Photography by Yuri Krasov 

Shanghai. Exciting, exhilarating, accelerating – everything I love about a big city! From the 10th floor of our hotel I observe a busy intersection underneath; eight rows of car traffic, crowds of pedestrians, hundreds of motorbikes and bicycles zigzagging among them. The air is murky, the sky is ink wash, and the sun is dim peeking through a forest of futuristic Pudong towers. Some thirty years ago it was farmlands, now – Manhattan.

The day is mine. Dear husband is here for work, so he leaves at seven in the morning, and returns when it’s dark outside. I’m here to explore and revel in my favorite environment. I’m a big city girl. My strong belief is that happiness is in big cities, and the farther from them you are the less happy you are. That’s my story and I stick to it – take it or leave it.

Jing'an Temple

Trying to find my way to the slew of tourist attractions I study the map of Shanghai Metro – the world’s largest, with more than 360 miles on dozens of lines – surprisingly well marked and easy to navigate. Too bad that above the ground, in most tourist areas the signs in English are still rare, and the majority of passersby during business hours are of non-English-speaking demographic.

More than once upon exiting a Metro station and looking for a nearby attraction I have to cross a square the size of a football field or walk a mile to the nearest intersection only to figure out that I took a wrong turn…

While it’s easy to spot the golden roof of Jing’an Temple or the spaceship silhouette of Oriental Pearl Tower, some sites are hidden, like the ancient Yuyuan Garden within a bustling marketplace.

China Museum of Art

My most shameful site-seeing episode is happening by the China Art Museum. The bright-red inverted pyramid construction, seemingly easy to identify, is nowhere to be seen, even though the guidebook lists it steps from the Metro exit. I walk one way – an endless fence beside me, I walk another way – nothing in plain view that resembles a guidebook picture. Nothing red anywhere around. Finally, I look up, and there, high above in the clouds I see the lowest red beam of the enormous towering museum roof. Apparently, I’m just crawling along the curb like an ant, and need to go only half a mile more to get to the entrance and the gigantic steps leading to the oversized galleries filled with striking contemporary art.

3. Daniel Newman of Newman Tours

Tired of self-imposed challenges I turn to those in the know, and sign up for a Public French Concession Tour with Newman Tours (www.newmantours.com).

On a two-hour walking adventure, the native English speaking guide, Daniel, meets our group by the South Shaanxi Metro Station on the corner of South Maoming Road and Central Huaihai Road, and takes us through the sycamore-lined streets of the former French Concession that existed here from 1849 through 1943 alongside the British Concession as the result of the Opium Wars.

2. Cathay Theater in French Concession

We hear the most fascinating stories about the 1930s Shanghai – then perceived as an exotic capital of sex, drugs, and glamorous movie stardom, and get a better understanding of Shanghai’s colonial legacy by learning how the Opium Wars and Taiping Rebellion determined the course of the city’s history. Highly knowledgeable and with a great sense of humor, our guide takes us to posh hotels still adorned with Art Deco elements – formerly of Victor Sassoon real estate empire; to a 1920’s hospital where tuberculosis patients were exposed to radical deathly remedies (with the best of doctors’ intentions), and to a gorgeous French Renaissance with Art Deco influences building of Garden Hotel, formerly a French Sports Club, Cercle Sportif Francais (1924-26) later favored by the Chairman Mao and therefore spared during the devastating years of the Cultural Revolution.

4. Jin Jiang Hotel

9. Tai Chi in a park

In a spacious park, one of many in the French Concession, we pass large groups of retirees engaged in tai-chi exercises, chess and mahjong, and other recreational activities. A Zen-inclined older gentleman is meticulously painting calligraphic hieroglyphs with a brush dipped in water. They appear on the asphalt for a brief moment, and dry out as soon as the gathering crowd of spectators manages to read them.

10. Water calligraphy in a park

There’s so much more to see and hear on this tour, but after two hours of walking and listening I don’t feel tired – such is the power of sheer touristy fulfillment!

5. Kyle Long of UnTour Shanghai Food Tours

Inspired by the successful experience, and by the ease of touring Shanghai in the wake of an expert guide I sign up for Hands-on Dumpling Delights Tour with UnTour Shanghai Food Tours (www.untourfoodtours.com).

Here I must say that dumpling in any shape or form is my favorite food item. I hold a strong belief that since dough stuffed with meat exists in practically every culture and goes back down centuries and probably millennia, it can’t be bad for you. My love for dumplings has no limits, even though it rarely extends to making them myself. Making dumplings is a rather tedious chore… or so I think until I meet our tour guide and a supreme dumpling expert, Kyle Long.

6. Shanghai dumplings

Before our tour even starts, he notifies all the group participants to arrive on time, because hot, juicy, freshly-made morning dumplings wait for no one.

We start our tour visiting a number of delightful hole-in-the-wall tiny establishments where different kinds of dumplings are being made in front of our eyes, and distributed to the eager city dwellers hurrying for work, but still forming fast-moving lines outside. Our guide explains the Chinese symbols for “meat,” “big” and “bun,” and notes that for a Chinese eater food is nothing if it’s not fresh. Bursting with freshness!

What a feast of dumpling delights we’re having! Plump round, or chewy crescent, lightly fried at the bottom or all steamed, bathed in soy sauce and topped with chili and ginger shavings, these dumplings are the best in the world – in the dumpling capital of the world, Shanghai!

8. Street food

Making dumplings

We visit Street Hawker Potstickers on Gao’an Lu, Nanjing Soup Dumplings on Jianguo Xi Lu, and Lanzhou Lamian on Gao’an Lu near Hangshan Lu, and head to Chinese Cooking Workshop on Dongping Lu to engage in some serious hands-on dumpling making.

7. I make my own

Under strict guidance of a master chef at the Chinese Cooking Workshop I surprise myself with my own craftsmanship. I manage to mix the dough to the right consistency, roll it properly with a tiny bamboo roller, stuff it with meat, pork fat and onion mixture, and purse it together in a neat little dumpling. I make five of those, feeling happy at my culinary achievement. We all then briefly fry our dumplings on one side, and steam under a lid. They turn out wonderful! It’s a pity I can eat only one after our morning feast. However, now I know that I can make my favorite food myself any time!

12. Shanghai at night

The symbol of upscale hospitality, and the epitome of elegance and good taste, St. Regis San Francisco recently added a new attraction to its already well-loved and popular with out-of-town guests and city dwellers alike St. Regis Lobby Lounge. This new attraction is called, The Art of Tea, and presents the famed skyscraper hotel’s modern take on the sophisticated tradition of English tea time.

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Historians insist that while the custom of drinking tea in China started millennia ago, and in England – in the 1660s (by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza), the afternoon tea as we know it was introduced to the society by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840.

