Thursday, December 29, 2022

Holiday delights: try fun, new foods whether home or on the road

Enjoy each day and celebrate holidays with a trip to the beach -- or a favorite restaurant.
Here, Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers kick holidays up a notch in Vietnam. 


and our recipe for holiday jambalaya

This Vietnamese meal was prepared for a special
holiday gathering at our hotel in then Saigon. 

Shopping and schmoozing in the Caribbean,
Cookie made a new friend in St. Lucia who
directed them to a delightful cafe for local fare.
Noodles are part of a special holiday meal in Tokyo.

HOLIDAYS ON the road overflow with adventure, fun, surprise and delight. We've spent a dozen yuletides in warm climes -- Vietnam, Australia, the Caribbean, and once in chilly but beautiful Finland. We try to do something special on a holiday abroad -- take a special hike, a city bus, boat or bike tour. Then we always cap the day with a meal in our new environs. Maybe we walk into a village to find a cafe popular with locals.  We chat up vendors and hotel folks to find street fairs, food stalls and flea markets, all popular during the holidays in Europe and the Caribbean. We glean tips on munching and shop for gifts in the same outing. In Saigon (pre-Ho Chi Minh City) we were directed to a small hotel restaurant with a huge, tasty holiday feast of pork, pickled veggies, tangy soups, chicken dishes, noodles, rice cakes, and delectable desserts. For two of us, the bill was $35. 

IF YOU'RE staying home, don't let that stop you from putting a little international flair on your table. If you're Norwegian, try serving lutefish on Christmas Eve. Or how about making latkes on Hanukkah or noodles and dumplings on New Year’s Day. Whatever your ethnic persuasion or interest, the holidays are a perfect time to broaden your tastes while you eat, drink and be merry. Dedication to delicious food is  universal, whether you're visiting some new place or channeling a French or Italian chef's pantry. It's easy to open a cook book or go on line to spice up a holiday meal with a recipe from another country or culture. Try one or two of these if they sound intriguing.

IN A HELSINKI mood? You can savor porkkanalaatikko, which translates  

Even a simple breakfast can be made exotic
when you're on the road, or dreaming of being

to carrot casserole. In Lisbon, try the country's favorite dish, cod, called bacalhau, which you can make extra festive on Christmas Eve by trying "Bacalhau de Consoada."  In northern China, we've dined on jiaozi, those delicious pork dumplings. Time consuming to make but so tasty. In Israel, holiday time means latkes, those irresistibly crispy potato pancakes sometimes kicked up a notch with zucchini or tahini. One special New Year's Eve in New Orleans, friends invited us to their kitchen to prepare a delicious bouillabaisse.
Peking Duck on our plate for New Year's
Eve, in China of course, a Shanghai eatery.
In Kyoto one New Year's Eve, we sampled a fragrant "year-crossing noodle” dish. Toshikoshi soba is a thin noodle concoction traditionally served to welcome the new year and bring good luck in Japan. Of course, sauerkraut rules in Germany and panettone in Italy.

IT'S FUN to do something new, too, combining a meal with an outing. Try a hike up a hill or in a nature preserve, park or zoo, followed by a meal in a nearby restaurant. Many places that attract tourists and families are open during the holidays.

SO WHETHER it's spicy tamales in Mexico or or a spongy yule log cake in France, tuck into something different this holiday -- even if it's from your armchair with something unusual in your home kitchen. You don't have to cross an ocean to try something new. We're sharing a recipe we made with friends from Louisiana whom we met on a cruise. It's the state's favorite one-pot dish: jambalaya. 

We cooked this jambalaya while visiting new friends
in their New Orleans home over Christmas.

This succulent dish varies from kitchen to kitchen, depending on the cook and recipes passed through generations. Jambalaya usually contains chicken or pork sausage -- andouille, chorizo or smoked sausage are favorites. Seafood is normally added -- crawfish or shrimp, but we've also had lobster in jambalaya. Onion, bell peppers and celery are musts, with rice, chilis, seasonings and broth -- all cooked together until the rice is done. Some jambalaya recipes have a Cajun spin. This one comes from a Creole cook.  

