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2017 Highlights and Prancers

We began and ended 2017 in a similar fashion: on a hiking/biking trip on the California coast. Are we in a rut? Maybe—but it’s cold in Minnesota at the beginning and ending of the year, and in California, it’s… Not.


Granted, the two trips were a bit different. 2017 started in Montecito, with more hiking and hills than biking and ocean. And, of course, the tiny prancing dogs that populate the streets of Montecito (with accompanying owners) are a bit more pretentious, with a tad more Botox.


2017 ended in Carmel, with more biking and ocean than hiking. The Carmel dogs are more laid back, relaxed, friendly and comfortable in their skin—eschewing the Botox and the covering of grays.

(Yes, it’s true that dogs do look like their owners.)


And then there was everything in between the prancer parades bookending the year:


Thimphu Buddha


I give my life a 10.

During a recent round of physicals (to make sure I don’t fall over dead on work property), one of the doctors asked how I would rank my life.

A 10.

“Really,” he said, “are you sure? It’s not often I hear that from people.”

“I’m sure,” I said. “A 10.”

To which he responded, “Maybe you should go to Bhutan. Aren’t they all happy there, too?”



Basque: Spain and France

All about the Basque.


When it rains and you’re caught in the narrow streets of San Sebastián, Spain, should you buy an umbrella? Or should you simply go to the bar and drink Cava?


In case it was really a question to begin with, the answer became even more clear when a tiny white dog came prancing down the street on his owner’s leash, looked up at us huddled in a doorway, then proceeded to pee on the umbrella stand and walk into the bar’s entrance.  I think that’s clear enough.


forza mare exterior


Our next trip was to Montenegro. Here’s a sample of responses we got when telling friends and family:


“I can’t even pretend to know where that is.”

“Oh, back to Africa?”

“Weren’t you just in Central America?”

“I hear Spain is nice and warm this time of year.”

“Oh. Sounds nice.” (Blank smile)

“Do you have to fly into Mexico City to get there?”

“Ummm, why?” (Our response: “Do you know where it is?”). “Ummm, no.”

“James Bond movie, right?”



morning valley

Chile’s Wine Country

The best gin and tonic I’ve ever had was in Santiago, Chile.


It wasn’t that special (Hendrick’s and Fever Tree), but after more than a week of wine for breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinner, it tasted like springtime.


It surprised us to know you can get tired of wine. Of course, it was momentary. After the gin, we had wine with dinner.



balloon in yountville

The Great Hotel Experience — USA Edition

Hotels for us are more than just a place to sleep. When pleasure and business come together as often as they do for us, you seek experiences, not just clean linens.


Do we seek safe, convenient, and dependable? No, no, and no.  What lost opportunities that would make for.


We seek memorable moments and defining details. Yes, there is a margin of error with that criteria, but here’s the rundown on a few of our best experiences (many of which make a great mini-vacation without a lot of travel hassle)—note: International Edition to follow:




So, apparently, social media believes 2016 sucked.

Well, I guess it’s all what you make of it.


douro valley


For the Love of Cod


If you’re a codfish, keep Portugal off your bucket list.


If you don’t, you will inevitably end up as a terrine, a chip, in a soup, baked on a plate, even in a cheese dip with eggs.  The Portuguese love their cod.





Seeking the Sun: Belize Edition

(Or, more aptly named, Three-Day Country, Two-Hour Towns)


When you live in cold climes, you’ll inevitably be on a quest to stay warm in the winter—leading to our Seeking the Sun series. For us, these trips are usually three-day countries filled with a smattering of two-hour towns. Why only three days? Often, that’s all it takes to recharge and expose your skin to some much-needed humidity.



The people you meet on the way

The first day of a bicycle trip is much like college. You immediately assess based solely on baseless first impressions. Even as mature as you think you are, your inner seventh-grader always comes through just a little.READ MORE



What can actually be carried on a motorbike (moto)?


