Exploring Tokyo for the First Time

Thanksgiving week seemed like a perfect time to head over to Asia for the first time with the family. The girls were on school breaks and it’s typically a slower work week for my husband. But you may be wondering…Japan for Thanksgiving?? Japan did gift the USA with beautiful cherry trees…So, I am thankful for that! In all seriousness, Japan does celebrate on November 23rd, but they call it “Thanksgiving Labor Day”. Some businesses even give time off from work.

Once we arrived and started exploring, we realized that it’s a very busy time of the year. None the less, we had a fantastic time! We celebrated with the Japanese and a multitude of visiting Chinese during a temperate Fall week with flaming maple trees & golden ginkgo trees (cherry trees blossom only in the Spring…need to plan another trip for that spectacle)!

DSC08574

Yoyogi Park in Tokyo

Similar to NYC on a mild fall day, lot’s of families & friends go out to enjoy the nice weather and beautiful foliage in the parks in Tokyo. Again much like NYC, Tokyo has predominantly pavement and tall building, so the parks get busy.

As we strolled through Yoyogi Park, which was near our hotel (Park Hyatt Tokyo), we noticed how clean it was even with all the social activities going on. The people seem to be very careful to clean-up after themselves. Even with all the crowds, I was amazed at how clean the city was and we hardly saw trash cans!

Wedding photos underway at Meiji Shrine garden in Tokyo

Wedding photos underway at Meiji Shrine garden in Tokyo

While walking through the Meiji Shrine gardens, we came across a couple that were having pictures taken in traditional Japanese wedding outfits. The bride looked perfect with her hair all done up and the porcelain-like make-up!

“Scramble Crossing” in Tokyo

“Scramble Crossing” in Shibuya district, is the busiest intersection in the World. It can accommodate as many as 2,500 pedestrians with each rush-hour traffic signal change! Don’t drive here!!

Small shop on a side street in Tokyo

Small restaurant on a side street in Tokyo

Walking down a side street, one couldn’t miss this brightly decorated restaurant. It had blown-up images of their food plastered near the door for people to see what they serve (several other restaurants did that too). We had a good laugh at the dressed up she-piggy by the door, welcoming guests in!

DSC08884

“Lolita” girl while out and about in Harajuku district in the Shibuya, Tokyo

The youth subculture’s favorite hang-out area is in Harajuku district in Shibuya. It’s full of high-end shops, restaurants and lots of youth! Several of the stores carry Victorian doll costumes that the “Lolita” like to wear. Women wear these outfits not just when attending parties, but as everyday wear even while eating a McDonald’s burger.

DSC08866

Table for two

While exploring Shibuya, we walked past this cute scene…Two adorable doggies having a drink!

DSC08632

Statue of the loyal dog Hachiko in Shibuya

The statue of Hachiko in Shibuya, near the subway station, has become a popular meeting place. It’s in remembrance of the loyal dog, that would wait for his owner’s return from work, at Shibuya Station. While at work one day, the owner died, yet Hachi continued to wait for his ‘master’ every evening for the following 9 years. Now that’s devotion!

View from the Mori Tower observatory, through the mist, in Roppongi Hills

View from the Mori Tower observatory, through the mist, in Roppongi Hills

We spent part of a rainy day walking around Roppongi Hills. The building complex features offices, apartments, luxury shopping, fine dining restaurants, movie theater, a hotel and the Mori Arts Center which is in one of Tokyo’s tallest buildings. We toured the arts center and checked out the views from their observatory deck. You can see Tokyo Tower, modeled after the Eiffel Tower, in the mist. It’s the World’s tallest self-supporting steel tower and 42 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower.

You can’t go to Tokyo without experiencing the Robot Restaurant. Imagine flashing lights, glitzy girls dancing to taiko drums and techno music with a giant panda, dinosaurs, ninjas and (of course) robots on a stage that, if you’re not careful, can get a hand or finger squished as the large apparatuses move about! Show on STEROIDS!! Nothing like it…must see for yourself!

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

It’s in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red-light district, a seedy part of town…so beware  and have your hotel concierge pre-purchase your tickets, then have the cab driver drop you off in front and pick you up there too, so you don’t have to walk around.

Plan to eat before you get to the show because it’s not great food, barely OK snacks.

We finally got a beautiful view of the famous Mount Fuji one morning, from our room up high in the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

Mount Fuji peaking through the clouds-view from our room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Mount Fuji peaking through the clouds-view from our room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

The Park Hyatt Tokyo is a fantastic hotel with great service, comfortable rooms and great restaurants. I really enjoyed the New York Bar UNPLUGGED that has great views and offers live jazz performances nightly. We had Thanksgiving Dinner next door, at New York Grill, that has an open kitchen.  We didn’t have turkey and all the fixing, but instead we had steaks and seafood! Even though it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving, it was a tasty meal non the less. We won’t forget it!

