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Charming Amsterdam

IMG_0762The Netherlands.  At once quaint and edgy, famously tolerant, and tremendously likable, Amsterdam is like no other European city except maybe Venice with even more canals.  While the Dutch capital may lack the grandeur of Paris or Rome, it more than IMG_0710compensates with its charm, beauty, art museums, food and flower IMG_0718markets as we walked for hours around this city surrounded by water.  And as you walk around the canals, you can’t help but notice the multitude of row houses loomingIMG_0763 and leaning so forward with big hooks visible at the top.  Neal (aka google) explains that’s the way they used to get goods in the house…by hoisting up the outside! Of course, you wouldn’t want to chance your goods getting soaked in the basement being on these canals.  Amsterdammers seem like a laid-back bunch as I caught 4 young menIMG_0721 enjoying happy hour outside their shop. Our weekend visit felt like we were joining the city-wide party in the most glorious fall weather.  What a treat staying at the Conservatorium, a new stylish property directly across from the haunting portraits, landscapes and still-lives at the Van Gogh, the CaldersIMG_0764 surrounding the Rijksmuseum, and the solo “dark” Marlene Dumas exhibition at the newly reopened Stedelijk dedicated to modern and contemporary art. We were culture vultures even catching a production of Sweeney Todd at the Carre theater.   We splurged on a meal at De Kas, serving homegrown food in a greenhouse setting and rented and rode bikes with the locals around Vondelpark.IMG_0768  But most importantly, we slipped into prayer for Yom Kippur services at a Portuguese synagogue inIMG_0769 the old jewish section of town to atone for our sins. John Green sums it up best “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”

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#PIA60

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UnknownOtherwise known as Paul’s Icelandic Adventure for his 60th!  And it was a celebration to remember for a long time. Why Iceland I was asked. Why not? Because Iceland is a unique destination that offers pristine nature, breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture in its capital city of Reykjavik. But that didn’t seem to fly for this motley crew of Paul’s 22 besties.  They wanted to go to St Barts where the wine flows like water and bikini clad hotties are on display.  I wanted a captive audience where no one has been YET and I found it in Iceland although we almost got sidetracked with the erupting volcano still threatening to surface.  Besides, anyone can go to St Barts.  Volcanos, Waterfalls, Geyers oh my!  Glaciers, Rainbows, Hidden people oh dear! Sheep’s balls, Shark, Pork dogs,IMG_0635 and the World’s biggest hot tub OH yeah! Just a few of our favorite things that 4 days in Iceland can bring.  It’s the land of Fire and Ice and yes we were cold and wet most of the journey but troopers we were. As they say in Iceland, there is no such thing as inclement weatherIMG_0097 when you have the right gear. So off we went shopping to support the local economy and surely because those Icelanders have damn good outdoor gear. They know rain sideways and upways.  Interestingly, Iceland remains largely uninhabited, with more than 320,000 people living in the capital city of Reykjavik where geothermal energy is used to heat more than 90% of all homes and buildings. We learned “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes” from a one-man show at the beautiful new Harpa concert hall. A must see in Reykjavik.Harpanjuli-2011-116 Then it was off the grid from the moss-covered lava fields throughout the highlands to the soaring fjords. We traveled in our very own bus on the Ring road to see and experience the land. It looked similar to being on the moon and reminded me of the big island in Hawaii, treeless with all the volcanic rock.  Our first Bus stop was Seljalandsfoss where we walked IMG_0024behind a 180 foot waterfall and lunched at the Old Cowshed IMG_0084before proceeding to the Solheimajokull glacierIMG_0150IMG_0685 where we strapped on crampons and took our ice pick for walk in the country.  This was a first for most and as adventurous as it gets. So fun. For the next couple days, we switched gears and headed into the wilderness area of Thor’s forest in 4×4 IMG_0207vehicles on the north side of Eyjafjallajokull (AY-yah-Fyad-layer-kuh-tel) volcano, the one that erupted in 2010 and held up Europe’s air traffic control for a week.  It seems to me that the volcano is still a little angry in that it proceeded to rain and blow wind harder than the Icelanders have seen in a long time. We dodged huge rivers and streams like nobody’s business with only a handful of us actually braving the elements for a hike while the others “patiently” waited in the warming hut for us!  Hotel Ranga was ready and waiting for us as well, an absolutely charming little country place in the middle of nowhere where the conditions for viewing the Northern Lights are optimal…if it’s not cloudy and the stars are all aligned! It didn’t happen for us even though we got a false alarm wake up call but I have a picture of what they are supposed to look like…Dorothy’s house in the wizard of oz!FullSizeRender Good enough for me until I’m in the neighborhood again.  Our next BUS stop was Gullfoss, Iceland’s most scenic waterfall although they say that about all of them, and geyser, the hot spring that gave its name to the phenomenon worldwide.   The biggest treat was our lunch stop in a family-run greenhouse ranch where they grow hothouse tomatoes and show off their pure breed Icelandic horse brought here by the Viking Settlers 1000 years ago. Fascinating show! and comical how they gallop so gingerly while the rider drinks IMG_0241from her mug.  Then it was off to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the location of Iceland’s Parliament between 930 and 1798.   Again, the rain prevailed and cut our major hiking day in half opting instead to get back to Reykjavik to shop for some more outdoor gear  (cause god knows we need it) and for our final celebratory evening together with more toasts and roasts for the man we hold dear to our heart.  But we saved the best for last because no visit to Iceland would be complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon who’s mission is the same as mine…to promote wellness and energy for life through forces of nature. HA. IMG_0153Our closing ceremony at the Blue Lagoon brought us full circle into the healing powers of pure nature.   It was an unforgettable adventure and I savor the moments, the friendships, the camaraderie, the laughter, the kind words, the love in the cleanest air ever, and my special sons. I was looking for something unexpected, out of the ordinary, rugged yet beautiful, and rich in culture just like my 60-year-old man.  We not only learned what makes Iceland special, but we experienced what makes friendships so special and how to love and celebrate life in the good times. As they say in Iceland “Petta Reddast” – everything will work out in the end and this trip was perfection. For an encore, Paul’s 70th will be the cruiseIMG_0184.IMG_0082

