Friday, August 16, 2019

New York at Night: Glitz, glamour from Hornblower to Hell's Kitchen

Viewing the New York skyline from the water aboard Hornblower makes for a splendid evening.

Lady Liberty aglow viewed from  a Hornblower cruise.



"I want to wake up in that city that doesn't sleep
And find I'm king of the hill -- top of the heap."
--"New York, New York," by Fred Ebb & John Kander

NO OTHER city in the world offers the nighttime magic that New York does.
Vegas is a close second, but it doesn't have the water. Nor does it boast the history.  After all, President George Washington first took office in New York City.
From left, Bruce Keller, Cookie Meyers,
Misha and David Minesinger about to board
Hornblower's New York evening dinner cruise.
It's no prettier than from inside a cozy boat, transiting the waterways at night.  The city's lights and the water's beauty make a Hornblower evening cruise a spectacular way to see one of the world's great cities.
Sister time:  Misha and Cookie pause to 
reminisce before joining others on deck.
WE BOARDED Hornblower's City Lights Dinner Cruise with my sister and her husband, celebrating our reunion and a Broadway binge.  The evening marked the 55th anniversary of a fondly remembered family trip to New York to witness the 1964 World's Fair.  In honor of that my show-biz sister Misha dressed us alike, as our mother had over a half-century ago. Our husbands were gracious good sports, donning look-alike shirts to match our blouses and jeans.
For free:  strolling New York at night, to
admire its classic and new buildings.
New York's Brooklyn Bridge, a treat to pass under.
Our family has a long, happy history with Hornblower. It's a sentimental favorite at reunions on both coasts. We've toasted birthdays and anniversaries aboard Hornblower vessels in San Francisco, San Diego, Newport and New York with festive brunches, dinners and whale watching treks.  This trip we booked a delightful three-course meal surrounded by other happy cruisers from around the globe.  An Indian couple was celebrating their 20th anniversary.  A family from Boston was celebrating with their recent Columbia Medical School graduate. 
Guantanamera serves up spicy
Cuban fare late, with live music.
New York's "The Imbible" is a fast-paced history of drinking. 
BARTENDERS served up artisan cocktails so we could stroll out on deck to admire the city's architectural mix -- from Art Deco to modern. Breathtaking. As our amiable DJ announced our approach to Lady Liberty, champagne was delivered and our international group toasted the statue. Hornblower offers a leisurely way to admire famous New York landmarks -- the Chrysler Building with its ornate spire, the World Trade Center standing proudly rebuilt, Rockefeller Center and the Empire State building.  We picked out these landmarks as we dined to soft background jazz. A perfect evening's afterglow.
Dawn breaks over the bridges and skyline.
OFF THE boat, it was still prime time for New York, although it isn't exactly true that the city never sleeps. However, a good reporter can find intimate bars and neighborhood restaurants that stay open into the wee hours. As in Europe, diners often don't take a table until 9 or 10 p.m., and some joints offer live music and dining until 3, even 4 a.m.  One of my favorites was the popular French diner, Florent, which closed, sadly, in 2008.  It was "the" destination for those who had too much medicine, serving up legendary goat-cheese omelettes and black coffee in a noisy "New York" after hours atmosphere.
Near Tiimes Square, the action is lit up and lively all night long.
UPHOLDING the Florent standard for the hangover crowd are Taco Mix, at East 116th St., with fabulous spicy fare; the Penrose on East 82nd Street with smoked gouda on its mac and cheese; Guantanamera on 8th Avenue,  with delicious calamari, magnificent Cuban sandwiches and live music; Vida Verde between Hell's Kitchen and the Theater District, with tasty nachos and fish tacos.
WE DISCOVERED a delightful play, "The Imbible," a spirited musical comedy tracing the history of alcohol from the cave man to modern times.  A little science, a lot musical theater, the show is clever, quick-paced and includes several drinks and another evening option.
If you're in the mood for a walk, nothing is prettier than the historic buildings and new skyscrapers of Manhattan's mid-town.  Take a walk -- it's free -- then taxi back to your hotel.

