Living in, or visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, we are blessed with the boundless beauties of nature. Water, landscapes and terrain create splendid views on a daily basis. Seasonal changes bring puffy white clouds in winter to foggy mists in summer. Whatever the season, Marin Headlands at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge brings breath stopping vistas, good cardio-hikes and most of all, a complete escape from everyday concerns. Early morning or late afternoon before sunset, the land is still. It’s a place of constant change, of solace and stimulation, at once an escape from reality and an immersion into wonder.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. On the Grand Canal of Venice if you look carefully, you will see -–almost hidden, overshadowed as it is by the multi-storied palatial homes along that waterway – a low white stone palazzo that belies the treasures held within. This was the home of Peggy Guggenheim, an American heiress and art collector who single-handedly saved modern art. Peggy Guggenheim is known for her art collection and her outrageously unconventional life. Many have called her risqué, a term with which she would most likely agree. If Peggy Guggenheim had lived in our time, she would be the ideal candidate for a reality TV series—her expertise, her “shoot from the hip” dialogue and colorful personal lifestyle meant scandals stuck to her like paint on a canvas. Case in point: In the prim 50s, Peggy needed no beau to escort her into Harry’s Bar for an evening cocktail. At her beck and call was her own private gondola propelled by her personal gondolier. He would ferry her along the canal and wait dockside while she savored a cocktail and took in the evening sunset: “If anything can rival Venice in its beauty, it must be its reflection at sunset in the Grand Canal.” Peggy Guggenheim.
On an island in a shallow lagoon, Venice came to dominance by sea power and now the power of the sea is threatening its very existence. My wife and I arrived in Venice two weeks before the catastrophic Acqua Alta (high water) tides that submerged Saint Mark’s square under more than five feet of water. The rushing sea wrought havoc with local merchants, restaurateurs and hostlers and damaged priceless works of art in Saint Mark’s Basilica. Vladmiro Cavagnis, a fourth generation gondolier, said: “It’s a city full of history. A history that, little by little, with water, will end up like Atlantis. People are destroyed, anguished, sad. They see a city that is disappearing.” (Alex Horton, Andrew Freedman – The Washington Post – November 15, 2019). The November 2019 flood was the worst in the 700 years of recorded history at Saint Marks Basilica. Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister, described the disaster as: “..a blow to the art of our country. While it’s still too early to quantify the extent of its havoc, chances are it will leave indelible marks.” (Marianna Cerini, CNN – November 16, 2019 ).
Athens has long been a favorite of my wife and I, especially since it was our first international trip together as a couple. Somehow every time we land in Greece, Athens is only a stopover on our way to somewhere else. But why love Athens? For us, Athens is full of lovely historic sites, wonderful ethnic foods, good local wines and great cultural diversity.
When I think of the perfect Maine getaway, Ogunquit immediately comes to mind. It’s all there, breathtaking Maine beauty, surf, sand, rocky coast line and a small artistic village. A destination worth flying to from anywhere in the US and an idyllic day trip from the Boston area, locals often refer to the village of Ogunquit and its beach as a beautiful place by the sea. For good reason. Living there, they appreciate how well the coastal salt air of the Atlantic gently cools the summer sunshine as it brings relief from inland heat waves.
Shanghai was where my Great Uncle Harry died and my Great Aunt Selma was imprisoned during World War-II. A Yangtze cruise offered my wife and I the opportunity to revisit their incredible lives. They lived in Shanghai from 1928-45, through the roaring twenties into extravagant thirties and then the 1937 Japanese invasion of World War-II. Harry didn’t survive the war, but Selma did. She lived in Laguna Beach, California to age 95 and shared her life and letters with my Aunt Connie who authored a family biography entitled “Selma’s Saga.”
Story and Photos by Lee Daley.
Note: This article was also published in the New York Times on May 17, 2019.
On a recent trip to China, I visited Black Mountain Valley, a place of untamed raw beauty full of mystery, lush vegetation and silver hued waterfalls. The two-hour drive from Chongqing on a narrow two-lane road through greenery covered mountains delivered me from one world—of airports, highways and cruise ships–to another in the midst of nature’s unplanned majesty. It felt like an act of purification.
Chongqing in China is well known worldwide as the gateway to the Three Gorges, the jumping off point for a three-day cruise on the Yangtze River. Chongqing is also renowned as the nation’s hot spring capital where those in the know can recover from a lengthy flight with a day or two of immersion in the region’s healing waters. Arriving in the city, my husband and I headed to Tong Jing Hot Springs Resort for a soothing soak in the mineral-rich waters that are only part of the perks in this idyllic landscape. Set in a tranquil bamboo forest, surrounded by natural beauty and clean air, an hour away from the busy city, we soon felt one with nature. Bliss awaited.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.