Bruce Keller enjoys a New Year's
souffle with thick whipped cream,
served in the Canary Islands'
 Lanzarote by a gracious waitress.

3 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
2 tablespoons seasoning, (Slap Ya Mama is great, or our favorite chili powder.)
10 ounces (300 g) andouille sausage, sliced
1 pound (500 g) boneless skinless chicken cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion diced; 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 stalks/ribs celery, chopped; 4 cloves garlic, minced
14 ounces (400 g) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon each dried thyme and dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne powder)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce; 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup thinly sliced okra (or 1 teaspoon file powder)
1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice (short grain or long grain)
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 pound (500 g) raw cleaned shrimp/prawns tails
Sliced green onions and chopped parsley, to garnish


Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the sausage and chicken pieces with half of the seasoning.
Brown sausage in the hot oil; remove with slotted spoon, set aside. Add rest of oil to pot. Sauté chicken until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
Sauté the onion, bell pepper and celery until onion is soft and transparent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes; season with salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes or cayenne powder, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and remaining seasoning. Stir in okra slices (or file powder), chicken and sausage. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
ADD RICE and chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low-medium. Cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked, stirring occasionally. Place shrimp on top of  mixture, stir gently, cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are pink (5-6 minutes, depending on shrimp size.) 
Season with a bit more salt and pepper if needed. Remove from heat. Add optional extra hot sauce, cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning. Serve with sliced green onions or parsley.
Why not check a longed for trip off your bucket list?
Here, Cookie and Keller visit "Godfather" country
in Savoca, Italy, and the church where the
 famous wedding scene was filmed.
UP NEXT: New Year's Eve is upon us, a time for ringing in the new. Why not make it a year to accomplish something you've longed to see or do. Let's put a positive spin on 2023 as we emerge from so much darkness. It's been a difficult three years with the trauma of the pandemic, the heartbreak of losing loved ones including pets, political unrest and bitterness, accidents, a horrible war, illness and changed plans. But there is hope for a new, brighter year.  There's also the opportunity to broaden our horizons, challenge ourselves, click something off our bucket lists. Have you always wanted to visit "Godfather Country" in Italy and see where the film was made? Have you dreamed about seeing the gorillas of Rwanda? Maybe you'd like to take a relative to Paris to celebrate a graduation or wedding?  How about a resolution to plan that longed for trip? Shake up your routine, meet new people, try new foods in new places, explore new vistas. Join us to resolve to make your dreams come true and stretch a bit in this first few days of the new year, remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more:  And please share the links.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Spiritus: splendid psychedelic immersion in famous Portuguese chapel

Clerigos Church and its magnificent cathedral host a light-filled wondrous show, "Spiritus."

Gorgeous lights highlight windows and offer nature imagery
and accentuate the church's large windows and baroque architecture.




PREPARE TO immerse your senses as you simultaneously celebrate an architectural wonder.
This unique opportunity unfolds in a stunning show in an historic Portuguese church, Clerigos.
Clerigos Tower aglow at night, a proud Porto landmark.

In its sanctuary, "Spiritus" -- an inventive light and sound show --  examines with imagination the connection between man, nature and the heavens.
We hurried from a city walking tour as dusk fell, to the lovely Baroque church in the city of Porto. Our "compass" was Clerigos Church with its impressive 75-meter-tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos. As we hurried several blocks from our bus to the show, we could see the tower getting closer. It was fun to observe it from various vantage points and as evening fell and muted clouds blanketed the city. The immense Torre dos Clérigos towers over its surroundings and is a central point on virtually all views of historic Porto. The baroque tower was designed by Italian artist and architect Nicolau Nasoni in the mid-eighteenth century.
Famous Clergios Church and Tower are worth a visit.

