Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home for the Holidays

Riding ATV's (and the riding lawn mower!) in my parent's neighborhood; the sugary, wafting smell of my mother’s monkey bread on Christmas morning; the sound of my sister’s laugh as she tells a side-splitting story; the look of my father’s smile as he watches his family enjoy his home that he and my mother worked so hard to create; the feel of my husband’s embrace as we watch our children experience their first Christmases… these memories last a lifetime.

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. As Christmastime approaches I prepare for our annual trip to Oklahoma to visit my parents who live in Edmond. My amazing husband and I will pack up our two small children and make the seven hundred mile trek to spend the holiday at ‘home’. While I’ve never lived in Oklahoma, home is where the heart is and I can’t imagine a Christmas without my family

My mother, a minimalist throughout the year, decks her house with every type of Christmas decoration imaginable. From her Precious Moment themed Christmas tree to her multiple Christmas villages, assorted reindeer, Santa Claus figures and snowmen, my parents' house is a festive holiday wonderland.

We normally make the journey to OKC by car but this year we have chosen to travel by airplane. The 12 hour road trip with two small children sounds worse than getting coal from Old Saint Nick! I can’t say the TSA pat down will be any better; it just won’t last as long.

Aside from spending time with my family, Oklahoma City proves to be an up-and-coming destination that is easily accessible for Denverites, like me. I’ve heard the town described as ‘Denver 20 years ago’; less traffic, less smog, and less people. Like Denver, Oklahoma City has a strong western heritage, enjoys thousands of hours of sunshine per year and is a place that redefines itself over time.

Oklahoma City is the second largest city in the nation, based on geographical size. The 1.1 million people that call OKC home like a lot of space! This spatial attitude comes from the history of Oklahoma’s land run of 1889 when 50,000 people rushed the two million available acres staking claim to lands throughout the current state of Oklahoma.

A feeling of abundant space and rural serenity still exists in many parts of Oklahoma today. My parents live in a town called Edmond, a part of the Oklahoma City metro area and the sixth largest city in Oklahoma. Located on the historic Route 66, it’s a rural-feeling place where the choo choo of the passing train can be heard and where people still greet each other like neighbors in a small southern town.

If you’re fixin’ to visit the Sooner State don’t miss my favorite stops in Oklahoma City:

Nonna’s Euro-American Ristorante and Bar: Set in the charming Bricktown Entertainment District, unique and eclectic food such as Italian-style pastas and salads as well as great breads and desserts make Nonna's a total package. After a lovely dinner stroll Bricktown and the canal that runs through it to discover why downtown OKC is so downright cute!
Ted’s Café Escondido in Edmond: This no-frills restaurant is reminiscent of a Denny’s splashed with Mexican poncho patterns. While the décor leaves a lot to be desired, there is always a wait for a table at Ted’s… testimony that the Tex- Mex style food served here is terrific.
La Baguette Bistro: Founded by two brothers from France, this bistro offers traditional French cuisine as well as an adjacent bakery and market (the only place in OKC where I could find a rack of lamb). One of the best selections of gourmet cheeses and meats in Oklahoma City.
Inspirations Tea Room: A lovely tea room located in Edmond. Browse chichi merchandise located in the shop while you wait for your table. Enjoy tea sandwiches, scones, delicate pastries, and an assortment of teas in a beautifully girly atmosphere.
NorthPark Mall: A boutique mall that boasts over 40 upscale specialty stores that cater to a range of ages and interests. In a city that’s very corporate, it’s refreshing to visit this unique collection of small boutiques; a polar opposite of standard mall shops.
Paint Your Art Out: Enjoy your own beverage while local artists give step by step instructions to paint a pre-sketched canvas. A fun experience where I discover the artist deep, deep down within.

While OKC is unassuming, the sprawling city boasts many attractions, restaurants, shops, and entertainment options to suit even the most callous of city slickers. Slowly developing into a bona fide ‘city’, OKC is a place where the clock slows down and the main attraction is spending quality time with family, which I am so looking forward to.

Though I’ve never lived in Oklahoma City, home is where the heart is and there’s no place like home for the holidays. For no matter how far away you roam. If you want to be happy in a million ways for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.

Monday, November 29, 2010

St. Andrew's Day- A Celebration of Scotland

The single malt is flowing, the Shepherd’s Pie and haggis puffs are baking and the Cock-a-leekie soup is boiling over a large pot on the ‘hob’. The house is decked out with the Scottish flag (the Saltire) and plaid (tartan) patterns adorn everything from the table cloth to the ribbons tied on the glassware. A music play list of Scottish musicians, traditional and modern, fills the air with the distinctive Scottish brogue. My best friend from Scotland, Jean, and I wait for our guests to arrive. We’ve been stateside for about a year now; this St. Andrew’s Day party is a way to celebrate Scottish culture and our time studying together in Edinburgh.

If you know me you know that I’m obsessed with anything Scottish. I love kilts, cozy tartans, bagpipes, thistles, rainy days and even… (cue the looming music)…Scottish food. I sing Scotland the Brave in the shower, I integrate Scottish words into my vocabulary even though no one in America understands them, and when I talk about Scotland I refer to it as the motherland. Though a very patriotic American, I am proud of my Scottish heritage; whatever small percentage of my Heinz 57 ancestry that is Scottish brings me great joy.

Part of being Scottish, full blood or part of the diaspora is the celebration of St. Andrew’s Day. November 30th commemorates St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. This feast day is celebrated with food, drink, and the company of family and friends. Many Scots don the kilt, wear a thistle on the lapel, and enjoy traditional Scottish dancing at celidhs (‘kay-lees’). In a place that’s often cold and rainy, time-honored traditions bring warmth to the Scottish people.

Warming up in November in Scotland is a veritable objective. A steaming bowl of cock-a-leekie soup does just the trick! This soup dish of leeks and chicken is hearty, warming and very traditional. Tom Kitchin, the youngest Michelin-starred Scottish chef and proprietor of my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, The Kitchin, one-upped the soup in this tasty recipe from his cook book ’From Nature to Plate - seasonal recipes from The Kitchin’:

1 whole free range chicken
1 leek
1 onion
2 carrots
1 sprig thyme
5 white peppercorns
1 bay leaf

200 g Basmati rice
50 g chopped prunes
20 gr chopped parsley
1 chopped leek

In a large pan, cover the chicken with cold water and bring to the boil. Add the vegetables and herbs and cook slowly for 2-3 hours until chicken is cooked.
Remove chicken and vegetables from stock and season to taste.
Meanwhile cook the basmati rice and chopped leeks in boiling salted water. Chop the prunes and parsley, keeping aside for garnish. Break away the chicken from the bone.

To serve:
In a bowl, place the cooked rice, chicken, prunes and chopped parsley. Cover in stock and serve


Saint Andrew’s Day is for feasting and celebrating with traditional food, which has a somewhat undeservedly bad reputation. While a large part of the Scotch diet is fried foods (the Scots would fry soup if they could), it isn’t entirely unhealthy fare. Scottish cuisine is often made from fresh, local and seasonal food. From smoked salmon, fresh Loch Fyne oysters, tender wild Highland Venison, to delicate berries; Scotland’s temperate climate and abundance of game species provides some of the best meat and produce in the world.

When in Scotland, or when celebrating Scotland, haggis is a must! Haggis is a combination of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with onion, suet, oatmeal, salt and stock. Though not immediately tempting, haggis is a Scottish sausage traditionally prepared inside a sheep’s stomach. It has a nutty texture and a delicious savory flavor. It’s one of those things better enjoyed while having forgotten the ingredients. For Haggis virgins- try wrapping the haggis in puff pastry and serve with a wild mushroom and whisky sauce!

