Blogger Relay: My Top Three Travel Memories

Posted by on Aug 21, 2012 in Experiences, Photos, Travel | 10 comments

Blogger Relay: My Top Three Travel Memories

When I was tagged by Katy Stuart from Starry Eyed Travels, who’s championing Team Red to write my top three travel memories, I initially found it very hard to do. That’s like picking your favorite child! But nevertheless I decided to give it a go here are my three favorite travel memories from several years of traveling, which now equal well over 25. Thank you Katie and Low Cost Holidays. 

Travel Memory #1: Walking with the Lions at Kruger National Park

Walking with Lions at Kruger National Park

My first unforgettable travel memory was the summer of 2000. Fresh off the heels of my sister’s wedding in Johannesburg, South Africa, a group of us rented a car and drove to Kruger National Park—a no brainer considering our love for safaris. Determined not to visit the most popular resorts, we had picked out a small lodge on the less-frequented Mozambique border called Elephant Walk. Bhilly,  our tour guide, proved to be a visionary.  Born and raised on the Reserve since he was five years old, he was familiar with virtually every path and road not taken.

We were there for four days, and on the first day we saw so many of the animals that were easy to spot, from the gazelles to the rhinoceros. Day two: we spotted some slender, amiable giraffes whose skin blended with the dry-green veldt. Day three, and still no lions. We had given up hope of spotting the leopard but since we were growing cranky, we wanted to see one lion. Bhilly somehow sensed our despair and promise us that we would see something by sundown.

Somewhat disillusioned yet hopeful, we waited. At precisely 6:30pm, Bhilly drove our open-top jeep off the main road into one of the more narrow sideroads, and parked. “Just sit still,” he said. We could have been anywhere. We didn’t even have our compass or GPS with us to give us any idea of our location. Almost-bare pale blue sky. A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead.

At 7:00pm we heard a rustle in the bushes, and then, silence. “Be very quiet,” Bhilly warned. I was afraid to even take a sip of water. But then one giant lioness and her three young lions came out of the bushes. The young lions weren’t cubs—they were more the equivalent of teenagers. But they had giant paws that could have easily dwarfed my palm.

We were arm’s length away from these brown, magnificent creatures. Bhilly had a rifle—cocked and ready to go—on the dashboard of our open top jeep, just in case.  The lions didn’t care one bit about us, they were just interested taking their siesta on the road. After a few minutes, they got up. Bhilly turned on the jeep engine. I was petrified.

As the lions walked, we followed them side by side, for an entire mile. I could have stretched out my arm and touched one…we were that close.

Travel Memory #2: A Brush with Butterflies in Aruba

Aruba Butterfly Farm

My second most unforgettable travel memory involved—you guessed it—butterflies. I love butterflies, because they’re glorious, colorful, and so diverse. Plus, they’re very elegant in the way they float from one flower to another. The way they travel is an example of how I think the quintessential trip should be: elegant, unhurried, focused, colorful.

Aruba is a favorite destination of Matt and mine, and we keep going back whenever we get the chance. One often overlooked attraction is the Butterfly Farm, which has every romantic ingredient there is: a bridge, pool, waterfall, and dense foliage. When you enter, the Farm is filled with native and imported butterfly species from Atlas Moths, Scarlett Butterflies to Monarchs.

I had ordered a special dress with butterfly motifs printed all over the chiffon. I wasn’t expecting the warm greeting but within a few minutes of my arriving there, butterflies started flocking to my dress, and several sat on the chiffon thinking they were brightly colored flowers! It was truly an Alice in Wonderland moment for me because I don’t attract that many animals (except dogs). It made me realize that Nature is so intelligent that you can seldom fool her. Within seconds of landing on my dress, the butterflies knew they had been tricked and floated away.

Travel Memory #3: Witnessing the Feminine Spirit in Jordan

My last unforgettable travel memory was during my recent trip to Jordan.  This was my first I had spent any extensive time in the Middle East, and I was 28 weeks pregnant. So many people told me not to go and to take it easy, but I was very glad I went.  What surprised me most were the Jordanian women, who were so outspoken and open minded.

