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. We've been happy with over a dozen Viator tours (the word means traveler). The lagoon island tour was delightful.
These languid, colorful islands are a 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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Not utterly undone by the ukulele? Try strumming a few chords

Hotel with music lessons: Christene Meyers, aka Cookie, and Bruce Keller, known by his surname, signed up for ukulele lessons at Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach.  The pair are partners in life and theater, travel, adventure, and now music study.  Cookie plays many instruments but for Keller it was a new experience. A good time was had by all and new friends were made.

STRUM THE ANCIENT, TUNEFUL INSTRUMENT WITH THE ONE YOU LOVE -- the ukulele is not just a cheap plastic toy played under a palm tree!

"It's not the islands fair that are calling to me. 
It's not the balmy air nor the tropical sea. 
It's a little brown gal in a little grass skirt.
In a little grass shack in Hawaii..."
--from "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii"
a famous ukulele-accompanied tune


Our hotel ukuleles were adequate but not expensive, about $59 each. There are fancy
ukuleles to be had for much more, ranging in the hundreds to $12k for a Martin.
ALTHOUGH I PLAY  more complicated musical instruments, the ukulele called to me.
I knew it was more than a cheap plastic toy played under a palm tree.  But the ukulele sounds so lovely and looks so simple, surely it could not be that easy, I reasoned.
So when I saw ukulele lessons on the activities sheet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village I talked Keller into coming along, not just as a photographer but as a participant.
An hour-long lesson at the lovely property on the beach attracted 15 of us ukulele aficionados from all over the world, including Australia and Japan.  With the help of two amiable coaches, we actually played a recognizable song by lesson's end.
IT'S NICE TO have a pretty, calming view when learning anything new.
Tiny Tim made the ukulele famous again,
with his warbling "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
So we relaxed our wrists and placed our hands on the instrument while our two cheery Hawaiian  kaikamahines  passed out our tune. Quickly, they had us strumming this captivating instrument, using our first finger to strum gently down and up. I thought of Robert Preston in "The Music Man," coaxing the youngsters to play. (We sounded something like that. It wasn't exactly harmonious.)
THE UKULELE is a member of the guitar family. It usually has four nylon or gut strings, as ours did at the resort lesson. More sophisticated playing involves pairing the strings in courses to give the instrument a total of six or eight strings. That's for another lesson. Our coaches promised the ukulele would be an easy instrument to learn.  While we were far from wizards, we did master a few simple chords and basic strumming patterns.  We tuned our instruments to G, C, E and A, and worked on a song -- "You Are My Sunshine."
Spanish guitar master spotlighted
Ukulele masters through the years range from British comic George Formby back in the 1930s and 1940s to Tiny Tim and his mournful "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" on a 1968 Johnny Carson Show to young "America's Got Talent" whiz kids and perhaps the world's most famous virtuoso player Jake Shimabukuro.  He is the instrument's equivalent of
Proper ukulele technique begins with holding the
instrument correctly.  A Hawaiian born teacher assists.
Pablo Casals on the cello or violinist Jascha Heifetz.
THE HAWAIIAN-born ukulele master grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music with his mother but quickly segued into more complicated repertoire. He strums and plucks a variety of sounds and styles from the tiny instrument, from "Ave Maria" to jazz and show tunes and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Shimabukuro grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music on the ukulele, and has stuck with the instrument for 25 of his 29 years.

Jake Shimabukuro is considered the modern day
master of the ukulele.  He is a true virtuoso.
"I feel people get bored of playing the ukulele because they hear other things and they want to be able to play other things," he says. "But... I've always felt there was so much more to explore, and I really love it."
So might you, if you brave a lesson.
The Hawaiian word means, literally, "jumping flea."  You might be jumping for joy if you make the ukulele leap.

If you open your heart to adventure, and meeting new
people. you'll soon be sailing with friends around the world/

UP NEXT: Travel enhances our lives more than any other aspect. It encompasses so many wonders -- nature, theater, dining -- and makes the world more accessible. Come with us to discover how relationships develop at sea, on airplanes, on a ship's tour, a boat excursion or a restaurant table. With a curiosity to learn about other cultures, strangers become friends. Up your international contact list and enrich your life, remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us Fridays for a novel take on travel, the arts, family and nature at