Hoi An-Vietnam

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Beijing Street Food

I love street food. Just smelling it, looking at it and tasting it makes me giddy with anticipation and pleasure. I just know my taste buds are going to rejoice and do the “happy dance” as these flavors hit my tongue. From the hot red bean cakes found in Seoul to the jack fruit I tasted in Chiang Mai; there is something exciting about supporting vendors who have found their niche in the world of food.

One of the best places I have ever found for street food is in Beijing. Rows and rows of vendors some selling directly from their carts along with the lucky few who have a few tables for their best customers; this is a place where just about any food can be found. This is a place where food is plentiful and cheap…very cheap. If you are on a budget, street food should be your culinary horn of plenty.

But any words I could possibly say about this experience would be bland, like food without spice, wine or salt. So instead I leave you with these pictures of Beijing street food so you can “taste” them yourself.

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The most flavorful dates I have ever eaten

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Corn anyway you like it

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And they say the Iowa State Fair has everything on a stick…I beg to differ!

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Sundance-Utah

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One of the loveliest places I have been is actor/activist Robert Redford’s Sundance. Redford bought the place and has since turned it into a premier resort which doesn’t have a resort feeling at all. The only word I can use to describe it is…serene.

The last time we were there we took in lunch at the Foundry Grill. It is a place that is designed to look like a high-end rustic cabin complete with chinking. The atmosphere is slick but elegant and the menu was superb.

We then took the Scenic Lift to the top of Ray’s Summit where we spent several hours hiking through this pristine mountain trail. The vistas are incredible and the fresh air refreshes as you hike through the pines. Mountain biking,fly fishing, skiing, zip lining and spa services are also available. But what I really loved was the Art Studio where I watched the in-residence glass blowers. To be able to take that original blob and bend and shape it into something spectacular just amazes me. Guests can also take workshops in painting, pottery and making jewelry.

While I have never stayed in the rooms or cabins that are available for rent; it is my understanding that they are immaculate and decorated in a style to fit this mountain resort. Be forewarned they are pricey.

Everything about Sundance is what you would expect of something Robert Redford would develop from beautiful architecture, to babbling brooks and impressive artwork. And every time I come back I am amazed at the changes. The first time I visited was around 1980 when it was just a  fairly quiet patch of beautiful ground. Now it is a destination that seeks to preserve the quiet essence of this beautiful area with a dignity not often found in a place that is rated one of the top resorts in the USA.

 

 

 

Sonora Celtic Festival-Sonora, CA

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The Sonora Celtic Festival is undoubtedly one of the biggest Celtic festivals in the nation and with thirty years experience of throwing a HUGE shindig these people know how to put on a show.

This years bands were once again totally amazing. With Celtica, Wicked Tinkers, Tempest and Golden Bough fronting the stage you couldn’t help but rock and reel. Of course there are many amazing pipe bands who drone you out including the Stag and Thistle Pipe Band out of Fresno, California.

One of the largest living history villages celebrating over 2000 years of Celtic history is set up for the weekend. Here you will find dedicated folk cooking, eating, dressing, and celebrating as they did so long ago. Jousting by the Imperial Knights and The Highland Throwers also give you a thrilling taste of the sport back in the day. And whatever you do stay out of the way of the armored fighters or you might just feel the slick metallic edge of the sword against your neck.

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While there you must stop into the clan booths and find out about “your people” and the history of the clans in Scotland. There are also over 100 Celtic craftsmen, artisans and vendors displaying their wares.

And of course there is the food. Roasted turkey legs, meat pies and haggis are a few of the family favorites which we eat while watching the Irish step and Scottish highland dancers. But the best offering  bar none is the whiskies and ales. You must do a taste test to discover your favorite belly warming drink.

The Sonora Celtic Festival is held every March in Sonora, California. To learn more visit:

http://www.sonoracelticfaire.com/

 

Where For Art Thou… Cider Mills-Michigan

Since I live in California fall is but a blip on the seasonal weather screen. While most places have four seasons we have two: hot and hotter. Usually we can count the number of days on both hands that we have experienced the seasons of spring (5 this year) and fall (8 days) each year.For a Midwest born girl it truly is a sad state of affairs.

I confess that I miss the changing colors of the leaves. The chill in the air when fall arrives. The first frost on the grass and trying to ward off freezing temperatures under a blanket during the football games at the local high school. But what I really miss is cider. The fresh crisp and oh-so-sweet taste of those just pressed apples as the juice first tickles your tastebuds on the way down. And of course, you cannot have cider without the perfect chaser…a steaming cinnamon sugar donut right out of the bubbly hot oil. To me the smell of fall is warm cinnamon donuts and apples.

