which I know CANNOT compare to what many others are experiencing)?  Bring Rome home.

Italian tablescape: Lavender, lemons, tomatoes

My go-to cook for Italian food is often Lidia Bastianich, so I used her pizza dough and sauce recipes.   Along with the pizza, I composed a platter of caprese salad, proscuitto, parmesan chunks, etc.  For dessert, I searched the internet for a classic Tiramisu recipe and settled on this one.

Dough divided into three balls (15 oz each) after initial rise. Two were used.

Finished product
As good as it looks. I used Kahlua; no rum ..

When life hands you lemons, drink limoncello!  Cin Cin — Italy, we’ll see you as soon as we can …

A good Barolo with dinner – Elio Grasso 2008


Many regular readers know that the hubby and I have a several-years-old tradition of spending Thanksgiving somewhere outside of LA with the son and the daughter.  It started in 2007 with a trip to London and has continued since with domestic trips to NY, Chicago, New Orleans (twice), Napa, Nashville and this year in Portland.  Why Portland?  Why not?!  This hip town is a mecca for food and wine, not to mention no sales tax, gorgeous scenery and easy access. So off we went.
Yours truly typically lays out the things to do and see for these trips.  But having son Sam as the family’s resident sommelier (and founder of The Cellar Beverly Hills) in this wine-centric region certainly took the burden off me; he secured the winery visits (five the first day) and I sourced the restaurants.  I’m not sure why Higgins wasn’t originally part of the plan, but in retrospect I am delighted the hotel sent the hubby and me there the first night (the kids flew in later).  It was a spectacular choice and a harbinger of the food scene in the area (dishes below).
Above:  the most perfectly cooked fresh halibut with vegetables;  Below:  am I the only one who never heard of Bostock?  Wow — a combination of bread pudding and scone but crispy on the outside and tender inside.  Oh my.

The Willamette Valley — roughly an hour outside of Portland — produces some of the finest Pinot Noir wines around.  That is my drink of choice so I was a happy camper to the extent I could taste a bit and still be the designated driver.  While not tasting, the scenery provided an exquisite backdrop — fall foliage at it’s peak with pockets of mist.  We were thankful to experience such beauty all around.


Newberg Ferry Crossing — positively ethereal



Breathtaking foliage
Portland’s iconic landmark, Powell’s Books, was open Thanksgiving Day making our “what should we do until dinner” decision an easy one.  The store comprises a full city block with multiple floors and a massive amount of titles.  I’m not sure how shoppers found one another before everyone had a cell phone, making the “where are you” challenge much easier. Fun fact:  If you’re perplexed as to how to get your purchases home, Powell’s calculates shipping cost by the number of items and not by the weight.  So the son purchased five hefty coffee table books and the cost for shipping was $9 — much less than UPS ground.  Avid reader Hannah made not one but two trips to Barnes & Noble on Black Friday for amazing deals.  We did our share to help the Portland economy for sure.
Bistro Maison in McMinnville laid out a beautiful table; traditional Thanksgiving meal (there were other options); deserts (pecan pie and fruit crisp)
A most fun surprise for us NCAA basketball fans was discovering the PK80tournament taking place in Portland in honor of (Nike founder) Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.  The boys went off to see beloved Ohio State Buckeyes take on Gonzaga after Thanksgiving dinner. It was great fun seeing lots of players and their families at our hotel (UConn, Butler and Texas).  
Exploring the Nike Headquarters in nearby Beaverton is a must.  The vast campus offers every type of training facility — full size — including track, soccer, basketball, beach volleyball and work-out facilities not to be believed.  It is a spectacular setting  with a serene lake right in the middle.  Although pretty much vacant (Friday), one still could see just how cool a place this must be to come to work.  We did wonder if EVERYONE in the company is fit and works out.  Any diversity allowed in that department?


The “last supper” was at The Hairy Lobster; photos and description below.
Shared plates: seared scallops, whole trout; indulgent ribeye and a chocolate/peanut/mousse concoction!
Morning view of Mt. Hood from our hotel room across the Willamette River
By now, the “Why Portland” question should be well settled.  A visit is highly recommended.   By the way, next year is already decided: a week in Charleston & Savannah.
Accommodations:  Portland Downtown Marriott on the Willamette River
Wineries:  Bethel Heights, Cristom, Eyrie, Arterberry Maresh, Domaine Serene, Bergstrom
Dining:   411 Lounge, Valley Commissary, Bistro Maison, The Hairy Lobster, Higgins, Little Bird Bistro, Cheryl’s on 12th
Things I Love


This is the year I finally decided to attend LA Loves Alex’s Lemonade rather that simply admire the annual event via social media.  What previously caught my eye was the stellar array of LA’s best chefs gathering at UCLA (on the Quad in front of Royce Hall) with attendees being the sated recipients of their amazing offerings.  What drew them all in??