Chefs preparing dinner at Robotaya Restaurant in Roppongi

Chefs preparing dinner at Robotaya Restaurant in Roppongi

The Robotaya chefs were great at preparing our authentic Japanese meals from the fresh meats, seafood and veggies spread out in front. They cook them on an open-hearth style grill and the sake was perfect with the meal!

With saki in hand, we toasted the night...Kampai!

Awaiting dinner at Robotaya, with sake in hand, we toasted the night…Kampai!

I can’t forget to tell you about one of my culinary highlights of this trip. I got to have lunch at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza. Again, thanks to the assistance from the concierge at the Park Hyatt, who made the reservation 30 days in advance (the earliest Jiro allows).

Kenny & I got there early and waited in the basement of an office/retail building, for the doors to open. Jiro’s is small with a sushi bar that seats about 8-10 people and a few tables. We were seated with 7 other guests at the bar. We were given a pre-fix menu, listing the 20-pieces of sushi we will each be served. Jiro & his oldest son, careful assemble each piece, brush their special sauce on top and place it on each guest’s plate respectively. He quickly noticed and chuckled that I was a “southpaw”, then proceeded to place the rest of my nigiri, specifically for my ease of picking it up.

Everyone spoke in hushed voices, as not to disturb Jiro’s work. It was quite dramatic! The lady next to me lives in the States, but is originally from Japan. As we were looking over the menu, she got all excited for the “uni” to be served later. I’ve never had that before, so I figured it must be fantastic since she was so looking forward to it. I too got excited in anticipation of my first taste of “uni”. Alas, as soon as I placed the piece in my mouth and tasted the sweetness of the meat and texture, I grossed out. I REALLY wanted to spit it out, but I couldn’t since Jiro, was watching me! I tried not to gag as I forced myself to swallow it, but only with a full glass of sake! It must be an acquired taste…and I’m just fine with not acquiring it!

Jiro

Jiro & his eldest….Best, sneaky pic I took while sitting at the table having tea & honeydew melon

After getting stuffed with 20 pieces of sushi, we were seated at a table to enjoy honeydew melon and authentic Japanese green tea. It was a pleasant way to end the meal!

Got my book about Jiro and  ready to explore Tokyo

Got my book about Jiro and ready to explore Tokyo

To experience traditional Japan, you must visit Kyoto. Kyoto was the old capital of Japan with literally thousands of  shrines and temples. You can read about my day-trip on my previous blog post

Kyoto

Gardens and koi pond at Toji Temple in Kyoto

Until next time Japan!!

Live well!!

Dana

Advertisements

A First Timer’s Day-Trip to Kyoto

Visiting Kyoto is a great way to experience traditional Japan. We took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The trains are very punctual, fast (200mph) and have forward-facing comfortable seats.

We never felt ‘lost’ in the train station since there were several English speaking attendants working, who were able to help us with directions. It would be more difficult once out and about the streets of Kyoto since everything is written in Japanese! Luckily, we hired a private driver/tour guide, who made it possible for us to get around without any worries. The concierge at the Park Hyatt Tokyo scheduled the private driver for us.

Kyoto

Gardens and koi pond at Toji Temple in Kyoto

Kyoto was the old capital of Japan with literally thousands of shrines and temples. Way too many to see in one day! Though, we did see several, each unique, which helped us better understand some aspects of the culture of the Japanese.

The two main religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism and people seem to adhere to them both, which co-exist and complement each other.  Shinto is the indigenous faith of Japan, dating back to the 8th century. Buddhism was brought from South Asia between the 4th and 6th century.

I loved the gardens at the Toji Temple with the reflecting koi ponds and vivid fall foliage! The temperature was ideal for walking around the tranquil grounds.

Toji Temple in Kyoto

Toji Temple in Kyoto

The five-storied pagoda at Toji Temple is the highest in Japan at 187 feet. It burned down four times after being struck by lighting…what bad karma! The current pagoda was built in 1644. It houses images of the Four Buddhas and their followers, the eight great Bosatsu.

Toji is a treasure house of Esoteric Buddhism art, due to its large number of cultural assets brought back from China, including old Buddhist statues, carvings and paintings.

Yakushi-nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru) Triad in the Kondo Hall at Toji Temple in Kyoto

Yakushi-nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru) Triad in the Kondo Hall at Toji Temple in Kyoto

The statue of Yakushi (1603), the Buddha of Healing, is located in Kondo Hall. It is flanked by statues of Nikko (Sunlight Bodhisattva) and Gakko (Moonlight Bodhisattva).

Next we went to the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan, Fushimi Inari Taisha with cheerful orange torii gates. Once inside, practically everything else was painted orange too!

Fushimi Inari Taisha -Shinto shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha -Shinto shrine

The shrine sits at the base of Inari Mountain (764 above sea level) and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span around 2.5 miles and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.

This shrine was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century.

Fushimi Inari Taisha -Shinto shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha,-Shinto shrine

Ema are wooden plates where people leave their wishes in the hope that they will come true. The above ones also came with “fox heads” for people to draw in faces.