Nova Scotia “Loop”

nova_scotia_flagNova Scotia is a land and people shaped by the cold, clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  Even the name meaning “New Scotland” tells of its complex and interwoven history.  When I told people I was going to Nova Scotia for a quick week on a hiking trip, they shivered and said “have fun”.  So I was little put off but trusted my guide Ken and my friend Sus and Sam and besides I’m always up for an adventure.  After all, it was only a short 2 hour flight from NY to Halifax, boasting one of the highest concentrations of pubs per capita in North America,  where our journey started and ended.  Sadly, I didn’t get to experience the rowdy pub culture but Sam did. She loves her beer. IMG_0533 We started driving to the North Shore out-of-town in our trusty mini van we affectionately named “whitey” as you can probably imagine…it was big and white.  Stopping in the town of Grand Pre, we meandered through a beautiful place called tangled gardens where we tasted all the local maple leaf country’s specialties including the syrup and savory jams even before our lunch in the Annapolis Valley at the Luckett winery. Obviously,  We needed our energy for our afternoon hike dedicated to the memory of over eleven thousand Acadian settlers that were expulsedIMG_0498 from the IMG_0503Maritimes.  As we walked for hours amongst the old dykes built by the Acadians to control the world’s highest tides to the town of Wolfville, we felt the history of this beautiful landscape that was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   It was an absolutely charming place to stay for the evening in preparation for our legendary next day IMG_0527hike in the Bay of Fundy from Minas Basin known for the world’s largest tides.  We ventured out early to catch the weather right on Cape Split but the fog rolled in as we neared the top so we huddled together under Ken’s yellow tarp and made the best of our picnic lunch as the wind picked up.  I actually love inclement weather because I get to test out my gear because everyone knows there’s no such thing as bad weather if you have good gear. Sam loves gear to…maybe cause it rhymes with beer!  Our night was special in Annapolis Royal where we stayed in a storied house in a storied land near the Port-Royal National Historic site where the first French habitation in North America was established in 1605.IMG_0535  The history in this area is astounding. And those Scallops from Digby were delicious. Then onward and upward to Kefjimkujik National Park, locals call it Keji, in the middle of the province rich in Mi’Kmag history of life on the peninsula, where we experienced a multi-sport day hiking/canoeing all while looking for extinct turtles to rear their IMG_0545head but only spotted frogs!  Sam and I were the winners in the water “loop”IMG_0550 here as Susan and Ken seemed to just coast along enjoying the marshland.  Ho Hum.  And that was it for the North Shore as we made our way to the South Shore where traditional fishing villages are in abundance.  If you blinked, you would miss our beautiful Hunts point beach cottages for the evening as in Ocean Front.  Small ocean indeed but you can even drive “IMG_0556whitey” right up to your front door. Awww…and I had the best refreshing sunset swim in the very cold North Atlantic water.   Authentic would describe my “lobster again” dinner at the quarterdeck grill.IMG_0560 The sky was all different shades of mesmerizing purple.  Mornings are always glorious on the water but this one on Boyd’s Cove around Port Joli to Harbour Rocks, watching the turquoise water-waves crashing on granite headlands as IMG_0577seals bask off shore in the distance was divine.  My last hurrah (or so I thought) was lunch at the seaside stop…lobster again…fried this time justIMG_0576 to keep you guessing.  It reminded me of the lobster roll in the Hamptons on the side of the highway  that I used to frequent in the old days with absolutely no atmosphere. A complete dive.  My Mercer’s taxi ride from there back to Halifax turned into a most informative one in which actually brought my journey to an introspective close.  I had a wonderful local fisherman CountyMapdriver from Lunenburg who lived for generations in the area and was so damn proud of being a Nova Scotia Canadian.  He decided since he was a fast driver and we were early that he would show me around Lunenburg and where he grew up, went to school, met his wife, had his 3 daughters, IMG_0537where he hurt his hand pulling in the scallops which ended his career and on and on.  I loved it.   It’s a land full of history and the people are simple and happy.  Just the way life should be.IMG_0548