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(The Cider Mill As I Remember It)

When I was a kid my parents used to bundle my sister and I up and make the annual pilgrimage to the Franklin Cider Mill in Franklin, Michigan. I can still remember watching the water wheel going round and crushing loads of apples right before my eyes; the golden brown nectar spilling into the trough on the way to being bottled. There was something magical in seeing the process of those just picked apples turning into something so sweet and delicious. I loved everything about it and still do. Recently, I was fortunate to re-visit the Franklin Mill and it still has the same charm that I remember even though things are done quite differently now. And if under oath I would swear that the building seems to have shrunk since I was 8 years old but the special flavors of fall are still exactly as I remember.

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Two years ago on a trip to see my dad he took me to a cider mill in his area. With hayrides, fresh donuts, a zip line and all the cider you could possibly drink it was a fun way to kill a little time. VerHage Fruit Farms & Cider Mill sits just outside Kalamazoo and besides your typical fall fare they celebrate Christmas in a big way with elves, reindeer and pony rides. They even have a tractor driving school complete with certificate.th-1

Its a place I would love to create memories with my own kids if only we lived nearby.

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So this fall, search out your nearest Cider Mill and take the kids. You’ll never regret the time you spend together sippin’ on cider and munching on donuts.

 

 

Best Place To Go Near The Airport-Narita, Japan

If you have ever been stuck in an airport you know the importance of being stuck in the right airport meaning an airport near a great tourist destination. The town of Narita outside Tokyo Japan is just such a place.

We took a bus from the airport into Narita proper. Here you will find crooked winding streets that lead you to the showpiece of the city…Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. On your way to the temple stop to explore the wooden shops along Naritasan Omote Sando. Here you will find some of the most beautiful silk kimonos that you will ever see, traditional Japanese cooking utensils and lacquered bento boxes, and bins of souvenirs to suit the fancy of just about every tourist.  While in the area you must eat at the restaurants which feature the fake plastic food in their windows for easy ordering of traditional Japanese cuisine.

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We have been to Narita several times. On one trip we were walking down to the temple when we came upon a festival with large group of older women performing several traditional Japanese dances. Their slow graceful movements were mesmerizing as they moved in unison together like a swarm of butterflies.

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On another trip school children swarmed around us while handing us a card asking if they might practice their English with us. We spent a fun 10 minutes answering their questions until we moved on and stumbled upon the Narita Tourist Pavilion where we were snatched off the street by some very insistent older ladies. They lead us upstairs where we were treated to calligraphy lessons, traditional painting instruction and were dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. All this was followed by a tea ceremony. We had a fantastic time and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

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The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited.The temple was founded in 940 and has classic traditional buildings dotting its grounds. Incense fills the air as you enter through the gate. Intricate carvings adorn the buildings forcing you to slow down and take in all hidden artwork. With gardens that look like they are manicured by tweezers and beautiful statues it is a niche of tranquility in an otherwise bustling city. We have watched as hundreds of babies were blessed by the monks and have been in awe as people pay their respects to the dead. This is a special place in a city that has had its share of growth pangs thanks to the arrival of the Narita Airport in the late 1970’s.

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Narita also has an easy to navigate train station. We took the train into Tokyo to see a performance at the Kabuki Theater and arrived back in Narita worn-out but satisfied with our adventure.

Narita is the perfect place to spend some time outside of the airport and if you have a long layover I would urge you to check out this friendly city.

HINT: Narita is great place for a stopover. Check and see if United Airlines still offers a free stopover when traveling to various points in Asia.

One Of The Strangest Places I Have Ever Stayed-Belize

Admittedly, it has been about seven years since I have been to the Maruba Resort and Jungle Spa so things may have changed but for this hippie at heart I hope not because there is no other place like it on earth.

We booked this “exotic” jungle hotel through Expedia. The price was right and the pictures were enticing. When we arrived we felt like we had been transported back to the early 1970’s a time of peace and free love. Something about the resort was just a little quirky and  very “groovy.” Turns out a doctor had spent years building this place with his loving hands. With visionary huts and uniquely decorated rooms it wasn’t hard to get into the “RELAX…you are on vacation”vibe . The viper rum with a real snake in the bottle added to the “high” of the place and it definitely made you want to curl up by the pool in a comfy lounge after drinking it as its warmth slowly snaked and spread throughout your body.