I remember the trip we took to Jerash, one of Jordan’s historical and architectural gems. While we ascended to the Temple of Zeus, I could hear loud music and plenty of people laughing and dancing. A group of young school kids—they couldn’t have been more than 12 years old—were shouting the local equivalent of “Long Live the King” in Arabic. A feisty young school kid showed her spirit and love for her country by rallying her other schoolmates and showing her support for King Abdullah.

It was great to see how much freedom of speech these girls had been given, and that experience itself defined the Jordanian dimension for me, and a testament to the growing Jordanian literacy rate and number of women college graduates. In fact, I loved the way Jordanian women allowed themselves to be photographed, and were less inhibited in their lifestyle than I had previously thought. The fact that these young women were so proud of their country and heritage is an inspiring sentiment—who among us has such passion for their country anymore?

So there’s my entry for Team Red, and I’d like to pass the baton in true Olympic fashion to the Usain Bolt of our team: Kit Whelan of SeekNewTravel.com. I cannot wait to see what you come up with, Kit!

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Sharpening My Senses at Jean Talon Marche, Montreal

Surely those weren’t peaches, I gasped.

The juicy, succulent fruit I love so much had assumed gargantuan proportions in this most hallowed of markets: Montreal’s Jean-Talon Marché, arguably the most famous Farmer’s Market in the world.

Jean-Talon was a sight I was looking forward to throughout my entire trip to Montreal. Being a life-long vegetarian, Farmers’ Markets were kind of my thing. I can gaze for hours at the array of fruits and vegetables, wondering whether they’ll go well with curries or fig reduction dressing or what have you. You may say that’s incredibly boring but I find that it spices up my creative juices. Try being creative with a zucchini and you’ll see what I mean.

Walking into Jean-Talon Marché is to lose yourself. There are so many vegetable and fruit stands and vendors from all parts of Montreal’s countryside that almost all of its 300 plus stands are bursting with ripe (mostly organic) produce. During the summer, the open-air arcades are dancing with activity and people vying for every last husk of the fresh sweet corn or delicious baked goods.

I was content to ogle everyone shopping. To my left, a chef was cooking a veritable meal. Apparently the market taps into the talents of chefs every now and then so visitors can see the endless possibilities when they purchase produce. Smart! Every Farmers’ Market needs to have its own resident chef, I thought. Imagine how wonderful it would be if you’re puzzled about how to cook yellow peppers and you can just wander up to the chef and construe a conversation along these lines:

I’m not sure what to do with yellow peppers…

Have you ever tried a Curried Yellow Pepper Soup? It’s so easy to make and all you need are flavorful spices and a can of coconut milk.

All it took was two sentences and my imagination to send me straight to the aisle that carries coconut milk and you have a happy customer. That’s one of the many ways that Jean Talon Marche is brilliant…and in some sense ahead of its time for an establishment that opened in 1933.

Another aspect of the market that piqued my interest was this open-air model. The market is open all year round, even in the harshest of winters (except that during the winter, walls envelope the market area….and a good thing too because I don’t like to shop when my fingers are frozen).  But the open air model really works because there’s something beautiful about unbridled sunlight that pours on top of every vegetable and fruit. You can really see the quality of the produce you’re buying.

But the best part? Every sense is heightened when you walk into the market: your eyes are taken in with the blood-red peaches…you hold a bulbous white eggplant in your hand…you can weigh the pretty chanterelles mushrooms and taste delicious, fresh corn on a cob and listen to the chef go on and on about how you can make canapés for breakfast.

A true moveable feast for the senses.

Jean-Talon marche Montreal Farmers' Market

Jean-Talon marche Montreal Farmers' Market

Jean-Talon marche Montreal Farmers' Market

Those succulent peaches look larger than life

Jean-Talon marche Montreal Farmers' Market

I just wanted to hold one of those adorable white eggplants in my hands

Jean-Talon marche Montreal Farmers' Market

Tasty treats from the chef

Jean-Talon marche Montreal Farmers' Market

Leslie Koch of DowntownTraveler.com enjoys a juicy treat


The colors are jewel-like

 

 

 

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How My Traveling Life Has Changed Forever–for the Better

Scientists may argue about the “God particle” at cocktail parties, and propound theories of the “Big Bang” ad nauseum. For me, my God particle –Erika Amala–born on June 30th, 2012–changed my life forever.