Always remember to serve your St. Andrew’s Day feast with a good single malt whisky like Glenkinchie, Talisker or my favorite- smoky Lagavulin from Islay. If the hard stuff just isn’t your style go for a nice Scottish beer like McEwan’s, Belhaven, Caledonian, or Deuchar’s IPA.

In addition to feasting on food and drink with friends and family, St. Andrew’s Day is a celebratory day of national reverence. St. Andrew’s Day is a reminder to the world that Scots are more Scottish than they are British. They are proud of their people, their culture, their country and their sports teams (Scots passionately cheer on their teams as well as anyone playing against England!).

There have always been tensions between England and Scotland and St. Andrew’s Day is no exception. Even on Scotland’s national day the British Army refuses to fly the Saltire from Edinburgh Castle, a historic and recognizable symbol of Scotland yet a British Army installation.

In fact, flying the Saltire on St. Andrew’s Day has been quite a contentious issue between the two countries. Prior to 2002 the Saltire was only allowed to be flown in addition to the British Union Flag and only if there were two flag poles. This led Scottish politicians to complain that Scotland was the only country in the world that couldn’t fly its national flag on Flag Day. After government regulations were revised, in Scotland on 30th November the Saltire is flown from all government buildings and the Union Flag is secondary.

The Saltire, or St. Andrew’s Cross, has been a symbol of Scotland since 842 AD and is the oldest continually used flag in the world. It represents the patron Saint Andrew who went to Greece to preach Christianity, where he was crucified for his beliefs on a cross in the form of an X. After his death, the Emperor Constantine decided to move the Saint's bones to Constantinople, but according to legend, the monk St. Regulus was warned in a dream by an angel who told him to move as many of the bones as he could to the "ends of the earth" to keep them safe. As far as the Greeks and Romans were concerned, Scotland was as near to the world's end as you could get, so his remains were taken to Scotland and he has been closely associated with the country ever since.

While originally a religious holiday, St. Andrew’s is day of national pride. It’s a celebration of the strength and pride of the Scottish people, the richness of the country’s history, the physical beauty of the isle, the importance of friends and family and the value of lasting tradition.

Thousands of miles away from Scotland, Jean and I celebrate Scotland’s national day. We celebrate our friendship, Scotland and our time together at the University of Edinburgh. Scotland is a country where not only friendship but tradition is paramount. In true Scottish style, over haggis, neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes), and a quality single malt whisky, St. Andrew’s Day will be celebrated in my house year after year and will keep Scotland and her traditions close to my heart.

PS. For a HILARIOUS skit on the differences between the American and Scottish accent check out this link:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wherefore Art Thou Luggage?

O Luggage, luggage, wherefore art thou luggage? Deny thy airline and refuse thy loss. Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my reimbursement and I'll no longer be a disgruntled passenger.

You’ve transitioned from confidently waiting for your bag at the baggage carousel, to anxiously waiting in line at the luggage claim counter. Unfortunately, despite state-of-the art bag bar coding and security matching, many star-crossed tales of missing luggage are told in airports around the world. ‘O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day!’

Hold off on that ‘happy-dagger’, you can’t get it through security anyway. There’s hope when it comes to lost luggage! Not many people know - and the airlines surely don't want to tell you - that airlines are obliged to cover all expenses caused by lost or delayed baggage up to $3,300 per passenger on domestic flights.

‘Make haste’

Rush to the claim counter the minute you know your bags are missing. Often, other passengers’ bags are also missing. Each claim takes ten minutes or more which means if you’re not in the front of the line you could be waiting a long time.

‘Oh, what’s in a name?’

Delta? Aer Lingus? Qantas? If you’ve flown round the world on multiple airlines at which airline counter do you make your claim for lost or delayed luggage? The last airline to fly you is responsible for solving your luggage woes. All airlines have agreed, among themselves, that no matter who is at fault, the last airline that the passenger flies is the one accountable.

That which we call ‘delayed’ by any other word would sound sweeter than ‘missing’

If the airline deems your bag delayed they know exactly where your bag is and are 99% sure it will be delivered to its original destination. For whatever reason, sometimes bags miss their flights and are put onto the next flight to their destination. If you ‘have more care to stay than will to go’ and decide to wait at the airport for your bag(s), ask the airline for a meal voucher- it is cheaper for the airline to buy you a meal than to pay for the courier service to deliver your bag to you.

If the airline declares your bag missing it is a bit more worrying. However, if the baggage claim representative does tell you your bag is currently completely lost, don't panic. Almost all of the bags that are missing at this early stage will be found in the next four or five days, and most of those will be found in the first 24 - 48 hours.

Once your bag(s) has been declared delayed or missing determine the following: 1) how to keep in contact with the airline, and how the airline can keep in contact with you, until your bag's status is resolved, 2) What the process will be between now and the time your bag will either be delivered to you or declared lost for good, 3) What level of reimbursement can you expect for anything you need to buy between now and when your bags arrive.

‘Tempt not a desperate man (or woman)!’

You’ve been on a cramped plane for hours, have paid an astronomical price for every in-air amenity, and waited ages in a queue to speak with a baggage claim representative. You’re in a new city without clean clothes, without a toothbrush and other essential toiletries. You’re forced to deal with a stressful and time-consuming problem during your much needed vacation. You’re desperate. You’re tempted to give your wardrobe a designer overhaul on the airline’s dime.

Not so fast! If you need to spend money on things directly related to your baggage delay the airline is obliged to provide reimbursement. However, they will likely only cover reasonable, actual, and verifiable costs and agree to repay you for only essential items. Essential is not generally defined as the hottest Louboutin heels. In fact, airlines will deny claims they feel are inflated or fraudulent. Get the details of the airline’s reimbursement policies and liability limits before you go shopping. Make sure to buy only sensibly priced, essential items and save all of your receipts.

Most airlines won’t offer assistance so be sure to ask. Don’t assume that you can send in your receipts when you return home and voila, you’ll be reimbursed. Usually the approval of a baggage claim representative is required for reimbursements. Request that any agreement made between you and the baggage claim representative be put in writing to facilitate reimbursement from the corporate office once you submit your claim.

'Parting is such sweet sorrow'

My luggage was delayed on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to New York City. I asked at the airline baggage claim counter for details on reimbursement and was given a $70 a day per diem. I purchased new clothes and toiletries that retain lasting value to me. I would have gone shopping in NYC anyway and therefore wasn’t inconvenienced. Better yet, I didn’t have to carry my massive bags through the airport and into the bustling city. They were delivered four days later to my doorstep. I submitted itemized receipts to the Aer Lingus corporate office and was swiftly issued a check for my expenses. Parting with your bags can be such sweet sorrow if you have persistence, patience and a positive attitude.

‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’

Save your baggage claim ticket issued at check in! The baggage claim ticket includes a ten-digit numeric bar code that will track your bag wherever it may end up. The tag also includes vital information like name of airport of arrival, departure time, airport code of airport of arrival, airline code and flight number, name of passenger identified with the baggage (last name, first name). Identifying delayed or missing luggage without the baggage claim ticket can be quite an ordeal.

My friend’s luggage was declared lost on arrival in Italy. He misplaced his baggage claim ticket and had no way of tracking his lost belongings other than by description of the bags. He called the airline multiple times daily and was soon on a first name, convivial basis with the baggage claim representative. The search lasted over three weeks and consisted primarily of telex communication between the three different airlines involved in his travels. The baggage was finally found and returned to him only after he spent his vacation and the following weeks after his return home dealing with the very frustrating situation.