Fushimi Inari Taisha -Shinto shrine...the 2005 movie,

Fushimi Inari Taisha -Shinto shrine…the 2005 movie, “Memoirs of a Geisha” was filmed here.

Since early Japan, Inari was seen as the patron of business, and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine is donated by a Japanese business.

The seemingly unending path of about 10,000 vibrant torii gates, that wind through the hills behind Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, made for a fun walk up the hill.

DSC08712

Young girls all dressed up in traditional Japanese kimonos

These colorful kimono-clad young girls were waiting their turn to make their offering at the shrine to pray. This is usually done by throwing a coin into the box as an offering, bowing deeply twice, clapping twice, bowing again and then praying. Often there is a gong which may be used before praying to get the kami or Shinto gods’ attention. Gonging sounds fun…I don’t think I’d get past that first step!!

Next, we went to Nishi Hongwanji templethat is  the headquarters of the Hongwanji denomination of Jodo-Shin Buddhism and one of the most influential schools in Japan.

Nishi Hongwanji-Kyoto

Nishi Hongwanji-Kyoto

The grounds have several huge Ginkgo Biloba trees, also known as “maidenhair trees”, which are one of my favorites. They were in full show, with their golden leaves, glowing against the neutral shades of the temple grounds!

I loved the architectural aspect of these temples, from the curves in the roofs, to the contrast of the white exterior walls with the dark grays/black trim and tiled roofs. It is considered one of the finest examples of Momoyama style architecture in Kyoto.

Nishi Hongwanji-Kyoto

Nishi Hongwanji-Kyoto

In the courtyard was a bronze dragon water fountain that I’d love to have in my yard!

After a great morning of shrine and temple hopping, it was time for lunch.

Kawamichiya-yoro- soba noodle shop in Kyoto

Kawamichiya-yoro- soba noodle shop in Kyoto

Our driver/tour guide dropped us off at a neat old traditional Japanese soba noodle shop, Kawamichiya-yoro, that’s been around since 1910. We also had to take off our shoes before entering the restaurant.

Lunch in Kyoto

Lunch at Kawamichiya-yoro, in Kyoto

We were seated at a “sunken” table, overlooking a quiet garden that opened behind us. It was a fun, cultural experience with tasty soba noodle soup and tempura shrimp on top! Then, off to more unique shrines and temples.

Golden Pavilion is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto

Golden Pavilion is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto

In northern Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), which became a Zen temple, was stunning during early sunset. This was a very crowded site, since everyone there wanted a picture of the glowing temple.

It burned down several times throughout its history due to wars and once again in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

You can see the squares of the gold leaf in the picture above. They look to be perfectly applied, which must have taken many tedious hours…one would either have to practice Zen or go insane!!!

Garden in Kyoto

Ryoanji Temple moss gardens

I loved all the soft-looking moss covering, under the shade of these vintage looking trees! The gardens at Ryoanji Temple were very well maintained and the tourists were respectful to only walk on the paths.

The Tsukubai (wash-basin), in the tea garden, has this inscription “I learn only to be contented.” This important Zen concept goes like this: “He who learns to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who doesn’t learn to be contented is spiritually poor, even if he has material wealth.”

This simplistic Zen rock garden is a relaxing contrast from the rest of the gardens that are lush and colorful. A Zen monk built it using only 15 rocks and white gravel. The walls were made out of clay boiled in oil, which with time has seeped out, changing the appearance of the original wall.

We did a very fast walk through Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka District. It’s the well preserved old part of Kyoto, lined with gift shops, teahouses and restaurants on both sides of these streets.

DSC08842

Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka in old part of Kyoto

There were soooo many people!! We were dodging left and right as our guide expertly maneuvered us at a rapid pace through the sea of people. It would be a great place to experience what Kyoto looked like before modernity descended in full force. Just try to go when it’s not so crazy busy!

DSC08851

The Deva gate at Kiyomizu-dera Temple

We made it as far as Deva gate, the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. We ran out of time to explore the grounds since we needed to get back to train station for our return to Tokyo.

All in all, we had a great first time visit to Kyoto. It was worth the extra money for the private driver/tour guide. He knew just where to go, at what times places closed and how to get around traffic congestions. We had our hotel concierge at the Park Hyatt Tokyo help us with arranging the private driver/tour guide, which I highly recommend.

また今度ね!

See you next time!

Dreaming of Parisian Pastries!!

When one thinks of freshly baked treats of Paris, images of croissants, macarons, crepes and baguettes dance in your mind…well, at least for me!! Let me tell you, I definitely enjoy some of each!

While spending the week for French language classes, I did a lot of exploring by foot. I purposely didn’t do much research for the ‘must try’ food locations because I wanted to see what I’d discover as I went about town. I think I got really lucky with the places I got to try out!! Take a look at some of the fantastic treats below…

I arrived on a Sunday morning and as soon as I checked into my hotel, I was told about the local, organic farmer’s market held Sundays, le marché Raspail, just a few minutes from my hotel! I headed straight there and the first thing I ordered in Paris were crepes with homemade jams!!