Nasoni lived and worked in Porto for fifty years, designing many beautiful structures in Porto and throughout the north of Portugal. He was a busy man, also creating the loggia on the Porto Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace, Palace of São João Novo, and the Palace of Freixo, all proud landmarks of Porto. As we turned corners and navigated narrow streets and alleys, the tower remained nearly always in view. No wonder it was placed where it is -- on a high point in the city where all eyes are drawn to its magnificence.

The small but fascinating museum at Clerigos is
enjoyed by Cookie with insights from a docent.

The interior of Clerigos Church Clérigos Museum
 exhibits a collection of sacred art and liturgical
 objects dating from the 13th to the 20th century.

WE HAD tickets in hand -- an advantage in moving through a line at the box office and toward the entrance of this popular production. The queue was long but moved quickly with visitors from around the world. People were quiet and respectful as we entered the cathedral to take our seats. Then a young man with a sonorous voice gave a brief introduction to what we were about to behold. He explained that the innovative multimedia show would "transcend the walls" and promised a spiritual and emotional journey in this lovely and much loved Baroque church.
Then the lights dimmed and a wonderous light show appeared.  Spiritus is an audiovisual experience, pairing light, music, and architecture in the heart of the church. Created by OCUBO, an internationally known Portuguese art studio, the 
experience uses its religious location to carry the spectator on a spiritual and emotional journey. The work is inspired by the poem “In the end, the best way to travel is to feel,” by Álvaro de Campos, respected Portuguese poet.  One need not be religious to appreciate the splendor. 
CLERIGOS was built in 1753 and has been a national monument since 1910, much loved by the people of the city. It inspired the urbanization of the city, and is a landmark of the town. It was begun at the request of the Brotherhood of Clerics, with architect Nasoni commissioned to design a bell tower to dominate Porto's landscape. 
The Clerigos light show, "Spiritus," moves many deeply.
It was completed 10 years later, in July of 1763, with the placing of the iron cross on the top, and the image of St. Paul in the niche above the door, its construction was finished. Since 2014, the Church, Tower and House of the Brotherhood are a museum. Do make time to visit it when you book the show. It is small -- just a few rooms -- but filled with antique furniture, sacred art and centuries old liturgical objects
Families and couples regularly make a pilgrimage to the tower, climbing the 225 steps to the top. The show and museum add dimension and can also be enjoyed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, too.


Jefferson McDonald, Matthew McGloin are a hit
in Northcoast Rep's "Two Pianos, Four Hands."

BEST BET: "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" is a “must see” at Northcoast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, Calif. It’s a dazzling love letter to the world's most versatile and difficult instrument. Two gifted musicians deliver classical war horses laced with comedy and pathos. Part slapstick, part highbrow, the show features Jefferson McDonald and Matthew McGloin whose flawless technique was honed in years of study. While their artistry amazes, the show's physical humor and impersonations make it more than a mere concert. Themes honor the hard work a classical career demands, conflicts with parents and coaches, and the challenges of devoting one's life to a passion. In the style of Victor Borge and Anna Russell, the actors weave parody and slapstick with flawless Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach and Mozart -- with tuneful nods to Rodgers and Hart, Dave Brubeck and Billy Joel. This perfect pitch production hits the high notes while tickling the funny bone -- all on a pair of 88s, through Jan. 1. Tickets at:; 858 481-1055.  

A colorfully clad Martinique woman prepares a holiday
cocktail for us on New Year's Day. Fresh fruit -- delicious!
UP NEXT: Holiday time is in full swing as a New Year approaches. We  find holidays make a lively time to explore new places, holding old habits dear while making room for new traditions. We'll share favorite places and activities for celebrating the flip of the calendar to 2023. We have a suggestion for our readers, too: How about making a resolution to travel, shake up your routine, broaden your worldly experience, take the trip you've long wanted, make new friends on another continent? Come along, remembering to explore, learn and live.  Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more at: 
                                                                                       Please share the links and consider "following" us officially. It helps our ratings.  