The fascinating backstory goes as follows, “The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room.”

Later on, the afternoon tea tradition was adopted by the gatekeeper of the old New York establishment, and the major patron of St. Regis New York, Caroline Astor, who entertained her close friends there.

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Very fittingly, The Art of Tea is served in the lavishly furnished and decorated with wall-size murals St. Regis Lobby Lounge that would rival the best-appointed drawing rooms, indeed. While the traditional afternoon tea consists of freshly-brewed teas grown in India or Ceylon, and an array of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and miniature cakes and pastries, the St. Regis version offers so much more! The innovative interpretation by the Executive Chef Franck Desplechin and the Executive Pastry Chef Mie Uchida includes locally sourced seasonal products and teas from around the world.

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The guests might start their St. Regis tea experience with a glass of Schramsberg sparkling wine from Napa Valley, graciously poured by the Restaurant and Bar Manager, Daniel Spingler.

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The tea selection includes black, herbal, green, white, and fruit teas, with the most notable examples of custom-blended Flowery Earl Grey – light-body, uplifting, with floral notes, and Organic Emperor’s Jasmine – delicate golden with bright palate.

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The accompanying food is divided into Savory and Sweet sections. The former includes heirloom tomato waffle cone; porcini mushroom macaron; Santa Barbara Spot prawn slider; and Vande Rose ham croque madame with quail egg and truffle béchamel.

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The latter – huckleberry & blueberry pie shooter; red berry gateau opera with Valrhona Jivara chocolate and hazelnut biscuit; Meyer lemon tower with citrus marshmallow and smoked sea salt; and deconstructed crispy fig scones with dark chocolate glaze.

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For years, St. Regis Lobby Lounge has been a sought-after place to lunch, dine, lounge around with a signature cocktail, or indulge in a late night bite. Now, with the addition of the tea service, its charm becomes complete, and irresistible.

The Art of Tea is served every day from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. by reservation only. Reservations must be made 24 hours prior and for parties up to 4 people by contacting the Grill Restaurant at 415.284.4188.

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Lobby Lounge Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 12:00pm – Midnight; Friday – Saturday: 12:00pm – 1:00am. Food served daily 12:00pm – Midnight. The Art of Tea served daily from 2:00pm – 4:00pm. Reservations required.

St. Regis San Francisco is located at 125 Third Street, San Francisco, California, 94103. More information at: www.stregis.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov. Interior images of St. James’s Hotel and Club and 11 Cadogan Gardens: press images

While the reports of the fall of the British pound caused by Brexit have been greatly exaggerated, and the eagerly anticipated affordability of traveling to London never really materialized, the glorious capital of the United Kingdom remains a highly desirable travel destination.

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During our short trip to this prominent bastion of Western civilization, my husband and I were heavily relying on The London Pass with its free entrance to a slew of museums and sites; Hop-On Hop-Off bus, from which we could observe most of the architecturally stunning city, and the magical Oyster Card that provided unlimited rides on the Tube (www.visitbritainshop.com offers substantial discounts for overseas guests).

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At the time, my slow recovery from a broken ankle wouldn’t allow for much walking, but one thing we couldn’t resist – East End Food Tour, an easy on-foot excursion that combined a culinary exploration of the hippest neighborhood in town with historical commentary and fascinating street art finds along the route.

To show off the diverse cultural tapestry of the neighborhood through its multiple eating establishments, our witty and engaging guide, Harry, from the Eating London Food Tours took us to eight authentic food and drink stops.

We started off with a famous bacon sandwich at St. John Bread and Wine, then went on to the decadent bread and butter pudding at The English Restaurant, a 17th century eatery filled with Dickensian atmosphere. Then there was a tasting and introduction at The House of Androuet, where we were introduced to the chesses made exclusively in England.

At Poppies Fish and Chips, we indulged in the namesake legendary British fare wrapped in newspaper, just like it would be in a mid-century seaside town. At a quaint little pub, the Pride of Spetafields, we had beer and cider, and petted a fat and docile bar cat, friendly with the visitors.

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Then there were delicious mild and hot curries at Aladin, listed among the top 10 Indian restaurants in London; salt beef with hot English mustard and a sweet gherkin on a soft bagel at Beigel Bake – a 24/7 Jewish bakery, and finally, a slice of salted caramel tart at Pizza East, a favorite hangout for the hip crowd.

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For the same reason of my impaired walking ability, while the majority of tourist attractions deemed attainable only from the seats of the double-decker Hop-On Hop-Off bus, I decided to concentrate on the historic places where we chose to stay in London – all three exquisite hotels belonging to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World family of 520 independent properties in 80 countries. More information at: www.eatinglondontours.co.uk.

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St. James’s Hotel and Club

Recently renovated, yet maintaining its original Victorian charm, the five-star St. James’s Hotel and Club is located in a striking red-and-white Italianate building in a cul-de-sac off St. James’s Street in walking proximity to the St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, The Mall, and Green Park that consists entirely of mature trees and a carpet of white daffodil flowers blossoming in their shade.

It started in the 1850s as St James’s Club for traveling diplomats, founded by Earl Granville and a Sardinian minister Marchese d’Azeglio as a result of a dispute at the Travellers club. Lord Randolph Churchill and Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild were counted among the members. Henry James frequented the Club in the 1890s, and Sir Winston Churchill was seen here in the 1930s and during the Second World War. It was briefly the home of Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond novels, and continued to attract celebrities through the early 1970s when financial problems led to its closure. Only a decade later, the St James’s Club reopened, regained its popularity, and became known for wonderful parties that attracted movie- and showbiz stars, like Liza Minelli, Dudley Moore, Peter Townshend, Sir Michael Caine, Sir Sean Connery, Tim Rice, Sir Elton John, and Christopher Reeve.

 

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Currently an upscale, intimate and elegant hotel, in 2006 St James’s Club underwent a complete makeover by the famous Berlin designer Anne Maria Jagdfeld, and in 2008 reopened as St. James’s Hotel and Club. The inner décor of this unique property reflects its historical past with carefully selected furniture, wall textiles, Murano glass chandeliers, and a significant art collection of Impressionist, Expressionist and Cubist pieces.

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Our contemporaries, Samuel L. Jackson, Cher, Luke Wilson, Keith Richards, Alice Cooper, Elle Macpherson, Robert Redford, Dita Von Teese, Colin Salmon, Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory, Michael Bolton, Jack Johnson, Katherine Jenkins and Liza Minnelli have been visiting recently.

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In 2009, the hotel’s restaurant Seven Park Place by William Drabble was successfully launched, and subsequently awarded a Michelin star only one year after opening. The chef, William Drabble, has created his menu, influenced by classic French cuisine, by using the best British ingredients and following the changing seasons.

