Unusual and Scenic Fall Foliage East Coast Drives

Family Travel Harriman State Park Fall Foliage

Published on September 27th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

5 Unusual and Scenic Fall Foliage East Coast Drives

It’s the time of year when we yearn for leaf peepers, apple cider and cinnamon spiced lattes. A great road trip does more than inspire: it’s a tone that you set in your mind for months to come. I’ve driven for years along I-95 and thought that there must be more to fall foliage than a long and winding interstate and luckily, there are. Here are some unusual scenic fall foliage trips to try on the East Coast.

M-22, Michigan

 Harriman State Park Fall Foliage

This scenic drive was suggested to me by a lifelong resident of the state. Technically in the Midwest, M-22′s 116 mile stretch of road curves along the countryside of three Michigan counties. Polish off the drive with a visit to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most beautiful spots in the country (Good Morning America viewers actually called it “the most beautiful spot in America”).

Route 6, Pennsylvania

Route 6 offers over 400 miles of spectacular foliage scenery. It is also a less traveled road ensuring you can enjoy the solstice and tranquility of the Pennsylvania countryside. Don’t be afraid to stray from the trail because you’ll find State and National Forests surrounding beautiful lakes just minutes from the route. Shop at the pop-up Farmer’s Markets selling fresh corn and pumpkins from the fall harvest and relax with a hot cup of fresh cider. Throughout your drive you’ll also see fall festivals, camp grounds and diners known for home cooking especially for travelers to rest and rejuvenate. You can do the Route in a day or a weekend: it depends on your road trip style!

Route 30, Adirondack Mountains, New York

The Adirondack mountains give you that Ansel-Adams like glimpse into idyllic life; Route 30 will make you fish out that DSLR and go lens crazy. Route 30 is one of the less traveled roads through the Adirondack. The 24-mile road is flanked with a fiery autumnal display. If you drive down the western shore of Indian Lake, you’ll catch the reflection of the surrounding mountains on the rippling waters. We took this drive when I was a child to upstate apple and pumpkin farms along the way where we picked our own produce and enjoyed horseback riding

Newfound Gap Road, TN, US Route 441

As a prior resident of Chattanooga, TN I can honestly say any drive through Tennessee is gorgeous no matter the season. In the fall, there’s a certain Southern magic that brings the golds, oranges and greens together with some quiet harmony. Start your drive in the neighboring town of Chattanooga called Gatlinburg and drive to Cherokee, North Carolina for an inspired ride. The Newfound Gap Road runs along the Smokey Mountains and offers jaw-dropping views and vistas. The ride is only 51 minutes over 31 miles. This link offers specific landmarks and vista points, and other resources for your drive down from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. The route was closed due to a landslide but has recently reopened.

Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia

Love wildlife and fall foilage? Although a more-traveled route, the three hour drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenondoah National park can hold the excitement you’re looking for. Expect to find woodland animals from deer, black bears and wild turkeys regularly cross the 105 mile road. The speed limit is set at a low 35mph down the entire drive to ensure the safety of the animals and drivers. Along the curvy roads adorned with wildflowers you’ll pass an astounding 75 overlooks of the Valley to the west and Piedmont’s gorgeous hillsides to the east. Should you want a closer look at the foliage or wildlife it’s always safe to pull over for a closer look but it’s in your best interest to leave your windows rolled up and locked.

If you’re under the impression that a fall foliage trip can get pricey, take a look at some shoulder season properties from Flipkey that are truly affordable luxury, like this one in North Topsail Beach, N.C which is $7,500 in mid-August through October compared to $15,000 per month normally. Even if you rented for a fraction of the month, the trick is to get creative with accommodations that could give you some of the most beautiful foliage vistas you’ll see.

Reported Jay Dee

 

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Auroville, India: a Barter Town Without Borders

Affordable Luxury Auroville, India: a Barter Town Without Borders

Published on September 24th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

4 Auroville, India: a Barter Town Without Borders

It is almost dusk. We have driven for a few hours on a brilliant day, on a freshly-tarred road past Mahabaliphuram, in search of a town that could have been a philosophical mirage. At least that is what it sounded like to me.

Auroville is world famous for its unusual lifestyle. Located in Pondicherry in the state of Tamilnadu, India, it is so familiar to me because this is the state where I was born. And yet, despite this familiarity, it is like an orphan in my mind: a travel idea that is often mentioned in passing, usually preceded by the words, “Have you heard of?”

My family and I eventually found our Japanese-style guest house, Afsaneh, after driving in circles on the poorly-lit roads. Despite the unplanned adventure, I did not feel terribly stressed. My blood pressure was not at teeth-crushing New York City levels. In some strange non-mathematical way, I knew it would all work out.