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Free walking tours offer value and a terrific way to know a city quickly

Luiz, our fine Brazilian born guide in Porto, Portugal, took us around the city to its hidden corners
as well as exploring its famous bridges, squares and plazas. He was lively, smart and well tipped. 


A free walking tour is a great way to get a sampling of how people live.
 Note patio plants and laundry drying. Few Europeans have clothes dryers.



This lively Portuguese guide is a singer, art history major and
a wonderful ambassador for her country and her native Lisbon
WALKING TOURS are a wonderful way to get a quick fix on a new place.
They're growing in popularity around the world. We've tried a dozen of them in seven countries, and enjoyed three more on this latest foray which concentrated on southern Europe.
The enticement of a "free tour" is appealing to many travelers, when a group tour booked through a cruise line or travel agency averages $50 to $100-plus per person, depending on the length. Private tours for a couple can surpass several hundred dollars.  So for adventuresome folks such as the two of us, and people trying to avoid breaking the bank, a "free" tour is a fine alternative.

This shop window was a photo stop on a Barcelona free tour
WE APPRECIATE the fact that the guides are always articulate, well educated and have a sense of humor. They're helpful and eager to give 
directions, pointers and advice on ATM machines, shopping and dining.
"Free" tours are not really free if you have a conscience. You'll want to tip at least $12 or $15 per person -- about the same equivalent in Euros. That's not much for a two or three-hour crash course in history, art, architecture, music, food, hotels, 
parks and gardens.
"Free" walking tours started in Berlin in 2004 and have spread to over 40 
cities around the world, including nearly every major tourist destination in Europe (Barcelona has several of the best), in most major U.S. cities,
such as New York and Los Angeles, in South American capitals, and in Asia, where free tours are offered in Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Istanbul, Shanghai and Dubai. They're not a passing fad from the on-line reviews and international enthusiasm. Free tours are here to stay.

OF THE MANY ways we explore a new city, we find a free tour combined with a half-day "hop on and hop off" bus tour make a perfect introduction to a new town. We even repeat this pattern in cities we've visited multiple times -- such as Barcelona, Paris and Amsterdam.
For a quick fix on a new place, nothing beats a free walking tour. The tours usually start in a central, well known part of the town --
A tour in Victoria, B.C., pointed out this unique
tea shop where we returned on our own next day.

Dam Square in Amsterdam or San Marco Piazza in Venice, for instance.
From there, you set off to visit landmarks and get tips on history: battles, marriages, mutinies and more.  You listen to enthusiastic, well educated guides share facts and myths about the town they love and often grew up in. You find places you'd like to revisit -- so you can easily do so.
You set off on a lively tour of discovery, finding 
The Colosseum in Rome is a stop of most free walking tours.

A free tour in Tuscany included a wine cellar
tour with optional wine tasting for a small fee.

hidden gems only locals know. Be prepared to walk fast: free tours cover a lot of ground, enriching perceptions of a city in a few busy hours. 
FREE TOURS are one way savvy travelers see the world. From booking a packaged tour months in advance with travel guru Rick Steves, to picking up a half-day tour the night before, travelers find myriad options to tour -- from buses to bicycles, rickshaws to Segways. While each mode has its advantages, we prefer a walking tour.
The main reason is because the worry and strain are removed. You're with a trusted guide, you walk with others, you feel safe while being informed.
You also get gentle exercise -- and tips on ways to make up for that at local eateries, ice cream shops, bakeries and specialty restaurants.
You get more bang for your buck -- while meeting other travelers.  We've made friends on walking tours and contacts with people we've traveled with again.   We've also noticed that single travelers like walking tours because they make connections with other people and find the trip less lonely.
Language is never a problem, either.
We speak Berlitz French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese, but we've always found English speaking guides in the reservation process.
You'll also see an option for free tours in the local language -- so if you're daring, give that a try. (We've taken French speaking tours in Paris and fared well with our college French.)
We've never met a European guide who didn't speak fluent English. Our "Freedam" tour guide in Amsterdam was fluent in several languages, including his native Italian.