Here’s a handful of favorite things we saw being transported on moto in Vietnam:


  1. Kumquat trees. 10-feet+ high, and in full bloom.
  2. A 30-year-old TV set. Maybe you’ve forgotten the size of pre-flat screen TVs? HUGE.
  3. A fish tank. With fish. And an operating motor.
  4. Giant pane of glass. Think picture-window size.
  5. Yes, a refrigerator.
  6. Families of five or six. Families of four? Commonplace. Families of five or more are the only one’s photo-worthy.


catania fish market


It’s not that we didn’t want to go to Sicily.


We were supposed to go bicycling in the Dolomites. But, apparently we were the only idiots who wanted to bike ride in a mountain range to elevations of 11,000 feet, so they cancelled the trip for September and we had to re-direct our travel.


We hadn’t thought about Sicily, but it sounded great. It was historic, land-and-sea-focused, and had lots and lots of hills. (We must have been in our ill-fated, short-lived “We can ride mountains!” phase.) And it was still Italy.


Or was it?


Paris March 251015 046


Some people love Paris. Some really love Paris. Others “tour” Paris.


The experience

The difference is in how you experience the city, or really how you experience anything. You can’t approach Paris as a bucket-list item, with a checklist to mark off items you can say you’ve seen. That’s touring Paris. That picture of the Eiffel Tower you get from just sightseeing when the tour bus stopped? You can download it from any computer and save the airfare. (Trying sketching that bad boy, then you’ll really see it).




South Africa

We love the sunrise.  It marks the beginning of the day with a bright “here I am” smile.  The sunrise is universally loved, with probably the exception of night shift or restaurant industry workers.


The moon rise doesn’t have the same acclaim.  Maybe because it’s less consistent.  Maybe it’s because no one actually really knows the phases of the moon, even though they pretend to. Waxing, waning, wha???


But if you have the chance to see a full moon rise while drinking gin and tonics among zebras, it will change you.


Such is the magic of Africa.



What About US?

Or the U.S., that is.

We share our stories of far flung exotic places.  We’ve ridden camels, drank Cambodian moonshine, and dined with Indian royals.  But what about a simple meal in New York?  A weekend in Austin? A bike ride in Charleston?

Yes, yes, yes.


woman with sheep


Land of gods and guinea pigs


Lima is not our favorite city. In fact, it’s probably in the bottom five of our list.

Or bottom two.

But Lima was start of another “once-in-a-lifetime” trip, so we made the most of it. We walked the parks and the neighborhood of Miraflores. We ate at several incredible Gaston Acurio restaurants. We tried (and, thankfully, succeeded) not to get robbed or have our cell phones ripped from our hands while riding in cabs.  And we left within 30 hours.







Cambodia is known distinctly for two very different reasons:  Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields.


The former brought us here.  The latter taught us about the incredible Khmer people.





From meat to mountains to Malbec, from cloud forests to colorful canyons, from leather to lakes to landscapes, Argentina is a series of beautiful and complicated contrasts.


Like that alliteration?


Okay, enough with the travel-brochure crap.



boat at sunset


Merhaba, Turkey


The boat was nearly still, anchored in the bay with a half-full moon hanging in the starry sky above. Diana Krall’s “Just the Way You Are” began playing over the central speaker system echoing into the warm night air. Our new friends from Michigan got up and began dancing across the boat’s wooden deck as we lounged, drinking our wine.


You can’t make this shit up.




Not Playing Favorites

aka: Selective Memories 


When you travel as much as we do, you’re hit with inevitable questions:


“Aren’t you worried about your safety?”


“What do you pack?”


“What’s your favorite place?”


The first two usually get a smartass response from me, and the last one is somewhat audience-dependent.  But, the true answer is “If I have one favorite, I haven’t traveled enough.”




Dear ROYAL Air Maroc,


We just returned from Morocco and wanted to commend you on the most horrific example of service and efficiency in the travel industry, ever.

If your goal is to eliminate all tourism and air travel in and out of Morocco, congratulations on a job well done.


Yours ever so truly,



torii gates


On our way home from Japan, we went through moments and memories as we often do on long plane rides.