New York's Bryant Park provides chairs, tables and a
lovely green expanse for residents and tourists to enjoy.

UP NEXT: A pair to draw to.  New Yorkers love their parks and there are dozens of them -- from large, welcoming and expansive public spaces to small neighborhood parks accessible only to residents. Then there are lovely alcoves within museums and businesses.  We take you to our two favorites -- Central Park and Bryant Park, much beloved by tourists and native New Yorkers alike. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a novel look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden rises grandly from a man's vision

Bromeliad, heliconia, anthurium, ginger, mango, spider lily and more await viewers at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

A gecko suns himself on a leaf, here caught by the camera in silhouette.


Hawaii's familiar upright heliconia is on showy display.
The garden also offers a lovely hanging variety.
Fronds, stalks and stems make
beautiful patterns as you stroll.

At right, Kate Logan, horticulturist and supervising manager
at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, greets Cookie.

A GARDEN in a valley, with a walking path to the ocean..... and along the way a fabulous fiesta of flowers, shrubs, trees, surrounded by abundant bird life, lovely little lizards enjoying the sun, bees buzzing happily, beauty all around.
In 1977, Dan Lutkenhouse Sr. was visiting from the Bay Area when he fell in love with the Big Island of Hawaii and its lush Onomea Valley.  Vacationing with his wife Pauline, he purchased 17 acres without really knowing what he would do with it.
BUT SOON HE HAD a  vision to transform the neglected piece of land.  Says his son, Dan Lutkenhouse Jr., who carried on the project, "When my father first saw the valley, it was an overgrown, virtually impenetrable jungle."

A beautifully laid out gift shop offers unique way to support
the Botanical Garden with handmade and local crafts.

His dad returned to the mainland, sold his 40-year old San Francisco trucking business and moved to Hawaii.  For eight years, he devoted himself to the garden's transformation.
 With assistant Terry Takiue, and two helpers, the four men labored. Today, devoted horticulturist Kate Logan continues Lutkenhouse's dream, which showcases the natural environment and preserves valuable plants.  During the creation, to preserve rare plants and not disturb tree roots, they used cane knives, sickles, picks, shovels and chain saws.  Working seven-day weeks and long hours, they eventually cleared paths through the jungle.  Colleagues and family remember that he'd leave in the morning 
You'll feel as if you've gone down the rabbit hole as you duck
to avoid the garden's thousands of brightly blooming plants.
with a sandwich, his tools and high hopes. The garden opened to the public in 1984 and now hosts more than 150,000 visitors each year.
WHILE IT OFFERS visitors a beautiful, restful experience in nature, its mission is also to educate.  School children learn the importance of conservation on our beleaguered planet. Guests join the move to preserve the planet's beauty, faced with over-population and imperiled resources. Armed with an excellent trail guide and map of the garden's dozens of plants and trees, we meandered. We followed paths leading gently down to the sea, mingling with people from around the world, just as the founder imagined.
Two lovely rivers and waterfalls enhance the 2,500 species of plants, including many endangered species. The ocean coastline hosts mollusk, black crab, endangered sea turtles and the threatened Hawaiian monk seal.
The garden boasts spider lily, ti leaf,
jackfruit, mango, ivory nut palm and more
The sound of water enhances the garden's beauty.

WE RETURNED TO OUR ship after the eight-mile drive back to Hilo, having spent a lovely afternoon being peacefully educated by the fruits of one man's dream. The glorious garden he imagined lives! 
For a few short hours, we were an international link, admiring flowers and plants from the Hawaiian Islands, talking quietly, taking photos, praising the vision of this visionary man with a dream.
And so it came to pass: "If you build it, they will come."

New York at night by Hornblower offers a fine opportunity to view the Statue of Liberty.  