Let’s put it this way—I was never the one to have kids. At school, I could have easily have been voted “least likely to have kids” and even felt that having kids would get in the way of what I wanted to do. All selfish reasons, but coming from a society like India where the idea of women’s emancipation was about as veiled as the Oracle at Delphi’s sayings, I wanted badly to prove everyone that life without kids was a-okay.


In the delivery room, pretending to chug down Chambord

And as I had previously written in my post, “Travel and the Naysayers,”  many people had nothing but horror stories about pregnancy and having kids in general.

You’ll never be able to travel again…

You won’t get any sleep.

You’re not going to have any time to yourself.

Almost two weeks after Erika’s birth, I have to say that not only is she a model baby, but that we have indeed been getting 6-8 hours of sleep a day. A notion that’s pretty incredible! And more than anything else, it’s the sheer joy of watching her every movement, and anticipating her growth that has made me rise each day in excitement.


Erika, age four days. Since then, she’s weaned off the pacifier

To care for yourself is noble, but to care for someone else is truly divine. Her helplessness and innocence are more reasons for me to want to travel and show her the world, as cliched as that may sound. And even though my nights are constantly interrupted, I find it so joyous to hold my little girl in my arms, rock her to sleep and talk to her about travel, music, beauty….all the subjects I’m passionate about (she’s an excellent listener!).

In other words: having Erika has been a way for me to discover myself. I’m a complete sucker for poetry and love the line by William Blake, “the child is the father of the man.” I never really understood those words until now!


She loves her dresses!

So, what’s in store for 2012?

Yes, baby, we’re going places! What’s in store for 2012?

At first, local trips because we’re going to approach Erika’s schedule gingerly. I’ve mentioned before that she is an absolute darling when it comes to the tears department: she’s economical with her cries and doesn’t waste them until something really is amiss. This makes me suspect that she’ll be pretty good on the flights.

  • Weekend trips to the Catskills, for starters;
  • 1-2 domestic trips for 2012 to see how she does on the flights: we’re thinking somewhere in Florida;
  • Road trips whenever possible;
  • One long trip in December to South Africa to see my sister’s kid and then to India (this may or may not be doable, but we’re playing it by ear!).

Of course, I’d be remiss to say that if it weren’t for all the help I’ve been getting recently (my mother, hubby, my dad, my mom in law), I would not really be getting those hours of sleep, but she really has been an angel.

If you have little ones of your own, and have a tip about travel, do drop me a line…I’d love to hear from you.

 

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The Greatest Gift: Introducing Erika Amala Minucci

Posted by on Jul 4, 2012 in Experiences, Featured, Photos, Travel | 32 comments

The Greatest Gift: Introducing Erika Amala Minucci

The wonderful wait is now over…I am now officially a mom!

Erika Amala Minucci was born on Saturday, June 30th, at 3:13 am (I thought she was born on 3:55 am but I stand corrected. Perhaps the fog of the labor process made time fly by). When I arrived at the hospital on Friday evening at 6:00pm (for those of you who have the great fortune to deliver in New Jersey, don’t even blink at selecting Holy Name Hospital when it comes to your baby…they are THE BEST), I was prepared to be induced because I was well on my way to my due date with not one single contraction in sight. But my labor proceeded so rapidly that I was surprised that I delivered the same evening.

Let’s put it this way—I had heard so many stories of long labor sessions, but thankfully, my true “labor” was really short—just 15 minutes. But I’m not going to lie…there was so much prep work before all this amazing stuff happened. And in case you’re wondering, the Epidural ROCKS. Don’t even think about not getting it.

I was definitely on a “high” that entire evening  because having your first kid is very much like watching a detective novel unfold before your eyes. You know the ending but have little clue how you’re going to get there. The nurses at the hospital put me so much at ease, and showered me with love and care and I truly felt very blessed…even though the first few hours were definitely painful.