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

We must have missed this sign at night

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

My mother enjoys the peace and quiet of Auroville

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

Our guesthouse’s spartan but elegant restaurant

It would seem as though the premise of Auroville, which calls itself a “universal city” had seeped into our veins. After speaking to several students who were either farmers, cooks or baristas, I came to the conclusion that people don’t seek Auroville; rather, it is a mindset that finds them. During my childhood I had heard all about the concepts of humanity, the manusya (a Sanskrit word called “coming from the God Manu”) and the idea of true selflessness as a way to reach the Godhead. I had often thought that only Rishikesh was the one place in India where one could achieve a complete state of moksha or enlightenment. After two days of lotus-filled pools and quiet meditation, my mind was more balanced.

Like all unique things, Auroville began with a strong vision; in this case, the vision of humane saint Sri Aurobindo and a French former businesswoman who became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo (in Auroville, she is affectionately known as “Mother”; her real name was Mirra Alfassa).

While not exactly a chemistry lab, it is considered an experimental township, with ideologies and codes of practices quite unique to the township alone. When we finally found our guesthouse, it was exactly as I imagined it to be: small, neat as a polished pin, and white.

Located in Viluppuram, the “City of Dawn” offers one of the most refreshing ways that people can coexist. In an age with news on increasing acts of inhumanity, bomb threats, and terrible news, this government-less township is a living dream.

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

Matri Mandir is the large meditation hall that looks space age-y inside

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

My mother and I wheel our suitcases to Afsaneh, just one of the many guest houses in Auroville

Auroville in Pondicherry, India

School in session at Auroville

Waterlily in Auroville India

In Auroville, a pharmacy is filled with medicines that are labelled, but they have no prices. It’s an effort to keep residents coming back only for the basics—necessities, not luxuries. Residents live on the barter system: they offer their talents in the form of cooking, cleaning, music and theatrical arts in exchange for room and board. “The entire idea of personal gain is not here,” says one resident. Of course, all this would not be possible unless the township had initial funding, and the Central and State Governments of India, along with UNESCO, believed in the concept of international understanding of peace.

My Japanese-style guest house is quiet (we are the only ones) and I loved the vegetarian meals and the lotus-studded pond. The shining Epcot-like Matri Mandir was where I went to practice meditation. It felt a little modern inside, like a polished space shuttle inside, with spotless marble floors and a hall filled with those meditating.

“Auroville was created initially with soils from over 70 different countries scattered on the ground,” says an elderly gentleman who leads us into the Mandir. Over the course of my insightful weekend there, I met so many people from all countries: France, England, America, Canada. There’s no right and wrong here: you can practice your own faith, and propose ideas for the betterment of the community.

I switch on my television screen and listen to news of explosions, gun control issues and shake my head. The barter system died centuries ago, but in many ways, I just loved the idea of being truly free, without the shackles of currency.

Ohm.

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Luxury Yachts, SUP Lessons and Reality TV at the Norwalk Boat Show

Affordable Luxury Norwalk Boat Show 2013 Queen of the Show

Published on September 21st, 2013 | by Charu Suri

2 Luxury Yachts, SUP Lessons and Reality TV at the Norwalk Boat Show

The day was as clear as a bell. A brilliant tail end of summer sun shone above me, and I was excited at attending the Progressive Insurance Norwalk Boat Show in Connecticut, which opens its doors to the public 19th to the 22nd of September.

Not a sailor by any stretch of the imagination, I was curious to see what a boat show would entail. Like the Jacob Javits famous Auto Show, the Norwalk Boat Show is an ideal places for novice buyers to veteran collectors, and boat lovers. And yes, it’s great for kids as well.

The Norwalk Boat Show is considered the East Coast’s most popular boat show, and it is inexpensive: it’s only $15 per adult, and children under 15 attend free. It’s a fun way for an entire family to spend a day by the water: you’ll see everything from Henriques Yachts’ 42 foot Maine Coaster Charter to small yachts to those with over the top, small boats to family size boats, small and large sailboats, small yachts and over the top luxury yachts you will see it all at this boat show.

If you’re frazzled, relax and unwind at The Water Club Lounge which is a tented area open to all visitors who want to chill and enjoy a beverage on the water. For water sports junkies, Try It Cove gives visitors the chance to find out firsthand why paddle sports are all the rage, with a variety of complimentary daily opportunities to get on the water including Stand Up Paddling, SUP yoga and kayaking presented by Down Under. If you’re a fan of the TV show The Deadliest Catch, here’s a chance to meet Johnathan Hillstrand, co-captain of The Time Bandit fishing vessel featured on the Discovery Channel’s top rated reality show. He’ll be in attendance to meet and greet fans as well as give the children a sneak peek at his new series of children’s books.

Norwalk Boat Show 2013

Norwalk Boat Show 2013 Queen of the Show

While I’ve sailed a few boats in my lifetime, I was beguiled by the largest and most beautiful boat at the entire Norwalk Boat Show. The Queen of the Show, The Benetti 90 Delfino is a sprawling 93 foot motor yacht with five staterooms, spacious indoor and outdoor salons, bathrooms in each stateroom, a Jacuzzi, disco ball, marble countertops and even a built-in outdoor grill. All this will only set you back a cool $9.6 million. Luckily, I had the chance to board this pretty thing, whose interior design, layout and opulent décor made it a floating mini mansion with a motor.

