Friday, December 28, 2018

Where in the world will you go in 2019? What's hot for the new year

Malta is an enticing, beautiful place, if you've been before, or have yet to go.  Here near the Blue Grotto, a series
of lovely caverns carved by the wind and sea.  Malta is a friendly place, easily accessed from Italy. 


If you've considered a wildlife expedition, go on line
and look.  The options abound -- from Antarctica
to Africa, the Galapagos and our fine national parks.
IT'S FUN at the beginning of a new year to ponder then plan the next year or two of travel.
Because we're on the road so much, we book our trips two and three years ahead. Most people work only a year or a few months ahead. For us, planning is part of the fun.
We don't book according to what's "hot" although many people do.  But it's always interesting to find out what's trending. Our homework often puts us ahead of the curve.
American cities leading the popular
tourist spots list are New Orleans,
and New York. Here, breakfast
at "Nawlins'" Cafe du Monde.
For 2019, the forecast for popular places are Cuba, Japan, Singapore, Italy (particularly Cinque Terre and Rome), Greece and Paris.  Prague and London are on the "hot spots" radar and Sydney, New Orleans and New York are again predicted to be popular with tourists in 2019.
Pearl Seas Cruises offers an enticing 11-day cultural tour
of Cuba, with more ports than any other line, here Havana.
FIRST, NARROW the field, make it fun for the travelers, whether couple, family or group of friends planning a holiday  -- domestic or abroad. From the music, food, cars and culture of Cuba to the rain forests of Peru and Brazil to the fjords of Norway or New Zealand, here are basic considerations:
* City, beach or countryside? Lots to do or quiet, chill time. Cruising is a great option.
* Hot, cold weather? Beach, skiing, diving, etc.
* New adventure or pure relaxation? Educational? Cultural immersion?
The Venetian harbor in Chania, Greece, is not well known
by Americans but is a popular holiday spot for Europeans.
* Shopping, culture or the rush of discovery? If you like theater, shows, opera or concerts, consider places like Prague, London, Vienna, New York and Las Vegas. Architecture, antiquities? Think Rome, Venice, Petra. Cuba is opened up now and Pearl Seas Cruises has a wonderful expansive itinerary aboard the smart, small Pearl Mist. Cairo is slowly cleaning up its act after the political unrest of the past decade? Turkey is coming back on the radar after cruise lines pulled out.
* Budget savvy or going for broke? Somewhere in the middle?
* Who's traveling? Family, friends,  partners, college buddies, boyfriend, girlfriend? Maybe you're traveling solo and want to meet people?
* Independent travel, with room and time to strike out on your alone?  Or do you prefer everything organized and pre-paid for you
Las Ramblas in Barcelona is a vibrant, lively
place for culture, food, music.

* Off the beaten track to a "undiscovered" place, or a tried and tested destination?
ALWAYS BE daring and creative, once you settle on basic preferences. If you truly want to see a place and can't coax anyone to come along, go solo. Put yourself out there and meet people. Look for singles-friendly tours. Or consider treating a niece, nephew, cousin, sib.
Think outside the box. If you have your heart set on Malta -- a clean, progressive and welcoming place with great food, pretty scenery and friendly people -- don't be put off if the flights are too high.  Fly to Rome, enjoy, then take a connecting flight or ferry to Malta.
Architecture, antiquities, history lure us back to Rome multiple
times, here for a pause at the famed, restored Trevi Fountain.
HIT THE library or book stores.  Stock up on brochures, travel books, magazines.  We keep a huge box of files, newspaper clips, magazine pieces with features on places of interest. We're big fans of Rick Steves and catch his helpful shows on Public Television. We also enjoy the Lonely Planet books -- and we hold out for the print edition, although Kindle is available.
If you're "bucket-listing" remember the Seven Wonders of the World await.
    Colossus of Rhodes, Great Pyramid of Giza.
    Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
    Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
 If you want to see the Amalfi coast as you've never seen it before, consider
CBM Tours. The letters stand for Can't Be Missed and  you'll truly not be 
sorry.  You'll see little pockets of land and sea.  
UP NEXT: While we're in a planning mode, consider a tour.  There are month-long tours, day trips, world cruises with all the details tended to.  We've been enjoying day trips the past few years, and came upon CBM Tours on this recent two-month foray on the Mediterranean and in southern Europe. Expert guides with extensive history backgrounds guide in small groups with interesting commentary and the ability to swing off the road into a view spot like the one at left on the Amalfi Coast. Remember to explore, learn and live. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Lights, glitter, goodies of southern Europe salute the holiday

