Uruguay is my new favorite place. Particularly its eastern coast and the small fishing village of Jose Ingacio. Skip Punta del Este and head straight to this cool bohemian yet sophisticated town 20 miles down the coast. Think Montauk and the drive out to the Hamptons and you can envision the scenery. But its more than meets the eye and I found this rural stretch of coastline and the understated glamour of Jose Ignacio charming as hell. We stayed at one of the Vik properties called the Estancia set on a seemingly endless landscape of Africa-evoking plains. It’s the brainchild of a half Norwegian, half Uruguayan billionaire with incredible taste. Each of the 12 suites have been designed and decorated by a local artist and very contemporary in design. It was a perfect backdrop for a family vacation except maybe the horses on property that my son is highly allergic to. The Beach was only a 10 minute drive but we had our own bikes to ride to and fro. After all, we needed the exercise to counteract all the gorgeous food we consumed. The restaurants are insane as the best nightlife options revolve around food. It’s a foodies delight. At the edge of the dunes on the main beach in an inconspicuous bungalow, Parador La Huella is the best place to be and be seen so we tended to frequent there. It was also very close to THE yoga studio as Isabella, a teacher from BridgeHampton just opened her adorable place for the season. Our bike rides were a highlight as the landscape is so beautiful from larger than average sand dunes and picturesque cow fields to serene horses in the distance. One evening we ventured 40 minutes to a charming town founded in 1892 called Garzon where we dined at Mallman’s Michelin star restaurant in the middle of nowhere. He’s known as a seedbed of gastronomic talent…who knew? It’s such a low-key, laid-back, rustic-chic scene now but I fear that the word is out and it will be a changing. The locals have tried to keep Jose Ignacio a little under the radar but I hear that an international art fair is on the agenda! We had the pleasure of visiting one of Uruguay’s most famous artist Pablo Atchugarry at his nonprofit arts center run by his 27-year-old son Piero. They were so gracious showing us his intricately shaped abstract sculptures carved out of marble that we are actually contemplating a commission. I feel blessed to have been able to spend a little less than a week here with my boys sans significant others. It’s only a matter of time when things change in our nucleus and I will embrace that as well. As Diego Sanchez, a local energy healer, says “Uruguay is maybe the most undramatic place imaginable, but people get here and they find themselves hanging around”. Well, we did just that and I would go back in a second to Playa NICE. This chalkboard says it best as I felt like this as soon as I entered the country.
“People go to Florida to die but they come to SMA to live” goes an old often repeated saying amongst locals in this colorful Mexican town just 2 1/2 hours or 166 miles northwest of Mexico City with year-round eternal spring climate. Well, it is supposed to take 2 1/2 hours but not on a friday afternoon on a holiday weekend. Who knew they decided to celebrate Black Friday weeks before thanksgiving and an American holiday yet. But once you do arrive in this quaint mountain town, it is totally worth the long commute as we were greeted by our charming Casa de Sierra Nevada as mi casa su casa. It’s no wonder this pretty as a picture town attracted so many ex-pat retirees, artists, entrepreneurs, and just plain old good-life seekers like us STAT trippers (11 of us ladies) looking for adventure…our first one just getting used to walking in high heels on the narrow cobblestone streets to dinner in the dark AND back after a few margaritas! Comparatively, hiking and biking seemed like a breeze so we thought. Jorge, our wonderful guide for the long weekend, was perfection on all fronts. Gina couldn’t even rattle his feathers when she nonchalantly asked him if he minded if we were all “naked” in the closing ceremonial sweat lodge…more on that later. We started our mornings with a nice brisk walk to the local yoga studio where we enjoyed a wonderful preparatory stretch for our daily activities. Our first “3 hour tour” (think castaways) started straight away from our casa in town to a nature reserve called El Charco del Ingenio where we enjoyed a major hike down and out a relatively small canyon. It was quite challenging and required some bouldering skills which we quickly acquired. Ok, so some of us had some verticality issues but persevered while others were clearly out of their box. Love that! Did I forget to mention that SMA is 6,100 feet above sea level? It may explain some shortness of breath but the challenges kept coming the next day as we biked right out-of-town through San Miguel Viego on dirt roads through La Press on a combination of road and dirt to Atotonilco where we ditched the bikes for a walk through the 250-year-old Santuario de Atontonilco where nearly every inch of wall and ceiling space is filled with detailed biblical scenes and passages, which is why the church is known as Mexico’s Sistine Chapel and why is was named a Unesco World Heritage site. It was a full day of exploration as we were not quite back in time for scheduled massages but certainly in time to clean up and get ready for cocktails at the Rose Bar with the other gringos before our most authentic mexican meal in town…no street food for us! Town square was hopping with taco stands, street musicians, and burros but the most amazing sight is the Parroquira which is a parrish church regarded as the symbol of San Miguel in all pastel pink and orange… especially gorgeous at night. We really got the lay of the land on our last big hike together as we started at the top of the city and hiked on private reserve property all around the north side of the mountains that form the San Miguel valley. The views were spectacular from all sides as was our healthy picnic lunch Jorge prepared for us from his day at the local market. What a treat…he even carried his own salad bowl. But that was just the beginning of the special treats for the day. In the afternoon, we had the honor of visiting our philanthropic element of the trip and because SMA is such a big retirement community, 80% of the people here grow old and need assisted living facilities. So, my STAT girls and I went to visit ALMA, one such retirement home that is particularly in need of donations. It warmed our hearts to meet 92-year-old Lisa who referred to us as her “fellow comrades”as she proceeded to explain that she has no idea how she ended up here in Mexico but is happy she did. And we were happy to help make her stay more comfortable. Feeling good about our visit and giving back to the community, we were off to participate in yet another local endeavor with the beautiful Dayana Paz. One of Mexico’s most honored and oldest rituals is the temazcal, a sweat lodge healing ceremony to purify the body and mind and perhaps experience a spiritual rebirth or at least a deeper sense of peace and reflection. It was an intense experience for some of us as we chanted and received the indigenous blessings and prayers that were offered. It’s always a moment of gratitude for me to be able to take part in such spiritual rituals. A big “wow wow wow” as Dayana would affectionately say every time a new volcanic rock was brought into the lodge. Serious gratitude for this closing ceremony of a beautifully articulated and special journey with amazing women. The icing with the cherry on top was all of us actually rallying for an early morning departure to see the Teotihuacan Pyramids, just north of Mexico City on the way to the airport. As we stood as a group at the pyramid of the moon staring out towards the sun in this mystical place, the journey for me took on a life of its own. We were able to be in the present moment yet reflective and futuristic. A perfect way to live our life. All my relations. Ho.
The 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 compensates with its charm, beauty, art museums, food and flower markets 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 looming 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 men 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 Calders 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. But most importantly, we slipped into prayer for Yom Kippur services at a Portuguese synagogue in 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.”
Otherwise 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, 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 weather 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. 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 behind a 180 foot waterfall and lunched at the Old Cowshed before proceeding to the Solheimajokull glacier 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 vehicles 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! 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 from 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. Our 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 cruise.
Nova 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. 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 expulsed from the Maritimes. 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 hike 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. 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 head but only spotted frogs! Sam and I were the winners in the water “loop” 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 “whitey” 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. 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 seals 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 just 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 driver 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, where 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.
What do you get when you bring 8 couples who love each other from Camp Aspen to Italy for a little Summer pre-game to 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, 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 Scott 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 routes 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 I 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. 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 Amnon 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. 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 bug…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. Actually, 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.
With 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. “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 while the ushers dressed as flight attendants. The dancers were pure 80’s disco and the surprise guest performer was none other than Gloria 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.