Sealegs is a boat that’s 007 worthy. A revolutionary boat that transforms from an all-terrain vehicle to an ocean power boat at the push of a button, Sealegs features three retractable all-wheel drive “legs” that give the rider the freedom to land anywhere! I saw it in action and it was just like in the movies when the good guy chases the bad guy and the super boat turns into a car and chases the villain on land. The wheels came out smoothly and pretty quickly, large enough to run over branches, through mud and dirt and the transition to water was just as seamless.

Norwalk Boat Show 2013 Queen of the Show

Norwalk Boat Show 2013 Queen of the Show

The Miss GEICO offshore racing boat is a 50-ft. Victory catamaran made of carbon and kevlar. At approximately 11,000 pounds, she is pretty much a beluga whale but almost 1,500 pounds lighter than her predecessor and is equal in length. There’s even a green energy boat and boats that run from solar power only!

If you’re handy, Fred’s Shed DIY Stage located in the special events hall has several hands on workshops covering boat and motor maintenance, repairs and upgrades.

If you’re interested in purchasing a new boat, there are boat buyer education advisors on site to assist those who may not know the ins and outs of buying a boat and the responsibility that comes with ownership. When owning a boat be wary of aquatic hitchhikers. There are many nuisance and invasive species. Nuisance and invasive species are animal, plant or microscopic organisms that can upset the food chain when trasported to a non-native body of water unknowingly by the owners. They attach themselves to your vessel as you ride along unaware.

Over the past ten years, invasive species like Zebra Mussels, Hydrilla Plants and Northern Snakeheads have all had devastating effects on waterways. Also, make sure to release live bait or fish back into the same body of water it came from. Before you head home from a ride out on the water check out your boat and equipment, clothes, shoes and buckets. Clean off any mud, dirt or plant fragments. Always remove any standing water pools on your vessel. Unplug any drains and once you’ve docked get the water out of your boat in areas such as the motor, jet drives, hulls, tanks, waders, life jackets, wherever you find standing water.

Since the boat show is only this weekend, get your tickets and enjoy a gorgeous time at the water. Check out the website for attractions, information, classes, boat lists, seminars, and more.

Reported by Jay Dee

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The World’s Most Beautiful Candles are Crafted Near Ubud, Indonesia

Affordable Luxury The World's Most Beautiful Candles near Indonesia Volcanica Candles

Published on September 16th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

3 The World’s Most Beautiful Candles are Crafted Near Ubud, Indonesia

For many people, a candle is a foregone conclusion: a sometimes slim tallow pillar that’s fragrant and beautiful. But artisanal candles are luxuries in a home; in most places around the world, electricity is so prevalent that you don’t need to light the wick to read a book or play board games. For that reason, candles don’t generally cross my mind as souvenirs. I tend to typically bring back wall art, mugs, tee shirts and uniquely local items like hand-woven tablecloths and blown glass. Aruba aloe? Check. Spices from Chimayo in New Mexico? A done deal.

But in a village on the outskirts of Ubud called Kengetan, there’s something of an artisanal candle revolution wrought by the vision of one family, and a team of 150 dedicated workers. Volcanica Candles, an Indonesian company, is doing extraordinary things and producing affordable candles that are quite simply little luxuries. A company that employs 150 people, Volcanica is a family business that is over 75 years old; one of their first businesses was selling wind chimes.

To say that each candle is a work of art would be an understatement. S. Sarna, the present owner says that the mold of each candle is unique, and inspired by designs from both Indonesia and India.

“When it comes to developing a design for which we make a mold, we solicit the opinions of people we trust,” says CEO Sarna. “Our inner circle includes many of our employees who have been with us a long time, the artisans themselves, our sales team, friends, family – after all this is a family business – and of course, preferred retailers. We also test newer designs at trade show to gauge the response from buyers.”

Volcanica Candles Most Beautiful Candles in the World

The Botanic Pearl (#9676) is wedding-like, with flower motifs everywhere

Volcanica Candles Most Beautiful Candles in the World

The Profound Creme Vase candle (#9731) is my personal favorite, and reminds me of a swirl-patterned sari my mother used to wear

Volcanica Candles Most Beautiful Candles in the World

The Trance Pearl candle (#9641) is another design that reminds me of Indian saris

The molds are a far cry from anything plain vanilla. On first glance I thought of Benares saris and beautiful temple doors. A candle takes around 40 hours to make, and everything is hand crafted to the extreme, from etching and carving pouring liquid wax into the mold, waiting for it to dry, drilling holes for wicks, and chiseling and hand carving each candle by hand using various carving tools. Finally, the candles are adorned with pearls, tassels and spray painted to become works of art that Keats would have said is a true “thing of beauty…a joy forever.” The final step is buffing all the imperfections out of the candle.