And then, before you could say “Congratulations,” my daughter was born.

It was definitely one of those moments you had read about in books, and heard from friends a million times, but it’s really true and cliched and so wonderful when it happens to you. It is the most wonderful thing in the world to hold that precious miracle in your hands for the first time, and to see your entire, crazily patched world of yours have some true, deeper meaning. Most of all, it’s a crazy feeling to realize that YOU HELPED CREATE  this amazing human being.

The endless delicious pieces that make up this head spinning moment, cries of a newborn, a very proud daddy, and of course and ecstatic and drugged up mommy all make for some great screenplays, but this one was so real because I was living and breathing every minute.

 

Enjoy the first professional pictures of Erika Amala Minucci.

Erika Amala Minucci Birth

Her skin is like the finest silk….

Erika Amala Minucci Birth

Believe it or not, Erika allows mommy and daddy to really sleep a lot through the night. We have been getting some remarkable shut eye!

Erika Amala Minucci Birth

O, what an angel you are!

Erika Amala Minucci Birth

Here’s looking at you, kid!

Erika Amala Minucci Birth

A proud family moment!

Erika Amala Minucci Birth

This is my all time favorite picture of hubby with Erika…

Erika Amala Minucci Birth


All the photographs were taken by BELLA BABY PHOTOGRAPHY, whom I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to capture those precious memories with their newborns and children in general. They come to your hospital room, set everything up, and really make you feel completely calm throughout the entire process, and even sing to the baby if he or she is crying!

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Why You Don’t Have To Go Half Way Around the Globe to Find a Good Travel Story

Posted by on Jun 23, 2012 in Experiences, Philosophy, Travel | 12 comments

Why You Don’t Have To Go Half Way Around the Globe to Find a Good Travel Story

Of late, I’ve been seeing a few posts and tweets about people traveling all around the world, to over 50 + countries and counting, etc. etc. I love traveling, and always have. Ever since I was three years old, I’ve been on a plane, jetting to places as varied as Nigeria, and to Europe and back again to my motherland, India.

I am the first person in the world who will tell you that boarding a plane, a ship, or even a canoe to somewhere really “foreign” and exciting gives me goosebumps. It’s a complete and total addiction. And in my “youth” (yes, yes, because I’m about to have a kid, I’m talking as though I’m a grandmother, but just let me be) I used to think that traveling to far off lands and bringing back a wealth of stories and riches including saffron, spice and gold would be the best thing since sliced, toasted bread.

Traverse City, Michigan

The peaceful Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, MI

But as I’m focusing more and more on being a “writer” –whatever that means–I’ve learned that some of the best travel stories can really be found at home. For instance, there’s a chap around the corner who opened an Indian restaurant called Touch of Spice and pretty much poured all his savings into it. We live in a community that is quite a fabric of various ethnicities, so I wasn’t sure as to how the restaurant would fare. Just visiting his restaurant on a regular basis and listening to his stories (he owned restaurants in the Middle East and also catered to the royal family there) transported me far, far away. And for those of you who care, yes, his local business IS doing well.

A view from my hotel room, Bayshore Resort, Traverse City MI

A view from our hotel room, the Bayshore Resort, in Traverse City, MI

Then there was this time when I went to Traverse City, Michigan, and listened to how the Grand Traverse Pie Company got started. Till today, I am convinced that the owners, Mike and Denise Busley, make the best Cherry Cobbler in the country (and of course, Traverse City is known for its tart cherries). But when Mike wandered into Julian Pie Company in Julian, California, his life changed forever. The crazy thing is that he’d never owned a business or made a pie before, and he asked the head of the Julian Pie company to teach him her secrets.

The result? Seriously, a pie SO good that Matt and I flew back to Traverse City the year afterwards JUST to buy pie (okay, fine, Matt had a half Marathon in Traverse City, but he could have run that anywhere….the chief excuse was the pie). But my point is, there is a great story here…not only Mike’s commitment to a business he never thought he’d succeed at (the family risked their entire savings to get the business off the ground; and today the couple have over 17 pie shops and earn some solid franchising fees; but also Mike’s vision and eagerness to use the fresh local produce that Traverse City is so famous for.

