Photography by Yuri Krasov

Carmel-by-the-Sea, a coastal California town like no other, is located within one square mile of tree-lined streets drowning in cascades of jasmine and bougainvillea. Cozy restaurants, art galleries, wine tasting rooms, and boutique shops abound, surrounded by intricate stairways, tinkling fountains and hidden gardens. There are no numeric addresses here; every house has a name, and its whereabouts are defined by a street name and a nearest corner. The town dwellers – mostly descendants of old European families – established a kind of a fairy tale village in a forest, where there are more trees than buildings.  There are no street lights, no neon signs, and walking on high heels is outlawed by a city ordinance. Not sure how it’s enforced, but you won’t want to stumble on stilts along the picturesque sidewalks burst by tree roots and wild calla lilies. It’s an ultimate romantic destination, and the most pet-friendly place, which makes people- and dog-watching here a special treat.

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Point Lobos State Reserve is located just two miles to the south of Carmel by the Sea. A vast expanse of cypress groves, mossy oaks, and ancient pines on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific can’t leave anyone unmoved by its rugged beauty. Hiking the trails of Point Lobos and resting on benches and boulders above its coves and lagoons, you can see the most picturesque wildflowers, and all kinds of wild animals from harbor seals and whales to deer and rabbits.

Migrating southward in winter, gray whales make a frequent appearance in this part of the Pacific. From any cliff, you can see three or four fountains simultaneously in different places, indicating exhaling giants moving in groups to their breeding and calving grounds off the Baja California coast.

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3. Anton and Michel

Carmel Food and Wine Tour is the Number One activity in Carmel, according to TripAdvisor. The tours are led by an experienced foodie-guide Staci Giovino and her staff. Says Giovino, “We currently visit Anton & Michel (kobe beef short rib, slow-braised in hoisin and Guinness stout beer, served over grilled polenta with microgreens), Casanova (generations-old recipe, Parisian style gnocchi), La Bicyclette (artisan, wood-fired pizza with local, organic ingredients), Trio Carmel (gourmet olive oil and vinegar), Terry’s Lounge in the Cypress Inn (currently serving lamb curry meatball paired with their version of a Manhattan, soon to be changing), either Figge Cellars or Caraccioli Cellars for local, boutique wines, and Lula’s Chocolates. We hosted more than 1700 guests last year, and are on track to serve 2600 in 2015.  We have three tour leaders and can host groups of 45-60 (split into smaller groups).  We will be working with Destination America starting in April, to host their tour bus groups on most Tuesdays. Our private group business has grown exponentially along with the public tours, and we have hosted everyone from gaming companies to safety engineers. We have a guide who is fluent in Spanish to work with our Spanish-speaking guests.

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4. Anton and Michel  crepe SuzetteAnton & Michel is one of the newest fine dining restaurants in town – with sleek modern décor and artwork on the walls – serving classic cocktails, delectable lamb chops, and flaming crepe Suzette, prepared table-side.

9. Hofsas House mural

Hofsas House Hotel was founded 60 years ago by an adventurous woman of Bavarian descend, Donna Hofsas. She moved to Carmel from Los Angeles with her husband in the 1940s, and started a boutique inn – now a 38-room hotel, managed by Donna’s granddaughter, Carrie Theis.

The hotel is located on a hilly street on the edge of downtown, with outside terraces overlooking a swimming pool and the Pacific Ocean in a short distance. Hotel guests usually take their continental breakfast included with the room stay on the terrace, basking in the sun and enjoying freshly-brewed French roast coffee, seasonal fruit and hot from the oven pastries from a local bakery.

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Upon the completion of the hotel building, Donna Hofsas commissioned her friend, artist Maxine Albro, to paint a Bavarian-themed welcome mural by the entrance.  The artist, of Spanish descent, in her day traveled to Mexico, admired the works of Diego Rivera, and even worked side-by-side with him painting murals in San Francisco. Her most important commission was at Coit Tower, depicting California agricultural life. Today, a group of smiling Bavarian shepherds and shepherdesses in white stockings greets visitors from the Hofsas House mural even before they set foot inside the lobby, decorated with framed paintings by the same artist, and a unique shiny polished copper chimney.

1. Hofsas House wine and cheese

This year, Hofsas House Hotel is offering seven themed vacation packages to its guests:

  1. Third Night’s a Charm. Book 3 nights and the 3rd is 1/3 off. Offer valid through February excluding holidays and AT&T golf week. Mention Code HHCHARM when booking.
  2. Golfer’s Delight. The Hofsas House Hotel has partnered with two of the Monterey Peninsula’s best golf courses. Book a minimum 2 night stay and add on a round of golf. When booking use promotion codes: HHQUAIL and HHPOPPY.
  3. History Walking Tour. Two-hour guided walk past enchanting fairy-tale cottages, secret pathways, hidden courtyards and award-winning gardens. When booking use promotion code: HHWALKS.
  4. Movie Star Tour. Monterey Movie Tours is a two-tours-in-one outing featuring both magnificent landscapes and blockbuster scenes from some of the 200 movies filmed across the Monterey Peninsula. When booking use promotion code: HHSTARS.
  5. Wine and Cheese Package. Nine different Carmel tasting rooms on the Wine Walk by-the-sea with a Wine Tasting Passport. The Hofsas House concierge offers wine passports at a discounted price with any one-night stay. Special wine and cheese package with a bottle of Monterey County wine and cheese from the Cheese Shop. Purchase Wine Passports and/or Wine and Cheese package when booking Hofsas House Hotel.
  6. Tail Wagging Package. Hofsas House is one of the most dog friendly hotels in Carmel. Guests receive a complimentary Doggie Welcome Package upon arrival that includes Hofsas House dog Frisbee, Hofsas House collapsible dog bowl, special dog bed, letter from Cajun – onsite Pet Concierge, special dog amenities package, tips and recommendations for your four legged friends stay, walking trail and hiking guide, a package of treats, Costal Canine Magazine—offering the best four legged options for visiting Carmel. Minimum two-night stay.
  7. Take a Hike at the Hofsas House Hotel. Experience Big Sur hiking trails ranging from tranquil walks along a coastal waterfall to miles-long ascents through the redwoods and into the rugged wilderness or take in magnificent Point Lobos State Park. After a day of hiking the Big Sur coastline, guests relax in the hotel’s heated swimming pool or European dry saunas. Package includes a gift certificate for Carmel’s 5th Avenue Deli and complimentary Point Lobos day pass. Minimum two-night stay. Mention HHNature at booking. More information and reservations at: www.hofsashouse.comsunset by point lobos