At this restaurant, decorated like a jewelry box, we were greeted by the Food and Beverage Manager, Antonio Vigorito, and treated to a house-made berry-based liquor by the Head Sommelier, Gonzalo Rodriguez Diaz. Our dinner started with an amuse bouche of a tiger prawn on crispy dough with tomato puree and avocado mousse.

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Freshly baked breads – brown, thyme, and raisin – were served with three kinds of butter – salted, unsalted, and infused with espelette pepper. Saddle of Lune Valley lamb with peas, onions, and lettuce as well as roast Cambrian grouse with cabbage, mashed potato croquettes, and blackberry jus were great representations of the Chef’s style as well as the dessert – baked apricots stuffed with pistachios.

St. James’s Hotel and Club and Seven Park Place are located at 7-8 Park Place, St. James’s London, SW1A 1LS, UK. Call for more information +44 20 7316 1600 or visit www.stjameshotelandclub.com.

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Dukes London

Discreetly tucked away in a charming courtyard off St. James’s Street, on the edge of Green Park, and across from the Buckingham Palace, Dukes London is positioned at a historic location where in 1532 King Henry VIII built a brick [Tudor] St. James’s Palace.  Serving as a hunting lodge, the palace took its name from a leper hospital dedicated to St. James the Minor which stood here from the 12th century. The King held his secret meeting with Anne Boleyn here, before she became his second wife and was subsequently beheaded by her husband. St. James’s Palace was the death place of Bloody Mary; the official residence of the Monarch since 1699; the birthplace of King George IV, and the location of many a royal intrigue, until Queen Victoria established her residence at the Buckingham Palace in 1837.

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Known as Cleveland Court in the 1660s, named after the Duchess of Cleveland, one of the mistresses of King Charles II, and their three sons – the Dukes of Cleveland, Grafton, and Northumberland – the place contained fashionable coffee houses, gentlemen’s clubs, and finally a small inn, replaced in 1885 with the London Chambers for the sons of Britain’s aristocracy, which then became Dukes in 1908. This place has been home to the many greats, among them Lord Byron, Frederik Chopin, and Oscar Wilde.

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Today, the unparalleled elegance, comfort, and impeccable service of Dukes London greets travelers from all over the world. Period furniture, an impressive collection of art, accumulated in the course of a hundred years, and lavish bouquets of white roses throughout the lobby and hallways immediately transport the guests into a charmed atmosphere of luxury living.

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Among its common areas, the hotel features Champagne Lounge, Dukes Bar, a drawing room, a conservatory overlooking the garden, and a full service restaurant, Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham. Described as “modern British with a classical twist,” Chef Mendham’s cuisine includes seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and is considered one of the best in Britain.

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For our dinner, several dishes were presented as artwork – both in terms of plating and in terms of culinary perfection. A pink round of ham hock was garnished with coral langoustine, and bright-green pea puree, pea pods, and pea oil.

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Goat cheese croquets with flan had a bright side of heritage beets, watermelon radishes, and celery sorbet.

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Spring lamb with white beans was accompanied by chanterelle mushrooms, pearl onions, and roasted garlic.

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South coast plaice (white flaky fish) was lightly breaded and fried, topped with curried cauliflower, crab meat, apple slices, and almond crumbs.

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For dessert, we enjoyed white chocolate with basil sorbet, pine nuts, and chocolate crumble as well as Yorkshire pudding with rhubarb, ginger, vanilla, and rhubarb sorbet.

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Dukes London is located at 35 St. James’s Place, London SWIA INY, UK. Call for more information +44 (0) 20 7491 4840 or visit www.dukeshotel.com. Thirty Six is located at 36 Little St. James’s Street. Call for reservations +44 (0) 20 7491 4840.

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11 Cadogan Gardens

Housed in an imposing red brick building, 11 Cadogan Gardens stands on the border of two posh London neighborhoods – Chelsea and Knightsbridge. Thanks to its location in a prestigious area, in Victorian times, the hotel became a hospitality venue of choice for many traveling aristocrats, politicians, and celebrities – artists and poets – before turning into a private club, and lately into a contemporary home away from home for discerning clientele, with the highest quality accommodations and service.

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Built by Lord Chelsea in the late 19th century, the original establishment occupied four separate Victorian town houses. As a result of this sprawling configuration, the updated and modernized, yet decidedly atmospherically-Victorian hotel still has a few sets of hallways and staircases leading to its different areas, all decorated with old paintings, historical portraits, gilded-frame mirrors and black-and-gold lampshades.11-cadogan-gardens-reception

To get to our exquisitely-appointed room, my husband and I boarded an ancient elevator with a folding accordion door that the guests are so kindly asked to remember to close behind themselves upon reaching their quarters. Otherwise one of the fabulous hotel’s concierges will run upstairs and fetch the elevator for the next party of guests waiting by the concierge desk.

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Not that anyone objects. The first floor of the hotel boasts a welcoming reception area and a fascinating library room, equipped with an extensive collection of historic and antique books. Every great British writer starting with Shakespeare and Dickens seems to be represented here in luxurious tomes bound in leather and parchment, while the surrounding period furniture, plush carpets and draperies, an antler chandelier, and cozy oversized armchairs call for an intellectual repose.

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Here, at the library my husband and I were treated to an elegant tea service while our attentive concierge Emelson was helping us ship part of our luggage home at the end of our London vacation. To us, this little episode became a highlight of the 11 Cadogan Gardens’ dedication to excellent service and wonderful hospitality. Led by Head Concierge Richie Long, the team members, like Paul and William, treat all hotel guests with utmost cheerfulness and respect. Knowledgeable, helpful, kind, and discreet, the hotel concierges take pride in their high professionalism. As they say themselves, “When you need us, we will always be there, but you will never feel our presence when you yearn for some time to yourself.”

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11 Cadogan Gardens is located at 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, London, SW3 2RJ, UK. Call for more information +44 (0) 207 730 7000 or visit www.11cadogangardens.com. To contact the concierge team, email concierge@11cadogangardens.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The city of Oslo – clean, beautiful, and filled with light reflected off the blue waters of Oslo Fjord – exudes so much springy energy that it’s easy to associate it with a statue of a fierce tiger (by a contemporary Norwegian sculptor Elena Engelsen) casually walking across Jernbanetorget (“The Railway Square”) near the Oslo Central Station. In fact, Oslo was called Tigerstaden (“The Tiger City”) by the Nobel Laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) in one his poems…

Largely open to pedestrian traffic, and with a highly developed public transportation system, the capital of Norway holds many sightseeing treasures easily accessible with an Oslo Pass, launched in 1984 as one of the very first city cards in Europe, and issued by Visit Oslo.