UP NEXT:  Experiencing New York at night is a memorable affair.  No other city, except perhaps Las Vegas, has such glamour, glitz and allure.  But New York has history, too, and water.  Come with us to Ellis Island, Times Square and other famous landmarks, celebrating remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us each week for a fresh take on travel, the arts, family and nature at  

Friday, August 2, 2019

Na Pali Coast wonders: behind Honolulu's glitz and city glamour, breathtaking country scenery

The most spectacular views of the Na Pali Coast are from the air or sea. 


Not far from the coast line, pineapple
fields grow much of the world's fruit.

OAHU'S NORTH Shore offers one of the world's most spectacular coastlines.
But not many visitors to Honolulu take the time to enjoy the beauty.
Years ago, Hollywood discovered this pristine stretch of coastline with its eye-popping scenery. The crystal-clear water, jagged mountains and cascading waterfalls transport the viewer to fictional worlds such as those introduced in the "Jurassic Park" movies, "The Hunger Games" and many other famous films. Yet the cinematic beauty of this part of the Hawaiian Islands is very much "non-fiction."
More than four million years ago, volcanic plates formed the islands. Where these plates came together, volcanoes were created, sending magma rising upward until it erupted on the seafloor, at what are called  “hot spots.”
Pride of America offers a leisurely way to see the islands.
WE HAD a recent close encounter with the result of this Earth-shaking phenomenon.  Although we've visited Hawaii many times, we booked a week aboard Norwegian Caribbean Line's Pride of America for a different take on Hawaii.
We wanted a laid-back cruise, since we are taking five other more demanding cruises this year.  We highly recommend this pleasant transit of the islands.  The Pride makes the trip each week for a leisurely look at the top towns and attractions on the four major Hawaiian islands.
If you want a longer time on Oahu, we also recommend Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore, which provides fine access to the Na Pali Coast for myriad activities.
Eager Pride of America passengers disembark for a look at the North Shore.
Some of us took helicopter rides, as well as enjoying the boat's tour.
LUSH JUNGLES and rain forests lead to verdant cliffs that sometimes hang below the clouds. The jagged peaks and shades of green remind of the mountains and jungles of Peru.
The scenic Na Pali coast is hard to beat for spectacular beauty, which is why it has attracted film directors for decades.
  Some of the jungle scenes of  the "Jurassic Park" films were shot in Waimea Valley, also on the North Shore. That lovely canyon is also a great place for a delightful hike. Among the 250 other films shot here are "Blue Hawaii," with Elvis Presley, "Jumanji" and "Godzilla."
 At Kualoa Ranch, you can tour jungle film sets
 or a secret island, visit Hawaiian fishponds,
go for a horseback ride, or drive an ATV.
While visiting the North shore, check out the Kualoa Ranch, which served as a backdrop to the "Jurassic" pictures and many other science-fiction and adventure films. A working cattle ranch, it offers fun tours, some by jeep, of  its "Jurassic Park" locations, chosen by directors and cinematographers for the stunning scenery. Today, world famous Kualoa Ranch capitalizes on its good fortune -- with tours that take visitors to the locations, telling the stories of dinosaurs brought out of extinction through cloning.
Approaching the Na Pali Coast, passengers aboard NCL's
Pride of America enjoy the sun and prepare for a treat. 

MANY OTHER movie jungle scenes were captured in nearby Manoa Valley. One can take the trail in Manoa Valley to the 150-foot Manoa Falls. This gorgeous waterfall is well worth the hike, even if you aren’t a fan of the movies.
There's something cinematic about visiting Oahu's North Shore and Na Pali Coast, but pinch yourself -- because it's all very real. This wonder of the world is thankfully being preserved by the Hawaiian people and shared with us all through  tourism -- and the movies!

Veteran travel writer Christene "Cookie" Meyers and horticulturist
Kate Logan at the entrance to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

UP NEXT: One of the world's most extraordinary gardens is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, created by a Bay Area man who discovered a neglected 17-acre property 40 years ago and determined to create an oasis. After seven years of work, seven days a week, a beautiful garden emerged.  It is one of the treasures of the "Big Island" of Hawaii and we'll take you there.   Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at travel, the arts, family and nature.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Italy's 'lagoon islands' -- beautiful Burano, Murano, Lido and Torcello

The quaint, colorful fishing village of Burano also boasts some of the world's finest lace and high-end clothing shops.