This store in Madrid was cranking up its displays for the holidays the day after Thanksgiving  (which is not celebrated in Europe, of course). Black Friday, however, is big, a definite tradition throughout Europe and in much of the larger world. 



 This week we share splashes of holiday color from our recent 
southern European and Mediterranean foray. We've spent yule
time in Hong Kong, on the Rhine, in Bora Bora (where Santa arrives on a kayak)
 and in the Canary Islands, where the wise men sang beautiful carols to us.

TO HONOR THIS WEEK of family and friend time, 
Glass in Murano is bright and beautiful for holiday gifts.
Above left, a market in Barcelona offers  everything from 
candles to cheeses. At left, Valetta in Malta lights its waterfront.

we offer a photo essay which we hope expresses our
delight both in travel -- and in the celebration of holidays. Combining the two makes each more special.

From the lavish Christmas markets of Austria, Germany and England, to the pub crawls and food binges in Ireland, to the giant Christmas trees of Scandinavia, the holiday spirit has
swept the globe.   We hadn't expected such
fervor, particularly with the financial unrest
in France and Belgium, and unemployment
in parts of Greece, but people worldwide 
seem to want to celebrate -- even when times
are hard. Glassware in Murano flies off the shelves and food and craft markets are flourishing in Madrid, Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Florence and Venice.
IN MANY European cities, Christmas isn’t just a single day of festivities, but an entire month of celebrations. Bustling Christmas markets abound from Norway to Italy and most countries embark on the Christmas season with enthusiasm.  We came upon colorful festivals, religious ceremonies, crowded night markets, and lots of pub  revelry with food offered in traditional holiday colors of red and green. Europeans don't hurry to put Christmas
to bed,  Some of the decorations will go down on Twelfth Night, though, that festival in some branches of Christianity marking the coming of the Epiphany, usually Jan. 5 or 6. Meanwhile, enjoy the season's color.

Lively scarves in Montenegro salute the season.

UP NEXT: Where in the world will you find yourself in 2019? We offer tips on what's hot,
and where you might find a bargain. Our 
recent foray on the Mediterranean gleaned lots of tips and we share them with you so you can pick a few that might fit your particular slant on life. If you like quiet harbors and a quaint old town, you'll enjoy the villages of some of the lesser known Greek islands. If you like the sizzle of a busy city, you'll find Barcelona will make you happy. Restaurant fan? Ideas coming. Remember to explore, learn and live.  
Left, a picturesque old boat is lovingly tended by his
owner in a harbor near Chania, Greece, where nice
hotels can be found for $125, with a beautiful harbor. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Feast your eyes on Filoli for history, holiday splendor

Each room of Filoli is artfully decorated for the holidays. This one showcases a painting of the flower-loving second owner.




FILOLI IS A WONDROUS place all year round, but the historic Bay Area setting truly decks the halls for the holidays -- inviting families, friends, tourists and regulars to share the wonder.
Home, garden and nature preserve all in one,
Filoli is tucked unobtrusively into the hills.
Filoli is a country house set on a beautifully landscaped 16 acre estate.  Formal gardens and walking paths accent the grounds of the Woodside, California, mansion, built by the owner of one of the state's richest gold mines between 1915 and 1917 and lived in by only two appreciative families.
Elegant holiday touches, including wreaths and trees, 
enhance the beauty and appeal of Filoli near San Francisco.