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A massive red-brick Oslo City Hall opened in 1950 is richly decorated with murals depicting the life and history of hard-working peaceful people proud of their Nordic heritage; and the legends and fairy tales of the gorgeous frigid land covered with dense forests, granite mountains, and pristine lakes. Free guided tours are offered at the City Hall throughout summer, including a rare Sunday tour of the clock tower with melodiously tolling bells.

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A walking distance away, there’s The National Gallery with the country’s largest collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Edvard Munch’s major works, “The Scream” and “Madonna” can be seen here among his other masterpieces, while the surrounding galleries present a wide variety of Norwegian artists from the early 19th through the end of the 20th century.

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Also centrally located Akershus Castle provides a rare glimpse into the historical whereabouts of Norwegian royalty. Originally built as a medieval fortress circa 1300, during the reign of the Danish-Norwegian kind Christian IV in the first half of the 17th century, the castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style with ornate furnishings and intricate rugs and tapestries. There are also quite a few pieces of stunning public art installed throughout the park grounds around the castle.

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A massive presentation of the entire body of work created by the sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) can be seen at Vigeland Sculpture Park where 200 enormous granite, bronze, and wrought iron depictions of endlessly variable human subjects populate the world’s largest sculpture park with all the art pieces and architectural layout made by a single artist. The sculptures are grouped in five distinct units – The Main gate, the Bridge with the Children’s playground, the Fountain, the Monolith plateau and the Wheel of Life – all actively attended, especially on weekends, by the city dwellers and the visitors alike.

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During our short stay in Oslo at the end of summer, my husband and I found ourselves in close proximity to all these attractions while staying at the Thon Hotel Oslo Panorama with excellent service and panoramic views of the city and the fjord below.

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On a sunny day, the best views of the city can be enjoyed on board the Norway Yacht Charter Båtservice Sightseeing Oslo Fjord that sails past the most important landmarks, including the sprawling glacier-like white building of the Norwegian Opera & Ballet, designed by Snøhetta architecture and design firm, as if floating into the fjord.

We were lucky to attend the season opening at the Opera showing Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice” with bold contemporary staging and costuming, highly talented cast and fabulous orchestra. The angled building, covered with white Carrara marble and white granite, boasts a walkable roof, a white aluminum stage tower, and floor-to-ceiling lobby windows overlooking the water.

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The interiors are paneled with warm oak, and in the main auditorium an oval chandelier is comprised of 5,800 handmade crystals. There’s no supertitles screen above the stage, but instead the seats are equipped with monitors for the electronic libretto system in Norwegian and English in addition to an opera’s original language.

Since the shows start as early as 6 p.m. in Oslo, we had a chance to walk on the building’s outdoor terraces after the performance, and revel in sunset views over the fjord, enhanced by the ever-present clouds.

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This closeness of water everywhere in the city center has a wonderfully refreshing and calming effect, especially pronounced at the famously artsy and extremely comfortable hotel, The Thief. Contemporary art pieces abound throughout the property, rivaled only by the picturesque views of the city architecture and nearby marina from every window and a rooftop bar.

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From our room’s hip triangular balcony along a glass wall, I could watch mooring and departure of numerous small boats, and an occasional couple of white swans nonchalantly gliding by. The room, equipped with modern furniture and a dreamy bed with plush pillows in sea foam, cloudy sky, and sand color scheme seemed especially appropriate in the close proximity to the wonders of Nordic nature.

The Thief Spa is an enchanting getaway with a full-size pool lined with thick candles, lit by multi-colored LED lights, and awashed in soft music for a slow relaxing swim. If it weren’t for a delicious dinner that was waiting for us at the Thief Foodbar I would’ve never stopped doing those lazy laps…

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Our dinner featured mostly fresh local seafood and produce with Nordic condiments – flat Norwegian oysters; snow crab and Swedish cheese on brioche toast, spiced with horseradish and fresh dill; burrata with pork belly, fresh peas and elderflower vinaigrette; fried turbot with horseradish and brown butter; and baked rhubarb with rosemary ice cream.

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Contemporary Nordic cuisine is vibrant and exciting, and plays a big role on the Oslo culinary scene. One of the most interesting restaurants, Smalhans, is led by a creative chef Karl Torbjørn Andersen, known for his dynamic tasting menus that change every couple of weeks or so.

On the night we dined, our server Denisa Sarkozi paired Chef Karl’s exquisite dishes with numerous varieties of Norwegian beer – enticing local brews mostly from small boutique producers.

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The exceedingly lavish menu consisted of charcuterie plate (prosciutto and lamb sausage); toast with mushrooms (chanterelles with onion compote); seasonal vegetables (beet puree with radishes and cucumbers pickled in-house); wine-marinated herring with potatoes, sour cream, and crispy chicken skins; rainbow carrots with pumpkin seeds, dill mayo and carrot top pesto; bone marrow with capers, pomegranate seeds, scallions, and parsley; cod with lemon and herbs sauce, cabbage, kale, and Norwegian seaweed; risotto-style spelt topped with puffed grains and chives; cheese plate with house-made raspberry jam, and a heart-shaped waffle with red currant and chocolate cream!

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The highest-quality seafood, meats, produce, cooked foods, sweets, and various libations from alcohol to coffee are readily available at the upbeat market, food court, and social gathering place – all in one – called Mathallen Oslo. This ingenious product of Aspelin Ramm urban development company represents the popular trend in Europe that attracts local daily shoppers and tourists alike.

The company sees its mission in creating attractive urban environments while reducing energy consumption and facilitating sharing. As Aspelin Ramm proclaims, “Great cities depend on good buildings surrounded by multifunctional urban areas, and responsibility involves emphasizing both of these qualities. We all have a responsibility to make this happen through good city planning. Good architecture, the use of durable high-quality materials and respect for the environment and our surroundings are our hallmarks.”

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Mathallen Olso is located inside a historic 1908 building, and has some very special rooftop beehives designed by the Snøhetta architects. Shoppers like to take a break at communal tables with supremely delicious smoked salmon sandwiches on dark rye, cheeses, sausages, salads, and pastries from the Mathallen specialty shops – or drop in the remarkable “world’s longest bar” with equally long list of local beers and wines.

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The last day of our short trip my husband and I spent at the new, wonderfully equipped spa at Kolbotn on the outskirts of Oslo, called The Well.

Sprawled over 113 022 sq. ft. on three well-appointed floors of the spacious building, surrounded by tall grasses and pine trees, The Well was founded by a billionaire Stein Erik Hagen, and opened just 9 months ago.

The spa philosophy follows a “daycation” trend that many Norwegians came to appreciate by taking a day off here and there several times a year rather than going on one weeks-long vacation getaway (lucky Europeans!)