I loved popping in those delicious pastry shops almost as much as I like shopping for shoes! The delicate pastries and cakes were beautifully displayed behind spotless glass domes, some were enhanced with mirrors and of course perfect lighting…wait, could I be in a jewelry store instead??

While walking along the east side of the 7th Arrondissement, I noticed the round display table with unique glass domes  in La Pâtisserie des Rêves bakery on the Rue de Bac. In the “Pastry of Dreams” bakery, all the pastries looked as if you can eat them all and not gain a pound! 😉 I quickly snapped to reality and ordered the ‘must have’  St. Honoré cake, named after the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, St. Honoré (d. 600 AD). It’s pictured in the back with a large amount of what looks to be whipped cream swirled on top. It actually starts with flaky puff pastry, layered with choux pastry, topped with profiteroles dipped in caramelized sugar and finally swirled with chiboust cream, not just whipped cream! It’s a great combination of textures and perfect with a latte!!

One late afternoon, while on my way back from touring Montmartre, I happened to be walking down Rue de Martyrs. It’s a lovely street with great foodie shops and little markets with amazing fresh, yet expensive fruit! That’s where I stumbled upon Sebastien Gaudard. I was immediately smitten with the enticing sweet treats that I could not walk out with just one, but the two above. One was a rich cream filled concoction and the other was a flaky almond croissant. I careful carried them to the Cafe Renard, in the Jardin des Tuileries, where I ordered a latte and enjoyed the surrounding beautiful view of the gardens with the Louvre as the backdrop!

Above are a couple more photos of the enticing pastries and cakes displayed at Sébastien Gaudard. I will have to try some of the others!!

Bakery with very enticing sweets but also great breads!

Bakery with beautiful, delicious sweets but also great tasting breads!

I did munch on half of a whole wheat baguette from another bakery (Can’t remember the name)  while walking to the Jardin des Tuileries where I enjoyed the pastries from Sebastien Gaudard. I wish I could remember the name of the bakery shop, above.  It was near Sebastien Gaudard  and it had the above revolving cake display in one of the windows which is what caught my eye and drew me in. There was also a line of people out the door waiting to purchase baguettes…figured it must be good and so I joined in! It was quite tasty and it held me over until I made it to the Jardin des Tuileries to devour the pastries!

Most perfect looking fruit in Montmarte down the Boulevard de Clinchy

Most perfect looking fruit in Montmarte down the Boulevard de Clinchy

Also while in Montmarte, I bought a box of les mûres  (blackberries) and les groseilles (red currants)  which were YUMMY!! I saved these for my morning snack before French language class at the Alliance Francaise in the 6th Arrondissement on Rue Vavin near the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Angelina sweet treat while at Chateau de Versailles

Angelina sweet treat while at Chateau de Versailles

I was sweetly surprised while touring Chateau de Versailles by the cafe, Angelina Paris! It was just what I needed for an early afternoon snack after touring the gardens and the palace. I had a pecan cream filled dessert and the other was with raspberry cream that I shared with a couple of students from my French class. Both were very delicious!

My last afternoon in Paris, I finally walked to a few museums in Faubourg Saint-Germain in the eastern part of 7th Arrondissement and discovered that this is a very ritzy part of Paris. This is the home of the French high nobility with many hôtel particulier (grand sort of townhouse). There was a different feel in that neighborhood…with more local people than tourists shopping the boutiques. Also, the streets seemed cleaner.

This heaven of sweets beckoned me as I was strolling by!! Des Gâteaux et du Pain had not only lovely dessert but also freshly baked breads. The young man behind the display case wore a black glove on one hand, that he used only for picking up your choice of the delicate cakes. I find this photo amusing because of how one of the female client’s feet are reflecting below the guy, making it look like they’re his!

The bakery used many floor to ceiling mirrors just to enhance their baked goods! It worked… because I was taken by all the “smoke and mirrors” and bought several things! You can tell by my large pink bag reflecting in one of the mirrors above.

As I was leaving the shop, I couldn’t help myself from taking one more photo of some of the customers inside…notice the lady at the register has way more shopping bags than me!! Phew!!!!

My last evening, as I was walking back to my hotel in the 6th Arrondissement, I stopped at a beautiful boutique called Hugo et Victor on the Boulevard Raspail to finally get some Parisian macarons. I saved getting macarons for last since I planned to bring some back home to share with my family…my girls love them! I did get to sample a few, so I wouldn’t have to dip into the boxed ones. They were airy and crispy with surprising flavors like combawa lime and mango but also more traditional flavors like vanilla and chocolate.