A lively history buff and art major guide (in far
right corner) was our excellent free tour host for
a free tour in Lisbon. (Cookie and Keller behind her.)

TO PREPARE, we share a backpack to take a light jacket or sweater, a couple bottles of water, protein bars, hats and sun screens. We try to get a good night's sleep before a tour because you'll get a workout. The guides try to cover optimum ground in three or four hours. The routes are efficiently planned to include major sights, learn about the history and culture, with time for questions and stops for quick shopping if you ask. The group may go ahead, but the guide will tell you where to meet next.
 All our guides have been helpful in showing us where to find a rest room or grab a quick snack if we've forgotten to bring one.
They're either natives of the city or have lived there long enough to be considered so. They've done copious research, visited museums and galleries, know who's playing at the concert halls and share anecdotes along with bits of history. Our guides have been jovial and fun to listen to, with a sense of humor and a knack for answering questions with precision.
That's why tipping is important. These guides work hard to give us an enriching experience, with courtesy, patience and insider tips. We've even had guides make dinner and show reservations for us and take us to an ATM that didn't charge an exorbitant processing fee.
SO DON'T forget to tip. And tell your friends.;; 

A pair of brilliant actors -- Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey
Jacobs -- bring "The Mystery of Irma Vep" to San Diego.
BEST BET: I first saw (and loved) "The Mystery of Irma Vep" in 1985 in New York City. Charles Ludlam's witty, wacky, fast-paced comedy is alive and well at San Diego's Diversionary Theatre through Dec. 24. It's worth a trip to southern California for the holiday cheer and laughter it provides. Two accomplished actors -- Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey Jacobs -- play a string of over-the-top characters in this crazy parody of Victorian Gothic themes and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca." Think farce, exaggerated facial expressions, split-second costume changes and clever staging. Mix it up with a peg leg, a wolf, a vampire and audience participation for a hefty helping of queer, high-camp humor deftly directed by Matt M Morrow and Allison Spratt Pearce. More fun than a sleigh ride, sing-along or Santa visit. Put this in your Christmas stocking and don your gay apparel . 619 220-0097.

Famed Portuguese actor Joao Reis narrates a beautiful
music, light, energy and color show called "Spiritus." 
UP NEXT: Immersive shows are the trend -- from "Nutcracker" and the life of Vincent Van Gogh in Las Vegas to a thrilling multi-media show in Portugal celebrating classical music, nature and the world of the spirit. It's called "Spiritus," and it should put you in the spirit for the holidays. Everything is aglow and over the top with lights, and  wonder at Clerigos Church, the famed Portuguese house of worship with its iconic tower. We share an insider's look at this inventive multi-media show in a beautiful sanctuary. So beam yourself to Porto and fasten your multi-media seatbelts as we share a trendy, immersive show with full lights, visuals and more. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the performing arts, nature, family and more:


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Gaudi's genius is on showy display in masterful Barcelona architecture

Antoni Gaudi's La Pedrera is one of his Barcelona masterpieces, a commission done for a pair of
wealthy patrons who gave his unlimited artistic license. It is highly informed by nature. 




Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
enjoy a moment of reflection outside
Gaudi's Casa Mila, or "La Pedrera." 


The curved "attic" of Casa Mila is a museum on its own, with
drawings, exhibits and models showing the profound
influence nature had on Gaudi's life's work.

WHEN THE brilliant architect Antoni Gaudi was struck by a tram on a pleasant June morning in 1926, he had no identification on his body. He rested unknown in a morgue for several days while officials tried to identify him. The great man was walking to his daily confessional at a nearby church when tragedy befell him.

When it was discovered that he was an internationally known architect -- one of the city's proudest sons -- he was mourned for weeks. Today, he is still celebrated as a genius.  His work is acclaimed for its grace, originality and connection to nature, evident in its nods to the sea and its creatures, and to birds, flowers, trees, and all living things.