Designed by architects Halvorsen & Reine in Nordic style with Art Deco influences, and inspired by the different spa cultures, The Well features 11 pools, a Turkish Hamam, Japanese gardens, a Blockhaus sauna, a Maroccan Rhassoul, waterfalls and grottos in addition to the many other relaxation options that can be enjoyed in the atmosphere of luxurious pampering that permeates the intricately lit facilities.

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The Wellness Pool measures 30×75 feet, and maintains a comfy 95 F degree temperature. Small booths with vertical nozzles and submerged beds made of air tubes allow for standing or horizontal bubble bathing.

Northern Light Laconium is a mild sauna with heated walls and benches, and with a glass plate in the middle from which gentle green smoke billows up. The Irish Steam Bath is a modern reference to Roman baths. In the herbal sauna, the herbs vary according to the customers’ individual tastes. The Augfuss Sauna is one of Norway’s largest, for more than fifty people. Here, spa employees perform traditional spa rituals. The Moroccan Rhassoul is authentically built with tiles, with a column of water in the middle, and mud from The Atlas Mountains. In the Nordic Section there is a two floor loft sauna that was assembled in Austria with timber from Siberia, before it was dismantled and shipped off to The Well for reassembly.

A shower by the glass wall is surrounded by pictures of the Norwegian mountains. The Waterfall Grotto has a subterranean feel with cold tiles and relaxing sounds. The Tropical section has a Jungle Sauna of high humidity – complete with jungle sounds, imagery and a plethora of different shower nozzles. In the Japanese gardens, 1000-year-old principles of wellness are followed to the dot. You can sit in the warm Onsen pool, or view the Japanese gardens from the Japanese steam bath with its live coral and running water. There’s also a large outdoor Jacuzzi and a pool in the middle of The Well’s own woodlands.

Between the hydro massage nozzles at the pool, the masterful traditional massage provided by one of the skilled therapists on the premises, and a healthy lunch served in a spa’s own café decorated with birch tree trunks and Nordic folk art, the day just flew by in dreamy relaxation.

For more information go to: www.visitoslo.com.

 

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Restaurant Week returns to San Diego, September 25th through October 2nd, for its 12th annual farm-to-table epicurean celebration. Over 180 area restaurants offer three course, prix-fixe dinners in categories ranging from $20 to $50 per person. The lunch format, a two-course prix-fixe meal, is $10, $15 or $20 per person. Taxes and gratuities are not included. Logon to www.SanDiegoRestaurantWeek.com for information, menus and reservations. Here are my suggestions from last year’s event.

At Hunter Steakhouse, in Mission Valley, I enjoyed a sirloin burger and a Caesar salad for $10. The place has a classic 50s feel with wood paneled decor and banquettes.  It appeared that a lot of regulars were eating; suits and uniforms, always a good sign.  The eclectic Galaxy Taco, in La Jolla, served up a terrific $15 lunch.  Their motto is “Comer (eat) Awesome!” and they live up to it. The first choice was from an assortment of amazing appetizers, but tucked away on the list was their homemade churro for dessert (don’t miss it!). Choosing from an array of imaginative tacos was the hardest part of the meal.

 

Catania, also in La Jolla, was named one of Zagat’s hottest new restaurants. The $50 dinner menu is designed for sharing, featuring coastal Italian specialties. Choices included two appetizers, one pasta or pizza and two desserts. We started with the mussels and risotto, followed by a perfectly baked wood fired pizza. Desserts were off the charts good. Catania has an ocean view, everything is house-made, they feature an extensive drink and wine list, plus the service is impeccable. Go!

BITE San Diego focuses on discovering neighborhood culinary gems. The food tours are offered in seven different areas around town, all featuring hand picked food/drink stops. I recently went on their Liberty Station Walking Tour and was impressed with our guide’s knowledge of the historic Naval Training Center. We started at Point Loma Tea for hot and cold samples.

Next up was a visit to the recently opened Liberty Public Market. This high energy, former Navy chow hall is filled with eateries, bars, and specialty food and craft vendors.

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We sampled an outstanding burger at STUFFED! (a former food truck operation) and learned about the benefits of raw, organic cold pressed juice at Fully Loaded Micro Juicery.

That was followed by a tasting at Venissimo Cheese, including samples from around the world.

A casual walk took us to Slater’s 50/50 – Burgers by Design for a sampling of this bacon-fest restaurant (they cook approximately 300 pounds of bacon daily!). There is also a huge selection of local craft beers. Our last stop was Solare Ristorante Italiano to sample traditional Tuscan Southern Italian meatballs and a signature pizza.  Solare has been voted the best Italian restaurant in San Diego the past several years and it’s easy to understand why.

The BITE San Diego outing took three hours and, interestingly, half the group had been on their other tours. That’s a good indication why they have been voted the #1 rated food tour in San Diego. Other neighborhood excursions include Pacific Beach, North Park, Downtown/Little Italy, Coronado, La Jolla and Encinitas. For more information go to www.bitesandiego.com.

Thanks to the various websites for information, etc.

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It’s said that timing is everything, and it’s so true when picking a time to visit a destination. Mexico has many festivals throughout the year, but one such is the combination of the Puerto Vallarta’s LGTB May Pride Celebration as it coincides with their Restaurant week, providing many opportunities for both exceptional fun and food.

Puerto Vallarta has long been a friendly environment for the LGTB community and the community coming together to host their fourth annual May Pride Week in 2016 is such an example. Parties and receptions held in and around the town offers the visitor a chance to see venues, they might not know exists.  There is a structured bar crawl (http://gayvallartabarhopping.com) where first time Puerto Vallarta visitors can easily partake of the festivities with a guide, and be in the right venue for special events.

The high mountain lodge at Villa Savana (www.villasavana.com) supplies a panoramic view of the town and beach, and quaint views of the houses of local citizens. The white washed accommodation, offers an historic character to the complex of pool and vista filled terrace.  At such a reception you might be treated to the guitar stylings of Eduardo Leon, and take home his CD for remembering the intoxicating experience again and again.

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An upscale and visually stunning restaurant is the Café de Artistes (www.cafedesartistes.com) There you can have a Chilean wine with a smoked “Mahi Mahi”, a delicate roasted sea bass filet over a confit turnip perfumed with anise, spinach and fine herb sauce, the best Short Rib and Beef Petals duo with creamy chipolte chili sauce and topped off with a desert of “guanaban” sorbet and fried “bunuelos”. All were presented artistically and at times the visual presentation out shinned the taste.

A family owned and indigenous restaurant is the humble and quaint, El Arrayan (http://elarrayan.com.mx/en/) located in the middle of old town. Here the walls are filled with displays of ingenious art presiding over a table of authentic local tastes.