As with many beautiful products, the color and pigments are very important. Sarna is very particular about the beauty of the finished product. “We go through a process of trial and error until we get the color just right,” he adds. The candles use a proprietary blend for the wax to ensure a clean, smoke-free burn. Sarna says they use a special blend of bee and palm wax which is eco-friendly. “It took a lot of experimentation until we got to just the right formula,” he continues, but the result is not only museum-like candles, but a responsible burn too.

It’s hard to imagine lighting these candles but that’s the idea! The plan for Volcanica Candles is to expand to the U.S., and they currently sell in the Pacific Northwest and are in the process of securing additional gift stores to carry our line in the New York area. Tastemaker sites like One Kings Lane have been very supportive of their brand.

Volcanica Candles Most Beautiful Candles in the World

The Dendritic Vase (#9682) is perhaps the most opulent of all

Volcanica Candles Most Beautiful Candles in the World

The Sterling Large Pillar is all roses and bling (#9510)

It’s hard to pick a favorite candle child from the large roster of pearlized gems, but their best sellers are the more intricately carved candles which truly represent the tradition of Balinese wood carving.In a country where designs are plentiful, Volcanica was the first to translate these beautiful designs to candles.  The company’s Flora (white rose) and Dendritic (gold botanical) collections are particularly popular but it’s hard to go wrong with 221 styles in everything from tapers and pillars to spheres and squares—truly something for everyone.

With affordable price points (an average pillar will set you back around $40), it’s not impossible to do the impossible –light the wick. Watch the candle burn and curl up with a good travel book and come up with a dream plan to visit Ubud in person.

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A Toddler-Friendly Subalpine Mountain Walk in Lake Tahoe

Featured Interpretive Loop Trail for Toddlers in Lake Tahoe

Published on September 12th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

5 A Toddler-Friendly Subalpine Mountain Walk in Lake Tahoe

Subalpine mountain flowers, dew-lit grass and the fresh sound of birds everywhere.

There we all were, Erika and her baby cousins, enjoying the fresh mountain air and preparing to hike (or walk?) the fairly easy Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Loop trail, one of the more forgiving yet verdant trails in Incline Village.

After a brief drive along the unhurried road towards Nevada, we pulled into the parking lot off Mount Rose Highway, and gazed at the almost pin-quiet surroundings. A few hikers were ahead of us on the Interpretive Loop trail, which was slope-less and well-trodden, making it easy for both strollers and seasoned walkers too. It does have its ups and downs, but the terrain is mostly very forgiving.

So forgiving in fact, that the little ones were practically running like Forrest Gump along the winding loop, complete with neatly-constructed wooden bridges and plenty of wide open spaces filled with mountain flowers.

The paths around the trail are covered with footprints of mammals, and it is not unusual to spot deer and brown hares darting to and fro (we didn’t, but heard the melodious harmonics of songbirds). Just inhaling a swift pint of clean mountain air did all our lungs some good.

Interpretive Loop Trail for Toddlers in Lake Tahoe

Interpretive Loop Trail for Toddlers in Lake Tahoe

Interpretive Loop Trail for Toddlers in Lake Tahoe

Out of Lake Tahoe’s many State Parks, including Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss, the Interpretive Loop has been referred to as the most infant and toddler friendly, and it truly is one of those beautiful walks that are both idyllic and serene. If you’re into meditation, bring a yoga mat and relax on a few spots along the trail –there are hardly any people around.

An easy 1.3 miles went by within the space of an hour, and what I really missed the most during the hike was not having downloaded the Audubon app installed on my iPhone to figure out what melodies were pouring from the trees. Erika was content to look at all the flowers, and at one point ventured off into the shrubs to gather more. Anika, Erika’s cousin, led the entire hiking crew with nothing short of some major verve, and championed the singing of many favorite children’s tunes from If You’re Happy and You Know It to Sesame Street.

Interpretive Loop Trail for Toddlers in Lake Tahoe

 Interpretive Loop Trail for Toddlers in Lake Tahoe

At the end of the hike, we had fast forwarded through several movies and caught up on baby stories (she did what?) enough to warrant that proverbial pint of frothy beer. I loved hiking the subalpine trail: I felt as though I was in Switzerland, in the valley of Zermatt, gazing at slopes of alpine spruce and the coolest blue sky for miles.

To reach the Interpretive Loop, drive on Mt. Rose Highway from Incline Village, then turn onto NV-431, and in  7.4 miles you’ll see the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead parking lot.

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Frost Ice Bar Opens in Boston

Affordable Luxury Frost Ice Bar Boston

Published on September 10th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

11 Frost Ice Bar Opens in Boston

A large Andy Warhol-esque picture of JFK hangs on the ice wall in one corner of the room. Slabs twinkle among the white and blue lights in kaleidoscopic fashion. It is September but everything is frozen.

Boston’s new Frost Ice Bar is not like the Ice Hotel, which melts and undergoes a Lazarus-like resurrection process every year. Rather, the new bar which recently opened in Boston’s popular Faneuil Hall,  keeps everything comfortably chill at 21 degrees Fahrenheit. The interior design is hand-carved ice including the walls, bar, furniture, and the drinking glasses. The translucent walls make the kaleidoscope of colors ricochet and become a constant myriad of changing colors which dazzle patrons as they sip. As with many ice bars around the world, shades of blue and violet pervade.

