Should I find myself in the vicinity of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in the future I hope to return at the first opportunity.
We liked the pretty music including several memorable arias. The staging was thought provoking. The performance developed at times simultaneously, at least in part, in more than one of the six sections in which the stage was divided for the show. The set up, while novel, was distracting and at times required so much concentration that it detracted from the experience. It was not to our liking. Having children actors in one part of the stage and adult actors playing the same children in another at the same time also made it confusing to know what was going on, and to understand the allegorical meaning of the vignettes in the two stages. Also notable were the bright costumes, especially the eye popping fuchsia sequined evening dress of the witch.
During the intermission, we strolled around the most beautiful areas, admiring the interior and observing the crowd. Many held champagne flutes or light snacks from the various vendors peppered throughout the lobby. The evening view of the long Avenue de l’Opera outside was a treat. When the chimes called for the restart of the performance more than a few seemed almost reticent to abandon their building browsing.
A last minute addition to my itinerary in Nevis turned into an unexpected delight at the lush and lovingly maintained The Botanical Gardens of Nevis. The 6.1 acre property in a residential area of the small Caribbean island housed plant nurseries, fruit orchards, Orchid Terraces, a Rainforest Conservatory modeled after the Palm House of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as well as Cactus, Palm, and Bamboo gardens. The private estate was open to the public for daytime visits and special events.
The first surprise we had regarding the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens was how popular it was when we arrived at midday on a Friday in the fall to find most of the parking space was already taken. The second surprise was how many areas beyond the immediate entrance felt secluded despite the number of people we knew were inside the attraction.
The 270 acre tidal shoreline park was the largest botanical garden in New England and the only botanical garden in Maine. It had display gardens, shore land trails, wild woodlands, 50 sculptures on exhibit (and rotating art exhibits inside the Bosarge Family Education Center), and educational programming. We liked the cleverly organized design of the attraction itself, its interactive features like the fairy garden, varied plant life, water views and separate garden sections. We especially appreciated the serenity of the contemplative garden.
It was evident the management and staff dedicated much thought and effort to the layout and maintenance of the Gardens. It was a pleasant place to spend time enjoying and admiring nature. We would gladly return should we be in the Portland or Boothbay area of Maine again.
When we planned our trip to Portland, Maine we didn’t anticipate spending time at a fine arts museum. After walking by the distinctive entrance of the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) a number of times, curiosity drew us inside. The light filled and spacious interior was inviting so we made time to return one morning, and to go to the Winslow Homer Studio in nearby Prouts Neck. It had been declared a National Landmark in 1966 and purchased by the Portland Museum of Art in 2006.
Flying over Moosehead Lake and Lobster Lake in the Maine Highlands in a rare seven-seat 1954 de Havilland Beaver seaplane in early autumn was a memorable experience. The transition from the calm lake water to the sky on the hydroplane as we departed was seamless. One moment we were gliding away from the dock and the next we were airborne. It was equally difficult to distinguish the moment we left the air in exchange for the water in our smooth afternoon landing.
On our most recent trip to Paris we made time to revisit the Louvre in part to discover the new wing. We’ve been there many times over the years and were bracing ourselves for the overcrowded museum of past visits. In an attempt at a more leisurely and less crowded experience we arrived late in the day on a weekday when they were open into the evening. The later hour made a surprising difference.
The historic building alone would have been worth a special trip in a city filled with art treasures and historic buildings. Attending a musical performance of La Cenerentola there was a memorable experience worth repeating. It seemed that much extra special because the venue hosted more ballets than operas on an annual basis. There were nine ballets and six operas in the 2012 to 2013 season and fourteen ballets and six operas were planned for the following year.
While we much enjoy our visits to Cape Town one activity we miss is walking, especially nature walks. For years we had wanted to visit the well known botanical garden and finally on our last visit to the city we scheduled time early one morning while staying in the nearby Constantia residential area.
As soon as the Garden opened we were ready with walking shoes, sun block and camera gear. Although cloudy weather threatened us soon after our arrival we managed a worthwhile exploration of the main areas of the Garden with the enthusiastic help of Andrew Jacobs, our experienced and affable guide who had worked at Kirstenbosch for 36 years.