WE SPENT a recent week marveling at Gaudi's wondrous accomplishments. He viewed the natural world as perfect, a creation from which he drew his inspiration. This connection is visible in all his work but critics believe it is most present in his masterpiece, Barcelona's famous Sagrada Familia. The cathedral has been in constant development since its foundation was laid in 1883.  Its completion -- many times delayed -- is now scheduled for 2026, on the 100th anniversary of the great artist's death.

MUCH OF Gaudí's career was occupied with the construction of the Sagrada Família, his "over the top" cathedral where pineapples and the Virgin Mary peacefully coexist. It's difficult to name a favorite of Gaudi's magnificent buildings.  Tourists flock to his famous Sagrada, but grand as it is, it is not our favorite of his works. We've spent several relaxing afternoons at his fanciful Park Güell, and at the better part of a day each at two stunning homes he designed in downtown Barcelona: Casa Milá and Casa Batlló, an important pair of modernist buildings. 

Looking to the sky, as he often way,
Antoni Gaudi celebrated light and nature
in his magnificent open-air view skyward.

This sixth visit to Barcelona, we concentrated on Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, which means "stone quarry" and celebrates Gaudi's Catalan heritage and

Nearby Casa Batllo's roof
 is a fanciful place, representing
scales on a dragon's back. 
love of landscape. Known today as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism, Gaudí is honored for his individuality and his unique style. Most of his most famous creations are in
Barcelona, one of the reasons we return so often.

Above, a storage closet in La Pedrera gives
insight into the life of a wealthy family in
Barcelona nearly a century ago. At right,
the life of Gaudi is shared in books in many
languages, with t-shirts and art for sale, too.
Some think the shapes of Gaudi's top floor art in Casa Mila represent
the scales of lizards or creatures of the sea, serpents or mythical beings.

LA PEDRERA -- meaning “the stone quarry” because of its unusual rough-hewn appearance, is more commonly called Casa Milá and is one of Barcelona’s most popular modernist buildings. UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage site in 1984.
Built between 1906 and 1912, the magical structure came to life when clients gave him a limitless budget and reign to do something "wonderful and different." It housed several apartments and  was  Gaudí’s last private residential design.
Many consider it the most imaginative house in the history of architecture, one which continues to influence architects today. It is truly more a sculpture than a building.
The façade is a varied and harmonious mass of undulating stone that, along with forged iron balconies, explores the irregularities of the natural world.
Other Spanish artists gained fame in their experimental work, too.
MANY PEOPLE wonder if Gaudi and Salvador Dali were friends, and if they endorsed one another's work. The much older Gaudi was born in 1852 and Dali was born in 1904. One wonders, then, if either man knew Picasso, born in 1881, between the two other famed artists. 
The rooftop of Casa Mila.

While Gaudí and Dali were buddies, often complimenting each other's work, Picasso and Gaudí did not see eye to eye. Both made art their life's work, but while Gaudi didn't criticize fellow artists and visionaries, Picasso spent a lot of time dissing the Sagrada Família, Gaudí's magnum opus. Gaudi didn't return the barbs, remaining a man
La Pedrera was fashioned into several
apartments by Gaudi, and is now used
for fundraisers and as a museum.

of deep faith, honoring the credo of tolerance and forgiveness.  
He was in fact on his way to mass, his daily ritual, when he was struck by the tram. Only when his housekeeper reported him missing did officials figure out who he was.
Gaudi's architecture is distinctive
in its use of curves inspired
by his view of nature.

GAUDI'S LIFE'S work is a celebration of nature and the natural world.  The only woman he loved, historians tell us, did not return his affections. (She was a divorced teacher whom he met during one of his early projects.) Much has been written about his art -- but there isn't much to tell about his personal life since he remained single and devoted his life to his art and private commissions.