A view from my hotel room, Bayshore Resort, Traverse City MI

View of the beach on Grand Traverse Bay from our hotel room

Last year, I went on a press trip to learn more about Dumbo, Brooklyn, and encountered Mark Thompson from The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, whose story I wrote about here. Although Dumbo is but a hop, skip and a subway ride away from Manhattan, I felt as though I had struck a goldmine when I listened to his most unusual circumstances.

Grand Traverse Pie Company, Traverse City, MI

Some of the delicious Grand Traverse Pie Company fare; credit- Roadfood.com

That’s again, not to say, that a trip on board the new Dreamliner or a journey to the Galapagos Islands wouldn’t be my cup of tea: I’m ALL about finding locations that are off the beaten path. But as I hone my writing, it’s prompted me to look a little deeper into what constitutes a story, and all that rah-rah-rah “I’ve been to the Burj Al Arab” doesn’t impress me as much as a well thought out, well-researched and sometimes purely local piece.

But…I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think makes a good travel story?

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Surviving Poor Service When You Travel

On a recent trip to the Catskills, I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Robin from MyMelange. We decided to try a place she had heard lots about: the Village Tea Room, in New Paltz.

The parking wasn’t that bad even though the lot was full — a significance of good things. If people don’t want to leave, then the restaurant must be good. And the name –Village Tea Room—had me at hello. I’m a big tea buff, and I heard that they served high tea. Which meant scones and stuff.

The entrance was pretty, with a trellised arch, and the building itself is a Historic Landmark. Inside, a cosy tea room (with lunch items too), and pretty silver foil packets of tea My eye was immediately drawn to the cakes and pastries, notably the honey bee cake, which I was told was made of orange sponge cake, with a vanilla filling and a touch of chocolate, adorned with a ganache honey bee with almond sliver wings. I had the good fortune to try it and it was delicious!

But the service—much to my disappointment and to Robin’s—was painfully slow. It was the day before Mother’s Day, and after more than a half hour wait (there were empty tables), we were finally seated. And then we were told they were out of bread, because of the unanticipated demand for Mother’s Day. I ordered pasta (it was a delicious pesto—nothing to complain about).

After we finished our meal, we wanted to order macaroons but despite us waiting right in front of the cashier for a while, they didn’t even take our order! It’s sad when such a fine establishment (the food was delicious) gets to suffer because of poor service. And over the years, I can definitely remember when poor service impacted my judgement of a place: if it weren’t for the attitude and indifference of some of the wait staff, I’m sure I would have come out raving about the Village Tea Room.

And that’s not entirely the staff’s fault too: I think management is to blame, certainly. But then that experience got me thinking about service, and tipping, and how much we take good service for granted. Certainly, I’m a good tipper, but I tend to notice more when the service is poor than when it is genuinely great.

I’m sure that the much acclaimed Village Tea Room will continue to do well in its business—the food and wine selection is just too good for it not to do well. But if there’s a big day (like Mother’s Day), then little things like stocking up on extra ciabatta or seating people promptly–go a long way in making a good day into a great experience.

Village Tea Room New Paltz NY

The beautiful entrance and arch

Village Tea Room in New Paltz NY

Beautiful flowers were in bloom everywhere, and that really put spring in my step

Village Tea Room in New Paltz NY

Village Tea Room in New Paltz NY

Love at first sight and bite: the delicious Honey Bee Cake

Village Tea Room, New Paltz

My pesto was delicious and al dente

This is the chocolate ganache cake: another sweet temptation

We milled around the cashier but it was obvious they had their hands full: eventually, we gave up on ordering macaroons to go…

Village Tea Room New Paltz

Myself, Robin, Chris and Butterscotch (who seems more fascinated by Robin’s dress!)

Have you experienced poor service when you travel? How have you dealt with this?

 

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How I Celebrated My 10th Wedding Anniversary (contd.): Hiking Around Lake Minnewaska, and Nearby Attractions

The setting? A magnificent day in New Paltz, New York, from where you can see the Shawangunk Mountain range (a section of the Appalachian Mountain range). The air is cool, the surrounding foliage is crisp, and Matthew and I have decided to hike the 3 mile loop around Lake Minnewaska.