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In operation for fifteen years, the Banderas Tapas (http://barcelonatapas.net/) offers a variety of small dishes fusing traditional tastes with other cultures accompanying wonderful sunset views. A tasting menu is available. The amendable bar tender can prepare exotic cocktails or fill your own personal Martini requests. With gourmet food in an open air vista filled venue and attentive service, who could ask for more?

A true delight is the food and ambiance of the ocean side setting of the Sapphire Beach Club (http://sapphire.mx ), which also hosts accommodations and a fresh water pool, overlooking the palapas of the beach, complete with roaming sellers of local goods.

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Your brunch at the Villa Mercedes (www.hotelvillamercedes.com ) might find a buffet of delights, by a pool and shaded lounge area, adjacent to a more formal restaurant and bar. You might relax here, or stay at this boutique hotel, before venturing over to the nearby Mantamar Beach Club (http://en.mantamarvallarta.com/. They supply food, drink, entertainment, and an expansive pool with cabanas, changing rooms and an upstairs area for viewing the pool and the expansive Puerto Vallarta Beach. You can spend an entire day there soaking up the festival culture with locals and out of town party goers.

For all of the above dining venues be sure to make arrangements before arriving to double check their availability.

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Your home base might be the modern Casa Magna Marriott (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pvrmx-casamagna-marriott-puerto-vallarta-resort-and-spa/) in the hotel zone away from the historic downtown, or stay a short distance away at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta (http://www.hrhvallarta.com/)   Enjoy the VIP section of the beach with wait staff and a special VIP menu, or stroll around the pool areas with cocktail in hand, or relax in the shade, or take in the offerings of their Spa, with salon treatments or a massage, and don’t forget to sample several of their restaurants.

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Despite all the shopping and dining opportunities in Puerto Vallarta proper, it’s easy to recommend a coastal sail along Banderas Bay  with  Mike’s fishing and charter tours ( http://pvmikesfishing.com/ , where with party music and refreshments gives you a chance to feel as if you are on a private yacht. This get a way sail, to a coast beach near of the Marietta’s Islands is where you might enjoy snorkeling. This relaxing day experience is not to be overlooked. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Any time is a good time to experience the safe and tourist friendly resort town of Puerto Vallarta. A sunset stroll along the popular malecon with its iconic Puerto Vallarta Sea horse sculpture is a must. More information can be obtained at:  www.visitpuertovallarta.com.

Photography by Emma Krasov

During my stay at Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina last month, on more than one occasion I’ve caught myself contemplating the high art of mixing business and pleasure at this part business hotel part vacation resort.

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I attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new grandiose event spaces, with speeches from the city Mayor and Marriott executives; brass band, circus acrobats, stilt walkers, and a lavish champagne reception.

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I walked the newly unveiled Marina Walkway on my way to a professional mixer/boating tour on the luxury catamaran Adventuress with stunning views of the city and an amazing spread of treats and libations onboard.

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I took part in a monthly Wine Hangout at Marina Kitchen with the restaurant’s GM Michael Miller, and enjoyed an exquisite five-course dinner prepared by the award-winning hotel Chef Aron Schwartz who puts high emphasis on farm-to-table concept and loyally supports local farmers creating fresh seasonal dishes, full of flavor and artfully plated.

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(At dinner, the Southern California bounty was represented by San Diego-style lobster roll with shaved celery, spicy mayo, and bread crumbs instead of bread roll; Chino Farms artichokes with preserved Meyer lemon, tomato jam, and olive oil; pan-roasted halibut with local squash and black bean puree; Brandt Beef steak with Chino Farms corn pudding, grilled asparagus, and bone marrow vinaigrette; and lemon tart with Chino Farms strawberries, toasted meringue, and shortbread).

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I explored a rare and interesting concept in the food industry – catered sushi for private events at the Sushi on a Roll with Chef Aron Schwartz and Chef Jeff Roberto.

I tried to lose some of the delicious calories in an early-morning Spinning with Sydney class at the hotel’s Fitness Center. (This year, the hotel debuted in-room yoga program. It streams original content from Marriott’s onsite Wellness Warrior Hella Neumann. With yoga mats delivered to the rooms, guest can choose from six workouts including sunrise yoga, morning flow, sun salutations, meditation, core session and cool down. Adding to the benefits of fitness, spinning, and yoga, Marina Kitchen offers healthy food items and drinks).

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And speaking of health, I had Body Relax (Gommage Vegetal) treatment at Hideaway Spa. (This botanical exfoliation is free of abrasive particles and uses carob and citrus extracts to hydrate and eliminate rough patches. With the stimulating effect of a loofa saturated with the 5 essential oils of Yon-Ka Paris Quintessence the skin becomes smooth, silky and toned).

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I also luxuriated in a poolside cabana; joined my colleagues for a casual dinner at the outdoor Tequila Bar & Grille by the fire pits, and was having the most wonderful time working in my room and then relaxing swimming in the pool until dark…

Curved in a sinuous wave-like line, the two 25-story majestic glassed towers of Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, owned by Host Hotels & Resorts and managed by Marriott Hotels International, look onto the city’s downtown on one side, and waterfront on another, over the sparkling San Diego Bay.

With 1,360 guest rooms, 280,000 square feet of event space, a 446-slip marina, the hotel serves as a perfect venue for all sizes of business meetings and conferences as well as for ultimate relaxation easily achieved at the many resort-style facilities.

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Two free-form heated pools with whirlpools and private cabanas; the Hideaway Spa providing massages, skin care, and body treatments; the Fitness Center with yoga, spinning, and fitness classes; bike and boat rentals, walking and jogging trails, and of course, the hotel’s award-winning dining are found on the premises.

Marina Kitchen Restaurant & Bar featuring American cuisine, Tequila Bar & Grille with Mexican fare, Roy’s – Asian Fusion, plus Exchange snack bar and Starbucks keep the guests well fed and happy around the clock, while the hotel’s extensive wine program is implemented by a team of professional sommeliers led by the hotel’s own manager, Steve Pagano. Marriott Marquis also has a dozen of bartenders with Level 1 Bourbon Master certification.

On the roof of the hotel a thriving beekeeping operation is going on, with honey and pollen used in Chef Schwartz’s kitchen, and also in the new Honeycomb Harvest Cream Ale. The restaurant also features unique, oak barrel-aged batches of specialty cocktails, like Old-Fashioned made with bourbon, simple syrup, water, and bitters.

The recent expansion of the meetings and events spaces that amounted to $107 million resulted in the new building with two 36,000 square feet ballrooms (Marriott Grand Ballroom and Pacific Ballroom), each accommodating up to 3,700 guests. Both ballrooms have grand foyers awashed in natural light that can be used to extend the space.