You'll find Filoli nestled into the hillside as if it has always been there -- 25 miles south of San Francisco, at the southern end of Crystal Springs Reservoir, on the eastern slope of the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. A popular holiday show, “Luminous - A Celebration of Color and Light,” makes Filoli even more enticing this time of year.
Each room is dressed in color-themed finery. A gorgeous garden light show pays tribute to the  lovers of Filoli who have kept it alive and alluring.  Surely they would be pleased.
Penelope Margaret and James Brian Ganner
survey the grounds in a late-autumn stroll at Filoli.
WHEN WILLIAM Bowers Bourn II decided to build Filoli more than 100 years ago, he called on the gifts of his artistic wife, Agnes Moody Bourn, to help with the design, a blend of Georgian and Colonian Revival styles. When I asked a docent the meaning of "Filoli," she told me: "Mr. Bourn came up with the name.  He decided on Filoli, which combined letters of his life’s credo: “Fight for a just cause; love your fellow man; live a good life."
The last of the grand California estates built in the 20th Century, Filoli is today a property of the

Writer "Cookie" Meyers and
photographer Bruce Keller
by a Filoli Christmas tree.  
National Trust for Historic Preservation.  It remains the sole intact estate from an era when San Francisco’s wealthiest families created grand showplaces south of the city in the years after the 1906 earthquake. The visionary Bourn built for posterity. Filoli, he predicted, "could prove to be interesting a few hundred years from now.”
Filoli's autumn splendor is enhanced  
by night with thousands of lights.  
Special  holiday tours are on tap.
Filoli offers docent led tours throughout the year, 
with special treats in store at holiday time.
The ground's chief horticulturist for three decades, Lucy Tolmach, says the charm of the place has to do in part with the landscape, an eye-catching variety of plantings, "everything from exotic Chinese tree peonies and European hornbeam trees to sturdy geraniums and old-fashioned roses." She describes the grounds as “exquisite and elegant without being fussy” and says the gardens, grasslands and redwoods “lend a measure of privacy and surprise.” The same could be said of the interior.  Impeccable craftsmanship and quality materials merge with pleasing personal touches -- paintings,
Ornate design elements make for a
fascinating visit to Filoli.
antiques, books, pianos -- to lend a "lived in" look.
Through Dec. 23, visitors may join guided docent-led tours to learn about the history of the original owners and the second family, William and Lurline Roth, (she was a shipping heiress) who purchased it after the Bourns' deaths. She developed the extraordinary gardens. Both interesting families are brought to life, along with stories of holidays past and lavish celebrations. The estate is a popular wedding venue today. Concerts and special events are scheduled year-round. For the holidays, Santa is visiting, music acts are on tap, along with an artisan market.
(650) 364-8300, press 1; 

This market in Barcelona featured everything from
beautiful cheeses and jams to candles and wreaths.

UP NEXT: Just back from a tour of the Mediterranean, we sample with you some of the food, festivities and markets that light up Europe during the holidays. It's a photo essay featuring a few of our favorite sights and meals -- with touches of red and green for the holiday. We hope you'll enjoy our tribute to the holidays --  whether you are having a low-key time at home or are planning your holiday away. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, and family.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: All hail a wondrous arts achievement

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre features a classical setting for three plays each season at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Three theaters offer a dozen plays for the 2019 season, a far-reaching variety from "Macbeth" to "Hairspray."


The Allen Elizabethan Theater will feature "Macbeth"
while the Thomas Theatre features "How to Catch Creation."