For those of you who have not visited the Catskills area (you may be more familiar with Mohonk Mountain House), you’ll find an embarrassment of riches —trail wise. I cannot express to you how much I love it here, and over the years I’ve witnessed the demand increase and Bed & Breakfast reservations fill up weeks in advance.

Lake Minnewaska has beautiful dark blue waters, and is dog friendly too. The three-odd mile trail around the Lake will take you past the famous Cliff House and Windmere among attractions. We had a breeze hiking the trail and it’s not strenuous at all, even at 33 weeks of pregnancy! Butterscotch enjoyed the walk immensely, although she was very tempted to get into the lake (we restrained her because we didn’t want to transport a soggy dog back). But as you can see from the pictures below, many dogs enjoyed playing fetch.

The parking at Lake Minnewaska’s main lot is $8, but you can avoid this charge if you park by one of the many odd trails, you can skip the fee.

Once you arrive at the parking lot, follow the well-marked trail to Lake Minnewaska, and enjoy the simple loop (offset by carriage trails).

Nearby Can’t Miss Attractions:

  • The Walkway over the Hudson is a pedestrian bridge that spans more than a mile long, and is over 200 feet above the Hudson River. Walk this on a beautiful day for breathtaking views!
  • Mohonk Mountain House: this unmistakeable Victorian castle is a fairy tale setting for weddings and festivities. It was built in 1869, and has 266 rooms. If you book, remember it’s an all-inclusive stay including a sumptuous buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea.
  • The Mohonk Preserve, which is a State Park. Try the hike up to Bonticou Crag if you’re really into hiking.

Lake Minnewaska


Lake Minnewaska

Butterscotch and I enjoy a clear day!

Lake Minnewaska

Lake Minnewaska

Finding a cool, shady spot is tough work…

Lake Minnewaska

One of the dogs we saw at the park had a ball…literally.

Lake Minnewaska

A Bassett Hound finds true love…

Lake Minnewaska

Lilac trees are plentiful

Lake Minnewaska

Lake Minnewaska


A view from the bridge


This is truly an idyllic spot in the park, and you can picnic here, take plenty of bridal photos (or fun family photos), or simply chill.


Matt enjoys a great perching spot while I enjoy the view!


 

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Celebrating my 10th Wedding Anniversary: A Weekend in New Paltz (Part One)

It seems hard to believe that I’ve been married for ten years. Ten years! Matthew and I met while in college, and we’ve cherished every minute together, and it really helps to have a partner who shares the same interests as you.

On the morning of my anniversary, I woke to some beautiful surprises on my coffee table. To be honest, I had not even processed the information that it WAS my 10th, so I had not really done quite the amount of planning as Matthew had (evidently). First, I woke up to these:

Wildflowers in a tin pail

Because it was my 10th–the metal of choice was tin: hence the elegant tin pail. And of course, there was a card. When I opened the card, it asked me to look under the table, and I found yet another package. Inside this was a sleek black new Dell Inspiron Laptop, which was particularly touching because my old one had died a few weeks ago, and I was trying hard not to get frustrated at the thought of tapping away at a desktop. What a thrilling morning already!

Now, as though this weren’t enough (to be honest, I would have been completely happy with flowers, a card and a tin pail!), I was promised a trip to the New Paltz area (the base of the elegant and seemingly endless Shawangunk mountains) but our lodging would remain a mystery. That’s one aspect I love of being married: we love giving each other surprises. In fact, I keep reminding myself on a daily basis that a life without pleasant surprises is just not as fun. We work at it–but it’s a labor of love.

So that evening, I was whisked away to one of those Bed  & Breakfasts that are everywhere in the area. To my great surprise, we were allowed to bring Butterscotch as well (a quick call to the B&B took care of this). That just about sealed the deal because I knew then that weekend was going to be perfect. Even though I love to travel, I do hate leaving my Golden Retriever behind.