What is unique about Hugo et Victor is that the owners, Hugues Pouget who is the former head pastry chef at the Michelin three-star Guy Savoy and his childhood friend Sylvain Blanc, teamed up creating what looks and feels like a hybrid between Cartier and Chanel. They feature seasonal flavors that all coordinate. For example, They had strawberry macarons, strawberry cake, strawberry filled chocolates and strawberry champagne to wash it all down! All of these synchronized items were beautifully displayed vertically behind glass and special lighting.

I also purchased a ‘book’ of fruit filled chocolates were that were delectable! These were neatly placed in a box that looked like a leather-bound book. the macarons and the chocolates made it home and were enjoyed by all.

Finally, I saved this sumptuous beauty for last! This magnificent raspberry tart curved my hunger on my early drive to the airport for my return home. Perfect way to end my week in Paris!!

À bientôt Paris!!!

Queen for a Week… Las Ventanas Style!

 

Sunset over Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

Sunset over Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

OK, so I’m a little late with recounting my birthday celebration this year. It’s not because I didn’t have a great time, on the contrary!! It was one of the best birthdays where I felt celebrated, not counting the one when my husband surprised me by flying in all my siblings…and I’m the baby of 8! I’ll have to post on that one another time 🙂

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort, was magical! I have stayed in other luxury resorts, but I’ve never experienced this kind of extra special attention to detail before, from the moment we were chauffeured in a black car from the airport, with wifi, snacks and a cold cerveza I must add. Once we reached the beautifully manicured resort, we were promptly greeted by some of the staff with a cupcake and a candle, just for me!!!

Tequila set with snacks and directions recommending how to enjoy the tequila :)

Tequila set with snacks and directions recommending how to enjoy the tequila 🙂

After meeting our personal butler, we were whisked away for a relaxing neck massage while our luggage was being delivered to our rooms! In our room, we were pleasantly surprised with a complimentary bottle of tequila and snacks to enhance the flavors. Olé!!

I'm scouting for people ;)

I’m scouting for people 😉

The AAA 5 Diamond resort is very well maintained and we never felt crowded, in fact, lots of our photos makes it seem like we had the whole place to ourselves!! Or did we? 😉

Infinity pool at Las Ventanas

Infinity pool at Las Ventanas

The many pools were crystal clear and perfect for a cool dip after soaking up the rays on the comfortable lounge chairs. Poolside service was impeccable with perfectly mixed drinks and food. They also served free samples of drinks and snacks throughout the day!

Mesmerizing crashing waves

Mesmerizing crashing waves

In case you didn’t know, swimming in the Sea of Cortez is not recommended since the riptide is so strong. Though walking the beach is highly encouraged!! I loved strolling along the beach, watching and listening to the powerful waves.

Beach Dinner, Cabo

Beach Dinner, Cabo

We had a private dinner set up on the beach just for us!!!

Beautiful handcrafted llama tablecloth for our Beach Dinner table.

Beautiful handcrafted tablecloth for our Beach Dinner table.

It was such a beautiful way to spend dinner, toes in the sand and a calm breeze cooling the air 🙂

Sunset over Cabo

Sunset over Cabo

Candles were set up all around our private dinner setting…A bottle of Caymus Zinfandel complimented our meal perfectly!

Cheers to many more happy times spent with with this fantastic man!

Cheers to many more happy times spent with this fantastic man!

We had the most romantic beach  dinner ever! It was just the two of us near the Sea of Cortez, underneath a breathtaking sunset sky, with waves crashing, and Michael Bublé  playing on our personal boombox stereo. We were escorted to our perfect setting and had our own personal butler serving us a delicious meal! Yep, I felt like a queen!! I must get a tiara next time! 😉

Sunnyside eggs with salsa

Sunnyside eggs with salsa

Delicious fresh fruit

Delicious fresh fruit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sushi!

Sushi!

We never thought of going elsewhere for any meals. We were perfectly satisfied with the fresh offerings from the chefs at the 3 restaurants on site that we very much enjoyed!

Tequila time!

Tequila time!

One afternoon, we enjoyed a personal tequila tasting at the Tequila, Ceviche & Sushi Bar including blanco, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo varieties. Did you know that tequila tastes great sipped, from miniature looking wine glasses, instead of taken as shots? That is, tequila that is made 100% from the Weber blue agave plant (a member of the lily family and not a cactus as it is sometimes assumed) that’s grown in central Mexico in the lowlands and highlands around the town of Tequila itself, like George Clooney’s, Casamigos Tequila

Creators of Casamigos Tequila: George Clooney & Rande Gerber.

Creators of Casamigos Tequila: George Clooney & Rande Gerber.

I can’t forget to mention the extremely relaxing 90 minute massage where I got to choose not only the scent, but also the music: Gregorian Chants is what “spoke” to me at that time 🙂 It was ammmmazing!!! The Spa is well appointed with all the amenities one might need to freshen up after a relaxing experience.

Spa waiting room, al fresco

Spa waiting room, al fresco

Entertainment for the young and the young at heart

Entertainment for the young and the young at heart

In front of the resort, I came across a young boy building a neat looking sandcastle. He was actually be taught by a local sandcastle artist 🙂 Not a bad way to entertain younger kids, though I definitely enjoyed watching!