View from a suite at Ashland Hills Hotel, a beautiful way to preface or
follow a play.  Rogue Valley surroundings are peaceful and picturesque.
SEEING TEN PLAYS in a week can be a downright dizzying experience. But it's energizing, intriguing, and fun. Ashland, Oregon's world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival brings out the theater buff in even the unwashed.  But for lifelong devotees, the festival offers a stimulating banquet of delights. For me, the festival represents a half-century plus of family trips to Ashland, to immerse ourselves in world class theater in a setting dear to our collective heart.
THANKS TO an enterprising visionary, Scotsman Angus Bowmer, we frequent the  festival in an arts-friendly, walkable town. Bowmer lived in the Rogue Valley long before World War II, championing theater and building interest in a small offering of plays.  Through his persistence and clever promotion, his 1934 dream became a flourishing festival. Thank the drama gods that clever Bowmer devised a way for the town's popular boxing matches to fund his deeper passion, theater. Today his name graces one
The Bowmer Theater lobby readies for a performance. 
of the festival's three very different venues. The Allen Elizabethan Theatre and Thomas Theatre are the other two venues. Ashland relies on theater to keep its impressive number of shops and restaurants afloat.
BELOVED LITHIA Park near the complex welcomes strollers, who find high-quality buskers entertaining and beautiful birds, trees and water to enjoy.
A quality pair of sister hotels leads the parade of fine places to stay: the historic and beautifully appointed Ashland Springs Hotel downtown, and the pretty Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, a quick mile from the center of the action in a beautiful hillside setting.
Strollers in Lithia Park pause to enjoy Bach played by
a world class cellist, one of many treats in Ashland.
 The festival's first production, the bard's "Twelfth Night,"  has been performed many times and Bowmer's shoestring enterprise now boasts a budget of more than $40 million. The festival enhances the state's economy, last year contributing more than $128 million. Our family is part of the 88 per cent of theater goers who travel more than 125 miles to attend the Festival. We've chatted in the Bowmer, beneath a portrait of the founder, with friends from our two favorite hotels.  Fellow guests come from as far away as England and Canada, and many U.S. states to the Tony-winning festival.
AND WHILE Shakespeare is still offered -- this season a brilliant "Othello" and "Henry V" -- there are stimulating new plays, and fresh takes on old favorites for 798 performances. This year, we enjoyed a spirited, gay version of "Oklahoma" -- the romances featured two same-sex pairs.
Known for its daring casting, OSF's
"Oklahoma" featured two same-sex
couples. Here Curly talks to Aunt Eller.

                           --photo courtesy OSF
Luna is a relaxing place to unwind for a bite at Ashland Hills 
Hotel,  with tasty food, pleasant environment. 
Curly was a woman and Ado Annie was a guy, Ado Andy. OSF thinks outside the box, pushes the envelope in gender-bending ways, expanding possibilities with interesting ethnic casting and a rejection of cliches and party-line interpretations.  Next season's line-up will offer the Broadway hit "Hairspray" for its musical, and "Macbeth" will be presented in the outdoor theater, along with "All's Well That Ends Well" and a musical "Alice in Wonderland."
Cookie enjoys a sip of water from an iconic
fountain in the center of Ashland. The water
is supposed to be healthy, full of minerals.

A DARING, inventive recent play, "Indecent," which we saw in its world premier at the La Jolla Playhouse, runs in the Bowmer along with "Between Two Knees" in the Thomas. "As You Like It" plays the Bowmer, too." Something old, something new, that's OSF. Backstage tours, lectures, forums, and a popular Green Show enhance.  
Oregon Cabaret Theatre offers a pleasant addition to the
theater scene in Ashland. For more than three decades,
the Cabaret has offered first-rate dinner theater. 
Shakespeare one afternoon, a classic drama that evening. Musical theater the next afternoon.  A new, cutting edge play at night, a bite to eat, a rest, another play or two. Members have a beautiful lounge in which to relax and enjoy a beverage and snack. Memberships are as little as $35, a wonderful way to support this imaginative endeavor.
DINNER THEATER is alive and well in Ashland, too.  Oregon Cabaret Theater entertains in an historic, welcoming setting -- with a fine menu and famous desserts. This picturesque little town of Ashland has a thriving dinner theater, one of the country's most successful.  And it performs on Monday when OSF is dark. Steps from the Festival in a beautifully converted church, the Cabaret personifies Ashland's blend of sophistication and appeal.
We have been devotees of the Cabaret as long as we've been coming to the Shakespeare Festival.  It never fails to entertain, and the food is delightful. This year's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" featured a tasty French inspired menu.  The holiday show looks wonderful and the run has just been extended. The cabaret -- like Ashland itself -- satisfies both town and gown tastes, delighting all the senses.;;;

Cookie, right in the red plaid, and her niece, Amarylla,
with her two youngsters, James and Peny, enjoy Filoli.