After a swift drive with relatively little traffic, we discovered it was close to dinner time, and we had not even thought of dinner arrangements yet. We were eager to try the Foodspotting app to see what vegetarian options were nearby. We were instantly taken with the photos of a delicious vegetarian enchilada platter at a restaurant called Cinco de Mayo in Waldwick, NJ. The restaurant’s web site itself is unimpressive, and thank goodness I didn’t look at that first because I would have brushed it off. But Foodspotting‘s pictures were very convincing, and we took a 3.9 mile detour from our journey to head towards our enchiladas.

Cinco de Mayo prides itself on “Fine Authentic Mexican Cuisine” and I was excited to try some authentic salsa. The art on the wall, hand painted by one of the owners, was striking with its sun ripened, tropical colors. And thankfully, after convincing our waitress that we did not indeed eat any meat or dairy (our waitress even understood the word “vegan”—hooray!), we ended up with a delicious meal worthy of Foodspotting‘s best. They even gave us a complimentary dessert: a fried banana concoction that was definitely NOT vegan but delicious (see, sometimes it’s okay to have dairy for a good cause).

Cinco de Mayo MExican Restaurant Waldwick NY

The interior of Cinco de Mayo in Waldwick, NY: A true Fiesta

Cinco de Mayo MExican Restaurant Waldwick NY

The salsa was perfection, and the secret, they told me, were the poblano chiles

Cinco de Mayo MExican Restaurant Waldwick NY

This is just one of the examples of the art you can expect to see in this restaurant. It’s worth coming here just for the eye candy alone.

So, by the end of dinner, we were staunch fans of Foodspotting and we continued on to our bed & breakfast. By the time we arrived at Mountain Meadows, it was close to 11:00pm. The atmosphere was beautiful, dark and quiet as a pin (not even any crickets), and we pulled into the driveway and checked into some very cosy digs.

Mountain Meadows is a solid choice for a B&B, and run by a charming couple, Art and Corinne, who instantly made us feel at home. It features several amenities you’d want in a B&B: a heated pool and hot tub, extensive gardens, a delicious hammock and comfortable and tastefully furnished rooms. We had a tropical room furnished with the cutest toucans and wicker furniture…it brought back fond memories of our time in Clearwater, FL and Fisher Island.

Mountain View B&B New Paltz NY

Mountain View B&B New Paltz NY

Mountain View B&B New Paltz NY

Mountain View B&B New Paltz NY

Everything was comfortable, peaceful and quiet…the way a Catskills B&B is supposed to be.

Mountain View B&B New Paltz NY

The day too, was perfect. Sunshine ruled.

Mountain View B&B New Paltz NY

Hammocks are always welcome!

Sitting in the living room’s rocking chair (it’s good for the baby!) with my first child, Butterscotch.

It’s amazing how much attention Golden Retrievers need! They take longer than your taxes.

The smell of a delicious breakfast woke us the next morning. These are fresh baked blueberry muffins that were soft yet chewy.

After a restful evening at the B&B, we were ready to tackle the day and were eager to begin hiking and wandering through the acres of the Preserve. We were glad to chat with Corinne and Art for a bit during breakfast, and they told us after having done this (the B&B business) for several decades, they had decided to put up the place for sale. This saddened us but let’s not forget how much work a B&B can be. Many people think it’s an idyllic lifestyle, but don’t take into account the early mornings, clean up and regular maintenance and effort (not to mention marketing) that comes with the territory.

We were also so glad they loved Butterscotch and invited her to come along. While the concept of a pet-friendly bed & breakfast is becoming more mainstream, it’s tough if there are say–three or four dogs on the property and they can’t get along.

Stay tuned for more adventures on our anniversary trip…

 

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My Definition of a Travel Paradise: In Honor of FriFotos

Everyone has their definition of Paradise. My travels have resulted in colorful journeys all over the world, from my favorite island (Aruba) to South Africa and Macau. Of course, not all journeys are created equal: Paradise is so personal.

For me, Paradise is not necessarily all the glitz and glam. Sure, I’m impressed just as the girl next door is, with marble lobbies and swank hotel rooms with a nice tea service, but Paradise is about finding a place that makes you comfortable.