The park’s location at the foot of the famed Table Mountain allowed us a clear view of the Cape Flats, a rare sight, our guide explained, and one we throughly took advantage of that morning. In order to stay ahead of the rain we kept a brisk pace while still making time to admire a flower, discuss a plant or snap a photograph.
This striking music hall, built between 1905 and 1908 as the headquarters of the Orfeó Català, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of Catalan culture, had more than a century of history when I first attended a sold out concert there on a cool spring evening during a week long visit to Barcelona. It was love at first sight.
We drove to Figueras from Barcelona with the express purpose of visiting the famous museum, home of the largest Dali collection in the world. It was time well spent. After parking on a nearby street we walked a couple of blocks bypassing the main entrance straight to the Jewels Gallery which had a dedicated ingress.
As a lover of fine foods and wines including bubbly, one of my favorite libations, I was excited to visit Wines and Cavas Eudald Massana Noya, a Spanish wine and cava estate within easy driving distance from Barcelona during a weeklong visit to that northern city. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny spring day. After welcoming our group warmly Eudald Massana Noya, the owner, and Ester Tous Font, his wife, walked us out to the vineyards where, with the help of an English language interpreter, he told us, in Catalan (the language of the region) about the vineyards, winery and the property’s organic and biodynamic farming practices.
The Île de Montréal Golf Course is located 20 minutes from downtown Montreal, Canada at the eastern tip of the island. Two 18 hole golf courses make up this public golf club with a membership base established in 2003. Both courses were part of the Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and promote nature conservation and the use of local plants that are native to the area.
The Atlantide Golf Club, a private and public golf course (private members have priority on the reservations schedule), is located just off the Island of Montreal on the island of Ile Perrot, about 30 minutes from downtown Montreal. Located on the shores of Lake Saint Louis, the setting is bucolic and several holes play near the waterfront. Even on hot summer days a refreshing breeze comes off the water. Two 18 hole golf courses are part of this golf club, the Atlantide Course and the Don Quichotte Course. We have played both courses several times and find each one quite challenging.
We know that summer has arrived when, in the Old Port, the brilliant yellow and blue tents of the Cirque du Soleil are raised and the bright flags flutter in the wind. On average, every two years Cirque presents a new show to the public. Montreal, Canada is the circus capital of the world. The city promotes circus schools and training centers for children and adults from all over. And so it is with great anticipation that we wait for each new creation by the Cirque du Soleil.
Founded in 1860 as the Art Association of Montreal, the main building opened in 1912 and was designed by architects Edward and William S. Maxwell in the Beaux Arts style. Among the oldest art institutions in Canada, the museum is composed of three pavilions, with a fourth pavilion under construction. The original building is known as the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion. Annexed to the back of this building is the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavillion and across the street is the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion designed by Moshe Safdie and built in 1991. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are located in all three pavilions.
The Northern Light Ballon Expeditions van was parked in front of our hotel entrance at 5:25 a.m. when we arrived five minutes before the scheduled 5:30 a.m. pick up time. Blair Preston, a friendly pilot with 21 years of experience, introduced himself and welcomed us aboard. We were the last two passengers on the route so we drove directly to Forest Road 9851B off of Lower Red Rock Loop road, the place from which our balloon with six passengers and two other balloons would launch for our dawn flight.
Few cities in the world rival Cape Town for sheer landscape beauty. There’s something irresistibly alluring about Africa’s southernmost city sandwiched between the sea and the majestic Table Mountain. No matter how many times I see it or from which angle, I always marvel at the view when I arrive in Cape Town. On my last visit, I took advantage of the summer weather to go on a 20 minute Atlantico Helicopter flight. What a treat!
Our half day helicopter excursion was an air and land adventure over Las Vegas and Lake Mead through the Grand Canyon, to the new Grand Canyon Skywalk and the Hualapai American Indian reservation in Arizona and back to Las Vegas. Flying to the reservation was the fastest and most efficient way to get there from Las Vegas.