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The new building’s interior, created by tvsdesign, and inspired by the Southern California nature, features crystal wave patterns on the ceilings, coral-reef color scheme on carpeting, seaweed-themed wall décor, and a unique Swarovski chandelier “Tidal” in the front foyer designed by Mark Smith – a dazzling airy art piece consisting of 44,000 crystals arranged in asymmetrical motif and visible even from the outside Harbor Drive.

“We drew inspiration from the host community with its iconic coastline, which we incorporated into the design, capturing a sense of fluidity and movement throughout,” said Patricia Richey, lead designer and principal of tvsdesign.

Two 9×16 feet LCD digital video walls, exclusive to the hotel, bring in cutting-edge technology capable of high level live time projections visible from every corner of the Marriott Grand Ballroom foyer.

There’s also a brand-new 27,000 square feet outdoor Marina Terrace, accommodating up to 4,000 guests, and a landscaped public walkway, Marina Walk, that connects downtown and the Bay, with decorative paving, public art installations, and views of the waterfront.

Two public artworks at the Walk were produced by Los Angeles-based art collective, After Architecture –“Tide” sculpture comprised of LED-illuminated waves made of powder-coated aluminum tubes and ceramic tile pavers, and “Kelp” installation constructed of painted steel strips with LED lighting, symbolic of sunlight kelp on the ocean floor. Marina Walk is wheelchair accessible, and equipped with bike racks and benches.

Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina is located at 333 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101. To book event space, call 619-230-8314. For more information, call 619.234.1500 or visit: www.sandiegomarquis.com.

 

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As if there’s not enough to do in August in San Diego, here are two to add to your “must do” list.

The ¡Latin Food Fest! is one of my favorite events in San Diego. This fourth annual spectacular culinary celebration will be at the Embarcadero Marina Park North in San Diego, August 12 – 15, 2016.  The Grande Tasting will feature 150 restaurants, artisanal foods makers and renowned wine and spirit purveyors. Attendees will graze through scores of food stations with samplings by Agave Del Mar, HUMO, Cafe Sevilla, Cafe Secret, Fogo de Chao, Tacos Kokopeli, Aqui es Texcoco, Sirena Seafood, Cien Anos, Uptown Tavern, Indigo Grill, Don Chido, The Hopping Pig and Peohe’s.   Additionally, local and internationally known chefs show off their talents offering tastings, preparing dinners and signing cookbooks. Go. You won’t be sorry.  For details concerning this all-inclusive priced extravaganza, logon to www.latinfoodfest.com.

My day-long Baja adventure with Five Star Tours (TripAdvisor’s #1 tour company in San Diego) began at their office in downtown’s historic Santa Fe Railroad Depot. Crossing the border to Mexico brought back fond memories of when my kids were young and we visited often.

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Driving through Tijuana, we saw the Cultural Center and several commemorative statues on our way to the heart of the city, Avenida Revolution. We visited a liquor store for tequila tasting.

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After bravely working my way through our first stop, I wandered around taking in the sights, sounds and colors.

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Heading south in the van, we visited a picturesque fishing village for a photo op, then we enjoyed a wonderful lobster lunch in Puerto Nuevo. Although included in the price of the tour, it’s interesting to note that $20 US gets you 1.5 lobsters, a margarita, rice and beans, plus chips and fresh salsa.

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On the road once more, we pulled off the scenic highway at El Mirador. There, I noticed giant “circles” floating on the ocean surface.  They are net cages where fishermen hold valuable yellowtail and bluefin tuna before processing.  In Ensenada, I headed for Mercado Negro to see the locals’ catch of the day and then walked along the picturesque Malecon and side streets.

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At day’s end, we made it back across the US border in 20 minutes via Otay Mesa. For information go to www.fivestartours.com. Don’t forget your passport!

 

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Photography by Yuri Krasov

Worlds of Flavor, Napa Valley

California Wine Country is booming with wine and food events year-round, but none comes close to the grandiose Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival. This year, the 18th annual WOF was titled On Fire, and presented “Culture. Passion. Invention” from Europe and the Americas.

With the profound insights, creative achievements, and personal journeys shared by the most influential chefs of the world, the conference attendees’ imagination was ignited by the incredible intersection of traditions and innovations of the global food cultures unfolding in a fiery fashion in front of their eyes.

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I had a chance to visit only on the last day of the three-day event, but the amount of culinary wonders packed in just a few hours would’ve been enough for a monography on the CIA’s tireless pursuit of educational and experience-sharing perfection.

Early morning upon my arrival at the CIA Greystone Campus, I joined the Kitchen Workshop on Savory and Sweet Eclairs: New Techniques and Flavors, From French Traditions to American Palates.

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The workshop moderator/presenter, Professor of baking and pastry arts at the CIA, and a 1998 James Beard Awardee for Best Pastry Chef, Stephen Durfee, surrounded by his students, shared with the audience a “breakfast éclair” made with corn meal pâte à choux and filled with eggs and microgreens in mayonnaise.

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Presenter Steve Jilleba, Corporate Executive Chef for Unilever Food Solutions, a CIA alumnus ’77, CMC, CCE, AAC, was concocting one after another an array of festively-looking savory éclairs, filled with smoked pork belly and chanterelles, tomatoes and blue cheese, figs and apple slices, and all imaginable canape toppings.

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Then Angela Pinkerton, Executive Chef at Che Fico (coming to San Francisco in the fall 2016), a 2011 James Beard Awardee for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and one of the 2012 Dessert/Professionals’ Top Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America wowed the public with her Malted Pretzel and Peanut Éclair that tasted approximately a 1000 times better than its name implied.

At the same time as I was reveling in the world of éclairs, other conference participants were attending various other workshops and seminars – each one more intriguing and exciting than the next.

After the seminars and workshops, a general session titled, Crafting Restaurants, Nourishing Communities: A Tale of Five Cities (New York, Charleston, Boston, Louisville, Chicago) and moderated by James Oseland, a New York author and contributing editor to Rodale’s “Organic Life” opened its doors to the attendees, presenting five distinguished chefs.

New Yorker Jody Williams, Chef-owner of Buvette and Via Carota, introduced her cold and hot smoked salmon “preserve” in a Mason jar, with crème fraiche, horseradish, white pepper, and clarified butter on top as a delicious grab-and-go lunch snack.

Mike Lata from Charleston, South Carolina, chef-partner of Fig and The Ordinary restaurants, showed how to prepare roasted oysters (steamed in clusters until open) with celery, lemon, olive oil, shallots, chives, and crème fraiche, garnished with saltine crackers brushed with butter, baked, and served with Fresno pepper sauce.

Tony Maws from Boston, Massachusetts, chef-owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter with a degree in psychology, quipped that his Jewish grandmother was probably turning in her grave at the sound of his delicious creation – pork belly Reuben with kimchi and Russian dressing over butter between Pain Pauline slices with thinly sliced Swiss, grilled in butter on both sides!