‘A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents’

Between the time you check your luggage in to the time you claim it on the carousel it is likely to have gone through an elaborate maze of conveyor belts and baggage carts. Despite airlines' best intents to reunite you and your possessions upon arrival at your destination, luggage sometimes ends up in Mantua when it should have arrived in ‘Fair Verona’.

While many star-crossed tales of lost and delayed baggage are told around the world, you can prevent yourself from becoming a character in such a drama by carrying on. In this day and age of costly baggage surcharges it makes sense to take your belongings on board with you.

If you must check your baggage follow these steps to lessen the ordeal of lost or delayed bags;

• Put your name on the outside and inside of your bags.
• The most common causes of lost and delayed bags are late check-ins and tight connections. Avoid both when you can.
• Make sure the person who checks your baggage attaches the correct destination ticket to every bag, and get a claim ticket for each. Be sure to keep this claim ticket safe until you and your bags are reconnected.
• Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag so that you'll have something to wear if your checked bag is delayed or lost.
• Travel insurance is the best guarantee that you'll recover any losses.
• Promptly file a claim with the last airline you flew
• Always ask the airline for reimbursement and liability limit details.

For never was a travel story of more woe than this of the jet set and their lost cargo.

For more information see the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division

Photo Credits:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crash and Burn!

Mishaps occur in life and travel is no exception. Whether you unintentionally break the law, have a traffic accident or simply run out of petrol, be prepared for the unexpected and make the best of the circumstances while abroad.

We’re trying to make the best of the situation as we lie stunned in a pool of blood and gravel. ‘I will take you to hospital, you must go to hospital!’ cries a worried Portuguese man as he runs out of his car toward my fiancé and me. Several other cars stop behind him and also offer to help us seek medical care.

We’ve just had a grisly scooter accident and have crashed and skidded along a dirt road in the Algarve region of Portugal. We’re in the small, coastal town of Lagos and the people here are unusually friendly. People show genuine concern for our misfortune and offer what help they can.

We’re not badly hurt but have sustained some serious skin abrasions. My flesh has been grated by the small pebbles on the road and is oozing dirt-spotted blood. My right inner arm and portions of both legs have been scraped raw. I hiss with pain as the cool, salty, sea air enters my open wounds.

We politely refuse to go to the hospital when several bystanders offer to take us. We’re currently uninsured back home and are backpacking through Europe for the summer. We don’t want to spend what remaining money we have on a trip to the hospital. ‘Oh, we’ll be fine’ we persuade as we thank them and hop back onto the rickety scooter. 'Stupid Americans', is the thought most likely going through their heads.

We return to our apartment and raid the first aid kit. Inside we find a bottle of iodine. I remember from a medical drama I used to watch back in the States that doctors often prep a surgery sight by swabbing the skin with iodine, a strong disinfectant. I suggest we pour the pungent brown liquid over our lesions. We stand in the bath tub and pour a generous amount over each of our gashes. My fiancé screams with torment and tears drip down my face.

‘Can this be right?!?’ my fiancé yells. ‘I don’t know…I saw them do it on ER once!’ I cry. ‘Oh, great, medical care learned from a television show!’ he mocks. ‘Well, it’s the best we’ve got!’ It will sterilize the wounds and prevent infection!’ I argue. We finish our treatment and prescribe ourselves a beer to dull the pain.

An overdramatic display of my injuries

After the sting of the iodine subsides, we begin to laugh about our calamitous scooter ride. With drinks in hand and our wounds covered with enough gauze to pass as mummies we recount the ill-fated excursion to Chris, our roommate. Unfortunately the crash was just the big finish to our scooter experience gone amiss. Within the span of two hours we ran out of gas, were pulled over by the police for not wearing helmets, subsequently evaded penal action and finally crashed the scooter while rounding a curve along a small rock-strewn road.

Chris, hysterically laughing at our misfortune, hears the comedy from the beginning. I’m half laughing and half crying as I tell him the story of our eventful scooter ride...

Shortly after we rented the scooter, before we even had a chance to really stretch her legs, we realized the old girl’s gas tank was empty. Luckily the scooter put-putted to a halting stop within walking distance of the petrol station. We pushed the scooter to the station, filled her up and kept on scooting.

About an hour later we passed the police station and were waved over by two irritated police officers who spoke absolutely no English. They signalled by pointing to their heads and aggressively scolded us by wagging their fingers back and forth. We assumed there must be a helmet law we hadn’t abided by. They gestured with their hands to wait and went into the station. Instead of awaiting our punishment we peeled out with haste. We scooted as fast as our little scooter would scoot and evaded the officers like outlaws, riding our trusty steed into the sunset.

Little did we know that onward, toward that apricot-colored sunset, our trusty steed would bite the dust. We crashed our little scooter on the way back to our apartment; a grand finale to our scooter debacle. At that point we realized maybe the scooter rental just wasn’t meant to be.

The universe has funny ways of indicating star-crossed incidences. However, things always happen for a reason. After returning the scooter we were able to discover hard-to-reach areas of the town by foot. We were able to experience views from the rocky cliffs of the Algarve coast that would have been completely inaccessible on the scooter. Not to mention we had a real comedy act going anytime we told this story to friends, family and fellow backpackers.

The moral of the story is that before engaging in traffic abroad, learn the laws, check your gas tank and drive carefully! Blunders are bound to happen while travelling and are oftentimes hilarious to just about everyone but you. Take a cue from the universe and try to laugh while trying not to cry.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adventure Travel- The Ultimate Adrenaline Rush

I travel to explore, to learn, and to try new things. Travel in and of itself is adventurous. While exploring somewhere different is indeed thrilling, I often ‘up the ante’ by seeking new and exciting experiences abroad that challenge my courage. Whether I’m riding elephants in Thailand, walking the canopy of the Ghanaian rainforest, or skydiving in Australia…adventure travel adds unforgettable heart-pounding memories to any trip.

High above the tropical paradise of Cains, Australia I prepare to jump from a perfectly good airplane. Newly married and on our honeymoon, my new husband and I decide to begin our lives together with adventure. We’re literally ‘taking the plunge’.

Skydiving, one of the greatest thrills of my lifetime, is made even more thrilling by the fact I honestly can’t remember all of the detailed instructions I received in my 20 minute briefing. Is 20 minutes really enough time to prepare someone for all of the intricacies of falling to the Earth at 200 kph? ‘When do I pull the ripcord? Am I supposed to arch my back or not? Did the instructor really say that my legs would snap like twigs if I didn’t bend them up at the last moment before landing?’ A flurry of panicky questions race through my mind as the airplane, a PAC Cresco 750, ascends to 14,000 feet above the ground.

Granted, I am skydiving tandem with the instructor himself but I am anxious about the waiver that I signed, heavily dotted with the words ‘injuries’ and ‘die’. The thought, ‘am I really doing this’ races through my mind. The airplane door opens and my worries are silenced by the roaring sound of the engines and the howling of the wind outside the aircraft.

With a heavy Aussie accent, my instructor tells me to put on my ‘buggers’. I slip the clear plastic goggles over my eyes and wave to my husband as I step off the edge of the airplane into a free fall. My heart beats like a hammer as I plummet to the Earth in downward somersaults, not sure which way is up and which way is down.