I did not think of the Greater Palm Springs area as a budget metropolis. It consists of the communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. As I drove around I noticed the names of streets: Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Fred Waring, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, etc. They had one thing in common- they are all dead and they all lived, at least part of the year, in the Palm Springs area. Lucille Ball owned a hotel there. More residents included: Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Judy Garland, Bill Gates, Cary Grant, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Autry, Dean Martin, Ann Miller, Errol Flynn and Jean Harlow.

The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when tourists with health problems arrived to sample the dry heat. They were comfortable in the microclimate because the mountains blocked the cold winds. There were also inventive architects that designed unique vacation homes using prefabricated panels, folding roofs, glass-and-steel houses with open-design plans, air-conditioning, swimming pools and very large windows. In those days Hollywood had a “Two Hour Rule” meaning that contracted employees had to be available within two-hours from the studio in case last minute filming had to be done. Palm Springs fit that window.

The film colony and tourists discovered this desert playground in the early 1940’s. There were golf courses, tennis courts and more swimming pools than anywhere else in the United States. There was even gambling at several clubs in Cathedral City. After World War II the area added spas and new homes. The Palm Desert Corporation built office buildings and more homes and country clubs. Thirty years later this area became the city of Palm Desert. Bob Hope, a longtime resident, was appointed Honorary Mayor. Palm Springs became known as the “Golf Capitol of the World.”  Polo was revived, as were tennis tournaments.

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Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in 1954 and Harry Truman also spent considerable time in the area. In 1962 John F. Kennedy came to town on the first of several trips. President Gerald Ford had visited Palm Springs during his term as Vice President and in 1976 returned to build a home there. Mrs. Ford had her alcohol and drug center in Rancho Mirage. Then mayor Sonny Bono founded the Palm Springs International Film Festival which is held every January. This year it was January 2-12th. The area has been rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars.

The last time I was in Palm Springs the downtown area was seedy, even around the Spa Resort Casino. It reminded me of the areas of Atlantic City that were off the boardwalk area. Then the renaissance began, slowly at the beginning, with gay people from the San Francisco area being priced out of their homes and shops. They found their new area in Greater Palm Springs and the movement started. Great weather 10 months of the year, mountains nearby, and wind energy for cheap electricity, an international airport and well maintained highways and roads. No potholes caused by rain and snow, as in my hometown of NYC.

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As the older (my) generation died off, younger people moved in. Yes, there is the Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert (El Paseo) but there is also Highway 111 & Interstate 10 with Costco, Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and all the budget motel/hotels/fast food restaurants and outlet stores. There are also other casinos in Rancho Mirage, Coachella, and Indio and in Cabazon (on the highway to & from Los Angeles, next to the 180 store Desert Hills Premium Outlet stores where I shopped and bought several items).

I spent 4 days with Sally Jessy Raphael and her husband Karl Soderlund at their home. Sally has excellent taste and the home reflects that. Everything in quotes were from her notes to me.

“I consider the Palm Springs area to be an inexpensive place to live. The weather is ideal 10 months of the year. There is very little rain and it is dry and mild with temperatures between 65-80 degrees. True it is hot in July & August but I love the heat and everyone has air conditioning. There’s lots to do. Even though we don’t play golf there are more than 100 courses in the region for our guests to use. This is a big tennis town and lots of swimming pools. The area is also a good place for hikers and rock climbers. There are mountains everywhere. It was also voted the cleanest city in America. There are no bad areas and I always feel safe, many times not even locking my front door.”

“The International Film Festival is wonderful and I believe it is the 3rd largest in the US. The McCallum Theater has a different show almost every night with big stars. The casinos also have great shows. Almost half the population is young and the schools are well run. The town is very health conscious. The gays have done a lot opening small boutiques, restaurants, B&B’s etc. People are very friendly. There are lots of art fairs and galleries. (Sally is an accomplished artist with several gallery exhibits). Also, because of the abundance of wind turbines electric rates are low. You saw the airport- no roof and two non-stop flights a week from NYC. I like the slow pace of life here and the excellent nightlife.”

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There is a lot to see and to do in the Greater Palm Springs area. I will concentrate on 3 places where I spent considerable time. The Living Desert; Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I briefly stopped at the following attractions that are worthwhile if you have more free time than I had: San Jacinto Mountain Range (drove around them coming from Temecula to Palm Desert. Don’t try at night); Palm Springs Art Museum (had 15 minutes there), Cabots Pueblo Museum (5 minutes from Two Bunch Palms) & El Paseo Shopping Avenue (had lunch there).

I met the CEO of Two Bunch Palms located in Desert Hot Springs (30 minutes from Palm Desert) several months ago at a press dinner here in NYC organized by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. He was kind enough to invite Sally & her husband Karl to accompany me there for spa treatments & lunch. This 77-acre resort was built in 1930. It had become rundown when the new owners took over in 2012. There are 70 newly refurbished rooms including 13 suites with outdoor patios and/or courtyards (18 years and older only). The Wellness Spa has 19 indoor/outdoor treatments rooms, 2 mud baths (my choice of treatment) and 2 water therapy pools. There is a lap pool, two tennis courts, fitness room, many movement & enrichment classes and a huge earth mount dome dedicated to yoga. The tour I was given by cart also included nature trails, a duck & turtle pond where you can feed the fish and a new conference center.

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We had lunch in the farm-to-table restaurant Essense where Chef Cossi Houegban prepared a fabulous lunch.  We changed into our swimsuits and relaxed by the natural spring artesian waters that are 169 degrees and are cooled to 90 and 104 degrees in the Grotto. The waters contain lithium, calcium and magnesium. The best value is the day spa. Non-resort guests can gain access to the facility with a minimum reservation of one (1) 60 minute treatment along with a Day Spa Fee ($40 weekend/$25 weekday) that allows access to the Grotto, the pool and the grounds from 10 am to 6 pm. World Away Day Spa packages are also available and designed to include at least one treatment, gratuity, lunch credit and the day spa fee ($195). For more information- www.twobunchpalms.com

I spent 3 hours at The Living Desert, both walking and using their tram. You really need 5-6 hours to see everything. It was established in 1970 by people who foresaw the impact that resort development would have on the local desert ecosystem. This led to the interpretive nature trail and preserve in Palm Desert. The grounds have been expanded to 1,200 acres of which 1,000 acres remain in their natural state. A desert oasis was created with animal enclosures and small animal exhibits. Then came a walk-through aviary and an animal care center that I visited watching an operation take place. They soon accepted threatened and endangered species. An Education Center followed as well as Eagle Canyon, home to mountain lions, Mexican wolves, bobcats, badgers and many birds. Before the turn of the century they completed an amphitheater for a twice-daily Wild Wonders show as well as the Village WaTuTu with a new café, gift shop and new exhibits featuring striped hyenas, camels, sheep and goats. In the early 21st Century they added a children’s play park, an exhibit housing a reticulated giraffe and ostrich and a butterfly pavilion. Soon there was an added endangered species carousel and camel rides. I actually managed to see most of the above, ending at the very large model railroad exhibit. For further information- www.Livingdesert.org

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The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located in the rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs. The dream began in 1935 but construction was not complete until 1963. Not one cent of public funds was used for either the construction or operation of the tramway. It was an engineering challenge and was labeled as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road. Helicopters flew over 20,000 missions during the 26 months of construction, hauling men and material needed to erect the four other towers and the 25,000 sq. Mountain Station. It is 10,834 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto. In 2000 there were new cars installed including the world’s largest rotating tramcars. Since it opened over 18 million people have travelled the 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride, which begins at the Valley Station- elevation 2,643 feet and ends at the Mountain Station- elevation 8,516 feet. The cost of a ride is- $23.95 for adults & children 3-12 are $16.95. It’s a very small world; the last time I was in Palm Springs I met Greg Purdy the PR person for the Palm Springs Follies (no longer in business). Greg is doing the same work for the Tramway and honored me by riding up and back with me. For further information- www.pstramway.com. For more information about Greater Palm Springs-  www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

If there’s a better season than winter to experience California desert I’d like to hear about it… or better yet see it for myself. Meanwhile, when record freeze was bracing the American East and Midwest, and pouring rain (finally!) was falling all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the sun was shining brightly, and palm trees were gently swaying over blue pools in a charmed corner of the world known as Greater Palm Springs. It took us several hours in a problem-free Enterprise Rent-A-Car vehicle to get there from SF, and slightly over an hour to get back on Alaska Airlines uneventful flight for an exciting and relaxing.
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JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

Located in Palm Desert, this aquatic oasis is designed to satisfy every whim of its guests so they would never want to venture beyond its 450-acre territory. Several eateries on the premises include the Lobby Bar and the Sushi Bar; Starbucks – also in the hotel lobby; voted “Best Seafood Restaurant” Fisherman’s Landing Market & Grill; and a few full-service restaurants on the shores of the resort’s own lagoon – poolside Oasis grill, waterfront Rockwood Grill, Blue Star Lounge, and Mikado, a Japanese steakhouse with teppanyaki dining. To get there, diners can board one of white-and-blue speedy boats that take passengers in the open-air lobby area and bring them back every 10 minutes. The lagoon, adorned with fountains and populated by black and white swans, geese, duck, carp, and pink flamingoes, stretches to the far reaches of the five heated pools and two 18-hole championship golf courses.

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The Spa at Desert Springs offers wonderful massages, and has its own sunlit pool, its own café, steam rooms and saunas, a beauty salon, and an adjacent fully equipped gym, actually filled with health-conscious travelers.

A long chain of retail outlets with resort and gift wares stretches along the Colonnade of Shops, and even a contractor hawk trainer can be seen on the roof giving some practice exercises to his winged predator in-between guest-ordered lectures and demos.

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

No trip to the area is complete without a breathtaking ten-minute ride up the mountains on the world’s largest rotating tramcar to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The two Swiss-built glassed cabins carry 80 passengers at a time up Chino Canyon from the 2,643-foot Valley Station to the 8,516-foot Mountain Station, passing as many climatic zones along the way as are found on a long Pacific shore stretch from Mexico to Canada.

At the top, where the temperature drops 20-40 degrees even in the middle of blazing-hot summer, the Mountain Station has Long Valley Deck surrounded by pines, covered with fresh snow in wintertime; Desert View Terrace with views of rugged mountains and a forest of windmills on the valley floor; an exhibition of flora and fauna indigenous to the area; a visitor center with park information and trail maps; a movie theater showing a documentary about the building of the Tramway in incredibly harsh conditions, and new tromp l’oeil murals by the local artist Keith Blum.
There are also Peaks Restaurant and Pines Café at the Mountain Station, now led by the new chef Kevin Land. Food stuffs are delivered to the top on the “first tram” early in the morning, before the crowds flock in, and water – in a special reservoir under the passenger cabin. Reportedly, some dishes have to be prepared in the valley and taken here, since the lower-oxygen mountainous conditions change the way food is being cooked and especially baked.
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Desert Hills Premium Outlets

The little town of Cabazon can get really overpopulated with eager shopper battalions arriving by car and bus in great numbers, especially during the winter holiday season. Every- or almost every imaginable international brand has a factory outlet here, and tourists from as close as Los Angeles and as far as the Peoples’ Republic of China take full advantage of it. In the frenzy of gift shopping at the lit with myriads of Christmas lights East Village and West Village with a combined collection of 180 designer and name brand stores, the shoppers make a quick stop at Blaze Pizza, where the new speedy method of combining thin crust with a choice of sauce and toppings reduces lunch time to mere minutes.
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Shields Date Garden

This unique “all about dates” farm and shop in the town of Indio features an incredible amount of date samples, recipes, and packaged varieties, plus a 1950s film “Romance and Sex Life of a Date.” Founded in 1924 by a husband and wife team of a mechanical engineer and a teacher from back East, Shields Date Garden is still producing those sweet hard-to-grow fruits, and is famous for date shakes, date ice cream, and fragrant citrus. Mr. Shields was the inventor of date sugar and the date crystal. Date sugar adds flavor to recipes and date crystals are a dry blend of dates used in cooking, on cold cereals and in date milkshakes. The Coachella Valley produces 90% of the dates in North America.
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Cathedral City

In the Center of Coachella Valley, the tiny, neat and trip Cathedral City has a remarkable Town Square with an elaborately sculpted and adorned with glass mosaic pieces Fountain of Life, symbolically depicting blooming palm trees surrounded by desert animals. Right next to it, there is Mary Pickford Theater – home to a small museum displaying personal belonging, some costumes, and two documentaries of “the girl with the golden curls” considered the most famous and beloved woman in the world in the silent film era. Equal in her international fame to Charlie Chaplin, the hard-working comedienne starred in 50-80 moving pictures a year, until the talkies which she contemptuously compared to lipstick on Venus de Milo ultimately ended her brilliant career.
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Joshua Tree National Park

The true treasure of the California, Joshua Tree National Park lies in the overlap between the Colorado and Mojave deserts and stretches over 794 000 acres. The eastern half of the park is dominated by cholla cactus, palo verde, and ocotillo, while the western half contains forests of whimsically twisted Joshua tree amid giant smooth boulder stacks – the result of prehistoric volcanic activity in the area.
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Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

One of the newest hotels in the city center, Hard Rock is filled with rock musicians’ instruments, stage costumes, amplifiers, and other paraphernalia, and features over-the-top décor in the designer lobby, pool area, and in every room, each marked by a dedicated album from a legendary group.
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Sparrows Lodge

This brand new hotel, built to resemble a 1950s lodge, has only 20 rooms that surround a swimming pool with a hot tub and a fireplace. The rooms have cement walls with pebble trim, and a slate rock shower area with rough lead piping. Folding leather chairs and wooden tables constitute room furnishings, and the “papa bear” rustic beds are covered with Salvation Army-style thin blankets. There’s a cozy couch in front of a fireplace in the entrance area, and at the opposite end of the swimming pool that takes the center stage on the property – a breakfast nook and a bar with enough space for guests and their dogs in this pet-friendly establishment.

Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information 1-800-969-3767; www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

In traveling around the United States we find some notable campgrounds and are pleased to be able to tell other travelers about them. And now you do not have to own a camper to be able to stay at these lovely campgrounds because they have cabins and some deluxe cabins (which have everything you need). You can have the fun of camping without packing up all the gear needed! Call ahead to inquire the amenities and to make your reservations.

West Glacier Holiday KOA: What a PERFECT place to spend your resting time at Glacier National Park, Montana. This KOA is so well located just a couple of miles from the town of West Glacier and the west entrance to the Park. This is the largest and one of the very most beautiful KOA’s we have found across the United States. The sites are all grassy, good level, gravel sites. Clean in every aspect; good laundry facilities large enough to handle the many campers. The KOA breakfasts are delicious! With many choices from pancakes to French toast, eggs, bacon, and the trimmings! Dinner is on site every night by a concessionaire provider and looked like good food and lots of fun. You can go to on-site SCOOPS for their specialty: huckleberry ice cream. There is a lovely pavilion with pool table, fireplace, and satellite TV for gathering anytime. This KOA is the perfect one for reunions.
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The heated pool facilities are so pretty with beautiful flowers nearby. This KOA is open May 1 – September 30, coinciding with normal Park season. West Glacier is not as crowded as the East Side of Glacier National Park and has many, many wonderful hikes, places to visit, and shopping for quaint mountain activities and trinkets. We had been to East side many times but enjoyed this side immensely for a new experience. The two sides are quite different…East being more crowded, higher mountains, fewer trees, more grassy meadows, snow and beautiful scenery! West side has tall, dense forests, beautiful lake, streams, creeks, and great hikes and turn-outs for incredible photo views. If you are not afraid of heights traveling the Road To The Sun is a MUST, from either side. And stop to hike the most challenging and one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever made: behind Logan Pass Visitor Center. This KOA is PERFECT for your Glacier holiday!
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Salt Lake City KOA: This well-kept park is lovely and very large, and it is so convenient to have a location in the city, but with the feel of a quiet campground. The office and store are newly renovated. The pool and KOA cabins are clean and inviting, and there is a basketball court for older kids. We were delighted for the rest after a walk beside the Jordan River at the back of the RV Park. The River walk is convenient and pretty and goes miles with walking bridges and a paved bike path on the other side of the little river. About a block down the path is a large municipal park and huge playground. This is a nice plus for KOA campers here.
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There is also free shuttle service to the Temple area. Salt Lake has many activities and attractions at all times of the year and is a lovely, clean city with very kind, personable people. If you come here be sure to plan to hear the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The KOA is located in walking distance to the State Fair Grounds and September is the biggest time for those events. There are summer concerts in the park and cool nights in this desert area. This is a wonderful place to stay, and be sure to enjoy the truly delicious pancakes, eggs, sausage, and bacon prepared on the KOA picnic grounds throughout the summer for very nominal prices. We were fortunate to eat the last breakfast of their season, and it was really good! The KOA is open year-round.
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Coyote Ranch Resort at Wichita Falls, Texas, is Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park and has all the amenities and extras you could ever want in a campground, whether you are staying for overnight or for a long time. This is a perfect place for reunions, meetings, and even weddings. The Resort is truly cowboy western style and has a chapel, a large and a small reception building, cabins, even a yurt to rent. And the RV sites are perfect with grass, full hook-ups of the best kind, and anything you could want. The playground and swimming pools are pretty, and even the little laundry and bathhouse buildings are stylish…cowboy style, that is. This is a most unusual and appealing luxurious campsite with a little shed and ponies to see in their pasture. You are very close to Wichita Falls center, so there is a lot to do in the city.
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The ending of a long vacation, maybe the most memorable part. For the ending of my two week Blount Small Ship Adventure Cruise, I chose to remain in the final destination port of New York City. Having been to NYC many times since 1972, I never before approached the imposing skyline of one of the world’s most dynamic cities from the water. My Blount cruise came down the Hudson and then glided by midtown on down to the harbor. With a long pause at the Statue of Liberty and with a kitsch playing of the Sinatra version of “New York, New York,” it was a fitting close to the end of a cruise and the start of a post cruise stay in little ole New York.
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The view of the dynamically changed skyline is impressive to see from the water, with the Freedom Tower punctuating the sky. I visited the serene memorial pools and the cavernous museum, which was not as saddening as imagined. The plaza is impressive surrounded by its towering glass skyscrapers contrasting with the pools of water effortlessly falling hypnotically down, down, down.

A highlight of my Blount cruise was my stay at the Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel for a weekend. Hilton is encouraging everyone to Be A Weekender with their www.HiltonWeekends.com site. I was greeted with spacious accommodations, an imperial set of Art Deco grand lobbies with impeccable service and fine dining and beverage options. As I was several hours earlier than their standard 3 pm check in, I was welcomed into the private lounge on an upper floor to await my Tower room. There is also a private check in and departure desk for Tower guests. While there is an attentive door man to assist with your taxi needs, I found a modest eight block walk to the Theatre district an efficient choice, particularly when taxis are hard to come by due to rain or rush hour, which seemed to me was all the time.
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My room on the 26th floor had a spectacular view of the Art Deco Chrysler Building, and was next door to the Lyndon B. Johnson Suite. The New York Waldorf Astoria hotel has a long history of United States Presidents staying there, along with a myriad of celebrities and entertainers. The 20th floor has the Marilyn Monroe room, where she once had an extended stay.

I took in the elegant Sunday Brunch at the Peacock Alley restaurant with an extensive buffet that spills over into the lobby, with a dining choice of piano or harp accompaniment. It’s not every Sunday you can have such an extravagant brunch. I had two of the signature Peacock Alley cocktails served in a martini glass ~ elegant with just the right touch of sweetness. It is a tradition at the Peacock Alley, to see and be seen, and observing the other dining patrons was intriguing. The next day. after a schedule tour of the hotel of ballrooms, kitchens and the 20th floor terrace with beehives and herbs, I also had an efficient acceptable lunch at Oscars, with their surprisingly different than expected famous Waldorf Salad.
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The history of the hotel is fascinating. On March 24, 1893, millionaire William Waldorf Astoria opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the site of his former mansion at Fifth Avenue and 33rd street, and was joined in 1897, with the adjacent 17-story Astoria Hotel. The original Waldorf Astoria New York closed in 1929 and was reincarnated in 1931 where the current hotel reigns at Park Avenue and 50th, making it at that time the world’s largest and tallest hotel at 625 feet with 47 floors, and is today one of the world’s largest Art Deco buildings. The hotel is synonymous with the grandeur of the best of New York City and in 1993 was deemed an official New York City landmark. In this Internet age it is easy to explore a destination or hotel. The Waldorf Astoria New York has a myriad of internet links that illuminate its history and current amenities. There are way too many historical tangents to list here, but you can explore many at: www.waldorfarchive.com. I used their concierge and theater ticket desk for last minute reservations and found them courteous and efficient. Of course if you can make your own theatre ticket choices in advance you can save the added expense of last minute theatre decisions. I don’t regret my last minute choice as the theatre seats book through the Ticket Desk and the dinner reservations were excellent. Buying your theater tickets far in advance is always recommended. The Broadway Collection can help.
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While In New York I took in the comedy, It’s only a Play, with its star studded cast; Cabaret, a tired show and performance; Pippin, a ghost of a show I first saw on Broadway on my first 1972 visit; Disney’s Aladdin, an exuberant and true extravaganza of what a Broadway show should be; Kinky Boots, with outstanding performances and more fun than expected; and in its twenty sixth year, Phantom, with my home town connection of its co lead, Jeremy Hays. Hays is a product of Oklahoma City University’s performing arts school where other notable Broadway and theatre alumni were nurture including: Lara Teeter, Kelli O’Hara and Barbara Fox DeMaio Caprilli, among others. I was told Hays will be in the show through January. His voice is smooth and clear, his acting appropriately dramatic, his diction impeccable, and with his good looks and personality make him a perfect romantic lead.
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New York’s Metropolitan Museum always impresses with its prime collections inviting a pace of leisurely observation, as there is never enough energy or foot power to see it all. I enjoyed using my CityPass coupon book for entrance, which offers discounts to many New York City attractions, and offers you a road map for your own itinerary choice. And while the rooftop cafe closed a day early, I enjoyed my first time visit there with views of Central Park. New York City can be intimidating but with a little planning and a comfortable oasis like the Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel, it can be a perfect weekend getaway or the perfect end to a Blount Small Ship Adventures Cruise.

Here are some sites to aid in your planning: www.hiltonweekends.com; www.waldorfastoria.com;

www.citypass.com; www.blountsmallshipadventures.com; www.broadwaycollection.com

What do U.S. Presidents Buchanan, Grant, Harrison, Pierce and Arthur have in common? These five presidents favored Cape May as a summer retreat when they were in office during the second half of the 19th century. The cordial reception and privacy afforded the Presidents at Cape May’s Congress Hall provided them a welcomed respite from politicians and the sweltering hot summers in Washington, D.C.

Although some of us might not be able to afford to vacation in the popular summer months like a US President, a fall visit to Cape May during the week offers cheaper accommodations, dining and entertainment. It may be a bit chilly for swimming, but the crowds are gone and the days are still sunny and pleasant. If you want to see the “other” Cape May, put on some comfortable walking shoes and discover Victorian Cape May in the fall.

 

199 Steps…But Who’s Counting

Photo 1. Cape May Lighthouse
For the best view of the cape, head for the Cape May Lighthouse, located at Cape May Point State Park. If you climb the 199 steps to the top you might end up out of breath, but you won’t be disappointed. Circle the outer walkway at the top of the lighthouse and you’ll see the Jersey Cape where the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay meet. As you look out toward the beach you’ll be rewarded with a view of an historic, but deteriorated World War II bunker. During the war, the southern New Jersey coastline was in danger of enemy invasions and attacks from hostile warships. As a result, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the bunker which contained heavy artillery and was manned by naval gunnery crews.

 

Watch Out for the Hawks
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Take a moment to stroll around Cape May Point State Park where you’ll discover a prime bird-watching area for fall migration. Hawks heading south toward the Delaware Bay first pass over the narrow corridor of land along the Cape May peninsula. A number of trails give you a view of various ponds, coastal dunes, a marsh and forest habitats. Take the Red Trail and you’ll come upon an observation platform overlooking freshwater ponds where you’ll be able to see wading birds, swans and ducks. Different habitats including coastal dunes, the wetland marsh and the beach are accessible on the Yellow Trail. Follow the Blue Trail along the beach where you’ll have a chance to see flora and fauna as well as shore birds.

 

Concrete Lasts Forever
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A short distance from Cape May Point State Park you’ll discover two of Cape May’s historic landmarks. Take Sunset Boulevard towards the water and on your left you’ll see the World War II Fire Lookout Tower. Built in 1942, this tall concrete tower was one of 15 towers on the New Jersey and Delaware shores that were used to spot and fire upon enemy ships attempting to enter Delaware Bay during the war. This is the only free standing tower that remains today. (Check dates and times of operation.)
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Continue down Sunset Boulevard until you reach the beach. About 150 feet off the coast of Sunset Beach you’ll see the remains of the S.S. Atlantus, an experimental concrete ship. There were twelve built during World War I, but were proven impractical because of weight. In 1926, the Atlantus was to be used as a ferry dock for a proposed ferry between Cape May and Henlopen, Delaware. A storm hit and the Atlantus broke free of her moorings and ran aground, where parts of the concrete ship remain today.

 

Victorian Homes Rule
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Take a stroll or a horse-drawn carriage ride through the town’s historic district and enjoy Victorian architectural styled homes with spirited colors and gingerbread trim. Gurney Street off Beach Avenue has a number of colorful Victorian homes.

If you want to get a real taste for Victorian lifestyles, make sure you visit the Emlen Physick Estate, an 18-room Victorian house museum, built in 1879. Here you’ll see how both the wealthy and their servants lived during the late 19th century.

Need a break from history and the Victorian way of life? Wander over to the Washington Street Mall, an outdoor concourse closed to traffic. Here you’ll find everything from ice cream parlors and sidewalk cafes to art galleries and candy stores.

 

Captain Kidd and Cape May-Perfect Together
Did I mention Captain Kidd’s ties to New Jersey’s southernmost tip? The notorious pirate visited Cape May during the 17th century, long before our distinguished presidents, but not for a summer retreat. Rumor has it that Captain Kidd allegedly buried some of his stolen treasures close to the Cape May Lighthouse near a tree that came to be called Kidd’s Tree. The tree was supposed to help lead Kidd and his crew back to the buried treasures. But Kidd was captured by the British and hung. He claimed, until his death, that he buried some of his treasures in what is now Cape May Point. Unfortunately the tree was cut down in 1893 and the treasures never unearthed. One can only imagine what lurks beneath the sands at Cape May Point.

 

If You Go by Air: Philadelphia International Airport serves all major airlines and is about an hour and forty minutes to Cape May.

By Water from Delaware: The Cape May-Lewes Ferry runs daily between Cape May and Lewes, Del. Reservations recommended. (800) 643-3779. www.capemaylewesferry.com

Driving: From Philadelphia-Take the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman Bridge to Rt. 676 south. Follow signs for Rt. 42, Atlantic City. Take Atlantic City Expressway to Exit 7. Take Garden State Pkwy. south to Cape May. From New York and New Jersey-Take the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel, or the GW Bridge to the NJ Turnpike south. Get off at exit 11 and take the Garden State Pkwy. south to Cape May.

Where to stay: Montreal Inn, 1025 Beach Ave.; (609)884-7011 (right on the ocean, reduced rates; no minimum stay in October). The Mainstay Inn, 635 Columbia Ave.; (609) 884-8690 (historic bed and breakfast one block from the ocean, reduced rates weekdays in off season)

Where to Eat: The Blue Pig Tavern, 200 Congress Place; (609) 884-8422; American classic comfort food; www.caperesorts.com/restaurants/capemay/bluepigtavern; The Blue Moon Pizza; 425 Beach Avenue; (609)884-3033; gourmet, traditional and Sicilian pizza; www.bluemoonpizzanj.com

Additional Accommodations and Restaurants: www.capemaytimes.com; (Call ahead to ensure they are open during the fall)

For More Information: Concrete Ship, Sunset Beach, Sunset Boulevard; www.concreteships.org

Cape May Lighthouse, Lighthouse Ave.; www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/capemay.html

Washington Street Mall: www.washingtonstreetmall.com

Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street; www.capemaytimes.com/history/physick.htm

Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May: www.capemaychamber.com

It’s winter in the USA, but many RV travelers and campers will be crossing the country to be with family for the holidays. Here are some good winter camping tips.
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Grants, near the middle of northwestern New Mexico, is a small town on Highway I-40. KOA Grants/Cibola Sands is a Journey KOA. Since Grants is about an hour west of Albuquerque most of their guests are overnighters, tired from long drives, and they know how to cater to all their needs and desires. On check-in they gave us yummy cookies and dog biscuits for our little pal. She not only told us all about the KOA’s amenities, but also volunteered the weather report for the night and offered home-cooked dinner to be delivered to our RV!
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There are other RV parks which have offered meal delivery, but usually from Pizza places nearby. We were amazed and delighted with the many offerings from a turkey and stuffing complete Thanksgiving kind of meal, to smoked beef barbeque, to chicken strips, and lots more, and delicious pies…all home-cooked from scratch and delivered to our RV! I bet EVERYONE who stops here orders their choice and enjoys a night out, IN!
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We settled quickly into the flat, clean site (all pull-throughs with 50 amp service and free cable TV and Internet.) By the time we were all set up and had relaxed in the cool evening air (in mid-August) our hostess delivered our smoked beef dinner with apple pie alamode, which was fabulous! Watching the famous big sky and orange sunset, we ambled along the paved walking trail in the lava field beside our campground on this high desert. We travel this road often and we will definitely return to stay here over and over. Next morning we enjoyed the free continental breakfast at the office and visiting with other campers.
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Tucumcari KOA Journey is mainly for overnight New Mexico campers and has a fenced-in area for horses…a real western park with lovely cool nights in the pleasant, but hot daytime, desert air. They offer dine-in delivery service or you can eat in their dining room in the evening and breakfast in the office restaurant area. The people are so nice and helpful, and tried to fix our cable which would not work for TV, but we got some antennae stations. The park is clean and tidy, though the wood picnic tables are old and some need changing. The restrooms and laundry area are very clean. The pool is nice and the playground has some fun equipment you don’t see often, including the popular southwestern horses for kids to ride, made from tires. This is a perfect overnight stopover KOA, for which the Journey signs indicate. The nice K9 dog area has grass and there are trees throughout the park, which is not easy in desert areas.
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Travel is always an adventure and no more so than on a cruise where you are definitely not in control, as that is the responsibility of the ship’s Captain. With a Blount Small Ship Adventure you are sure to have an adventurous nature as their relatively small ships (80 passengers) traverse less traveled waterways and dock at destinations where only small ships can go. My trip aboard the Grande Caribe took me from Montreal (see Part One of this sojourn) up to Quebec, then back through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, along the trail of the Erie Canal via the New York Canal System, down the Hudson River and docking in little old New York City, after a farewell cruise by the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan while pausing at the Statue of Liberty.
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This being my first time with Blount (it has about a 50% return booking of previous passengers) I have to commend the cruise staff from Captain John Hunnewell, to the all-important Cruise director, Lisa Pontarelli, down through all the seventeen support staff of housekeeping, galley servers and the deck hands who were all cheerful and helpful day after day of my twelve day cruise. A cruise ship company can have little control over weather, or tides, but when they pay special attention to passenger service, you know you have a good company and see why Blount has such a good return booking. Blount is not so much about luxury accommodations as they are about informative and enjoyable destinations where many other cruise ships cannot go. Among other destinations my favorites (I have several favorites) include historic Hyde Park, home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the Impressive West Point academy; Cooperstown with its charming main street shops, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and nearby Fenimore Art Museum preserved in an historic house. The Grande Caribe also stopped off at the Wooden Boat Museum, the town of Troy, the Fredric Remington Art Museum and a tour of the Singer Castle. But most enjoyable was progressing at a leisurely pace along the waterway with its homes and mansions of the Thousand Islands and all along the fabled Hudson River valley. Traveling on the water gives you a tangible concept of the country’s geography and how it influenced the area’s history.
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For true marine lovers the over thirty canal locks encountered from Montreal to NYC, is illuminating. Passengers continued to marvel at these engineering mechanisms and how adept the crew and captain was at navigating through them. These relatively short pauses give one time to reflect on the communities they bolster as well as a glimpse into American culture.
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A Blount Small Ship Adventure nurtures a leisurely pace of travel. While the day is structured with a 7:30 a.m. bell to call you to an 8 a.m. breakfast, and the following lunch and dinner, you never feel rushed, even though everyone on my cruise was eager for the delicious meal times. Breakfast offers a cold buffet of fruit, yogurt cereals, as the crew serves the specialty of the morning which might be eggs benedict, fresh scrambles eggs, hot pancakes, muffins or waffles. If there is a special egg order it is gladly taken. Lunch usually consists of a soup of the day and a variety of sandwiches throughout the cruise. After a BYOB cocktail hour, dinner may start off with a salad, followed by an entree of the day, maybe a steak, Mahi Mahi, pasta or Game Hen. Complementary wines are served by the glass during lunch and more extensively at dinner. Of course a desert of ice cream or cake or pie tops off the meal. All meals are open seating and it’s fun to mix up your dining partners, or cling to the congenial folks you like the most. The hit of any of our meals was the fresh baked variety of breads.
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As a single traveler I relished having one of the few cabins with an outside door to the walk around deck. While the sliding door often would not stay shut, when it was open during day cruising it was a joy to relax on the opposite bed with views out the door of the shoreline accented with a variety of homes and landscapes dotted with colorful autumn trees. My cabin was designed for two, and I might suggest for my tastes two persons might be one too many in any of the cabins, as elbow room in the cabins is at a premium. But such is the design of small ships. I did hear some first time passengers comment on the noise in the cabins of the individually controlled air system , the engine noise, and the challenge in taking a brief compact shower, but that has to be chalked up to part of the small ship adventure. Again, the Blount cruise is about destinations not accommodations.
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The evenings offered a formal cultural lecture in the common area, by Frederick Stonehouse, author of thirty books which made him an expert on the maritime history we were experiencing. A personable gentleman who was just as interesting when joining him during the informal family styled meals. Other evenings there was on board entertainment. The best perhaps was the jazz trio of Skip Parsons who brought a Dixieland style to this ultimate river boat. As my trip was in late October, when children would be in school, my cruise was made up almost entirely of senior citizens. I found all the fellow travelers well informed and well-traveled. Getting to know a portion of their knowledge was an added Blount Small Ship Adventures treat.

For your specal interests sign up for email alerts and explore a variety of 2015 cruise destinations at:

http://www.blountsmallshipadventures.com/

As you can tell from the title I had a near 3 week tour of the North East which was an all-consuming adventure of over 1100 miles, 32 locks and many city visits via Blount’s Grand Caribe small cruise ship. Blount specializes in traveling where large ships cannot go and giving their guests exceptional access to destinations approachable by rivers in North America. Blount cruises are ideal for Senior citizens. (More details about my cruise in Part Two.) It’s always a good idea to arrive early for any cruise ship departure, as you’d had to miss the boat because of airline or weather delays. I did that with my 3 night stay in one of my most enjoyable city explorations in Old Montreal.
Taking the suggestion of Montreal Tourism, I stayed at the upscale boutique Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel, in the middle of historic yet modern old town. The hotel offered all the amenities expected with a flare and style for which you always wished. The dining, bar, concierge, bell men, Internet access, housekeeping and staff all were the best of the best with efficient and congenial service. Le Saint-Sulpice is indeed a pleasant and quiet oasis from your Montreal touring.
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Being my first time in Montreal, I enjoyed my morning car tour by expert guide, Ruby Roy, who showed me many Montreal iconic sights. They included the past Olympic and Expo venues, several overlook vistas of the Montreal skyline, an exposure to the variety of unique architectural styles of its neighborhoods (where the design of street lights change with each neighborhood), the Atwater Farmers market and of course topping off with a visit to the 1823 Notre-Dame Basilica (entry fee), which is only half a block from my Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel.
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It’s said that Montreal has over 6,000 restaurants, but as only having 3 days, I was pleased to accept the challenge and sample a few, most in Old Montreal and within walking distance. Many were near the main street of Old Montreal, Saint Paul Street, East and West. The street is filled with enticing upscale art galleries, shops and other businesses housed in vintage Montreal facades. At times I felt I was strolling through a European city, exhibiting its sophisticated culture. A short distance from Le Saint-Suplice is the Montreal Museum of Archeological and History, a must to see for its original foundations of Old Montreal, and to explore its history through a labyrinth of exhibition narratives. The experience of taking in their multiple image movie was a welcome diversion and informational. A real treat is the very popular museum café, Restaurant l’AArrivage. The concierge at the hotel retrieved the last table available for my noontime respite, where the food was economical and delicious along with a variety of local people watching. So as not to be disappointed reservations, even for a noon time meal, is a must at most all Montreal restaurants. My other dining pleasures included: Helena is very popular and crowded with a Portuguese style menu. Chez L’Epicier has an elegant atmosphere and food presentations which started off with a Kir Maison of sparkling apple cider, cranberry and maple, to accompany their amuse bush of a sweet macaroon and chocolate mint. This may be their “eat dessert first” philosophy. Ask for their Club Sandwich, which is a dessert of sweet delights presented as if it were a sandwich. Perhaps the best taste in all Montreal was their Roasted Butternut Squash (tasting like peaches!) with sour cream and walnut crumble.
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Osteria Venti, was again a very popular restaurant. It seems everyone in Montreal eats out all the time. The service here was congenial and I must say that they followed my Martini instructions to the letter without hesitation. It seems in Canada in particular, that martinis are stirred not usually shaken, so my detailed instruction (ice on the pond) was welcomed, as they wanted to please this customer, as they also did with my meal of oven roasted half chicken, rustic peperonata, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

You’ll need to take a taxi to Chez Ma Grosse Truie Cherie – but it was worth it to dine on their onion soup, pork tenderloin encrusted (port is their specialty), a hazel nut crème Brule, and accompany all with either an apple Martini or their special drink created by the bar tender, David, a martini of Montreal gin, herbs and a hint of maple syrup. To know that most their interior is from recycle materials including bowling alley wood made into table tops, is an added treat.
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Back at Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel your choice of breakfast dishes at the Sinclair restaurant is extensive, and who doesn’t need an early morning wake up for a full day of touring? If weather permits you might eat out on the patio, or if not, inside the enclosed terrace offering floor to ceiling windows. Having this hotel as your elegant, secure and convenient home in Old Montreal is a comfortable way to enjoy the city. There is even a Christmas shop halfway between the hotel and the Notre-Dame Basilica, and a liquor store across the street. Old Montreal…my new favorite haunt. Check out: www.tourisme-montreal.org, www.lesaintsulpice.com, www.restauranthelena.com, www.chezlepicier.com, www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/plan-your-visit/larrivage-restaurant, www.osteriaventi.com, info@blountsmallshipadventures.com.