Annie Pettry from Louisville, Kentucky, chef-owner of Decca, presented a vegetarian delight suitable for carnivores and omnivores everywhere. Her carrot dish contained grilled, steamed, pureed, and pickled carrots with herbs, spices, condiments, and buttermilk ricotta, which elevated the humble root vegetable to the level of a gourmet feast.

Chicagoan Chris Pandel, chef-owner of Balena and The Bristol, being partly of Polish descend, came up with an interesting twist on Eastern European “halushki,” made of pumpernickel bread, pouched in hot water and fried with bacon, onion and cabbage to caramelization, then topped with crème fraiche, dill and parsley.

The Closing Keynote Staying on Fire: Helping Tomorrow’s Chefs Think of Heritage as Opportunity for Innovation was introduced by Maricel Presilla, PhD, from Hoboken, New Jersey, chef-owner of Cucharamama, Zafra, and Ultramarinos, and presented by Rick Bayless from Chicago, chef-owner of the famous Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and XOCO; James Beard Awardee for Chef of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year, Outstanding Restaurant; author of 12 cookbooks, and a recipient of Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle.

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At lunchtime, everyone headed to the centerpiece of the event, the World Marketplace (tasting and lunch). Set in the 15,000 sq. ft. Vintners Hall of Fame Historic Barrel Room with its thick stone walls and enormous oak casks, unchanged since 1889, the international culinary exhibition was filled with the aromas, sights and sounds of a bustling colorful market.

Whimsical food samples were offered at every stall by the star chefs, paired with cocktails and wines, while the music and dance performances were entertaining the guests.

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Passport to Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

One of the biggest and boldest events in Sonoma County, the annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley was celebrated for the 26th time this year, but its creativity, high spirits, and energy levels soared like never before.

Founded by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Association in 1990, the Passport weekend at the end of April coincides with the lush, green, growing time for the manicured vineyards and wildflowers alike, adding to the festive atmosphere in each participating winery where staffers go out of their way to treat their guests to exquisite wine tasting, delicious food pairings, live music, and themed entertainment.

The Association comprises more than 60 wineries and 150 growers, the majority of which are small, family-owned operations dedicated to enhancement and preservation of Dry Creek Valley appellation, officially designated in 1983.

One of California’s oldest wine-growing regions, the Valley is known for its zinfandel, and is home to many heritage vineyards from 50 to 120 years old.

This year, over the Passport weekend the guests were treated to premium wines and gourmet food in more than 45 wineries. It wasn’t easy to decide where to go first, where to spend more time, and how many wineries to visit in the course of one day I’ve devoted to this unforgettable event – everywhere I wished I could linger a little more, soaking in the sunny weather and reveling in winemakers’ hospitality.

8. Mill Creek Winery

Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery stepped away from its last year’s theme, and declared that the Prohibition was over! Willy the Whack has gone legit and moved to Vegas. While everyone enjoyed the sit-down full-service of Mill Creek wines and food pairing by Peloton Catering of the Wheel House Lounge, Willy the Lounge Lizard, and his posse were promenading by in period costumes with the quaint mill wheel slowly rotating in the background. 2015 Dry Rose was a “welcome wine” followed by 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Vera’s Block Estate. The rest of the tasting wines were paired with food: 2014 Reserve Chardonnay with Smoked Prawn Brochette; 2012 Zinfandel with Crimini Mushroom Veloute; 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon with Angus Beef Crostini, and port style dessert wine “4739” presented a wonderful dessert. Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery is located at 1401 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-2121.

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Davero Farms & Winery indulged all the senses with its fruit orchards, herb gardens, animal pastures, roses everywhere in full bloom, and the wines, produced through 100% natural winemaking.  Derived from Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Barbera, Sagrantino, and others, most grown on the surrounding vineyards – the wines were paired with the meats, fresh produce and olive oil, produced on the Davero biodynamic farm whose telling motto is, “Grow what belongs here. Be patient.” Davero Farms & Winery is located at 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-8000 x1.

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Geyser Peak Winery came up with a festive “Taste of the Rat Pack” with samples of Frank Sinatra’s, Sammy Davis’s, and Dean Martin’s favorite tasty bites paired with crowd-pleaser wines – 2015 Rose of Cabernet Franc, 2015 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir, 2012 XYZin Reserve Zinfandel, 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tawny Port.

A signature themed cocktail, “Devil’s Manhattan Pack” was served on the outdoor patio overlooking Dry Creek Valley to the swingin’ sounds of live music band on the lawn. Geyser Peak Winery is located at 2306 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg, CA; 707-857-2500.

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Wilson Winery invited its guest to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras! The Wilson Krewe was led by the Queen of Carnival in a parade of gold medal-winning Zinfandels straight to the outdoor party complete with 2013 Sydney Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, paired with Cajun Jambalaya by Lisa Boisset of The Cook And The Drummer. The other treat, grilled to perfection tri-tip was paired with 2013 Molly’s Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. Musical entertainment from DJ FizNik Rick rounded up the day of Laizzez les bons temps rouler! Wilson Winery is located at 1960 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-433-4355.

9. Mauritson Winery Sonoma12. Chef Charlie Palmer in Sonoma

Mauritson Family Winery, always serving over-the-top feasts, presented winemaker Clay Mauritson’s superb Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile Zinfandels and Chef Charlie Palmer’s delicious food pairings. 2014 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley was paired with Crisp Hawaiian Ahi Taco with Avocado Mousseline, while 2014 Mauritson Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley – with Painted Hills Shaved Beef with Parmesan Crostini. Clay and Charlie signed bottles of the newly released 2014 Charlie Clay Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, paired with Pulled Pork Sandwich with Red Cabbage Slaw. Mauritson Family Winery is located at 2859 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-0804.

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Quivira Vineyards and Winery brought Provence to the Dry Creek Valley with its biodynamic wines and garden. Quivira Rhône wines were paired with food inspired by the Southern France cuisine. The guests had an opportunity to stroll through the artisanal market sampling Quivira estate grown products, and marvel at the gardens with ponds and flowerbeds, and blossoming vineyards. Quivira Vineyards and Winery is located at 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-8333.

11. Dry Creek Vineyard Sonoma

Dry Creek Vineyard charted its course on the imaginary high seas with the help of fish n’ chips truck, sea shanties performed by The Seadogs, and staffers dressed in full sailor uniform. The “wine for sailors” on offer included 2015 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg (at the Dinghy) 2014 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County (served Dockside) and Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Cabernet at the tasting room. The guests were invited to become a DCV deck hand and join the crew. Dry Creek Vineyard is located at 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-433-1000.

More information at: www.drycreekvalley.org.