In a dizzy and disoriented descent, my instructor orders me to extend my arms in a V-like shape above my head to steady us out. We stabilize and begin falling at a ‘Belly to Earth’ orientation. I can feel the strong resistance of the air against me as my jumpsuit flaps in the 120 mph wind. My body reaches terminal velocity as I fall horizontally for 60 seconds though a seemingly endless sky. My vibrating cheeks and lips are plastered back in a fixed smile. I break out into a silent scream as my voice is swiftly carried away…whoosh.

At 5,500 feet my instructor calmly pulls the ripcord and the parachute opens with a jarring jolt. Suddenly the roaring of the wind quiets and the sky becomes tranquil and silent under the protection of the giant nylon canopy. The only sound I hear is my Aussie instructor’s voice proudly pointing out the breathtaking panorama below.

Cairns, Australia is one of the most beautiful places in the world to skydive. The five minute canopy ride allows spectacular views of Cairns, a cosmopolitan city in far North Queensland and the surrounding natural wonders of the Daintree tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

I soar through the air with ease as I soak up the bird’s eye view of the area. Gravity pulls us toward the Earth and this exhilarating experience comes to an end. I see the ground and begin to fold up my legs for landing. ‘Not yet mate’, my instructor says. I wait for his cue and do as he instructs. We land by bending our legs up and skid along the ground on our backsides.

The adrenaline pumps through my veins and I feel a buzz I can’t justly explain with words. My husband safely lands minutes after I do. I run to him and jump in his arms, clinging to him like a koala. ‘What a rush!’ I excitedly shout.

While the reality is that driving a car is more dangerous than most of the adventures you will experience abroad, adventure travel shouldn’t be reckless or put you in any real danger. Check safety records, do your research, and be sure your memories are good ones and not of assorted hospitals around the world.

Travel and do whatever qualifies as exciting to you. ‘Life shouldn’t be measured the number of breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away’.

For more information on skydiving in Australia: The Australian Parachute Federation online at

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time Travel

Hey, ‘Doc’…power up the Delorean because this week’s post is about time travel. Not to worry if you don’t have the legendary time machine from the 1985 film Back to the Future, you can take a trip to the past with a little imagination and an ordinary automobile.

My husband and I pack up our car, neither a Delorean nor a time machine, and hit the open road. We drive for three hours south through Virginia’s beautiful green woodlands. Coincidentally we’re pushing 88 miles per hour, the speed the Delorean time machine must reach to travel to a programmed date. I imagine that our little yellow sports car also has the capacity to zoom through the space-time continuum to travel to the past. We’re taking this weekend getaway to discover our nation’s turbulent beginnings in one of the most prominent cities of the Revolutionary War; home to notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason and other Virginia patriots.

It’s the year 1774 in Williamsburg, the thriving capitol of the Virginia Colony. Though the town of 2,000 people is on the brink of revolution, horses’ hooves beat down on the dusty street with the familiar rhythm of everyday life. Wafting smells of roast goose allure hungry townspeople to the genteel surroundings of the King’s Arms Tavern. Sounds of the English organ resonate from the open doors of the Bruton Parish Church like welcoming arms. Young boys roll hoops along the sidewalk in front of the L-shaped Geddy House. Williamsburg’s gentlemen and politicians gather at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse to make deals, discuss business, learn the news from England and exchange the latest gossip. In the busy coffeehouse heated debate ensues between friends over the King’s latest tax on tea.

A gentry man orders a pot of tea from Sally Charlton, wife of the coffeehouse proprietor. He offers tea from his pot to his friends and business associates. Tea is served to each of the wigged men one by one. Suddenly one man abruptly places his hand over his empty teacup refusing the hot tea. He apologizes to Mrs. Charlton, ‘Pardon Ma’am, I was only thinking of the carpet’. ‘The carpet?’ asks Mrs. Charlton. ‘Yes indeed’, he says with his nose up in the air. ‘I didn’t want to have to toss the tea on your fine carpet’. Each of the men turns fiery red with passion as they debate boycotts on every-day, British, pleasures such as tea.

The people who lived in Williamsburg during Revolutionary times and their patriotism made this town significant and it’s the people that work here today that bring it back to life. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, the nation’s largest living history museum, can tour the buildings alongside colonial characters and craftsmen in period costume. As ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future would say, ‘Great Scott, it works…the time machine really works’! It really feels as if you have taken a time machine back to the 18th century.

The historic area of Colonial Williamsburg sits upon 301 acres and includes 88 original 18th century structures. Hundreds of other houses, shops and public buildings have been carefully reconstructed on their original foundations. Many of these buildings are open to the public and can be toured with admission to the historic area. These buildings of mere brink and mortar housed Virginia patriots and their ideas that lead to the American Revolution.

Visit the cobbler and see real colonial shoes being made in the working shop. Stop in the silversmith’s shop and watch as a real silversmith forges a spoon from silver right before your very eyes. Visit the apothecary and learn colonial remedies such as chalk for heartburn, vinegar of rose petals for a headache, calamine for skin irritations, and cinchona bark for fevers. Twenty trades are practiced in historic Williamsburg using colonial tools and methods.

After visiting the various trade shops, enjoy authentic cuisine of the Virginia colony. Take pleasure in fresh Virginia seafood at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern as George Washington did many times during his travels throughout the colonies. Christiana Campbell’s Tavern is one of four historic dining taverns; Chowning’s Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, and Shield’s Tavern also offer authentic dining experiences from the 18th century.

In addition to visiting restored trade shops and eateries, visitors can walk the same streets as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Patrick Henry did. Better yet, walk alongside them. Costumed interpreters undertake years of study to render the founding fathers in first person every day. In addition to the framers of the US constitution, meet common colonial folk such as farmers, craftsmen, preachers, slaves and hear their stories as they use authentic colonial grammar and diction to realistically play their parts.

Stories are what keep this place alive. The motto of Colonial Williamsburg is ‘The future may learn from the past’. Over the past 240 years Williamsburg has maintained its charm, authenticity, and cultural significance by embracing the anecdotes that make this place so meaningful to the founding of the United States of America. Here, where many of America's early founding fathers debated the ideas of liberty, independence and freedom, democracy took root. It’s in the buildings and on the streets of this attractive Southern town that political debate became the catalyst for change in the colonies.

Following a wonderful and educational experience in Williamsburg we hop back into our wannabe time machine and return to the present day. We experience a traffic jam on the 3 hour drive home and I jokingly say, ‘where we're going, we don't need roads’, a play on the ending phrase in the movie, Back to the Future. Though our experience would have been more authentic if we were actually able to travel back in time, (our car wasn’t able to generate 1.21 gigawats of power into the Flux Capacitor in order to cross the schism between past and present), our trip to Williamsburg provided valuable insight into the patriotic creation of our great country. A fantastic destination for kids, patriots, history buffs, and weekend adventure seekers alike; Williamsburg is a not to be missed American destination.

Photo credits in order of appearence:,,,,, Bethany Smith

Monday, September 27, 2010

Likin' Liken

I’m a Top Chef junkie. I love the Bravo show so much I used to look forward to when it would air on Wednesday nights. Seeing the beautiful culinary creations would excite me and inspire my food creativity throughout the coming week. Season 7 concluded a couple weeks ago and I’m just now getting over my withdrawal.

For those of you who don’t watch the delectable reality show, seventeen chefs begin a food battle in which they compete head to head in two challenges per week, one of which results in an elimination. The final four contestants; Angelo, Ed, Kelly and Kevin, all decidedly talented, were deserving of their places at the top. However, I’ve been rooting for Kelly from the very beginning.