Frost Ice Bar Boston

Frost Ice Bar Boston

Frost Ice Bar Boston

All images courtesy of Frost Ice Bar 

The interior is essentially one huge freezer, and the bar is long, seating up to 75 people at once. There are also tables with seating for four or more. If your hands are colder than a polar bear’s nose, the Ice bar will provide insulated capes and gloves for you during your visit.

The drinks are creative and inspired, and the most-ordered version is The Old North Ender, a tribute to Boston’s Italian community, and made with Reyka Vodka, Lemon Sorbet, Westport Rivers Sparkling Wine, Pallini Limoncello. Like the Ice Hotel in Sweden, which invites designers from around the world to decorate its various rooms, the Frost Ice bar has sculptures and chandeliers. Heidi Bayley of the Iceculture family created the bar’s “hanging ice” chandelier. You’ll notice quirky pieces of art at the Frost Bar, including an iced ship in a bottle and gorgeous pieces of plush fur bedding.

Expect to find plenty of cocktails that pay tribute to local history (the “1912″ is a refreshing summer cocktail in honor of the Nation’s oldest ballpark and the beloved Sox, and made with Crop Cucumber Vodka, Altar Chi, Ginger Liqueur and Ginger Beer): you’ll come out of the bar cultured, buzzed and pleasantly chilled at the same time.

Getting into the Frost Ice Bar is not as simple  as waltzing to the door and marching up to the bar. You actually need to purchase a ticket here (typically $18 a pop) to just set foot in the door. Think of it as a very fancy cover charge to your local watering hole.

Frost Ice Bar

Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Boston, Massachusetts 02109
General Information: 617.307.7331
F: 617.307.7823 Share
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An Insider’s Guide to Paris

Paris The Canal Saint Martin Parisal Saint Martin Paris

Published on September 8th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

5 An Insider’s Guide to Paris

As Audrey Hepburn once famously said, “Paris is always a good idea.”

My acquaintances with Paris were several, after living in London and taking many trips with the EuroStar to the city that always reminds me of great literature (think Dumas, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant ) and more. As a life-long admirer and pianist who adored Claude Debussy’s music, I loved visits to Paris because I felt like I inhaled his impressionism as soon as I disembarked. From the blushing gardens, bustling Moulin Rouge to the stylish arrondissements, the art scene is truly a rational exuberance.

It is definitely a more expensive city, but there are ways to sample the local culture affordably, if you know where to look.

The Canal Saint Martin Parisal Saint Martin Paris

The Canal Saint-Martin (photo by Jori Avlis)

The “Paris Pass”

Like New York, Paris offers many attractions gratis or for a throwaway price.

If you want to see all the main sights you can invest in one of the discount passes such as the Paris Pass. This gives you entry to 60 attractions in and around the city including the Arc de Triomphe, Musée de Louvre, Musée D’Orsay and Notre-Dame. The pass also gives you the luxury of jumping the queue, which means you might explore some places you wouldn’t have visited otherwise. It’s not the best deal for everyone though; in most cases children under 18 are allowed into museums and monuments for free, and European Union residents under 26 are offered free admission to permanent collections too. Whether it’s worth it also depends on which sights you want to see and how long they’ll take you to look around. The Louvre, for instance, can easily fill up an entire day (or more, if you want to look at every piece of artwork!). If you mainly want to see the most visited sights, it might be the better option than individual entry.

Parc des Butte Chamont

 

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (Photo via Flickr)

Slow Cruising Along the Seine

It’s easy to spend all your time visiting the most popular sights, but it’s important to try to get under the skin of the place too. Although you’ll remember the main monuments, it’s the unique experiences and special moments that will stay with you.

The Seine River is a romantic sight to behold as it winds its way through the city. You can view it from the bridges and stroll alongside it holding hands, or take one of the many river cruises on offer. Paris also has 81 miles of canals and underground waterways to explore which are equally as romantic. Canauxrama offers cruises that take in less touristy parts of the city. Cruise slowly along the Canal Saint-Martin and the Canal de l’Ourcq and learn about the history of the area. Travel underground and then resurface to go through locks and under pretty footbridges. Enjoy the leafy surroundings of the ancient trees that line the banks. It’s a great way to get away from the crowds of bustling tourists and enjoy a gentler pace of sightseeing.

Visit one of the many the beautiful parks in the city. Pack a picnic of baguettes, cheese and a bottle of local wine and you’re all set to enjoy the scenery and watch the afternoon slip by. The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a particularly romantic park as it has cascading waterfalls, a folly on top of a cliff, a grotto and an idyllic lake.