Wishing to return to Las Ventanas soon! :)

Wishing to return to Las Ventanas soon! 🙂

We celebrated my birthday in La Cava” where we were served a fantastic menu including wine pairings. They also created a decadent birthday cake with macarons on the sides, for me!

The way to celebrate 4th of July Las Ventanas style in Cabo!

The way to celebrate 4th of July Las Ventanas style in Cabo!

Now, since my birthday happens to be on July 4th, I always get fireworks here in the States. I didn’t know what to expect while in Cabo… The resort put on a fun Independence Day event, on the beach. It included comfortable seating, delicious food & drinks, a movie on a big screen and last but not least, a booming fireworks display!!

Custom sewing kit

Custom sewing kit

Have you ever been presented with a custom sewing kit, with perfectly threaded needles that coordinate with your clothes?? Me neither, until Las Ventanas! I actually used the blue.

Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez

Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez

I loved walking the beach! Everyday it was a different experience. We had an early morning walk that was so fun!

Love this guy!

Love this guy!

Kenny set the bar way high for birthday celebrations! I LOVED it and will always remember this fantastic experience he planned for me.

Jumping for joy and to see if I can do this ;)

Jumping for joy and to see if I can do this 😉

I can’t wait to return to Las Ventanas especially since Austin offers direct flights!!! Olé!!

French Student in Paris

 

IMG_4095

Not everyday one thinks of taking a solo trip, especially to Paris. Yet I did! I went in search of learning the language a bit better and getting more familiar with the culture. I knew no one there, but now I have several new friends! They are from all over and have a variety of different backgrounds from students to mattress makers to  book authors. It’s an amazing place, a city like non other. Parisians really are friendly 🙂

photo

I attended the Alliance Francaise de Paris for a week of French language courses. Class began promptly Monday through Friday at 9AM and we wrapped it up around 1PM. I had a vibrant and expressive professor that would NOT speak one word of English to me nor any other language to the class except FRENCH. I was captivated and kept focused as she explained and enthusiastic acted out until we all understood! The students in my class were just as focused and it made for an engaging experience. I was the only English-speaking student while the majority were from South America, some from China with one from Israel. Some spoke a little English, so it made communicating with them outside of class very entertaining using some English and what French we’ve learned!

IMG_4043

Wish I would have seen this little contraption sooner…I would have rented one!

I favored walking over the Metro because I wanted to experience the sounds, sights and some “scents” of Paris, especially walking past the patisserie shops. I did take the Metro once and after feeling like a sardine, I quickly reverted back to walking or at times, taking a taxi. I like personal space.  A lot of people ride bicycles in Paris, but I wanted to live so I can someday come back to visit…weaving in and around cars, people and buses just didn’t appeal to me! I went to Paris to observe and learn, eat and enjoy the city, not peddle like a mad woman, for my life! 😉

Several miles were trodden by my weary feet! Not only were my footsies sore, but I developed some whopping blisters on some of my toes. Luckily for you, I was so grossed out by the blisters that I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures.

DSC07992

I toured a couple of museums, Versailles was one of them, and walked by several more. Since the weather was so perfect (no rain!), I didn’t want to be inside. I’ll save museum touring for rainy visits 🙂

 

Dessert and coffee while at the Tuileries Garden

Dessert and coffee while at the Tuileries Garden

…And now to talk about the food!! I ate mostly at the local cafes. They had fresh ingredients and nice portions too. I did find the patisserie shops to be FANTASTIC, of course!! Some, at first glance looked like jewelry stores! The delicate cakes were carefully displayed under glass domes and mirrors, with just the right lighting showing them off. And it worked since that’s where I spent most of my cash! 😉

All in all, I had a great experience in Paris and I hope to visit again soon!

A bientot!

 

 

 

 

Springtime in Napa Valley

We started out our tour of Napa Valley in the Carneros region south of Napa, CA at the Truchard Vineyards. It was warm, yet breezy…perfect springtime weather!

Truchard Vineyards

Truchard Vineyards

What a beautiful welcoming rose garden to Truchard’s vineyard. Huge blossoms and oh so fragrant!! I wish I could have “bottled” up the scent.

Can you spot the fairest "rose" of all? ;)

Can you spot the fairest “rose” of all? 😉

So adorable seeing these little baby goats get bottle fed by the vineyard owner, Tony Truchard. Reminds me of when I was growing up on the farm in in Missouri…that’s for another post!

Angora baby goats

Angora baby goats

Did someone say “swirl time”? And so it starts: the one of many tastings! This swirling picture is with my iPhone 5…You’ll soon notice how much and how many pictures I take.

Truchard Winery

Truchard Winery

Our next stop was Domain Carneros for some tasty bubbly…Great views from the top! We didn’t tour the facility, just enjoyed their views and bubbly.

Domain Carneros

Domain Carneros

 This was a cool place to relax and enjoy a light appetizer with some bubbly.