Although over the years, Cirque du Soleil shows have amazed and delighted us many times and I enjoy The Beatles music now and again, I was skeptical about Love. It turns out the 90 minute show was our favorite musical by a fair margin of three shows we saw in Las Vegas that trip. As usual, the set up was everything we might have expected including a 360 degree theatre with video projections and surround sound, including 6,500 speakers throughout the 2,013-seat theatre (three per seat).
A short scenic drive from Cape Town led us to Waterford Estate, best known for its Shiraz and most recently for The Jem, a premium blend of eight varietals. Time was short and we could only visit one or two cellars. A local oenophile who directed us to Waterford said that the wine and chocolate tasting was not to be missed.
What do you do when a 450-pound animal that moves better, faster and far more gracefully than you do races directly at you at (seemingly) the speed of sound? If you’re participating in a Natural Dolphin Swim at Dolphins Plus like we were, count yourself lucky, make sure your hands stay tucked away and keep swimming as fast as you can. We felt lucky because sometimes the dolphins find visitors uninteresting or the sea mammals are not in the mood for company and ignore visitors swimming in their salt water pen. This means all the effort and excitement to see the dolphins is wasted when they just stay in a corner or swim away making it difficult to enjoy the unstructured swim. In our case, the three dolphins in the pool enjoyed playing with us, making our swim a success.
As part of its conservation efforts, Bonaire requires all divers, even those who have visited the island in the past, to have an orientation dive with a local; and purchase a license to enter the marine park (all the sea around the island is part of the marine park). To dive in Bonaire, we had to have the required orientation. At the same time, I hadn’t gone diving since obtaining my certification and was feeling a bit anxious about diving again. Enter Buddy Dive.
We were delighted to discover the southern Caribbean island of Bonaire offered many accommodation options, including luxury rental villas. After a few email exchanges with Sunrentals, one of the largest rental agencies on the island, we were rewarded with last minute space in Crown Court 44A, one of their most popular rental homes and one of very few waterfront homes with WiFi. The roomy three bedroom waterfront $2 million villa was in Bonaire’s most luxurious residential neighborhood.
I liked Harbour Village so much the first time I stayed there, my husband and I visited the boutique hotel the following year. Sometimes a return visit can be disappointing because properties change in between visits; the room is not as nice the second time as it was the first time; weather is less favorable or other circumstances conspire to spoil the experience. To our surprise, Harbour Village was, in almost every respect, as delightful or more the second time.
The Great Adventures Dive center was onsite at the Harbour Village Beach Club property making it convenient for club members and guests. By far the main activity seemed to be dive courses, shore diving, and diving and snorkeling boat excursions. Snorkeling and diving on the Harbour Village beach were easy and there was a small sailboat wreck about 40 feet deep off of the beach. On several occasions we took advantage of the easy shore dive opportunities to explore the nearby wreck and Something Special reef. Other times we went on boat excursions.
It was 3:45 a.m. when my hotel room phone rang the day after my arrival in South Africa. A few minutes later I dashed out of the room in a whirl of sweaters, full of excitement and anticipation. What had me energized at 4 a.m.? A balloon ride in the Cradle of Humankind. A half hour taxi ride later I found myself at the entrance of a hotel in the outskirts of Johannesburg greeting Mary Harrop, wife and co-owner of Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris. From there Mary described our upcoming flight with enthusiasm while we drove in a minivan to the picturesque Kloofricht Lodge from which we would be launching the balloon. We were only about 60 kilometers from Johannesburg and yet it felt like a world apart. Mary explained that the area boasted some of the safest and most reliable ballooning weather in the world.
Named Tovaco, meaning tobacco, by the original Amerindian inhabitants, Tobago is a tropical Caribbean island just below the hurricane belt. Described in tourism brochures as “clean, green and serene,” it is an attractive destination for ecoutourists and adventurous world travelers able to appreciate its many charms hidden just below the surface. It was formerly a British colony and retains many of the British traditions such as left side driving, a charming West Indian English, and a sense of punctuality. At 21 miles by 7 miles (41 x 14 kilometers) in size it is slightly smaller than the state of Delaware in the U.S.
We first encountered the Four Seasons Spa while looking for a late lunch spot. The following afternoon we found ourselves heading back, one hour each way, for spa treatments. It was worth the drive. The Four Seasons spa facilities were impressive; especially considering that the hotel is on a small out island in The Bahamas. Although outside the sign for the spa was so discreet we missed it, the interior of the large building was cheerful and bright.