Aside from being beautiful, modest, and talented beyond her years, Kelly Liken is one of Colorado’s most artistic young chefs. At age 27 she opened her own namesake restaurant, Kelly Liken. The sophisticated eatery focuses on seasonal American cuisine. She maintains relationships with local ranchers, farmers, and artisanal food producers and frequently changes her menu as various products come in and out of season.

My best friend, a certifiable foodie, food blogger (check out and fellow Top Chef junkie, and I have decided to leave the husbands and kids at home to get away for a weekend together, just us girls. Part of our objective is to make a pilgrimage to Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado. Other than stalking our favorite reality show contestant, we plan to pamper ourselves and take a much needed break from actual reality.

It is early Saturday morning and we set off on our hour and a half journey from Denver to the chic mountain town. We talk, we laugh, and we reconnect, not that that we were ever disconnected. Our busy lives just make these trips and our time together even more precious.

When we arrive in Vail we stumble upon Gourmet on the Gore, a two-day food festival in the heart of Vail Village that offers tastings of food from local restaurants paired with wine, beer, and spirits. We stroll the festival while basking in the glorious sunshine amidst wafting smells of elk tenderloin, flank steak sliders, and shaved pork sandwiches.

We resist the tempting food served at stalls on each side of the street in the heart of the picturesque Vail Village. Set against a back drop of evergreen trees, changing aspen leaves, and blue skies this afternoon couldn't be more perfect. We decide to stop at Sweet Basil, one of my friend’s longtime favorites and voted Colorado’s most popular restaurant by the Zagat survey. We order a few things to share; Garden Tomato Gazpacho with toasted coriander and cucumber mint sorbet; Citrus Glazed Crispy Duck Wings with toasted sesame, black garlic and jalapeno; House Cut Fries with truffle and parmesan; and Foie Gras Corn Dogs. We’re stuffed and somehow manage to resist dessert.

After lunch we make our way to our hotel, the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. The resort is located just minutes drive from the heart of Vail Village. The four-star hotel is located in breath-taking mountain surroundings and gives the inviting warmth of a cozy all-season retreat. Roaring fireplaces and lodge-type ambiance invites us to unwind and relax.

Relaxation is just what we are looking for as we head over the Vail Cascade’s spa, Aria. We enter the unpretentious sanctuary and slip into our comfy spa robes. We sit down on plush arm chairs and enjoy citrus infused water while we zone out to trashy gossip magazines. We are taken back to our treatment rooms, one after the other, where we receive an hour of blissful and healing massage. My massage goes by so serenely fast it seems as though only ten minutes have passed.

We make our way through a corridor from the spa back to our hotel room. With the lines of the massage table pressed into my forehead and oil from the masseuse’s hands in my hair I begin to dress for dinner. I don’t care that because of my slicked hair I look like a fifties greaser; I’m so relaxed I don’t dare worry or stress.

We rush out of the resort to Restaurant Kelly Liken, excited for our decadent meal. We arrive and Mike, a charming young lad valets the car. We enter the small restaurant and I half-joking say, ‘um, ok, so where is she?’ referring to Kelly Liken, our Top Chef crush. We are escorted to the bar for drinks while we wait for our table to become available. My friend has a blackberry cocktail of house made blackberry syrup, fresh thyme, Small's Oregon Gin, Cointreau, served over ice with a splash of ginger ale. I go for the blackberry mocktail of muddled blackberries, Sprite, served over ice with a splash of pomegranate juice.

As we’re enjoying our blackberry elixirs we see Kelly Liken herself glide by with a mixed air of celebrity and modesty. We make eye contact with the beautiful young chef and she approaches us. We introduce ourselves and mention that we’re huge fans. Mrs. Liken is humble, friendly and chats us up for a few minutes. We ask her to pose for a photograph with us and she graciously agrees. Score!

Like giddy tweens at a Justin Beeber concert we feel like we’ve hit the lottery and that’s before the meal even begins! We sit down at a table situated between two other tables covered with mouthwatering food that we instantly covet. We order our own selection of mouthwatering food to share; English Pea Angolotti with Olathe sweet corn, roasted local mushrooms, a prosciutto chip, and corn cream; Pan Seared Veal Sweetbreads with a Vidalia onion soubise, pickled Vidalias, sauted fennel and fennel fronds; a Cucumber Juice Shooter with citrus salt and a parsley salad; Braised Veal Cheeks with summer pea sauté, tender great Northern beans, pea tendrils, veal jus and pea puree; and a Wild Rice Hoe Cake with blackberry conserve and sautéed arugula. For dessert we can’t decide on just one so we share the Chocolate-Blackberry Tower with layers of hazelnut dacquoise, creamy chocolate pastry cream, blackberry curd, blackberry thyme coulis, with chocolate sorbet and the House made Honey’d S’mores with rich chocolate cake, toasted house made marshmallows, honey caramel, smoked hazelnuts, and a graham cracker crumble.

English Pea Angolotti

Cucumber Juice Shooter

Braised Veal Cheeks

House Made Honeyed S'mores

The meal is so outrageously delicious I don’t want it to end. It is like a roller coaster ride of different flavors and textures, each course like a swoop, loop, and a glide along the roller coaster tracks of culinary genius.

While the food is gorgeous, a highlight of the meal is Kelly Liken’s signature Tomato Consommé Martini. The martini is crystal clear but packs the strongest, boldest, red, tomato flavor imaginable. Heirlooms are in season and are beautifully highlighted in this not-to- be-missed drink. Check out this link for an easy recipe:

Our girls’ weekend of simple pleasures culminated in one amazing meal at Restaurant Kelly Liken. Though I’m not crazy about the uninventive restaurant name or the fact that Kelly Liken didn’t win Top Chef, the experience was one I won’t forget. Not only did we get to meet Kelly herself, the evening was time spent in an inviting setting with my best friend, enjoying each other’s company over beautiful food. Inspired by Top chef’s host Padma Lakshmi’s eliminating weekly phrase, ‘please pack your knives and go’, I recommend any food lover and Top Chef fan to ‘please pack your bags and go’ to restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado for an unforgettable meal of seasonal American cuisine…and for all you paparazzi, a possible reality show star sighting.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Eat, Eat, Eat, Eat!

Much to my amusement, my toddler has learned the words ‘eat’ and ‘airplane’ this week. Instead of crying when he is hungry my adorable young son says ‘eat, eat, eat, eat’ like a broken record until he gets his food. He also points enthusiastically at the sky each time an airplane passes overhead and says ‘airplane’, though it sounds a lot like a drunken foreigner with a strong accent pronouncing it a lot like the word ‘open’.

With baby on the brain I thought it only appropriate to tie the two concepts together- airplane food. Let’s agree, one of the worst things about flying is the food. You’ve just been pushed, shoved, and herded around like cattle to finally get into a pressurized metal tube that will blast through the skies at 35 thousand feet for hours on end. After all that, you’re getting served what often smells like SpaghettiO’s and looks like vomit. For better or worse, airplane food represents an airline, reflects a country’s culinary traditions and preferences, and also offers an in-flight activity…eating.

Airline meals vary widely across airline companies and classes of travel. I’ve never flown first-class. I admit I prefer to save the extra money for additional trips rather than paying for the superficial comforts of a champagne welcome, fully reclining seats, personal armchair DVD players with countless film choices, fluffy slippers, superior service, and the seven-course ‘gourmet’ (how gourmet can pre-cooked, microwaved food really be?) meal that is served to the ‘other half’. I say superficial comforts because while the above luxuries make travel more comfortable, you’re still stuck on an airplane for 11 hours and to add insult to injury you just paid $3000 to do everything I can do when I arrive at my destination for a mere fraction of the price.