A magnificent cause, that’s what.  Alexandra “Alex” Scott sadly passed away at the age of 8 from childhood cancer.  Before she died in 2004, she started the ball rolling for a mission that to date has raised more than $150 million towards curing all types of childhood cancer via the Alex Lemonade Stand Foundation.  Her family continues the cause today.
Suzanne Goin and Carolyne Styne (partners in The Lucques Group), along with David Lentz (The Hungry Cat) brought the event to LA and have since raised over $4 million dollars ($1 million in 2016 alone).  This year’s total exceeded $1.3 million with 2,000 attendees.  Well done.



Above l-r: Me with Giada de Laurentiis; Suzanne Goin & Carolyne Styne; with Nancy Silverton (Mozza and founder of La Brea Bakery) — Nancy hosted the night before at her home for key sponsors


The chefs provide a signature taste with the mixologists doing their thing and lots of vintners providing wine.  LA icon Pink’s Hot Dogs was there — you could get beef, turkey or even vegan (but why would you?)  The current generation of the Pink family was there as well …. long may they live and cook.  



Richard Pink with sister Beverly (l) and wife Gloria (r); skipping the chili on my half of the dog!


Clockwise from upper left:  BBQ expert Adam Perry Lang and team preparing tastes from the massive smoker — clearly the longest line of the day; Susan Feniger (Border Grill and one of the “Two Hot Tamales”); volunteers manning the booth with all-things-Alex for sale
Clockwise top left: Tracey Skupny’s Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc (a personal favorite!); two devoted family members; hosted Kids’ Area; the “tasting” tent featuring vintners and mixologists.
The biggest surprise was the number of chefs participating from all around the country.  It makes sense for local restaurateurs to support the event as it is good for business while supporting a worthy cause (a win/win).  But it is no small undertaking to transport themselves, staff and provisions from a distance.  Bravo and thank you!


Jimmy Kimmel is a longtime supporter of Alex’s and very gracious with his time!
International TravelWining/Dining


When one is already in an area of the world (in this case, the Indian Ocean southwest of India), adding on another segment in the “area” makes a lot of sense.  At least to me and the hubby…
To clarify — and if you’ve been “virtually” traveling on this trip with us — you know we spent 10 days in India and four days in the Maldives.  Why not head southeast to Perth, which is then a straight shot north to Hong Kong, the last stop before heading home?  But that wasn’t the only reason for the visit.
Having traveled in 2010 to Australia’s east coast (Sydney, Cairns & Melbourne), we knew a return trip was inevitable.  What sealed the deal was the gracious invitation to stay at a winery in the Margaret River (Eagle Bay) region of Western Australia.  How did that come about? The hubby’s L.A. client hails from Perth and the winery belongs to her parents and, ultimately, our generous hosts.
We spent the first night in the country in Perth proper before heading south to the wine area.  Como The Treasury Hotel (which I highly recommend) converted an old building into a multi-level complex in the heart of downtown Perth.  Of course, when in Australia, a koala visit is a must — this one at Caversham Wildlife Park — where one could also interact with plenty of kangaroos as well.
Breakfast at Como The Treasury in Perth.
Clockwise from above: The irresistible koala — up close; family of sheep — the one on the right is just 10 days old; kangas in various states of repose.
And then it was on to the raison d’etre.  Wise Wine has been operated by Sandra & Ron Wise since 1992, and is just a gorgeous location.  We arrived in the evening when it was quite dark. While looking for the home, we happened upon wedding festivities (the winery is ideal for this) which garnered more than a few glances. We finally found our way to their spectacular abode where they met us a short time later, got immediately acquainted and settled in for the weekend.
Talk about a “play on words” above;
At right a winemaker is crushing Cab Franc grapes at the winery facilities.
On the property and for the wedding.  More about Crown later.
In addition to the wine making facilities, there are two wonderful restaurants (Lot 80 — that is their divine raspberry dessert below — and Wise Vineyard where we had amazing breakfasts) and some accommodations, not to mention a fair amount of kangaroos.  The hubby encountered large groups during his morning walk!  I nearly collided with one during a (pitch black) night drive — the thing was the size of “Harvey,” Jimmy Stewart’s imaginary companion in the movie of the same name — probably 6′ tall.
Clockwise from upper left: Entering the property; classic “fish & chips” at Lot 80 along with a fabulous raspberry dessert; stonework along one of the paths on the property.
The Wise family home (and our accommodations) left; above is their view of Eagle Bay

Sandra showed us around the area while Ron golfed.  We loved seeing galleries, the spectacular beaches (prime surfing spots) and some wineries.  As with Napa/Sonoma, one could easily spend several days absorbing all there is to do. The hubby and I spent a day driving around ourselves, going to the very southwestern tip of the country (below).
Amelia Park Wines, Margaret River


Magnificent piece of art at the Gunyulup Galleries in Yallingup
 (try saying that fast …)
Above, at the very southern tip of WA, where the two oceans meet. 
The sun sets over Surfers Point in Prevally.
Lots of folks come with their dogs and wine to this scenic spot.
We headed back to Perth for our late evening flight to Hong Kong and saw a bit more of the city before hanging out at the Crown complex — hotels, restaurants (including Rockpool and Nobu), shops and casino.  The Perth skyline is shown below. Next and last stop of this journey:  Hong Kong.