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City Guide: Portland, ME

The aftermath of our few days in Portland could best be described as a
“food coma.” We both felt like geese about to have our livers harvested for foie gras (although they would have found pure wine and Sazerac where our livers are supposed to be).

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Sunrise

City Guide: Prague

Imagine every Manhattan tourist at any one time, give two-thirds of them a selfie stick, and put them together on a ten-meter-wide bridge built in the 15th century.

 

Welcome to Prague.

 

City1Our apologies to everyone looking for a love story. Prague (in its historical heart) is just plain crowded with tourists of every shape, size, and smell. It’s home to 1.5 million people and 7 million tourists. You do the math.

 

Before you think we’re going to trash the city, read on.

 

But first, a disclaimer. Judging by the conversations we overheard standing in line to board our flight out of Prague, our recommendations are clearly not for the masses. 

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Holocaust Memorial

City Guide: Berlin

Currywurst

What not to do in Berlin:

  • Don’t go to Checkpoint Charlie… Unless you’re in the mood for KFC. It’s ridiculously crowded and touristy, and has lost the poignancy of the time it’s supposed to represent. And many chain fast food restaurants are right in the same area.
  • Don’t get the giant currywurst in your picture at the Topography of Terror. Any photos you take of what should be a timeline and visual reminder of one of the most horrific times in world history, which details the rise of Hitler, are bound to include a giant smiling currywurst over the wall in the background. #perspective
  • Don’t drive. The best way to get around anywhere is by bike.

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  • Don’t miss the underbelly. The street art, the former nightclubs-turned-artists’-enclaves, the bohemian melting-pot neighborhoods, the hofs in the Jewish Quarter—it’s all there.
  • Don’t think Germans are all the same. Germans from Munich will be offended; Berliners will laugh and simply say “We’re Berliners.”

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Current Obsessions #3

As the summer winds down and we’re heading to Berlin and Prague, here are a few random current loves and obsessions.

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Current Obsessions #2

The Art of the Top 10 (List 2)

Top 10 Current Obsessions

Second in our ongoing series of current obsessions.  This time around, we’re staying right in our sweet spot:  Spending (probably too much) $$$ on food, booze and travel.

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Current Obsessions #1

The Art of the Top 10 (List 1)

 

Top 10 lists are impossible for us.  We have every intention, and have even tried, to boil down our favorite things, places, hotels—it’s impossible. But a series of Top 10 lists?  That we can attempt.

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Patagonia Sur

We had already driven nearly three hours when we hit the rough gravel outside of El Chalten. Ugh, we have to almost be there. Gonzo (a nickname), our driver, turned around and said, “It’s about another hour, and I’m sorry, but the road is really bumpy.”

 

Now we were getting a bit crabby, but hey, it’s the start of our vacation adventure. Bumpy, however, was not the right word. It was like driving through a tank trap. But we finally arrived at the boat dock, to the smiling faces of our awaiting boat. Then Gonzo promptly threw my luggage in the lake (accidentally) while trying to heave it on the boat. (It was retrieved after a minute or so.)

 

After a 10-minute boat ride, we arrived at our lodge’s boat dock on the other side of Lago Desierto as it started to spit rain. We walked quickly up the hill to be greeted by more smiling faces for a quick tour of the beautiful lodge.

 

We then started to hear things like eco-friendly, no power these hours, no hot water these hours, put all trash (even bathroom and toilet trash) in garbage, blah, blah, blah, and, oh, yeah, no WiFi.

 

“Wait, what?” we both said.

 

Following came an explanation about location, access, power, blah, blah, blah. Come on, they get WiFi on the moon.

 

We got to our room, looked at each other and I said, “We just drove 110 hours and feel like we just got out of a clothes dryer, arrived here to find limited power, water and no WiFi, and they threw my luggage in the water. What the hell did we book? Are we camping?”

 

Guess what? It was one of the best hotel experiences of our extensive travels. Typical spoiled Americans.

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City Guide: Palm Springs

Palm Springs isn’t just for “older” people. At the very least, the food isn’t. It’s gotten a reputation as a place where abundant “flippers” (sunbathers) bask all day—just by a pool instead of on the sand. But there’s plenty else to do—and eat—in PS. And a little pool time in between to cool off never hurt anyone. Just bring your sunscreen and remember you’re in the desert… Go during the wrong time of year (or stay too long) and you might roast.

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City Guide: Austin

If you want to stand in line, Austin is the place. It’s an incredible food town with a great vibe and unique local foods, quirky brands, and, of course, barbecue. But so much of the best is served out of containers/food trucks/food trailers/Airstreams/metal boxes/dumpsters transformed into “places that serve food.” And the lines don’t stop at smokers and brisket. Turns out Austin residents and guests alike also stand in line for tacos, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza.

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City Guide: Los Angeles

I can’t remember the last time we said, “Let’s go to LA for a long weekend.” New York, of course. Boston, no question. Chicago, absolutely.

Los Angeles has everything on the checklist that most cities don’t: consistently great weather, selection of incredible hotels, fantastic restaurants. Unfortunately, what ties them all together is a very long line of cars. If you’re walking on a street or an oh-so-rare sidewalk without a dog, people will actually stop and ask if you’re okay.