Focusing on only long-haul flights (when actual meals are served...I'm not talking peanuts and pretzels here) and coach service and food quality to keep my assessment equitable, there are a few airlines that have gotten it right. In my experience, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, and All Nippon Airways know that food is a representation of their company as a whole and will strongly influence customers’ overall experience with the airline. The above three airlines have food that is indeed not only edible but nutritious and believe it or not, appetizing.

Is it any surprise that France’s national airline would serve delicious airline food? Food is paramount in France and the national airline reflects the significance of eating and drinking well. Air France manages to capture a tiny bit of the French culinary tradition. While Air France is not a Michelin starred restaurant by any stretch of the imagination, it is consistent with the French tradition of satisfying meals that consist of rich and flavorful ingredients. Paired with complimentary wine, Air France serves vegetable gratin, Normandy cheeses, Provencale-style sauté of beef with olives and tri-color pasta, filet of red mullet and green lentil salad and many other appealing choices. Moreover they serve Haagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert…yeah!

Virgin America has been consistently rated number 1 for airline meals in America. Their worldwide partner Virgin Atlantic parallels their top quality airline meals. How about a bagel with raspberry cream cheese, a tapas plate or a turkey Caprese sandwich? Relax with a champagne cocktail or a Hornitos margarita. Um, yes please! Virgin Atlantic, a British airline, does a great job of representing the diversity of the commonwealth and the tastes and preferences of the many British and non-British passengers that fly this superior airline. Virgin Atlantic offers meals such as chicken with baby leeks in a cream sauce, pepperpot beef, pasta with mornay sauce, and Paneer Lababdar with stir fried potato cauliflower and fenugreek. Not only that, but you can order all of your meals from a touch screen at your seat.

Not only do the incredibly classy All Nippon flight attendants change into different, sleek uniforms for each segment of the flight, they don colorful, full-length aprons to serve meals such as Bento boxes, Miso soup with pork and vegetables, Teishoku meals (a meal set that includes rice, miso soup, a main dish, a side dish, and pickled vegetables), and noodles to passengers. While Western meals are available, the Japanese do Japanese food best and for an American from a land-locked state, I must say the All Nippon airline food compared well with many Japanese restaurants stateside.

Airline food is no doubt a manifestation of an airlines commitment to service as well as an expression of a country’s national culinary preferences. On All Nippon from Tokyo to Honolulu we were served a tasty Donburi bowl (a rice dish with simmered fish, meat and vegetables) with chopsticks. The smell of warm Mirin and soy sauce wafted through the crowded cabin. All of the Japanese passengers ate the healthy fare happily and wielded their chopsticks with ease. We made our connecting flight with a good number of the same passengers and flew United Airlines from Honolulu to Los Angeles. We were served dried-out chicken in red sauce reminiscent of jarred Prego, a ‘fake’ roll and a wilted salad with packaged Ranch dressing. The meal was disgusting but I must admit it was somewhat hilarious to watch Japanese passengers try to eat with forks. They looked like toddlers learning how to use utensils (probably what they thought when they saw me acting all cool with my chopsticks).

Airline food represents an airline and national culinary traditions and preferences but it also offers an in-flight activity…eating. You’re on an 11 hour flight; you take your seat, settle in, read your trashy gossip magazine cover to cover, you sleep for what seems like hours, you go to the lavatory, you watch a bit of the in-flight movie, and then finally the meal cart begins its way down the aisle. You look at your watch and much to your chagrin you still have 9 hours left. You’ve eaten all of the snacks you brought on-board and you have exhausted all of the activities you've prepared for yourself. Now what? Eat the disgusting food in the gross foil tin because it will kill at least twenty minutes…and then you’ll only have 8 hours and 40 minutes left.

Eating is an activity even if it’s not healthy or satisfying. When I fly I eat out of boredom. Whatever the meal is I get very excited when presented with the question, beef, chicken, or pasta. While I know full-well that any choice I make will result in a revolting, likely radioactive, microwaved meal full of pesky preservatives, it is still exciting to be given a distraction from zoning out into the seat back in front of me, hypnotized from complete and utter boredom.

While most airlines have maintained a terribly low standard of food quality some carriers like Air France, All Nippon, and Virgin Atlantic have gotten it right. They show their commitment to service through their food. They represent their companies and their nations well while giving their passengers a tasty distraction from long and uncomfortable flights. When it comes to these 3 airlines, as my toddler would emphatically say, ‘eat,eat,eat,eat!’

Monday, August 23, 2010

Moonlighting as a Travel Agent

I love giving travel advice. If you know me, you’ll know this simple and undeniable fact. The very reason for starting this blog was to promote travel, to tell my own travel stories and to give ideas and advice to anyone who will listen.

I go gaga at the mere mention of travel, whether it is you, your friend or your mother’s aunt’s dog’s cousin twice removed who is travelling…I love to offer my suggestions and stories about my experiences whenever welcome. I can talk ad nauseam about planes, trains, automobiles and that’s just on the subject of transportation. Get me going on specific destinations and you’ll never hear the end of it.

I try to limit my travel advice to when it is solicited. Generally, I find people are much more receptive to just about any kind of advice when they ask for it…travel tips not excluded.

A few weeks ago I had some friends ask me where they should go on their honeymoon. They were thinking Italy and/or Greece but had no idea where to start. Little did they know I would prepare an entire report on locations in Italy, Greece and also a personal suggestion, one of my favorite destinations, Turkey.

My friends decided to book their once in a lifetime love-trip to Athens and the Greek isle of Santorini. In addition to a slew of other information, I recommended a restaurant on Santorini that I visited years ago called Senor Zorba’s, a Mexican restaurant. I started out by advising they not actually eat there…Mexican food in Greece, not really authentic or at all appealing for that matter. I suggested they toast to their life together over a margarita while watching the legendary sunset over the caldera and the glistening Aegean Sea. While not an epicurean paradise, Senor Zorba’s provides a lovely and very romantic spot high atop the white-washed cliffs of Santorini.

My friends aren’t the only ones to feed my obsession with giving travel advice. My father is a corporate pilot and flies all around the world. I often live vicariously through him as he flies his company’s executives to far-flung destinations and then gets to wander, eat, and play until they are ready to return home. Years ago my father flew to Edinburgh, Scotland where the executives had a short meeting in the city centre. Because I lived in this gorgeous city and am absolutely fanatical for anything involving my darling Edinburgh, I prepared a two page list of restaurants, activities, and must-see sights. My jet-lagged, time-crunched dad didn’t have the time or energy to do one of my suggestions let alone the whole list but I couldn’t help myself, I wanted him to have options.

The same thing happened when he was in Paris over night last year. Excited that my dad would finally see The City of Light, I prepared a very detailed report on public transportation from the airport he flew into, shops, a small language guide (I speak French) and most importantly some restaurant recommendations. Eating well in Paris is paramount. I sent my father and his co-pilot to one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Joel Robouchon’s Atelier. Located in the posh Hotel Pont Royal, this Michelin starred restaurant focuses around the kitchen, the workshop. Guests sit at a bar which encircles the open kitchen and meticulous chefs preparing Robouchon’s unearthly creations. The portions are small and meant for a tasting experience. However, I made sure my dad knew to get a large portion of the mashed potatoes…they’re what dreams are made of!