It’s like finding that perfect relationship where you can actually be yourself. No need vacillate personalities like Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria or Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. Come as you are.

In that vein, I do think my personal paradise has to be Aruba. Many of you know and have read about my experiences on that island and those marvelous sunsets and Bonbini moments. It’s not an island that has an insane variety of activities, but the beaches are spectacular and there is that Dutch hospitality that always puts me at ease each time I visit. Also, I really love its small size. It’s also so close to New York City (a mere 4.5 hours by plane) that you can escape to an island that’s a hop, skip and a jump away from South America in no time.

The people in Aruba are very laid back too: they really know how to appreciate the quality of life. In this aspect, it’s a very European island. But that’s my personal Paradise…I want an oasis with a beach, history, good food and a warm and welcoming attitude. I don’t really need the marble lobbies (although I’ve stayed in many sweet places on the island too) because in the end, a welcoming attitude is priceless.

My Definition of Paradise, In Honor of FriFotos, Aruba Aruba

Copyright: Butterflydiary

Aruba

One of my favorite sunsets: copyright Butterflydiary.com

 

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Celebrating Scotland Week With a Paintbrush: Hazel Campbell’s Classes in Galloway

Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Experiences, Travel | 2 comments

Celebrating Scotland Week With a Paintbrush: Hazel Campbell’s Classes in Galloway

 

Scotland Week kicks off annually on Tartan Day (April 6th) and fun and festivities last an entire week in both the U.S. and Canada. The finale in New York was a colorful and fun Tartan Day Parade, complete with bright felt kilts, and a lot of revelry.

But when I was invited to partake in some Scotland Week activities, little did I know I’d be releasing a bit of my inner Picasso with a painting lesson by the Scottish Artist Hazel Campbell. Hazel was in New York City in honor of the Year of Creative Scotland campaign, and she regularly gives painting lessons in her hometown in a quaint studio on a beautiful Galloway farm.

A few bloggers and I were given empty canvases, pots of acrylic inks, long and elegant paintbrushes and bamboo sticks to embrace our inner creativity, and were just encouraged to spill our creativity. Some writers painted their image of Scotland (impressionist style), others just danced to the tune of their own colors. Hazel just asked us to relax and not over analyze everything. “There is absolutely no right or wrong,” she said as she beautifully got to work, mixing and matching colors on the tray and letting her imagination run wild. Here are Hazel’s “rules” to let go:

  • Don’t worry about form…the painting will take a life of its own;
  • Work within a small framework if you don’t want a painting that’s too large;
  • Become a child again: release your inner creativity and embrace everything;
  • Play with the paints! As adults it’s so easy to find it difficult to let go but that’s precisely the reason you should paint.

Scottish Artist Hazel Campbell

The soft-spoken and elegant Scottish artist, Hazel Campbell, who taught us to release our inner kid through a paintbrush

By the end of the lesson, which was filled with laughter, cookies, delicious sandwiches and desserts…we were all a bit less “New Yorker” in our mentality and a bit more Galloway. But there was something so liberating about the whole experience—you see, I had never thought of painting as a way to understand the local culture. But it is very empowering…you should try it sometime.

My starting point

Hazel Campbell's Classes in Galloway

My version of Scotland…(don’t judge!)

Hazel Campbell Painting in Galloway Scotland

A Hazel Campbell original

And if you are lucky enough to be in Scotland, and can visit Galloway, try your hand at one of Hazel’s classes:

SUMMER CLASS DATES FOR HAZEL CAMPBELL’S “PAINTING FOR PLEASURE” CLASSES May: Weekend course: Sat 12th May – Sun 13th May 2012 £100 June: 5 day course: Mon 11th June – Fri 15th June 2012 £220 Aug : 3 day course: Mon 20th Aug – Wed 22nd Aug 2012 £150 All courses run from 10am to 4pm and include coffee, tea and lunches, which is a real steal. For more information, email hazel@painting-for-pleasure.co.uk. After the lesson, I must say, I felt very relaxed. It was almost as though I had been to a spa with colors and paint pots. Who would have thought this sort of release would be that good for the system?

 

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