A master craftsman demonstrates his glass-making skills on Murano.

WHEN IN VENICE, don't miss the opportunity to take a sidetrip to the lovely and nearby lagoon islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello and Lido.
They're a languid world apart from the hustle and bustle of St. Mark's Square and each has a distinct personality.
Quiet Murano has been a center of glass-making since the 13th century.  It is a fascinating half-day trip, with pleasant cafes and lovely gardens near the boat launch.  Murano has a "villagy" feel, with the main attraction the glass shop, laid-back cafes, and small, simple stores.
BURANO, ON the other hand, seems designed with
The shops of Burano are beautifully designed and high-end.
 tourism in mind. The shops are upscale and offer high-end clothing center  near the Burano is a thriving fishing village with quaint pastel colored homes and a centuries-old lace making tradition.
Newlyweds George and
Amal  Clooney leaving
 Torcello in 2014.
Torcello, once vigorous, is now scarcely populated -- less than 100 people actually live full-time on the island.  But its beauty, charm and a couple of lovely hotels attract celebrities and the rich and famous. Actor George Clooney chose Torcello for his wedding a couple years ago to a British-Lebanese hybrid and successful attorney.
The Belmond Hotel Cipriani is legendary, with gorgeous
 views of Venice proper from the island of Lido.
Lido is mostly about one of the great hotels of the world, the Belmond Cipriani with its stunning views across the water, to the Doge's Palace and beyond.
As one of the most celebrated luxury hotels in southern Europe, this elegant hideaway features exquisite antiques and local artifacts, Michelin-starred gastronomy, gracious help and Venice's only Olympic-sized swimming pool. I've sipped several Campari-with-sodas there.
Elegant shops abound in Burano, famous for its fashion and homemade lace. 

WE HIT all these islands in a single day, visiting Murano first, a world renowned center of glassmaking for over 700 years.
The island was settled by the Romans and was a prosperous fishing port and salt producer until the 11th Century.
Unlike the other islands in the lagoon, Murano minted its own coins and had a well known monastery, suppressed by Napoleon in 1810, with every monk expelled during the next c couple years.
The pretty waterfront of Murano, leads the way to a fine glass shop. 
The island's glassmaking fame came about in 1291 when the glassmakers of Venice were forced to move to Murano because of fire risk.  Thus its fame in glass, bead and mirror making began.
Its quality endures and Murano glass is famous worldwide and still the island's main industry.
WE RECOMMEND a full or half-day tour. Here are our two favorite tour contacts, both offering value, expertise and a pleasant outing:;

The  beautiful Napali coast offers an eyecatching experience on Oahu.
UP NEXT: Hidden Oahu. Come with us to discover the beautiful Na Pali Coast of northern Oahu. Few people take the time to visit this gorgeous part of the Hawaiian Islands, best visited by boat, or helicopter. Hollywood, however, has long known about this breathtaking 15-mile section of Oahu.  Come visit with us, remembering to explore, learn and live.  Catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, the arts, nature and family, at

Friday, July 19, 2019

Vital, voluptuous Venice speaks to the romantic's soul

The gondolier is perhaps the most famous symbol of Venice.  Here, he makes his maneuver with passenger in tow.


Cookie and Keller, arriving in the evening, toast Venice with
a view of the lagoon in starlight, from Hilton Molino Stucky.