I spent all morning digging up info for my friend’s honeymoon, I spent multiple days gathering information on Paris hot spots, and I took a lovely and nostalgic trip down memory lane compiling my list of recommendations in Edinburgh. I want my friends and family to enjoy their trips. Nevertheless, I can’t say my travel tips are entirely selfless. I truly, honestly love travel research and interjecting with my own experiences and stories so much so that I probably should have become a travel agent. It makes me so happy, giddy even. Train tables, fare watchers, hotel guides…you name it, I have fun dreaming about visiting other places.

So, be prepared when you ask me for travel advice. You will literally make my day (or week depending on where you’re going) and you’ll get more information on a place and how to get there than you ever imagined. If that’s not your bag Baby, check out a copy of Lonely Planet at your nearby library and knock yourself out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuk-Tuk Tour of Bangkok

'Put, put, tuk, tuk , vroom'…the tuk-tuk, an auto rickshaw that carries my husband and I through the crowded, chaotic streets of Bangkok fumes a black exhaust that covers my sweaty, sunburned skin with a layer of the infamous city smog. We hailed this tuk-tuk outside our hotel and have asked the driver to take us to the Blue Elephant for dinner. I’m starving and after our day of sightseeing the exotic metropolis I desperately crave a relaxing, satisfying Thai meal.

We ride in the tuk-tuk for what seems like ages. We dodge fruit vendors, bypass slower traffic, and nearly curb the makeshift median a few times. Suddenly the tuk-tuk pulls over at a store front and the Thai driver, who doesn’t speak a lick of English ushers us into a shop. He welcomes us and encourages us to shop through the conglomeration of touristy items, mostly Buddha figurines, ‘real’ Thai silk, and home wares made from teak wood. We’re not really in the market for souvenirs. After a long day we just want to eat dinner. We leave the shop and hop back in to the tuk-tuk onward to our desired destination, so we think.

The driver stops at another shop and requests that we at least have a look. I understand these guys are dirt poor and that the driver gets a commission from every purchase made at each shop. It is collaboration and I can’t blame them for that. We have a browse at the junk to appease the driver and request we proceed to the restaurant where we have a reservation that we are now late for.

After yet another souvenir shop stop and the inkling of imminent heat stroke, we opt for the air-conditioned serenity of a taxi that takes us directly to our destination. After the tuk-tuk souvenir shop tour of Bangkok, the grimy, hot open air and chaotic traffic, I recommend just about any alternative mode of transportation; taxi, Skytrain, Underground Rail System, or dematerialization transport by the Starship Enterprise...'Beam me up Scottie!'

  • Though the tuk-tuks are a cheap method of transportation, (usually around 30B for a short trip) you are bound to tour all the souvenir shops on the way to your requested destination. If you choose to take a tuk-tuk sweetly but firmly request that you go directly to your destination. Haggle at least 15B off the quoted fare as the price is inflated from the start.

  • Bangkok is meteorologically the world’s hottest city. Paired with a population of 9,100,000 and traffic that persists all hours of the day, expect sticky, gritty, smoggy air that can be especially apparent in tuk-tuks.

  • Avoid taking tuk-tuks (or taxis for that matter) between the hours of 7:00am – 9am and 4pm – 5pm. These times are ‘rush hour’ and you don’t want to be stuck in traffic for hours sweating and breathing the hazardous fumes from engines all around you.

  • Taxis are also plentiful in Bangkok and can be flagged all about the city. They come in a variety of colours though green-yellow and red-blue ones are the most common. They are very cheap by international standards (35B flag rate and 5B/km after that) and the drivers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the city.

  • The Skytrain (BTS) and the underground rail system (MRT) are great public transportation alternatives to tuk-tuks and taxis. The BTS is cheap, smooth, cool, clean, fast and scenic way to enjoy Bangkok. Trains service two lines and arrive every 3 - 6 minutes or so between 6:30am and midnight. MRT is also a clean, cool choice for public transport. With a capacity to whiz 40,000 passengers per hour in each direction, trains arrive every five minutes in peak times (7am - 9am, 4pm - 5pm) and every seven minutes off peak.

Beaten into submission by a tuk-tuk

Friday, August 13, 2010

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Years ago I had a conversation with a co-worker who couldn’t fathom why I would ever want to go to Thailand. I tried to explain my motives; the food, the rush of the colorful markets, the fascinating culture, the renowned service and the value for money, and the diverse range of activities and tourist facilities available. My co-worker had absolutely no desire to ever see Thailand and preferred to use vacation time to partake in a poker championship at a Las Vegas casino.

Elephant Ride in Koh Samui, Thailand

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same is true for travel. One man’s paradise is another man’s purgatory. One traveller’s pleasure is another’s pain. While what constitutes the perfect destination and method of travel varies greatly for each person, there is undeniable beauty in the act of travelling. To far-flung locales or to the next town on the interstate, people travel to experience, discover, and relax.

What one considers a perfect destination depends largely on a traveller’s personality and character. Some people enjoy relaxing beach vacations, others like adventurous climbs on the world’s highest peaks; others appreciate fine food and culture in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. To each his (or her) own and that is what makes travel so universal- it’s subjective and ever-changing just like any form of beauty.

Some call me crazy; I just call myself anxious to take any trip I can. I like to journey to exotic locales all over the world. I also enjoy cross-country road trips, weekend getaways to sleepy mountain towns, camping trips and travel to just about anywhere that constitutes somewhere new or different. Something about the act of moving is undeniably attractive to me.

Our Camp at the Flat Tops, Colorado

I recently took a road trip with my husband and 14 month old son through the heartland of America. My husband drove along the dusty, barren highway and I sat in the back seat ‘playing the clown’, entertaining my baby for twelve hours. My best friend said she would never ever subject herself to something like that. What is unthinkable misery to my best friend was, to me, an economical, flexible way to travel that enabled us to bring much more luggage and spend LOTS of quality time together.

Taking a Roadtrip Break...Somewhere in Kansas

Aside from cross-country road trips, some travellers shy away from destinations due to uncomfortably long flights, multiple stopovers, and challenging situations along the way. To others, like me, the actual act of travelling is exciting. I look forward to each and every flight, my uninterrupted SkyMall reading time, the airline beverage cart and my Bloody Mary mix over ice with a lime. I look forward to frequent flyer miles, in-flight movies, free wine, and most of all, the anticipation and excitement of a new place. The long layovers, grimy teeth, achy muscles, blood-shot eyes, snoring seat mates, screaming babies and grumpy airline personnel are just part of the deal. You have to take the bad with the good.

The actual act of travelling does present quite a few challenges in the process of getting from point A to point B. This is why I say the beauty of specific travel preferences are in the eye of the beholder. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a well-travelled person I greatly admire. She said, ‘you guys are the kind of people that would travel to Scotland for the weekend with three kids and four layovers.’ I thought about this comment for days and agree completely. I’ll take whatever circumstance, ideal or not, that enables me to travel. I'll take what I can get. Call it being intoxicated by travel itself, anxious to get any action I can or just having beer goggles on when it comes to the method of travel I find attractive.

Being a travel obsessed person I find just about any destination desirable. Years ago my grandma, not a traveller herself, asked me, ‘why would you ever want to go to Ghana?’ I replied, ‘if you don’t know, you should go’. If you don’t know why something is attractive to someone else, the best way to find out is to get to know it. It’s like meeting someone that you don’t find attractive initially who grows more and more beautiful to you the more you get to know the person. The same is true with places. Though I wasn’t expecting to find beauty in Ghana, my 10 days spent there showed an irresistible quality that nowhere else in the world possesses.

Motherly Love in Accra, Ghana

Like beauty, everyone has a different opinion about what makes a holiday destination attractive. Whatever your preference, travel is like beauty itself- it’s subjective and universal. Though the ‘where’ and 'how' is a personal preference, the act of discovering new places, seeing how others live, experiencing different cultures, getting out of everyday life and seeking rest and recreation is an inherently beautiful thing.