Under the Tuscan Sun

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What do you get when you bring 8 couples who love each other from Camp Aspen to Italy for a little Summer pre-game IMG_0157to BIKE the hills in Tuscany, EAT the freshest pasta, DRINK the local vino and SLEEP in Castles fit for kings and queens? Drum roll please… You get 16 people who love each other EVEN more filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be together in this magical place.  And by fulfilling Duvine’s 4 requisites Bike, Eat, Drink, Sleep,photo we made Andy Levine proud and he certainly went above and beyond to make us proud of Duvine bike adventures.  With a little help from our most magnificent guides, Davide, Marco, and Arien, we were able to dodge just a few bullets like keeping track of Michael who had rocket butt, calamity Al with some clip-out issues and Davitt who needed way more butt butter.  No one on this trip was happier on his ride than smart-ass IMG_0147Scott who ordered his very own electric bike…that not only pissed off slow and steady Nancy but was the envy of all. The riding was truly spectacular with routesIMG_0250 featuring long vistas over fields of wheat, sunflowers, lavender, poppies and dense oak forests.  On one day, we pedaled through the walled Buonconvento on the way to the Abbey of Monte Oliveto where we stopped to see and hear the stories of its unique renaissance fresco cycle.  Then the landscape opened up as we rode along the bare ridges of the Crete Senesi, one of the most photographed roads in the world where photoI stopped to take one of all the herded sheep under one tree!  Awww… then there was the ride through the hills and onto the refined city of Siena.photo  This city is like an open-air museum of Gothic architecture.  We walked to a favorite local lunch through the square of the main piazza where they hold the traditional Palio, a thrilling bareback horse race held twice a year on July 2 and August 16.  Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards. I wish I were there to see this with the thousands of spectators! NOT. Eating in Italy is my absolute favorite and we did plenty of it thanks to our very own photoAmnon who makes sure we have everything on every menu to taste and devour.   As you can see from Joe’s open shirt while devouring thirst quenching watermelon, it was HOT in Italy this week. IMG_0196IMG_0175 Temps were almost in the 90’s so we needed to keep hydrated and no better way to do that then indulging at lunch in Montalcino during our barrel tasting at the winery of our hotel’s top Brunello vintages. What a treat. Interesting tidbit, I noticed while riding through the vineyards that they have rose bushes adorned in the line of grapes…and that’s because if they have a IMG_0256bug…the bug will eat the bushes first before tackling the grapes. So smart.  But even smarter was the Ferragamo family who bought and painstakingly restored the Castiglion del Bosco where we stayed for 3 nights in perfect villa luxury set against the picturesque backdrop of the Val d’Orcia… with a golf course yet.  So we lost the guys for just an afternoon.  But we were busy anyway planning our farewell dinner and (table)dancing at the villa. IMG_0278Actually, our guides turned into chefs and party planners while we were the true guests in paradise sans the hostess gifts! It was our “last supper” and the very last of the celebrations for sherry’s 60th with Joe at the helm.  The experience may be unsurpassable but the friendships are everlasting.  A good time was had by all under the Tuscan sun.  A reunion trip is in order.photo

 

IMG_0101With a population of 306, 211, Pittsburgh is the second largest city in the US state of Pennsylvania and also known as “steel city” with over 300 steel related businesses. Pittsburgh probably conjures up images of football and heart attack-inducing sandwiches as well but in fact the town is quirky, progressive and remarkable gay-friendly as reported in the NY Times just yesterday. So it’s not a coincidence that it’s also known as the hometown of Andy Warhol, a gay icon.   And where he has his very own museum celebrating him as the leading figure in the visual arts movement know as Pop Art.  It was the 20th anniversary gala for the museum and it was a party.IMG_0104  “Andy would have loved this” was the phrase of the evening as his 15 minutes of fame was cut short at age 58.  We were invited because my husband is involved in building a satellite branch of the museum on the lower east side of Manhattan.  In addition to showing Warhol’s art and celebrating his life at the factory, there was a compelling show about Halston, the very talented designer and his friend.  Under the big tent, guests were dressed like art installations IMG_0086IMG_0089while the ushers dressed as flight attendants. IMG_0109 The dancers were pure 80’s disco and the surprise guest performer was none other than GloriaIMG_0094 Gaynor herself singing “I will survive”!  It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  Dancing til dawn in Pittsburgh!  Who would have thunk it.