MORE THAN any other city in the world, Venice speaks to the soul of the romantic.
There's history at every turn, and romance just around the corner in this enchanting city. You'll  see couples strolling and stealing a kiss on the Bridge of Sighs, as old ladies put down their canvas bags of cucumbers and fish to admire the young lovers, perhaps remembering when they did the same thing.
Piazza San Marco, known as St. Mark's Square, a famous Venetian landmark.
The Bridge of Sighs -- with its lovely white limestone -- is one of the remarkably well preserved bridges in the city Napoleon loved.  He called the famous Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) "the most beautiful drawing room in Europe."
Venice is a city for celebration and has been for centuries.  Among the notables who visited and bought homes are Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde and Cole Porter.  Our knowledgeable gondola driver pointed out Coward's palazzo, between bursts of Italian arias.
WE BASED our recent stay at the lovely Hotel Hilton Molino Stucky, a converted flour mill with a million dollar view of the lagoon and picturesque Venice skyline.
Set on the peaceful banks of Giudecca Island, the Hilton Molino Stucky is refurbished with gorgeous antiques, elegant Murano glass pieces and rich mahagony furniture.
Peggy Guggenheim turned her millions into one of the
world's most prestigious art collections in Venice. 
 This Venetian masterpiece features a rooftop swimming pool and the largest spa in town. Its, modern amenities fit nicely in a centuries old environment. Everything about Venice seems unique. We boarded the hotel's complimentary water taxi after a delightful breakfast of meats, cheeses, warm pastries and cappuccino and in less than 10 minutes were making the short walk to Piazza San Marco. The heart of the Venice draws tourists from around the globe and we joined the throngs of admirers to take a selfie or two.  The atmosphere is one of carnival -- everyone seems
View of Venice from the rooftop bar of Hilton Molino Stucky.
happy, and why not? St Mark's Square is like an enormous stage, with a dozen restaurants offering everything from a slice of pizza to a gourmet feast, beverages and sweets, seafood plucked from the nearby ocean and of course champagne if you're celebrating a visit or return to one of the planet's most famous cities.
OUR GOAL was two-fold: a visit to The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and a half-day trip to the famous lagoon islands near Venice.  The Guggenheim is one of several world class museums and you'll want to see the Frari, Venice's largest church, filled with artistic masterpieces.
Strolling along the canals is one of the great pleasures.
 The Guggenheim is one of the most visited attractions in Venice. Guggenheim, a self-described contemporary art addict, amassed her astonishing collection in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, one of the city's distinctive buildings.
It's fun to linger in Venice, and guess if there are more pigeons or people.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning write in 1851 that the hungry birds in St. Mark's Square descended on her husband, poet Robert Browning "like a cloud." We'd taken the elevator to the loggia in the 323-foot-high campanile before, so passed this time.  But it is a breathtaking view of Venice in its vast misty lagoon.
Manning his souvenir stand, a merchant reads the news. 
Beyond the square, Venice is a delight to explore on foot -- a joyous jumble of marble, orange rooftops, twisting canals, majestic domes, church spires and marble.
You must pause, too, for a famous Venetian ice cream. We like to munch our way through the appetizer menus posted in front of the cafes:  shrimp, squid, cheeses, salads, pastries.  Our favorite way to dine in southern Europe is by "grazing" -- fun, tasty and reasonably priced.
You can bargain for a gondola ride, too. Plan at least $100 for 25 minutes. Serenade included!

The pretty pastel houses of Burano make for lovely photos.
UP NEXT: While we're in the neighborhood, consider a visit to the quaint and quiet "lagoon islands" near Venice.  Murano, Burano and Torcello are a world apart from the cultural overload of Venice.  Each has its own distinct personality and charm, with beautiful small churches, local crafts and fun little restaurants serving fresh pasta, local fish and homegrown vegetables.   Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a novel slant on travel, the arts, nature and family, at

Friday, July 12, 2019

Making friends around the globe: how travel brings people together

Friends from the UK, John and Sue Speight, visited Cookie and Keller in Montana, where we took them exploring.
We met on a Southeast Asia cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore, shared two weeks on the road and determined
to keep in touch.  They hope to return to the U.S. and we will visit them soon in their Yorkshire, England, home.

Virginia Mock and Brent Morgan visited us in 
Montana after we spent two weeks together in the
Caribbean.  We met at a musical theater trivia
contest and took them to Tippet Rise Art Center. 