Saint Severin

 Saint-Severin Cathedral (photo via Flickr)

Marché Rue Dejean

Montmartre is one of the most scenic districts of Paris. The historic neighbrhood’s main sight is the impressive Sacré Cœur. From the steps you’ll be treated to one of the best views of the city. After you’ve taken in the bustling atmosphere of the tourist areas, escape the crowds and explore the winding lanes to get a real flavor of Parisian life. While you’re wandering the streets, it’s worth visiting the nearby Marché Rue Dejean. This African street market feels a million miles from Paris, with its exotic fruits, fragrant spices and brightly colored chilli peppers. Another nearby site worth a visit is the ‘I Love You Wall’ in the Abbesses Gardens. The artwork was created by two artists – Frederic Baron and Claire Kito – as a rendezvous place for lovers. The words ‘I love you’ are depicted over a thousand times in over 300 different languages. The monument covers 40 square meters and uses 612 tiles. The phrases were collected by Baron in a notebook and scribed by oriental calligrapher Kito to create this special piece of artwork.

The Eiffel Tower is on most people’s must-see list. Going up the tower is an amazing experience, but one of the best – and most romantic – experiences you can have is to sit close to the base of it on a summer’s evening. The surrounding area is packed with tourists taking in the atmosphere of the iconic location that is illuminated in the night sky, and it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the romance of the place. If you want to go up it you’ll find the queues a bit shorter at night and the views of the city lights make it worth the effort. It’s a good idea to pre-book your ticket online to bypass the queues. You can display your tickets on your phone or tablet so you can book ahead even if you don’t have a printer.

There are lots of architectural masterpieces in Paris, many of which are free of charge to enter. Close to Notre-Dame is the Church of Saint-Severin, one of the oldest churches standing on the Left Bank. The church includes some fine gargoyles and ancient stained glass windows as well as the oldest bells in Paris, cast in 1412. Make the effort to explore some of the buildings off the beaten track and you’ll find the further you go from the crowds, the closer you’ll get to discovering the real Paris.

Paris has a fantastic gourmet café culture, so whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a chocaholic you should make the effort to sample as many as you can while you’re there. On your way to the Louvre, call in for breakfast at the cozy Le Fumoir or on a cold winter’s day pop in to Mamie Gateaux for a thick, rich chocolat chaud. If you want to make sure you choose an establishment at the top of its game, then look out for the words “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (MOF) on the awnings and windows as this indicates the baker or chef is one of the top culinary craftspeople in the country.

Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it doesn’t have to cost the Earth.

This post was brought to you by Emirates, which offers award-winning service that flies directly to the capital, so you can begin your break in style.

 

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Zen Travel Essentials

Featured Zen Travel Essentials Skinny Cow Wocave

Published on September 6th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

2 Zen Travel Essentials

In many ways, I feel pressed for time, even when I’m not hailing that airport cab or driving to an unknown destination on an unmarked road. My circadian rhythm is often punctuated by many “real life” moments now: taking the time to spend with my daughter, making sure that I’ve packed her suitcase and items (more a priority than mine!) and figured out nanny schedules.

All this makes for a very tired traveling mom!

A Traveling WoCave was a thought that had not even crossed my mind until Nestle inspired and challenged me to create one. Over the past month our family has nearly missed flights because of slim transit times, stayed at a lodge with no baby gates (and cliff-like steep stairs), driven over 20 miles in search of Wi-Fi, being late with deadlines and countless other stressors. A traveling WoCave is much, much needed. In this age of travel where everything moves as fast as the bullet train, there’s an even more need for calm nerves, especially if you’re traveling with little ones. I remember the time when we were traveling and Erika got sick because she was teething–I could have used some of these zen travel essentials then!

Skinny Cow Traveling Wocave Mission 3

Skinny Cow Traveling Wocave Mission 3

A stylishly studded velvet ottoman looks great in my WoCave, but is not always portable

Here’s what my ideal Traveling Wocave would have:

Zen Travel Essentials Skinny Cow Wocave

  • Some sort of aromatherapy to calm the nerves. I’ve been particularly fond of the vials from 21 Drops (roll on’s) that you can carry in your purse and use on pulse points whenever you need a moment of calm. Essential oils also help with memory and energy (think Rosemary and Peppermint oils).  I also love the travel candles by Henri Bendel which are small enough to carry with you as well. Just light the wick and say Ohm with a deep breath and your energy will come back to you.

Zen Travel Essentials Skinny Cow Wocave

Zen Travel Essentials Skinny Cow Wocave

  • Books, books, and more books! Since I’m a gadget geek, I often take all my reading material on my old-fashioned Kindle (for some reason I’m partial to my first generation, sans backlight version), and I love anything that lets me “get lost” for a little while. The cool headphones from Beats By Dre are just perfect to tune everything out.
  • Cozy socks and slippers always get me every time, and if your versions come in travel patterns or colors that will make you remember a place, even better. I love a thin but richly patterned travel scarf that keeps me cool on airplanes, yet comfortable.

 Beats by Dre

  • Memories are very powerful during travels, and there are so many ways to take your memories with you, in the form of jewelry (lockets) and charm bracelets too, such as my favorite ones by Alix + Ani. A smart jewelry case is always a good idea (this one is by Ame & Lulu). I also love the idea of a travel clock and frame but this may not be the most portable item from your Wocave.