Typical of us, all thoughts came back in rapid-fire, scatter-pattern fashion with no rhyme or reason and no order or organization. Before I post an entry, I usually attempt to turn our random thoughts into a narrative to make us look less crazy. But for Japan, I’m going to just include our list and hope you can follow along.


street park


Asia—especially southeast Asia—can be a tough place to travel to, even for a veteran traveler. The flights are insanely long, and the time difference could not be more difficult (10-13 hours, depending on location).


For us, Japan was a breeze. A direct flight to Tokyo, a car to the hotel, a brisk walk around Tokyo to wake up followed by the first dinner of truly the freshest fish in the world served with sake and wine, and you collapse for a great night sleep.


taj with ladies


It’s a good thing delivery pizza isn’t big in India.




The country has garbage scattered everywhere. Cows are also everywhere. They have their run of the place and they like to eat the garbage, which includes a lot of cardboard boxes. (Maybe we can blame Amazon for that, too?) If India was big into delivery pizza, I’m certain the cows would only eat the delivery pizza boxes, not just the regular boxes. Would you go back to eating a basic box after a pizza delivery box?



olive tree sculpture.1


Getting to the Heel: Puglia

Puglia (Puh-lee-a) is the heel of the Italian boot.  The leather of this part of the boot isn’t as high end as in Milan, Rome or Florence, but it’s well-worn, confident and genuine.


What is Puglia?

Flat, olive trees, olive trees, old olive trees, older olive trees, olive trees.  Oh, and the dry stacked stone walls. Everywhere.  And, the Adriatic and all of its influence.READ MORE



Heading to the Heel

A stop in Florence

On our way to Puglia, the heel of the boot in Italy, we decided to spend a few days in Florence.  We hadn’t been in a number of years, and we wanted a little contrast of city and eating and drinking prior to the trip. (We were anticipating serenity in Puglia’s seaside historic towns and beautiful Adriatic water.  Serenity is tough for us sometimes; we have to wear ourselves down enough to earn it.)READ MORE

South Africa Botswana


6 weeks before Puglia…

The moment of impact was a powerful, hard-hitting shock.  I have a vague memory of flying through the air wondering what I hit and how I would land.  The next memory was of lying on the hot pavement, numb.


Alsace 1

The World by Bike

Here’s a snippet of a conversation that has happened to us, almost verbatim, too many times to count:


“I’m going to be out for 8 days starting on Wednesday for vacation,” I say.READ MORE



Rome doesn’t suck


I made peace with Rome at a small, off the beaten path restaurant. It was a combination of the sparkling wine (in a country of thick, dirty reds) and some fritto vegetariano.  Deep. Fried. Vegetables. 


On this tiny side street it finally felt smaller, less crowded, more accessible.  Almost charming.



A Tale of Two Countries: Alsace

From the oompah band to the Michelin two star dinner (side note, as we’re writing this, we’re drinking Wolfberger, sparkling rose, Cremant d’ Alsace. HIGHLY recommended while reading, writing, or just enjoying everyday happy hour).


Our quest for what’s new in everyday champagne led us to Alsace, home of Cremant D’Alsace and thousands of other, most notably, white wines.


Alsace is the border where France and Germany confusingly meet. Are we in Germany? Are we in France? Croissants or brotchen? Visiting the area doesn’t clear up the confusion. Language-wise, it was actually pretty easy for us. We cobbled together our “menu French” with my high school German.


sun shot

Burma. Or Myanmar?


Or Myanmar?

The first ones to the party.


I’m usually up for anything he throws at me.  Moscow and the Black Sea?  Sure, fascinating and interesting.  China?   Absolutely.  India? Yes, incredible.


Burma?  I have to say, I didn’t jump up and down over that one.




Is a book, not a blog entry. 

So let’s tackle in small doses.

If you’ve never been outside of Paris, go to Provence first over Loire, Burgundy, Alsace, Bordeaux, Normandy, Nice, and Marseille. Those are all unbelievable, but go to Provence. Period.READ MORE