OUR HAPPIEST times are when we're traveling, partly because of the newness and enrichment it brings, meeting like-minded people along the way.
Bob and Sue Hulbert, left, traveled to
Montana and we often visit them in
Los Angeles.  Bob and Keller explored
Saudi Arabia together. We have also
traveled together in San Francisco. 
Here we enjoy Disney Music Center.
Friends. Global, curious, liberal thinking people we've met exploring Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, the United Kingdom and the Americas -- U.S., Canada, Brazil, Peru.
Barbie and Tom Davidson, right, of New
Zealand, joined us on Times Square
in New York City for Broadway shows. We
met in a chorus on a trans-Atlantic cruise.
Cookie was pianist and Barbie conductor.
WE HAVE a large, loving, fun-seeking circle of international friends and we've met them all on our world travels. They contribute richly to our lives, enhancing our perspective on the world, educating us in new ways, providing insight into their cultures and thought processes, priorities, family life, ideas and goals.
When we lecture about travel, and share our stories and photographs, we remember with fondness meeting people with whom we've stayed in touch.
Carlos Montero of Ecuador, met
Keller on a scuba dive 45 years ago.
Fred Fisher, right, shares our love of
east Africa. Together for paella dinner.
When we say, "You must come visit" we mean it.
And if our new road-tripping friends invite us, we probably will do so, as we've done with friends in Norway, Israel, Australia and elsewhere.
Jerusalem journey, Israel highlight
WE'VE MET many wonderful couples on trans-Atlantic cruises:  Yosh and Shula from Tel Aviv, Ronna and Larry from Florida, Michael and Doc from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Brent from Arkansas, Lawrence and Patrick from Sydney, Australia, Nam and Freida from Melbourne, Bev and Sidway from Denver, while exploring the Amazon, Barbie and Tom from New Zealand, John and Sue from England.
Friends through cruising, touring and trivia contests are planning a reunion.
 And so many others.
Our Yorkshire pals visited us last summer for a memorable trip through Montana's prettiest places, with a dip into Yellowstone National Park, Cody, Wyo., and Red Lodge.
We met on a Southeast Asia cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore, took a sidetrip to Bangkok and prowled the hiking and bike paths of Vietnam together.
Yosh Wichman and Bruce Keller at the Dead Sea.
Shula and Yosh hosted us for a wonderful Israel tour.
When we heard during dinner that Montana was on their bucket list, we invited them. During their visit, they extended an invitation to Yorkshire, and we'll soon be with them again enjoying the cathedrals, history and landscape of their beautiful corner of the world.
Cookie and Shula Romero Wichman
of Tel Aviv enjoy dinner in Las Vegas.
Table mates on our cruise ship, the Speights, invited us to tour
Bangkok with them, here in a tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace. 
OUR ISRAELI friends, Yosh and Shula Wichman, were our trivia buddies and fans of my piano music on a cruise through the Canary Islands with an Atlantic crossing.  We met on a jeep tour of the craters of Tenerife, along with another adventuresome couple, Ronna and Larry Schultz.  We've kept in touch and cruised and vacationed again with these friends, meeting up in Florida, the south of France and Las Vegas.
All these friends are world travelers. 
Our mutual spirit of adventure, love of language, history the arts and architecture fuel our curiosity.  We all share a hope for world peace and these similarities fuel our desire for travel. Yosh and Shula met our ship a couple years ago in Haifa and toured us around the wonderful country, a land I've visited multiple times. It was a magnificent two-day tour, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.
TAKE A CHANCE on new friendship -- join a table, say hello to the folks across the aisle, ask if there's room for you at the trivia table. It could be the beginning of an enriching new experience.
Venice is captured from the rooftop of the Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel.
UP NEXT:  Venice is one of the world's most visited, photographed and written about cities.  Come with us to explore the palaces, squares, cafes and museums, all of which make Venice so memorable and inviting. Take time to visit the outer "lagoon islands" while you're there, or if you're planning a trip for later this summer. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch a new post each week on travel, the arts, nature and family at