For Egyptian antiquities fans like us, who have not traveled to Egypt to see the pyramids and artifacts in person, “Tutankhamun & the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” provided a glimpse of Egypt’s fabled history and its famous treasures in an easy to follow, well organized and agreeable setting near our home. King Tut’s tomb, discovered in 1922, and the treasurers in it had drawn our attention for years. We have seen numerous Egyptian exhibits in various museums including the British Museum, Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum and most recently this dedicated exhibit and remained fascinated.
We arrived at 8:30 a.m. to find the parking lot filling, tickets sold out until 5 p.m. and a short line to enter. We walked outside the building from the entrance through a roped walkway up stairs and more walkways to the entrance.
We thoroughly enjoyed Varekai, Cirque du Soleil’s colorful two-hour (plus a half an hour intermission) traveling show. Faithful to the Cirque du Soleil tradition, the performance was vivid, exciting, touching, funny, and most of all entertaining. Varekai, meaning “wherever” in the Romany gypsy language, began with an amusing and at the same time tragic clown duo who kept the audience’s attention until a young muscular man, Icarus, descended from the “sky.” The production which had a flight theme was designed to pay tribute “to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to the infinite passion of those whose quest takes them along the path that leads to Varekai.”
Ever wonder how the great French chefs create those wonderful dishes? We visited the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris to find out. We encountered helpful staff, a friendly and talented chef, a well situated and convenient cooking school with translated (French to English) short gourmet workshops and longer term certificate courses. We participated in a one-hour private workshop in the school’s 15th arrondissement headquarters. The Cordon Bleu school, started as a newspaper in the mid 1800’s, had a staff of 50 including 11 master chefs, and as many as 180 students who participated in private workshops like ours, gourmet courses or certificate programs.
Our 45-minute drive from Sandhurst to Lanseria International Airport on the northwest outskirts of Johannesburg was straightforward and uneventful. We found parking easily and entered the small airport looking forward to a panoramic flight. We cleared airport security in the company of our affable pilot Alistair and walked across the tarmac to a five-seat Squirrel helicopter. Minutes later, after a safety briefing, we were airborne and heading into Johannesburg with a platter of snacks and a carton of fruit juice for each of us. Hot air caused the flight to be bumpy so we had to eat the snacks later when our stomachs had settled.
Arriving by sea into the new quay in Monte Carlo, Monaco was an eye opener. The view of the famed kingdom from the water was richer in some ways than the impression we had while walking or driving around. After several days enduring uncertain weather and overcast skies, we were concerned our sightseeing tour would be cancelled. Conveniently the sky cleared long enough for us to enjoy the day. At 9:30 a.m. sharp, a Heli Air Monaco van pulled up right in front of our vessel having deftly maneuvered through the port security staff. We were the only passengers and the drive took but a few minutes from the port to Monaco’s busy heliport.
Our week-long trip aboard the SeaDream II was reminiscent of the by-gone days of classic ship travel where passengers had an opportunity to meet each other while sharing time and space with fellow travelers and crew members. In an era fraught with time constraints our “cruise” aboard SeaDream II provided us the luxury of meeting like minded people while enjoying a leisurely and luxurious voyage along the coast from Italy to Spain in the prime of the area’s tourist season.
We thoroughly enjoyed the pluses the sailing offered such as a limited number of passengers (there were 108 of us) and high crew to passenger ratio (there were 96 crew members).
Our 20-minute mid morning Jamaica Ecstasy flight over Ocho Rios was great fun. After a short drive in our hotel van, we arrived at Island Hoppers and met the captain. He shared some quick pre-flight information and offered us champagne, beer or water. When we were ready, one by one we followed a staff member to the helicopter. Another staff member made sure we were strapped safely in place; had our headset on (so we could hear our captain during the flight) and were comfortable. During the slightly bumpy flight (due to summer pockets of air, our pilot said), which went by all too quickly, we had a bird’s eye view of Ocho Rios. The only helicopter company on the island, Island Hoppers was owned and operated by our colorful and experienced New Zealand pilot and his wife.