The idea that I can finally take items that give me some peace of mind and sanity is novel and welcoming, and has so many possibilities. I’d also be sure to pack plenty of freshly-pressed juices (Suja and Blue Print Cleanse come to mind) because  they really offer calm and balance. In a strange way, a good way to become zen is really to eat better and become in tune with yourself, so a yoga mat that you can pack and take everywhere with you is not a bad idea at all.

If you had a traveling Woman Cave, what would you take with you?

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Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

Affordable Luxury Artist's Cottage in Winivan, Litchfield

Published on September 4th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

2 Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

Let’s face it: each person has his or her own unique DNA. As beautiful as our universality and similarities may be, we’re as diverse as snowflakes in our travel tastes. So why should our lodging options be so predictable?

Hotels have gotten the hang of this concept, and a few places around the world offer rooms that are completely unique. It’s far from predictable, and you’ll waltz into a studio or suite with a genuine “what am I going to get this time?” expression. Isn’t that curiosity and joy what travel is really about? Here are some digs we found that are well worth the visit.

Ice Hotel, Sweden

Ice Hotel Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

(Photo credit, Flickr)

The Ice Hotel is a bit like the legendary and fictitious town of Brigadoon: now you see it, now you don’t. Located in the in the village of Jukkasjärvi which is about 17 km from Kiruna, the Hotel exists from mid-December to mid-April. Everything is fashioned from ice, including the bar (you get drinks in an ice cup, not ice in your drink). The hotel goes through an annual period of design, and guests sleep on beds made of ice blocks in a thermal sleeping bed atop a wooden base and mattress. Each suite comes with several original pieces of art, and each is completely different since artists are flown from around the world to design each room according to their taste.  degrees of art including ice art and art from artists all over the world. The hotel offers warm rooms in Scandinavian-designed chalets, in case you’re scared to brave the cold (but trust us, the mattress is toasty). Outerwear is included in the price of your stay, and you can borrow warm clothes in case yours aren’t warm enough (tsk, tsk).  A two-day weekend stay runs for about $1,900.

The Ace Hotel, New York

Ice Hotel Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

A “Small Full” at the Ace Hotel, New York

The Ace Hotel’s lounge is a haven for social media whizkids and those who just want to chill with a cup of Stumptown coffee. Buttery leather chairs, free wifis and impromptu performances by hip artists alone make this a cultural mecca for hipsters. The historic New York building is one of the city’s most artistic hotels, and you can gaze at the art gallery exhibiting the many facets of art including fine art, fashion, music, literature, performance and culinary arts. The gallery also features works from guests artists such as MoMA PS1, Impossible Project, Chase Jarvis and more. Rooms vary in size & design from twin bunk beds to a loft suite, and the site has a description of each room. Of course, no two rooms are alike in décor in the slightest bit. Expect funky room features include turntables & records, claw foot tubs and French doors. Rates range from $449 a night for a Medium Queen to $1,999.

Out & About Treehouse Treesort, OR

Did you absolutely love treehouses when you were a kid? If you dig that Swiss Family Robinson type of hotel experience, there’s a unique experience for you in Oregon. Located in Cave Junction,  the Out & About Treehouse Treesort offers Bed & Breakfast-style  rooms and suites that are as diverse as wood bark . The five overnight  and 11 daytime-only treehouses range from simple and rustic to elaborate and elegant. Although some treehouses do not have bathroom facilities, the treesort offers tasteful, modern, décor.   There is also a laundry facility for use at a fee. The treesort also features a high rise walkway (Mountain View Treeway) which is the only way to several of the treehouses, so stay clear if you’re afraid of heights. Zip lining is available on the premises, for those who want a thrill. Stays range from $160-$300 per night/day.

Winivan Litchfield Hills, CT

Winivan Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

Winivan Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

The “Artist’s Cottage”

Winivan Hotels Where No Two Rooms Look Alike

The “Beaver Cottage”

The Winivan located in Litchfield Hills, CT is what affordable luxury is truly about. The 19 distinctively different cottages are spread over beautiful hills and come in a variety of themes, from a Beaver Lodge to an Artist’s cottage. Everything, from the exterior and exterior of each cottage  has been carefully designed to match a particular theme. The Music cabin plays music  at the front door and a miniature piano adorns the main room; The Stone cottage is (obviously) made entirely of stone; there’s even a Stable cottage featuring a horse-themed interior.  Pricing ranges from $549-$1,650 per night.

 

 

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Why Young Mothers Should Travel More

Family Travel Erika and Butterflydiary at Lake Tahoe

Published on September 2nd, 2013 | by Charu Suri

15 Why Young Mothers Should Travel More

About a year ago, I had a beautiful baby shower thrown by friends and family. Among the many cups of tea, chocolate-covered strawberries and well wishes, I had plenty of (typically unsolicited) advice.

Take it easy, take it slow.

Don’t even think of traveling the first year, the baby needs time to adjust.