UP NEXT: Filoli is decked out for the holidays. The extraordinary country house south of San Francisco is set in 16 acres of formal gardens on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The house is celebrating the season with color and light and a fresh new take on holiday decor in every room. The spectacular gardens are open during this magical time with special holiday touches by day and elegant lighting in the evening. Find out who owned this magnificent estate and how a visit has become such a popular tradition for thousands in the Bay Area and beyond. Artisan markets and entertainment, delightful food and even horses make an outing a family friendly event. Nest CafĂ©.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family and living outside the box.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Torrey Pines: perfect retreat with spectacular trees, ocean view

The magnificent Torrey Pine stands bent and endangered, but still glorious in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. 
Torrey Pines Reserve is a much loved part of the state.
The "Coaster" hugs the shore below one of the bluffs.
Below, another option for sport above the Pacific.




THE SPECTACULAR trees called Torrey Pines are located in a wild stretch of land in southern California appropriately named Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
Surfing is popular Torrey Pines
where the waves can be perfect.

Tourists and locals alike enjoy the sunsets at Torrey Pines.
It's become one of my favorite haunts, and I make almost daily visits with Nick and Nora, my aging but still sprightly Yorkshire terriers. We spend an hour or so each morning after I dance at Jazzercise in a nearby venue in DelMar. Then we have a snack and walk on this beautiful reserve located within San Diego city limits, yet a vast, wild stretch of land.
SETTLED centuries ago by the Kumeyaay people, this acreage achieved natural reserve status because of its importance in the plant and animal world.  It contains threatened plants, animals, habitats, and unique geological formations. Mostly, it is home to the rare and endangered Torrey Pine. So it is a protected area,  targeted for conservation.

Because of the efforts and foresight of the people here, this beautiful 1,500 acres of land is maintained much as it was before San Diego was developed — including the maritime chaparral, the rare Torrey pine tree, miles of unspoiled beaches, and a lagoon that is vital to migrating seabirds.
Cookie, Nick and Nora enjoy the coast line near home.
The world's largest Torrey Pine was
planted in 1888 and resides in
Carpinteria, California.

ONE CAN imagine what California must have looked like to the early settlers, or to the Spanish explorers, or even to the first California. No pine trees then -- but native chaparral and brush.
  All the trails here are all well maintained and I see hikers enjoying it daily.  A team of dedicated volunteers offers free guided tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The tour guides give a brief, interesting history of the area and toss in some geology and biology lessons.
My native San Diegan partner loves the pines and has told me that they are unique to the area and not found anywhere else in the world. It’s also rumored that Dr Seuss (Theodore Geisel, San Diego resident for many years) frequented the area and found it an inspiration for the drawings in his books.
After a day at the beach, these two enjoy the sunset.
THE TORREY Pine exists in another place in the state: Carpinteria.  The largest one in the world was brought from Santa Rosa Island in 1888.  Landowner Judge Thomas Ward planted it on his lawn, and when he passed, his widow, Florence, took meticulous care of it, watering and maintaining it every day. Once she realized how much bigger it was getting than the others in the area, she proposed making it an official landmark and eventually the tree received state protection. In 1968 the tree became Carpinteria's first official landmark and celebrated its centennial in 1988.

UP NEXT: The internationally known Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently ended an ambitious, near sell-out 2018
 season and plans are drawn for the spectacular  2019 season. It's been chosen and it is world class, following the tradition established by OSF's enterprising and determined 
founder Angus Bowmer in 1935.  What makes Ashland, Oregon, so special? Take a look at the town with us, and plan your 2019 visit.  The next season opens in March and extends through late October.