Accomplished actor John Rubinstein endows his character,
Dwight D. Eisenhower, with wit, intelligence and confidence
in a stellar performance beautifully directed by Peter Ellenstein.
BEST BET: A world premier in an intimate Los Angeles theater offers play lovers an engaging immersion in history via a close encounter with our 34th President. "Eisenhower:  This Piece of Ground" is Richard Hellesen's fascinating opus about a war hero turned world leader.  Tony award winning actor John Rubinstein endows Ike with humanity, humor and intelligence in this captivating one-man production at Hudson's MainStage Theatre.  Peter Ellenstein directs this graceful, amusing and informative immersion which explains why the five-star general is now regarded as a great president. More info:

This Brazilian guide in Porto, Portugal, took us around
the city to its bridges, museums, eateries and special
unknown corners.  Tune in next week for "free tours" tips.
UP NEXT: Free tours. From the far north of Europe to the southern reaches of Spain's Canary Islands, free tours are becoming the rage. Many cities around the world now offer no-fee walking and sightseeing tours.  The trend of ‘'free'’ walking tours began in Berlin in 2004 and has spread to over 40 cities around the world, including nearly every major tourist destination in Europe. We give pointers on finding them, and suggestions for tipping the well informed guides, who rely on and deserve generous gratuities. They live on our tips. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for fresh spins on travel, the arts, nature, family and more:

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Las Vegas highlights: Sin City's array of shows welcomes the holidays


"Rouge" is an extraordinary show combining fabulous dance, acrobatics, stories and humor
with a cast of perfectly proportioned men and women in scanty but tasteful costumes. 

Delightful dancing with performers in lights makes
"iLuminate" a hit with audiences looking for a unique show.


Showgirls dazzle and delight in "Extravaganza" which
has an old-fashioned Vegas show vibe with beautiful girls,
spectacular sets and all the feathers and head gear of yore.

LAS VEGAS is always lit up and ready for action -- no more so than during the holidays.
Then the nation's showiest city rolls out more lights. And lights are what the latest shows in Vegas are all about.
Many visitors come to Sin City -- population nearly 3 million -- expressly to see shows. Others come to gamble, drink and misbehave. Many come to view  millions of lights -- three million of them alone at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when its Glittering Lights show showcases 170 lit up trees.
NEW SHOWS kick things up a notch with fantastic lighting and extra  pizzazz for the holidays.
From Caesar's to the Bellagio, Paris to the 
Venetian, Mirage to Rio, look for holiday lights,
blinking trees and dozens of  Vegas style Santas.
A stroll down the famous Strip yields everything from naughtily dressed showgirls in blinking costumes to classic nativity scenes with a Vegas twist, elegant Christmas trees and spectacular lights. More is always more in Las Vegas but during the holidays more is expected and brightly delivered.
THIS TOWN is about performance, so don't miss a show or two. The city's stages offer plenty of "enlightening" reasons to visit, with many shows suitable for families.  New and recently introduced productions sparkle with enticement for a visit. We saw eight top ones in a week's marathon and recommend these: : 
*Wow! This is a "see it to believe it" must, transporting astonished viewers into a world of water, wonder and fantasy. It combines all that Vegas does best -- dazzling dancing, amazing acrobatics, international talent in the form of 30 gifted artists.  Plus 3D multi-media projections, holograms, and a memorable musical score. Terrific for family with its jugglers and humor. At the Rio showroom.
Rouge: beautiful bodies in unusual
positions with extraordinary muscle 
control, grace and flexibility.
*iLuminate. This is a complete Vegas original, designed by a woman whose pair of passions are dance and software design. The show fuses technology and dance when glow-in-the dark costumes light up a darkened stage. The musical mix -- from rap tunes to jazz and Folies Bergère favorites -- produces an engaging, unique show with expert dancers delighting in their flashy and flashing LED suits. At the Strat (formerly Stratosphere.)
*Extravaganza.  This fun, family show has the feel of an old-fashioned Vegas revue. It showcases the dazzling talent of 30 artists including dancers, acrobats, skaters, aerialists and comedians. A world champion crossbow expert shoots an apple off her own head -- just one of the show's startling feats of strength, flexibility and derring-do. We sat next to a completely  mesmerized family. At Bally's Jubilee showroom.
A glowing Las Vegas attraction, the High Roller.