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The food at Maruba was fabulous and the hibiscus flowers gracing every plate was a huge change from modern hotel fare. There was also a spa offering such delights as mud baths/massages, body scrubs and manicures to pamper the senses. We partook of several spa treatments and came away from them relaxed from the top of our heads to the bottom of our toes; our souls soothed and quenched. Lush wildflowers and orchids added to the natural beauty of the place along with the natural hot baths that magically melted our bodies upon entering the water.

The hotel also rented bicycles so we biked into the nearest “town” and saw a giant anteater run across the road along the way. We sampled local food in town (yum) and when we returned we booked a river journey to a lost Mayan civilization (more about that another time) Horseback riding was also available along with jungle hikes and private exercise lessons.

It wasn’t until we had been there a few days and had seen the huge stockpile of carved penises, naked folks and fertility gods hidden along the jungle pathways that we finally got up the courage and asked…yep the place had been a swingers club back in the day hence the “make love not war” feeling that permeated the place and kept you “in the mood.” Needless to say, we had a very romantic and wonderful time with all the gentle reminders that love and relaxation were the name of the game here.

HINT: You are in the jungle so be sure to bring bug spray. We did not and ended up remembering our trip longer than we would have like after contracting Dengue Fever. We have no idea if it was at Maruba or on Ambergris Caye that the nasty mosquito bit us but it is wise to take precautions wherever you go in Belize.

 

Namdaemun Market-Seoul, South Korea

Lately, with globalization around every corner it is hard to go somewhere and not think to yourself that the whole world now looks alike.  Window shopping at Pottery Barn looks the same in Kansas City, Calgary and Sydney. That is the point, I suppose, but for a traveler it is just plain depressing. Where is the unique to the place items and where are the  local customs…Often you begin to wonder …where the hell are we?????… in this oh-so identical world.

That is what I love about Namdaemun Market. Opened in Seoul in 1964 it is the largest market in Korea but it really dates back to the reign of King Taejong where it operated as a government managed marketplace. This place is truly the SEOUL of the city.

While there are certainly an overabundance of crass commercially made products it is the pulse of the place that draws you into the market and into Korea herself. Some of the best street food can be found here including  noodle dishes, pungent kim chee, hottoek and comforting warm red bean cakes. Follow an alleyway to the place where you find the most Koreans sitting on shallow stools, chopsticks and bowl in hand. This is where you want to enjoy an authentic lunch.

Because the market was built so long ago it is predominately a walking market. While you will see motorcycles delivering goods and boxes being transported by wooden carriers strapped to the backs of men smaller than the load they are carrying; this is a place to explore at your leisure and just soak up the sounds.

Here  at Namdaemun you can shop for such things as rare ginseng, fresh fish, raincoats, shoes and even silkworms to be eaten for lunch. Traditional clothing (hanboks) can be found in a variety of bright colors and styles along with Korea’s world famous celadon pottery. Beautiful wrapping papers, paint pigments and calligraphy supplies are also easily found along with the paintings of various artists. But my favorite are the luxurious silks and tapestries that can be found within. The variety of what is sold here is enormous and there is always something you “need” to take home with you.

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Just outside the market lies Sungnyemun Gate. It is one of the eight gates that were located in the fortress wall that surrounded Seoul. It is a wooden pagoda style building that dates back to the 14th century and has stood there ever since until an arson fire burnt part of the gate in 2008. It was restored and was re-opened in 2013.

To get to the market take the green subway line (number 4) to Hoehyeon Station. It is a short escalator ride up the the market.

Best Restaurant On The Beach-Cook Islands

Sure you can dine on many a swanky spot along the beach in many parts of the world but for spectacular dining at a decent price it is hard to beat Vaima Polynesian Bar and Restaurant outside Rarotonga in the picture perfect Cook Islands.

Arrive early for steps from the ocean seating with glorious sunsets and the lull of the waves lapping near your feet the ambiance doesn’t get much better than this. As night falls you may spot ghost crabs as they scuttle along in the sand and the stars will align to produce a spectacular natural show.

Vaima serves the best mango daiquiri I have ever tasted. Pair it with the establishments signature salt and pepper calamari served with hot and sour dipping sauce and you will be soon drooling for a second helping of both. Of course, you can never go wrong with the catch of the day which was plucked fresh from the ocean just hours prior. Orange glazed lamb was another favorite.

Come for the atmosphere and stay for the food should be the slogan of this charming eatery. And with the Cook Islands as your daily playground, well, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

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Money Saving Hint: From the United States if you fly with Air New Zealand you should be able to get a free stopover in Auckland. To get this you must book through the airline. It is a great deal if it is still available. Doesn’t hurt to ask!