(photo at right, Cookie and Keller outside the
Allen Elizabethan Theatre, Ashland, Oregon.)

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving transplant tale: joyfully marking 18th month post-miracle

Keller and Cookie
10 days post-transplant
at SeaWorld's media day.

New Yorker Dr. Jonathan Fisher was chief surgeon for the transplantation for Bruce Keller, right. The Columbia University trained physician said all went extraordinarily well.  Keller did not need the customary ventilator to leave OR for the ICU.


This daunting hike near Malaga was 
accomplished with joy by Keller & Cookie.
Editor's Note: By request, as we mark the 18th month post-transplant, we offer an update on photographer Bruce Keller's remarkable recovery from liver transplantation in May of 2017. Scripps Green Hospital physicians, nurses and transplant team helped us through a trying time.  We are grateful and celebrate this Thanksgiving with new appreciation.

Leaving Scripps a record
three days after transplantation.
Dr. Randolph Schaffer who assisted with the transplant
conferred with Keller along with the other liver specialists.

TWO YEARS AGO, we were in Europe, moving up the transplant list for major surgery at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif.
We knew it would be our last big international foray for a while. As we dealt Transplant's first few days
with Keller's liver disease and need for transplantation, we continued our arts driven life on the road.
The couple has made several international
 trips  since the transplant. Good news.

PLAYS, CONCERTS,  sailing, museums, weekend trips and close-by "staycations" were a balm as we waited for a donor.  We couldn't be more than two hours from the hospital, in case we
got "the call."  So this big trip to our beloved southern Spain was important.
Torrey Pines Reserve near Scripps became a regular
hiking ritual for the Yorkies and the recovering couple.
IT WAS a fabulous trip -- we have never had a bad one in our nearly 11 years together.  And less than five months after our return, we did get "the call." It was nearly 10 p.m. Friday, in Adjusting to transplant challenges
May of 2017. (Lucky Friday the 13th, and we'd just enjoyed dinner and the beach on our Friday date night.)   Surgery was performed at 4 a.m. May 14 by a brilliant team led by highly regarded specialists in transplantation.
The award-winning Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif.
DR. CHRISTOPHER MARSH is head of the
Nick and Nora and Montana are part of the healing process.
team and his highly ranked associates take turns being on call for transplantation.  Chief surgeon for our early-morning transplant was Dr. Jonathan Fisher, a New Yorker from Columbia Medical School. When he met me shortly before 11 
 a.m.  that next morning, he told me everything had gone smoothly.
THE GOOD luck continued the next couple days.  Keller moved quickly from ICU to the regular wing of the hospital and on the third day, got his walking papers.  This shocked me because the literature had indicated nine or ten days in hospital would not be unusual.  Adjusting to transplant takes time 
Keller was back in the water 
to pursue his beloved scuba diving.
Five days would mean he was recovering with speed. A support group helped me through those first trying weeks and in less than two months we got the green light from our primary hepatologist to travel out-of-state. That late June trip included our niece's wedding on the Oregon coast and a dozen plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Keller and his chief hepatologist,
head of Scripps liver transplantation
team, Dr. Catherine Frenette.
We even stopped at a casino for a couple nights to give me a gambling fix. (Non-smoking room for Keller and a little blackjack.)     
There are scans every three months, and the daily doses of anti-rejection drugs.  The blood work must happen every two weeks.  But we are able to travel, dance, sail, resume our life of theater, work and live music.
we both have life, and we live it fully.

Proud sentinel of the southern California coastline is the stately Torey pine.
UP NEXT:  The revered Torrey pine, whose name comes from its botanical reference, is a stately but endangered part of the southern California coastline.  Find out about its history and precarious future, and how it has graced some of our favorite times during our treasured outings near San Diego. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, the arts, nature, family, pets and general fun.