We had barely entered the arrivals area at the modern Gustave III airport, hot and tired after a long day of travel, when we encountered Xavier, the Guanahani representative who was waiting for us. He collected our luggage and walked us over to his waiting van, where he provided us Evian bottles and Hermes refresher towelletes. These small touches meant a world to us and were the promise of things to come. At the hotel , he waited while we went through a five minute check-in, and then drove us to our room.
Turning off the main road onto a non-descript private street that would have made a mountain goat feel at home, we arrived at Villa Bel’Ombre. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was more comfortable and prettier than the photos we had seen online and the postcard view was even more stunning than we could have imagined. The $3 million villa was spacious, open and full of thoughtful features we liked such as a shaded deck area facing the bay, comfortable lounge chairs in the sun and shade, indoor and outdoor dining areas, a partially open kitchen facing the bay, and a Jacuzzi by the master bedroom. Marble landscape skies with a moon, pink and purple sunrises, the sound of birdsong and the surf, the impeccable swimming pool where we could linger while enjoying the view from the infinity edge and a welcome sense of privacy were some of the extras we discovered onsite.
We rushed from a cross country flight that departed before sunrise to arrive in San Francisco, collect our rental car (no small feat at the San Francisco airport) and check-in just before our 12:30 p.m. San Francisco Helicopter Tours van pick up. We were a bit miffed to find all the rushing, concern about find out hotel in time, checking in and missing out on lunch to discover the driver was 20 minutes late. A final pick up in a San Francisco hotel, saw twelve of us headed across the Golden Gate bridge to ritzy Marin County in a nearly full van.
Billed as “the nation’s longest running musical revue,” Beach Blanket Babylon®, an irreverent musical centered on Snow White looking for her prince (around the world) spoof, was the perfect entertainment for our jetlagged souls. All day travel and a three-hour time disconnect made us tired and sluggish; the Beach Blanket Babylon performance jazzed us up. We walked out smiling and ready for the scrumptious dinner we had planned.
What a marvelous way to discover San Francisco ! Our GPS (global positioning system) guided talking GoCar tour in the two passenger yellow “car,” lasted about two hours. Following its prompts we traveled through San Francisco’s greater and lesser known sites in a fun, stimulating and independent way. After a brief familiarization, explanation and experimentation phase that lasted a few minutes, we donned our helmets and were on our way. We stopped at landmarks like the famous Fisherman’s Wharf and viewing spots for picturesque sightings and memorable photo opportunities at our own pace.
We enjoyed the sequin and tuxedo filled opening of Puccini’s tearjerker Madam Butterfly, one of the top ten most frequently performed operas in North America , at the Houston Grand Opera, which was housed in the large and modern Wortham Theater building.
Established in 1900 under the auspices of the Houston Public School Art League, this Houston institution was the fifth largest art exhibition space in the country when we visited it last. Housing more than 48,000 works of art and hosting more than two million visitors per year, the Museum could have been over large, over busy or overwhelming. Instead and in spite of its size it was welcoming, uncluttered and a delight to visit. There was ample space for the art and for visitors.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, an 83-acre haven for nature lovers in a ritzy residential neighborhood, was one of our choice places to visit in Miami. Well managed and populated by rare and striking tropical and subtropical plants from all over the world, the Garden was visitor friendly. Young and old alike were made welcome through tram, audio and walking tours, classes and tropical plant themed festivals such as ginger, mango, orchid, palms and many others. New and popular features included a butterfly garden (a favorite with children), a bird watching section, the Victoria pond with its four Amazon water-lilies, and a tropical fruit tree pavilion. There was also a 13-acre palm collection, a green house with orchids, bromeliads, palms aroids and ferns, and the only outdoor tropical rainforest in the continental United States .
Once again we were pleased with the Emperor at Caesars Gauteng, part of a large 1.3 billion rand hotel and entertainment complex. Its location near Johannesburg International Airport , Italian Empire décor, gate and hotel security, quiet and elegant style and welcoming staff were a winning combination for us. An added bonus was the access to a health club, spa, casino, and exhibition and business center in the adjacent Emperor complex.