Bubbly at Domain Carneros

Bubbly at Domain Carneros

Kenny and I revisited the very first winery we toured 17 years ago on a quick day trip to Napa Valley. It was better this time around since I was NOT pregnant!..about 5 months and much younger 😉 We did the “Twilight Tour” which was a very small group with a knowledgeable and funny guide.

Robert Mondavi Winery

Robert Mondavi Winery

It was impressive to see such a well maintained cellar with beautiful new French oak barrels (from France of course) that are only used once!

Robert Mondavi Cellar

Robert Mondavi Cellar

I loved driving up the Silverado Trail to St. Helena…What a gem of a town! This is the town to stay in…though next time for me!

St. Helena, CA

St. Helena, CA

I discovered Orin Swift wine a couple of years ago while I was shopping for my hubby’s birthday party. I was immediately drawn to the unusual label. From that first bottle of D66, we’ve been huge fans of the unique blends! This is a rather cheesy photo of me, but I can’t help it! It was exciting to taste several other Orin Swift wines that I’ve not had the opportunity to try yet. And yes, I’ve got a few bottles at home with more on the way! We are one of only 500 Equinox Wine Club members…pretty special! We’ll receive two shipments a year, one in the spring and the other in the fall.  Each comes with six bottles of a unique blend by David Phinney that can’t be found anywhere else. EXCLUSIVE!! Yeah, I bought into it 😉 I think l can trust David with two tasty surprises a year!

OK, I was pretty happy here :)

OK, I was pretty happy here!

I liked the creativity for finishing the floors at the Orin Swift tasting room in St. Helena. They used old Chinese books!

Interesting flooring...Made out of old Chinese book.

Interesting flooring…Made out of old Chinese book.

This shiny bunny made for a cheerful entrance at Hall Vineyards in St. Helena.

Hoppy Bunny at Hall Vineyards :)

Just follow the Bunny to Hall Vineyards

Camel at Hall Winery! I guess I can cross that off my bucket list…Not really. Morocco, I will be coming someday!

Camel at Hall!

Camel at Hall!

Several unique artwork on this property…from huge camels, to colorful sequined wall art.

What detailing on this sequined wall art!

What detailing on this sequined wall art!

Lot’s of “drops” of mouth-blown glass hanging from the ceiling… Both Kenny and I enjoyed their wines and have already received a shipment.

Hall Winery

Hall Winery

We enjoyed a quiet walk through the town of Napa…and I was happy to capture this neat view.

A Napa "Goodnight"!

Napa Night Lights

Mother’s Day morning at Newton Vineyards…We were up and at it be 10:00am!

Newton Vineyards

Newton Vineyards

We drove up a narrow, private drive for a ways until we finally reached the top and were very pleased with the breathtaking views of the valley below!

Tasting with a view

Tasting with a view

 What a great time to see the vines blooming all around us too.

Blooming vines

Blooming vines

OK, this garden was unreal! The meticulous detailing was just unbelievable!! Maybe someday I’ll have one of these…on second thought, I’ll just have to come back and enjoy this one!!

The gardens at Newton Winery

The gardens at Newton Winery

We took a break from touring and enjoyed brunch with probably some of the best homemade mozzarella at Tra Vigne.

Tra Vigne

Tra Vigne

Our finally tour was at Chappallet Vineyards. It was much warmer once we drove down into the valley. Therefore, more refreshing wine! Their Zinfandel is great, by the way!!

Chappallet Vineyard

Chappallet Vineyard

All in all, it was a successful relaxing weekend in Napa! We discovered some new wineries and appreciated others even more. The food was fantastic as was the opportunity to take in some of the beauty of the Napa Valley! Until next time Napa! Cheers!!

Inspiring, Beautiful Telluride!

Having just returned from Telluride, I thought I would post a few of my thoughts concerning the resort and the slopes. We stayed at Capella… ( this was my saved entry from 5 yrs ago!) Funny thing is, I did just return from Telluride but for the second time! Way too long and what a coincidence that I was inspired to write about the same destination Telluride, staying at the same hotel, though it changed ownership and name. Here are a few photos from 5 year ago…

Mountain Village 2009

Mountain Village 2009

 

Gondola ride to town for dinner...dusty, evening sky before the snow storm. 2009

Gondola ride to town for dinner…dusty, evening sky before the snow storm. 2009

No poles, no fear! 2009

No poles, no fear! 2009

1st time skiers

1st time skiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out our helmets! ;)

Check out our helmets! 😉

 

Lots of fresh snow! 2009

Lots of fresh snow! 2009

 

All dry in Mountain Village since the ground in HEATED! 2009

All dry in Mountain Village since the ground in HEATED! 2009

First time skiing, EVER was a blast! We could not have asked for a more perfect place to learn to ski than Telluride.  Though, learning how to get off of the lifts is another story…I remember having bruises from how many times I fell! Very entertaining for those that saw me, I’m sure 😉