Paris, France with My Best Friend

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fringe

They dance to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo with nipple tassels a-twirling. They run through brick walls. They play Scotland the Brave on bagpipes, a sound that resonates off the old cobbled streets of an ancient city. They are The Fringe. The Fringe artists breathe a passion for performing arts through Scotland’s capital, long known to cultivate art and culture.

August 6th marks the beginning of a three-week explosion of non-stop energy that pulsates through Scotland’s breathtaking capital. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe or ‘The Fringe’ is the largest annual arts festival in the world and includes 32,000 performances and more than 2,000 shows packed into 250 venues across the city.


The Fringe, originated by the uninvited, fringe artists of the Edinburgh International Festival, hosts a slew of unapproved and unrestricted performances that range from big-budget, high production spectacles showcased in lavish theatres to low-budget buskers who display their talent on street corners. Audiences can view anything from traditional, full troupe Shakespearean plays to one-woman interpretive African dance routines.

I’ve spent two years in Edinburgh during The Fringe and have seen a variety of shows. My Fringe experience includes a one-man show of forgotten lines, an Argentinean sensory overload, a time-honored military tradition and a titillating burlesque number that would make even the raciest of us blush.

Insider tip: There is a half-price ticket hut located on Princes Street (the main thoroughfare that separates Old Town and New Town) in front of the Princes Street Mall. The hut sells day-of tickets for half price to an assortment of shows around the city. This is a great option if you want to experience The Fringe on a budget and you’re not sure exactly what you want to see.

Oh La La

I took advantage of the half-price ticket hut and purchased tickets for a Vaudeville show which turned out to be a sultry cabaret burlesque number. A good deal on the tickets turned into a good deal of surprise as my husband and I watched a show of saucy sing-along dance numbers complete with fishnets and nipple tassels. The show was modern yet paid homage to old-time saloon entertainment. My first experience with burlesque was undeniably tasteful and pleasant.

Set to an array of music like the Scissor Sister’s song ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’ and the ‘Chattanooga Choo-choo’ this light-hearted cabaret show dazzled with routines that were comedic, nudity that was graceful, and costumes that were tantalizing beautiful. A small cast of British gals flaunted their healthy proportions and quite literally bounced along to the music. As I sipped my bubbly, huddled around a cabaret table in a dimly lit theatre, I couldn’t help but feel the contagious excitement of the actors and the sheer amusement of the audience around me. Though not for everyone, this burlesque was a nice and unexpected surprise.

Insider Tip: There is a program of all the shows online and in a printed version that can be found all around the city during the month of August. Do some research before you buy tickets to a show if you want to be sure of what you are going to see. Or, be spontaneous, live on the edge and choose blindly from the hundreds of half-price tickets for sale. You may be pleasantly surprised (like I was) or not.

Time Honored Tradition

A more modest and notable performance of the Edinburgh Festival is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. No, no, no…it has nothing to do with needles, ‘getting inked’ or displaying ‘tats’. The Military Tattoo is a military drum performance complete with bagpipes and performers from over 30 countries.

More than 12 million people have attended the Tattoo and the annual audience is around 217,000. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is performed every night during the festival, live on the esplanade of the Edinburgh Castle. The event has been sold out in advance for the past decade and is one of the most sought after tickets of the Edinburgh Festival.

The music played by the lone piper standing on the castle ramparts will send a thrill up your spine whether you’re a fan of bagpipes or not. The sun is setting, the torches are lit. On the esplanade of the great Edinburgh Castle, 150 bagpipers play Scottish Tunes with hundreds of highland dancers. To close out the evening, more than 8000 people sing Auld Lang Syne. You can't help but get a bit teary-eyed hearing Robert Burns' poem sung in such a magnificent setting.


Insider Tip: I bought tickets for the Tattoo in January (7 months in advance) and was only able to obtain modest seats. Buy online early in the year to secure good seats. On that note, a good seat is a subjective term. No matter where you sit the close quarters will make you will feel like you’re in your neighbor’s lap.

Brute Force

Another big-budget production I had the privilege of seeing was Fuerza Bruta which means Brute Force. Fuerza Bruta is an Argentinean production from Buenos Aires that toured Edinburgh in 2007. Fuerza Bruta is the most expensive and technically elaborate show to ever hit The Fringe. The show, like nothing you’ve ever seen before, is pure sensation and has the audience feeling and reeling from the beginning. Pounding music is played as the audience enters the 360 degree theatre and stands in a clump, circling a stage. In the first scene a man runs endlessly on a treadmill dodging bullets and crashing through brick walls made of cardboard. The audience then walks clockwise as a group while rave music plays on like a sledgehammer.

The pushing and shoving of your neighbors in the massive heap of a crowd is all part of the experience as Fuerza Bruta insinuates a theme of struggle. Scene after scene the audience moves with the performance to the left and to the right. Then towards the end of the performance our gaze is turned upward. We look up at young women hurling themselves across a transparent swimming pool above our heads. The giant, clear, suspended ‘Slip ‘N Slide’ amuses as athletic sirens frolic in the surf. Gradually the Lucite pool is lowered towards us and we reach our hands up to touch the unearthly ladies who remain just beyond our grasp, a lot like the deeper meaning of this fantastic production.


An insider tip: Tickets for Fuerza Bruta were about $50. Most tickets for other shows should be well below that.

What Was My Line?

While some performances like the Tattoo and Fuerza Bruta are unforgettable, others are forgettable or worse, forgettable to the actor himself. I stumbled upon a production on High Street (Edinburgh’s Main Street) that was free, beginning in 5 minutes and still had tickets available. It sounded too good to be true. I walked in and found a seat in the crowded theatre. Minutes later a man walked out and began his one-man show. He mimed and acted without objects. He even rode in an imaginary car while having a conversation with another character, played by himself.

It didn’t start out too bad but as the show progressed the one and only performer began to forget his lines. He’d make up lines and other times would stare out into the audience in long awkward pauses. Minute by minute audience members walked out without shame or remorse. Before long, I was the only person left in the theatre. The poor performer gazed out to me with both appreciation for staying and embarrassment, hoping I’d soon leave too. He cut his bit short and wrapped the show up in a clumsy way. Though I was the only person left in the audience and the show was miserable, I emphatically clapped anyway. It takes a lot of courage to get up on stage and I admired the actor for carrying on through this disaster of a show.

Insider Tip: More often than not you get what you pay for. Usually the free shows are free for a reason.

I’ve had the privilege to see multiple Fringe shows and feel lucky to have experienced the madness of August in Edinburgh two years in a row. The above four descriptions are only a sampling of what’s on offer at The Festival. Of the 32,000 performances there are many burlesque shows each with a different theme; the Military Tattoo is an annual performance, though tickets sell out early in the year; Fuerza Bruta is not in Edinburgh this year but can be seen in 2010 in New York and Chicago; many free performances can be found in venues around the city though buyer, rather non-buyer, beware. For current information on venues, performances, and ticket prices refer to The Fringe program online.


Perhaps the most impressive sight of The Fringe is bustling, mobbed streets of Edinburgh itself filled with freelance rappers, pink-haired magicians, flame throwers, accordion players with their buskering Chihuahuas, juggling unicycle riders, young actors dressed as Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, contortionists and every other kind of aspiring performer. In an age when theatre is often pushed to the backburner, an entire city of artists and audiences talking day and night about virtually nothing else is quite a spectacle.