That said, we never complain when business brings us there often, and we always add on a few days. The key to a successful trip? Find a neighborhood and stay within a 5-mile radius to keep your sanity. And stick to Uber and Lyft and make them do the heavy lifting.

The other key? Stay only one night and rent a car to drive to Santa Barbara/Montecito.

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City Guide: Boston

No matter where we are, other than Boston, it usually only takes a few words out of David’s mouth before whomever we’re talking with asks if he’s from Boston.

His usual response is yes, a hundred years ago, but we go back often.

You won’t get a list of the best duck-boat tour operators in Boston from us, but you will get plenty of great places to eat and drink. We like to go often enough to have more great recommendations than even the Bostonians (they’re a tad provincial about their neighborhoods).

We love Boston. As I mentioned, David is from Boston and has been seeing a lifetime of transition there. I’ve been going at least once or twice per year for nearly 20 years… And the town never gets old.

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City Guide: Miami

When it’s January and you live in Minnesota, there is no high horse on which to sit and judge or criticize any place in the world. So Miami becomes an easy go-to place and our goal is to find the areas without tons of club hopping tourists and to avoid the tacky strip mall vibe you can find in some areas. It can be a great long weekend to restore the level of humidity back to our flaking skin and static-ridden hair, and actually enjoy some of the Deco history that still exists.

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City Guide: New Orleans

New Orleans is the kind of city where even the most tacky, touristy things seem to make sense, and where the actual people of the city are the real entertainment. They’re authentic and fiercely loyal to their city, incredibly friendly and tolerant, and even welcoming to the idiot tourists. The Uber drivers will give you the best overview of the stages of New Orleans, including how New Orleans had lost its mojo pre-Katrina. The recovery was brutal, but now the city is back and better than ever. Every weekend is a celebration, a festival, a big football game, or a convention. It’s not just during Mardi Gras—New Orleans is always a party.

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the park

City Guide: Montreal

Montreal is a great getaway town—a couple of days are enough time to see the Old City and some of the cool neighborhoods, hike through the Mt. Royal park, and hit a lot of great restaurants and bars. We find it best to arrive late afternoon, giving ourselves an introduction to the city in the early evening rather than the bright light of day. Then, after quickly dumping our bags at the hotel, the eating and drinking can commence (what else is new?).

 

 

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City Guide: Charleston

Charleston is the anti-Los Angeles. Charleston exists to balance out the Orlandos of the world. It has actual history. It’s walkable. You can bicycle. It has neighborhoods. It has soul.

And now, it also has great restaurants, hotels and cocktail bars.

If you’re from the Midwest, there’s the added bonus of warmth (except in the summer months, when it’s called “suffocation” with the humidity). The city has low-country and Gullah roots that shine through in its food and culture, and is ideal for eating, walking, and biking—just beware the cruise-shippers wandering around during the daytime.

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City Guide: San Francisco

Pre-Uber, our relationship with San Francisco was shaky at best. Let’s just say it’s become a lot more stable in the last few years. Really, our favorite way to experience San Fran is to make it a frequent one-night stop on our way to and from Healdsburg, Yountville, or down south to Carmel.

I always think of San Francisco as a rectangle to make sense of the orientation and angled streets. The bottom line is Cesar Chavez Street at the end of the Mission District, and the top is the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. I think of everything on the top middle to left as “sightseeing,” and everything on the mid to lower right as “eating and drinking.” The angled Market Street (and its parallel Mission Street) are the bisecting guideposts. Not scientific, but it makes sense in my crazy brain.

With that preamble, it makes sense to think of spending a few days in the city as dividing by area—where to stay, and clusters of what to do and eat. Just let that Uber take you from one hotspot to another, and start your wandering once you get there.

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cherry blossoms

City Guide: Washington, DC

Washington, DC can be great—but keep in mind, it’s an expense account town. Translation: more expensive than it should be. Stay away from driving, if you can—there are taxis and Ubers everywhere, and traffic is a disaster. As always, we suggest using your feet instead. One of our favorite walking areas is between Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, where some of our favorite restaurants (with plenty of weeknight mojo) are located.

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Skyline

City Guide: Chicago

Chicago is a first-tier US city with a food scene that’s exploded over the past fifteen years to rival New York’s (although in a completely different way, emphasizing the hearty over the spectacle—with the exception of Alinea’s showstopping dinner service and the Aviary’s cocktails, a production in itself). Sure, it’s cold in the winter, and it is actually windy—but there’s still plenty to do to fill up a couple of days, and the summers are nothing short of spectacular.

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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:

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Thimphu Buddha

Bhutan

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?”

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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.

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Montenegro

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?”

 

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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.

 

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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:

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2016

So, apparently, social media believes 2016 sucked.

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

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Portugal

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.

 

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Belize

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.

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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

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Vietnam

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.

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catania fish market

Sicily

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?

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Paris

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).

 

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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.

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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.

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Peru

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.

 

Success.

 

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Cambodia

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.

 

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Argentina

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.

 

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Turkey

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.

 

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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.”

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Morocco

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,

Us.

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Japan

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.

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Tokyo

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.

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India

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

 

Why?

 

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?

 

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Puglia

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

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Florence

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

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Invincible

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.

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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

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Rome

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.

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A Tale of Two Countries: Alsace

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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.

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Burma. Or Myanmar?

Burma

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.

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THE REST OF FRANCE: Provence

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