 

Now for Spring Break 2014

March is a perfect time for going to Telluride since the temperature is milder, in the 30’s and even 40’s, unless a storm blows through! We had one come while there this year too. It’s great to get fresh snow late in the ski season, so no complaints 🙂

View from balcony

View from balcony 2014

After a little Google background check on Telluride http://www.telluride.com/telluride-history, I found out that it was first called Columbia, but was denied by the postal service because there was confusion regarding the pre-existing Columbia, CA mining camp? I guess they didn’t use postal codes??? The two theories as to how the town came to be known as ‘Telluride’ back in 1880 are:

1) The name was derived from the mineral tellurium, a non-metallic element often associated with mineral deposits of gold (and ironically, not found in            this valley)

2) The town was named for the famous send-off given to fortune seekers headed to the southern San Juan Mountains — “To-hell-you-ride”!  I think it was the 2nd! 😉

Sheridan Hotel

Sheridan Hotel 2014

I got to capture this gorgeous night photo with stars and all, during the new moon phase in March on my nifty Sony Nex-5N camera 🙂

Mountain Village at night

Mountain Village at night 2014

Kenny, Emma, her friend Katie and I had a FABULOUS time in Mountain Village, staying at the posh Hotel Madeline http://www.hotelmadelinetelluride.com! From comfy feather bed topper on our bed, to personal steam shower, to attentive maid service (twice daily), to great views of sunsets over snowy San Juan Mountains from our 5th floor balcony! The ski-in/ski-out with ski valet, including warming up our ski boots and serving hot cocoa after skiing the slopes was amazing 🙂 Both hotel restaurants, the Smak Bar and Rev were great. We enjoyed several lunches at the Smak Bar, with our favorites being the shredded tacos, truffle oil fries and sweet potato fries which the girls ordered numerous times! The smore’s were great too, according to Emma & Katie and I’ll vouch for the chocolate cake 😉 Who can say ‘no’ to dark chocolate!? Our dinner at Rev was perfect, starting out with sun chokes, then a tasty salad, followed by the light and fresh salmon dinner, that all went perfectly with a glass of Pinot. It felt good to end at least one of the evenings, on a healthier note!

Happy together

Emma and Katie=Happy

I had torn my ACL about 3 years ago, while skiing in Crested Butte, and underwent reconstructive surgery. I was a bit nervous about skiing, as I didn’t want to experience that scary ride down the mountain in a toboggan, pulled by a maniac rescue-driver! O.K., he was really a maniac, but just skied like it! Kenny (who wasn’t even pulling anyone on a sled) could not keep up with the guy!! I just knew that the sled would flip over and I was going to dig a trench with my teeth all the way down! So to ease my nerves, I started with a 1/2 day ski lesson that helped reassure me that I could still do it, though I didn’t venture down many blue runs, except the one time Kenny recommend I give it a try. After I quickly lost control and just let it ride to the bottom, all the while hoping that I don’t fall, I decided to stick to the double greens! Unfortunately, I did not record that run on my GoPro. Kenny and Emma were patient enough to start out with the ‘not so challenging slopes with me and Katie.  Then, it was just me and my ski buddy Katie, the rest of the time while Kenny and Emma advanced on! Thanks to two Colorado natives, Ron Allred and Jim Wells, who in 1978 assumed control of the ski area and added the “beginner terrain”.

Poles and a bit of fear 2014

Poles and a bit of fear 2014

Katie! 2014

Katie! 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first time of snowmobiling was so much fun, once I learned how to handle the snowmobile. Then we were off to the Sacred Meadow where we rode as fast as we felt comfortable, even catching a little air  for a brief second or two!

Snowmobiling in the Sacred Meadow 2014

Snowmobiling in the Sacred Meadow 2014

Telluride is a picture perfect “old-west” kind of town. The wealth, due to all the gold and other precious metals attracted the likes of Butch Cassidy and hisWild Bunch who began their brazen bank robbing career at the San Miguel National Bank in downtown Telluride in 1889. They stole $24,000 in mining payroll! The Gondola, which began operation in 1996, with free rides, was perfect transportation over the mountain, to town and back.  By the way, it was the 1st of it’s kind in North America!

Telluride Court House

You got to have pizza at Brown Dog, when in Telluride. Great atmosphere with at least 6 TVs on the lower level to keep up with various sports, and exceptional pizzas!! I was eating just like the Native American Ute tribe that first inhabited the Telluride valley! But the pièce de résistance was the Creme Brulee with Snickerdoodle cookie on the side!

Brown Dog Pizza

Brown Dog Pizza

Elk steak, creme brulee with a perfect wine at the Chop House at the New Sheridan Hotel

Perfect dinner at the Chop House at the New Sheridan Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain and an average of 300 inches of snowfall annually in Telluride Ski Resort, you got to just love that!! Until next time Telluride!!!

We missed Hannah this time around...maybe next time :)

We missed Hannah this time around…maybe next time 🙂