*Rouge.  This was the last of the octet of shows we saw. So glad not to have missed because it's our favorite. Fabulous dancers, aerialists, contortionists and one of the funniest emcees on the Strip present what's billed as "a journey of seduction and adult adventure." A jaw-dropping ensemble of beautiful bodies -- men and women -- perform a captivating series of sketches in settings ranging from the 16th Century French court to the Roman forum. Gorgeous costumes, terrific dancing, laughs, thrills. Adult slant. At the Strat.  

"Immersive Nutcracker" brings the action to the
 audience, with floor to ceiling imagery and lights
*Immersive Nutcracker." This holiday classic gets a contemporary,  kaleidoscopic spin through music and "surround" imagery. The Tchaikovsky holiday favorite is reinvented to jazz up the title character, Sugar Plum Fairy and dancing company. Like all immersive works, it breaks through that "fourth wall" that traditionally separates audience from performers. There's no "stage" in the literal sense, but the imagination of its creators shines through in flash, dazzle, lights and larger than life imagery to tell the tale of the magical toy's awakening. The creators of "Immersive Van Gogh" endow this "Nutcracker" with that same magical feel. At the Shops at Crystals, Lighthouse Art Space.

We also recommend any of the spectacular "Cirque du Soleil" shows. Each has the trademark energy and excellence that mark this Canadian born enterprise. Our favorite remains "The Beatles LOVE" at the Mirage,
An homage to New York is the new Cirque du Soleil show,
with fabulous acrobatics, music, dance and comedy.

which we've seen many times. "Ka," "Michael Jackson,' "Mystere," "O," and the newest Cirque show, "Mad Apple," are all winning choices. The latter showcases Cirque's unique combination of acrobatics, music, dance and comedy with a New York twist at -- where else? -- New York, New York.  
RuPaul's Drag Race is glitzy fun at the Flamingo, and "All Motown" is an excellent production at Alexis Park Resort, with a fine five-woman cast.  If you haven't been to Vegas in a while, now's the time to let its lights shine on you!
Happy holiday viewing!
A Vegas show girl (or
is it a guy?) Fun shows.;;;
Check out this website for discounts, coupons, family fun: 

Actor-director Sean Murray gives Scrooge depth and humanity
in a touching, beautifully directed version of "A Christmas
Carol" on stage at Cygnet Theatre

BEST BET: One of San Diego's most versatile actors, Sean Murray, breathes new life into a classic. Cygnet Theatre's "A Christmas Carol," is a holiday heart warmer. Murray, who also directs the time honored Dickens tale, endows his Scrooge with an engaging stage presence and expressive gestures. Watching Scrooge's transformation from miser to philanthropist is sheer delight. The imaginative production is enhanced by original music with a nod to familiar carols, elegant Victorian costumes, creative stagecraft, charming puppets and beguiling visits from Marley and the trio of ghosts. A crack cast expertly plays multiple roles. Treat yourself or a loved one to a theatrical jewel.;; 619 337-1525

The "attic" at La Pedrera, has more character and charm
than any other room in all of Gaudi's imaginative work.
STORIES ON TAP: With the holidays underway, we're celebrating genius, cathedrals, show biz and houses of "worship." Next up is a trip inside the imagination of famed Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi.  He celebrated life and nature every day, with his eclectic masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona.  He also celebrated nature and man's connection to it, making that his personal artistic crusade.  We take you to southern Spain as we segue from Las Vegas with its glitz and glamour, to a favorite showy city. Then to Portugal, where Clerigos Tower's spectacular "Spiritus" multi-media show celebrates life and the beauty surrounding us. Remember to explore, learn and live.  Catch us weekly, for a fresh spin on the arts, nature, travel, family and more: