Posts from the “travel” Category

HIGGINS BEACH five reasons to book your getaway

featured1. It’s a trip back in time. Higgins Beach has the quaint flavor of a bygone era. Charming houses, just like Grandma used to have, line the shore. Kids ride scooters in the streets. Folks leave their front doors open and everyone is right neighborly. You can stroll to Higgins Beach Market  for ice cream and a dozen eggs. Enjoy the view from your waterfront rental  or third floor room of The Breakers Inn. Or just do a whole lot of nothing – that’s ok, too.

Homer's Studio

Homer’s Studio

2. Its artsy history. About a mile south of Higgins Beach is Prout’s Neck, where Winslow Homer painted some of his most famous masterpieces. You can visit the historic studio where it all happened (be sure to reserve well in advance) then grab lunch at the Black Point Inn.  Just north of Higgins Beach is Portland Head Light, immortalized by Edward Hopper in his 1927 painting.

Hopper's "Portland Headlight"

Hopper’s “Portland Headlight”


Fore Street

Fore Street

3. It’s ten minutes from foodie heaven. There’s a rumor going around these parts that Portland has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. It’s hard to confirm, but let’s just say that food is a big deal here. The James Beard Awards just named Fore Street  an Outstanding Restaurant Semifinalist, and “farm-to-table” and “local” are the most common adjectives on most Portland menus. Find a restaurant to suit your taste in the Portland Press Herald Food Guide.




4. Your kids will forget the iPad exists. Every morning, they’ll be itching to get to the beach pronto. The tide at Higgins Beach is ever-changing and there’s always something new to discover, so kids of all ages will never get bored. At low tide, rocky tide pools emerge filled with rainbow colors of seaweed, hermit crabs, urchins, sea snails, and barnacles, and other critters. Giant puddles get warm in the hot sun and beckon little toes. The crescent-shaped beach stays shallow for yards, and the waves are usually tame enough for younger kids to tackle.


courtesy The Hyde Restaurant

courtesy The Hyde Restaurant

5. Lobstah. If the lobster police catch wind that you’ve failed to eat at least one lobster during your stay in Maine, they may lock you up with the rest of the landlubbers. Luckily the Portland area has plenty of spots to crack a few claws. My personal favorites: The Lobster Shack  in Cape Elizabeth for eating in, or take out at Docks Seafood in South Portland. Dipped in butter and accompanied by a nice potato, a steamy ear of corn and an Allagash ale – could be worse, right?


Higgins Beach sunset, courtesy flickr

Higgins Beach sunset, courtesy flickr


ROME it’s just better with a guide





I just got back from spending seven days in Rome.

It wasn’t my first time there – I had been twice before and enjoyed seeing all the usual suspects like the Colosseum, the Vatican City, and the Trevi Fountain.

But this time felt like the first time, for one simple reason: I got some help getting off the beaten path.

I’ve never been on a guided tour before, mostly because I’ve always had a pubescent obsession with looking like a local whenever I travel. I was strictly stealth with my maps and camera, spoke in hushed tones, and avoided sensible footwear at all times.

But now I’m all growed up and I finally understand that the joy of traveling is truly seeing without worrying about being seen (as a tourist).

Two guides in particular showed me a Rome that I never knew existed. Rome is all about its historical underbelly, about what lies beneath and between its layers of civilization. If you take the time to peel them back, you begin to grasp that Rome is a work of art in progress, an ongoing morphing masterpiece.

Just as the ancient Romans integrated most of the cultures they conquered, modern day Rome is a crazy intertwixt of old and new, ancestors and inhabitants, food and wine, art and architecture. Everywhere you look there’s a reminder that this city has stood for millennia, and it profoundly changes the way you think about time – and your place in it.

If you can swing the extra cost of hiring a guide, I guarantee you’ll get an exponential return on your investment.

These are the guys that transformed my trip from very cool to truly awesome…and some of their favorite Roman nooks and crannies.

Chris at Roscioli Salumeria

Chris at Roscioli Salumeria

Chris from Wine & Food of Rome has a dual degree in European History and Religious Studies, and it serves him well. He’s a virtual search engine for facts and dates, but also for rich cultural context. Despite his pedigree, his style was casual and he welcomed all our questions as we wended our way through the city streets. (Okay, full disclosure here: Chris is my brother. But I’m totally objective about how talented he is – I swear.)

  • The food at Hostaria da Pietro is not even the same species of that which passes for “Italian” in the U.S. Chris asked them to just bring us whatever was fresh that day, and it was absurdly delicious. The waiter treated us like his long-lost famiglia and showed us photos of his newborn daughter. It was that kind of place.
  • I’ve done a few wine tastings in my day, but sommelier extraordinaire Alessandro at Roscioli Wine and Food Tasting takes it to another level. We tasted upwards of a dozen Old World wines paired with generous morsels of burrata cheese, pecorino romano, specialty prosciuttos and house-made spicy rigatoni.

    Villa Borghese gardens

    Villa Borghese gardens

  • "Apollo and Daphne" by Bernini

    “Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini

    We spent hours at the Villa Borghese,  the 148-acre former estate of 16th century cardinal Scipione Borghese. After strolling the magnificent gardens (now a public park) we toured the gallery filled with Ancient Roman mosaics, exquisite Bernini sculptures, and paintings by Titian and Raphael.

  • There are more than 900 churches in Rome. We only saw a fraction of them, but my favorite was Santa Maria degli Angeli. The church’s crumbling ruin of an exterior belies the grandeur inside – so symbolic of Rome’s tradition of not fixing stuff up too much, of celebrating its heritage and imperfect beauty.

    Santa Maria degli Angeli

    Santa Maria degli Angeli


Evan in action

Evan in action

Evan from Rome Illuminated has almost a decade of experience as a guide. He had dramatic flair and infectious enthusiasm as he effortlessly ushered us through his highlights of modern-day Rome. He also had an amazing ability to paint a picture of the sights, smells and sounds we may have encountered on a trip to Ancient Rome.

Caravaggio "The Calling of St Matthew"

Caravaggio “The Calling of St Matthew”

  • My second favorite church was San Luigi dei Francesi, mostly because it has three amazing Caravaggio masterpieces in it. Evan brought the paintings to life, pointing out subtle details and giving us the stories behind them.
  • We thought we were going into the Teatro Valle for a quick peek, but Evan managed to score us a grand tour of its innards. We climbed the rafters, got a bird’s eye view of the set pulleys and the backstage. Built in 1726, the theater was shut down in 2010 due to budget cuts, but was soon occupied by directors and
    Teatro Valle

    Teatro Valle

    performers who still stage regular productions. This Roman passion has spurred other grassroots movements all over Europe to save old art institutions.

  • We wrapped our tour with an aperitivo with a view – Evan called ahead to reserve a table on the terrace of Hotel Raphael . Arriving just as the last of the daylight faded and the city panorama was illuminated by hazy pink streetlights, we raised our Negronis and drank a toast – to our speedy return to Rome.

    Terrace at Hotel Raphael

    Terrace at Hotel Raphael


What are your favorite Roman hotspots?




MANKA’S LODGE – Inverness, Ca

Three nights is ideal if you can swing it.

The first 24 hours of your stay at Manka’s, you’re too busy being blown away by the food, the accommodations, the views, and the blaring hush of the Tomales Bay region.

The second night you’re so steeped in relaxation that every fiber of your being starts to unfurl.

If you can somehow spare a third night, well, that’s just a rare decadence in this wound up and wired world of ours.

Manka’s Lodge is nestled in a truly alternate universe one hour north of San Francisco. Inverness is a sensual tapestry of muted greens and greys, serene bay views, rolling hills, wildlife and the occasional charming cottage.

If you’re in the mood, there’s plenty to do here – kayak excursions, hikes, cheese tasting, farm tours, beach to explore. And the handful of top-drawer restaurants nearby such as Nick’s Cove and Saltwater Oyster Depot can provide a prime culinary experience.

But really, if you want the truth, there’s no excessively convincing need to leave Manka’s. A piping fresh breakfast basket is included each morning of your stay. And you can order chef-owner Margaret Grade’s exquisite in-room dinner service, where reading the menu is almost as pleasing as eating the meal. Your provisioning is complete with a strategic stop at the local Cowgirl Creamery to stock up on cheese and biscuits to pair with the wine you tucked into your overnight bag.



Each of the various accommodations at Manka’s has its own personality and amenities: fireplace, soaking tub, outdoor shower, iPod, comfy beds. If you book the Boatman’s quarters, be prepared to plant yourself permanently at the cozy window seat and contemplate blades of wild grass, wisps of fog, and ripples on the bay.

Everything about Manka’s nudges you to slow down and drink in the mellow (and maybe some Skywalker Pinot along with it). Book it now and start working on your excuse for missing Monday morning’s meeting.

What is your favorite weekend retreat?


THE POWER OF STORY – The MOTH on Martha’s Vineyard

I’ve never thought much about storytelling. I can spin a decent yarn on paper, but don’t ask me to tell a story in person. I fluster and flummox, incapable of delivering the basic facts or (god forbid) a punch line. I’ve never considered my life in terms of stories – just clumps of events, thoughts, compulsions, relationships and biological necessities.

All of that changed last month when I discovered the subtly subversive subculture of The Moth. The Moth is an “acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Since its launch in 1997, the Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.”

I happened to be on Martha’s Vineyard when The Moth came to town a few weeks ago. The live storytelling event was held in a small chapel. I had no idea what to expect when I went in, but I was surprised and changed when I came out.

That evening, I heard stories from six decidedly different people, from the “fame-ish” former children’s TV star struggling with his true identity to the eighty-year-old murder-mystery author relearning how to love.

Each story was limited to 10 minutes, but the clock was the farthest thing from my mind. Time and space fell away and nothing existed but me and the storyteller. I could not tear away my eyes and ears. I didn’t even want to sneeze or scratch for fear of missing something.

Suddenly I felt deeply connected to these people that I had “nothing” in common with.  The illusion of separation evaporated. The assumption of difference disappeared. And we were all just a bunch of people in a room with stories to hear and stories to tell. The details of these stories may be unique, but the themes are universal.

The next day I signed up for a week-long The Moth for Writers workshop that was offered as part of the roving Moth event. Once again, I didn’t really know what to expect, I just felt an overwhelming compulsion to participate. There were eight writers in the group from various literary disciplines and persuasions.

Over the course of the week, it became apparent that we were all feeling the same way: freaked out to high-heaven, but determined to push our envelopes and mine our internal story-laden caverns.

I was under the impression that we’d have an opportunity to present our stories at the end of the week, not an obligation. I assumed my story wouldn’t be worth telling. But as time passed I realized that I owed it – out loud – to myself, to the others in the group, and to whoever might be listening.

On the last day of the workshop, we all got up and told our stories. In front of a microphone. On a stage with nice lighting. Not for pretense or fanfare, but to elevate our sense of doing something meaningful. And for just a moment, we let everyone in the room behind the curtain.

We told of first communions and unrequited love. Childhood shame and family drama. Excruciating loss and staggering growth. Stories of realization, integration and transformation. Pretty big stuff for a little five-minute story.

Since then, I’ve tried to listen to one Moth story every day. It’s like a daily prescription for perspective and hope. A handy reminder of our shared humanity.

Catch The Moth Story Hour on Public Radio, download the podcasts, or find live events in your area. You might even surprise yourself by submitting your own story for consideration…


CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE – two hotels in the heart of paris

Montalembert Terrace

The dilemma: You’re planning a getaway to the city of light, but the Hotel Costes is eternally booked and Le Crillon is dazzling but slightly stuffy. The solution: two Left Bank hotels that are the antidote to the standard too-la-la Parisian luxury fare.

Tucked into two corners of the celebrated St Germain quarter, the Hotel Bel Ami and the Hotel Montalembert are within walking distance of such essential points of interest as the literary cafes of the Latin Quarter, the galleries and designer shops near Boulevard St Germain, and the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay.

You may hear a lot of English spoken in the lobbies, but it is because these boutique gems are popular with Americans that they boast friendly staffs and – pas possible! – such elusive amenities as 24-hour room service.

Bel Ami Bar

Bel Ami Bar

With its minimalist design and relaxed attitude, the Hotel Bel Ami is a study in modern luxury. The interactive lobby rolls out the welcome mat with comfy couches, shelves of well-loved books, two slick computer workstations and an adjacent espresso bar.

Bel Ami Room

Bel Ami Room

Downstairs in the breakfast room Cafe, guests can join a sunny congregation of hip, young cosmopolites and enjoy a sumptuous, decidedly un-continental breakfast buffet. Rooms are generous by Parisian standards, decorated in soothing, saturated colors. All part of the Bel Ami’s implicit invitation to take off your shoes and stay awhile.

Montalembert Lobby

Montalembert Restaurant

The Hotel Montalembert has long been the darling of interior designers and fashion editors. Recently refurbished mostly mod, it happily retains many details revealing its rich history as a retreat for writers and artists. Take a ride up in the original 1926 iron Rococo-style elevator, but send your luggage up with the bellman, because it’s built for two! Most guest rooms are equally cozy and utterly charming. And the rich, cocoa-colored marble bathrooms are oases of design perfection.

The Montalembert’s new Bar and Grill, with a fresh and healthy take on gourmet fusion, is a destination restaurant scene for locals and visitors alike – with a private salon for those who want to see without being seen.