Fab In Moab

 

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It was a celebration of life in the land of plenty with a plethora of  beautiful ladies. It was Camp Aspen taking it on the road. Yup, the biggest group ever (17 of us!) but we needed every single one to complete the sacred circle of our shared intentions.  I Image 5haven’t been to Moab for at least 10 years and it was callingImage 4 my name for this special 60th birthday feat. A testament to “if you plan it, they will come” combined with “if you turn 60, they will come even further”! So Thank you Sherry for making the combination so magical and bringing in the next generation…your daughters!  And kudos to Moab for bringing in a wonderful new addition to its surreal red rock landscape…the Sorrel River Ranch on the Colorado River.photo

Image 1  Boasting 2 incredible National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands, Moab is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise with a mere population of 5,000. And we took advantage of it all with our trusting guides at Rim who I’ve known forever and who know the drill. It just seemed to come full circle as they sized up our group perfectly and Image 2Image 1allowed us to proceed on a level we were Imagecomfortable. Mike certainly sized up Nancy with his “helping hand” if you look closely at the picture.  From our magnificent day of mountain biking at Dead Horse point to our hike up to Delicate Arch–Moab’s most famous icon– to our Fisher Tower finale, it was a profound experience for all. For some it was a first for everything, but for everyone it was the perfection of the camaraderie of this close-knit group of ladies who shared so beautifully some of life’s Image 4secrets. And no better place to share other than the BAR was in a powerful Lakota sweat lodge in the middle of Castle Valley on someone’s private land.  Karen, our lodge keeper, told us “she was chosen–it was not her choice” to lead scared lodge ceremonies and she was delighted to indulge us in our quest for clarity.  We sat in the womb of the mother and were blessed in the darkness, the heat, the songs, the truths and unspoken secrets released as we prayed and smoked the peace pipe filled photowith tobacco and herbs representing all our earthly relations. Sounds hokey right?  Well it wasn’t.  It was as authentic as it gets and we all made profound connections as we saluted the 7 directions. Us in the center, new beginnings in the east, the innocent in the south, introspection in the west, wisdom in the north, nurturing below, and all for the empowerment from above.  We prayed for EVERYONE with immense gratitude for all our own blessings.  Life takes us on a journey and these bonding experiences make us live in the moment even if it’s out of our box and appreciate nature in its purest form. We laughed a lot, we cried a little, we drank a lot while we ate a little, we hiked, biked, practiced yoga,IMG_2015photo-1 left sarah at the visitor’s station…oops!, lost nancy’s favorite stuff all over I-70, met creepers at Jeffreys, but most important of all is that we created lasting memories that we can draw upon at anytime and it will bring a smile to our face. I honor you all in this circle of life with Image 3me today and always.

All my relations or Mitakuye Oysasin in Native American

 

San Miguel De Allende

photoimagesTravel and Leisure Magazine just rated this beautiful town 3 hours north of Mexico City (driving fast) as the #1 destination spot in 2014.  I wonder what took me so long to experience such authenticity.  Recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and almost 500 years old with its narrow cobblestone streets (leave your high heels behind), leafy courtyards and fine Colonial and Spanish architectural details, San Miquel has become an enclave full of ex-pats, artists, and entrepreneurs seeking the “good life”.  The most famous building in town is the Parroquia de San Miquel, a muiltispired pink limestone towering over the center square. It is a picture postcard.  photoWe crashed both a funeral and a wedding within a day of each other at this gorgeous church.  And being that the town is in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains and the weather is often described as “eternal spring” at 6100 feet above sea level, the sunrises and sunsets are quite dramatic…especially at the new Rosewood (where we stayed) rooftop bar “Luna” where you can see forever.  Rich in Mexican culture, there are many weekend festivals and outdoor markets but don’t miss the local market which sells everything from food, phototextiles, jewelry, masks, clothing, tablecloths… you name it they sell it and everything is VERY colorful. The vibrant art (think Frida Khalo)photo and music scene (guitar players photophotoeverywhere), keeps the town humming.  We were there just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Fabrica La Aurora which is an art and design center housed in a former textile factory.  San Miguel’s most buzzed about food scene is the farm to table concept with inventive dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.  Dishes like spicy papaya and octopus salad and quail eggs on mustard butter with arugula puree!  I was looking for chips with salsa and guacamole!  photoHiking and biking the 24 blocks of narrow streets, alleys and paths without any traffic lights can be perilous so we headed for the hills not too far out-of-town with a guide of course to feel the pulse of the trails.  Looking forward to bringing my STAT girls back for a visit.photo

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