I don’t know about you, but I seldom react well to advice, but I took everyone’s good wishes and intentions with the proverbial chunk of salt. When I read the article by Princeton University Politics and International Affairs professor Anne Marie-Slaughter in The Atlantic about why “Women Still Can’t Have It All”—a powerful essay on working women and the desperate need to have a work/life balance –I couldn’t help think about the fabric of society we live in, and its enormous pressure placed on women to truly have it all.

From professional accomplishments to being smart, stylish and shopping for designer totes and running in heels, women have the onus of being “Wonder Women,” in the 21st century, and taking kids to swimming lessons, kids camps, cooking meals and putting the last touches to a creative brief or spreadsheet at 1:00 am is not far from routine (I speak for myself).

Lake Tahoe with Baby

Enjoying the cool water at King’s Beach, Lake Tahoe

Kids at Lake Tahoe

Erika with her little cousins at a recent union at Lake Tahoe

When I took Erika for a playdate last week, a good childhood friend of mine who is mother to two very young boys admitted to staying up until midnight or 1:00am on a regular basis to get things done “when the kids are asleep.” She also has two au pairs helping her! I wondered how any of her accomplishments were possible if she (like many women around the world) did not have any help at all.

Another friend of mine who has two boys has struggled with the idea of working at home and supervising the boys at the same time, with the end result of tearing her hair out. There’s no doubt: it’s easier said than done.

In America, the three-month maternity leave is shorter than a nanosecond and working mothers struggle with the idea of leaving their little ones behind in daycare or any type of care and returning to their professional lives. The three month maternity leave is not a mandate however. I was shocked to find that many companies don’t offer paid maternity leave because it is optional, whereas countries like France gives 100% paid maternity leave for 112 days and Russia with 140 days with 100% pay.

Maternity Leave Rates around the World

Isn’t it lovely to see how the U.S. stacks up against the rest of the world when it comes to paid maternity leave?

Erika and Butterflydiary at Lake Tahoe

The Young Naturalist: Enjoying Commons Beach in Tahoe

With this type of “work or die” scenario, how then can young mothers afford to travel at all, unless it is for work? And yet, there are excellent reasons to go out on the road, including these, all taken out of my experiences traveling with Erika:

– Erika’s vocabulary grows by leaps and bounds each day: at age fifteen months, she knows and understands concepts like “home,” “car” and “tree” and “leaf” and “airplane” and will point out these objects while we’re on the road, completely unsolicited. It’s a joy to see a fifteen month old point to Canadian Geese on the Hudson and immediately say “duck” and recognize that ducks are indeed, universal, and not limited to say a picture book or a neighborhood pond;

– Studies have shown that babies imitate the facial expressions of their caregivers (so making silly faces is very important and fun!) but exposing young children to other people’s faces is important too—so they learn early on not to become afraid of people with different looks and ethnical backgrounds. I remember when Erika had visitors from Haiti: she burst into tears when she saw my former pastor whose features and skin color were markedly different from Matt’s and mine. Eventually we calmed her down and she warmed up to them and realized that they were super friendly, just like us;

Erika and Butterflydiary at Lake Tahoe

Getting her feet (and eventually everything!) wet

– Never underestimate the learning potential of a child: according to LiveScience.com, a baby’s brain is 60% formed by his or her first birthday, and fully grown at the time a tot starts kindergarten, so the potential for learning and forming new connections on a daily basis is limitless;

– Young mothers in particular, tend to sequester themselves at home and take extraordinary precautions with children. Few mothers go away on trips by choice—most mothers I know travel for work, or prefer to take their children with them. It’s a great idea to motivate yourself to travel more, especially if you’re a new mom and fond of traveling, because a happy mother makes for a better mom.  While it is by no means easy, I’ve found that traveling with Erika since she was born made it easier for her to fall asleep. She also got used to the routine of travel and became less scared of “white noise” elements from police cars to tractor trailers.

– While you don’t have to embark on a round the world trip and follow the Silk Route, a short and sweet trip even to places like the zoo will help expose the child to some magical memories.

I’ve always found it odd that professional tours do not admit children under the age of five on trips. I’ve heard the excuse from parents everywhere, “Oh he or she won’t remember the trip—it’s pointless to travel to places and spend enormous amounts of money” and while that may be true for a trip to see Bethlehem or the Suez Canal, it’s not fair to underestimate your child even before you’ve given him or her a chance.

Many people are genuinely astonished at Erika’s vocabulary and mind, but we work very hard at it, and keep her delightfully occupied. Being on the road keeps me very happy and that joy is what I want to pass on to her.

And yes, it’s truly time to lobby for fairer maternity leave laws. When Google extended its maternity leave from three to five months and made it fully paid, women became more loyal to the firm. Isn’t educational, emotional and financial support the very least we can do to the future leaders of the world?

As Anne Marie-Slaughter puts it, since mothers cannot evidently have it “all,” it’s important to strive for and capture the largest, yummiest slice of the life pie as possible.

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