Travelers to China often tour to Beijing (one of the oldest cities in the world; the Great Wall), Xi’an (Terracotta warriors), Chongqing (Three Gorge Yangtze Cruise) and Shanghai (The Bund), but they usually miss the hidden beauty of a rest-stop resort located just outside Chongqing city. Well known to locals for centuries in the Ba-Yu region as Wuling Wonderland, Tongjing Hot Springs Resort is an award winning hot springs spa resort. Located about a half hour drive (30km/19 miles ) from the Chongqing Jiangbei International airport (CKG) near the confluence of the Yangtze and Yulin rivers, the natural hot springs and mountainous landscape of the “Small Three Gorges” are a treat for the senses and especially the tired-traveler-body. My wife and I stopped there for a little overnight restorative jetlag R&R after the long flight from the US West Coast (13 hrs.) and before a Three Gorges Yangtze River tour.
Once accessible only by sea, Mexico’s Yucatán is a place steeped in history. Here, both Mayan traditions and modern life flourish peacefully in a setting of architectural and natural beauty. Some of the most wonderful ways to experience the true Yucatan are to stay at a traditional inn, spend time with a Mayan shaman, swim in a cenote, visit a hacienda, explore ancient ruins and dine on Mayan and Mexican cuisine in a candle lighted cave. My spouse and I have just returned from a eight day intensive exploration of the highlights of an upcoming land/sea voyage with Victory Cruise Lines, colloquially dubbed the “thinking person’s cruise choice.” Our Yucatán outreach safari stretched from the Caribbean coast in the east to the Gulf of Mexico in the west in this first of the cruise line’s five land and sea forays into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
Taking a page from Anthony Bourdain: “Travel is not reward for working, it’s education for living.” For me, who had never visited the Yucatán, my notions of luxury beach resorts or dense jungles filled with vine-encrusted Mayan pyramids and relics of lost civilizations needed some travel-education. As I found out, neither notion was completely correct and there is a lot more than just archeology and beaches in the Yucatán. My wife and I opted for a wide-ranging Yucatán immersion cruise-safari offered by Victory cruise line. Our Yucatán outreach safari took us from the Caribbean in the east across the full width of the Yucatán peninsula to the Gulf of Mexico in the west.
You’ll find no better way to round out a trip to Cape Town than to ramble out to the Cape Winelands. Less than an hour’s drive away, the countryside offers a welcome counterpoint to Cape Town’s urban vibe. Three Cape Winelands villages- Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl–form the ideal triumvirate for exploration and tastings. Besides great weather and gorgeous mountains, there are spectacular examples of Cape Dutch architecture and fertile valleys ripe with scented orchards and vineyards. Each village is a world unto itself, offering a diverse network of well-marked, tree-lined wine trails. Most wine lovers know that cool weather combined with foggy conditions helps to cultivate enviable wines with character and fruitiness. South Africa’s Cape Winelands delivers this dynamic duo in spades thanks to maritime influences from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.
This is the third article in a series entitled “Road to Machu Picchu.” My wife and I thought our visit to Peru was a once in a lifetime experience but the experience may have changed our minds. We began our visit to the Inca Sacred Valley in Cusco. While there, we went to the COSITUC main office and obtained tourist tickets to all 16 archaeologic sites and museums including the ticket needed to gain entrance to Machu Picchu. In the first article (Cusco to Pisac – Part One) we talked about our drive from Cusco through Chincero and Urubamba, to reach our destination for the night in Pisac. In Part Two we experienced the high Andes culture in Pisac’s Sunday market and explored the Inca Intihuatana and gateway to the Amazon at Kantas Ray. In this final article I cover our journey by car to Ollantaytambo and from there by train to Aquas Calientes which lies in the river valley directly below Machu Picchu. It is the departure point for buses to Machu Picchu.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo
In Cusco, Peru (elevation 11,152 ft.): As we walked into the hotel lobby, Javier, the manager, greeted us in excellent English, “how was your flight from Lima?” I answered, “Fine, just a few bumps and an amazing view as we landed.” “Yes, the valley is beautiful this time of year but a month ago everything was very green. The view from our rooftop garden is very good. Will you have some tea? We recommend a special tea to help with the altitude.” My wife asked, “what’s in it” thinking it might be caffeinated. “Just coca leaves to help with the altitude sickness.” My scientist brain was quickly thinking, how much cocaine might be in coca leaves and how it might affect me. “Sure, I’ll try it.”…..
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. In Croatia, aboard the Katarina Line Futura: As we watched deckside, our small cruise ship anchored alongside the Dalmatian Coast shore of Brac Island and its Golden Horn Beach, known as one of Europe’s most beautiful. Holding just 38 passengers, the Futura’s compact size fits into ports large ships can’t handle. Our eager group of sunbathers easily disembarked and clambered aboard small boats for the short ride to the coast line’s golden sands. Once ashore, my companion and I decided to meander. Sunbathing could come later.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo. “There are more than a thousand Croatian islands in the Adriatic sea” our Katarina Line cruise director told us, “but we only have time to visit Korčula, Hvar and Brac. For more, you have to come back.” By the end of our short four night cruise, that is exactly what my wife and I hope to do – and hopefully soon. Spectacular white clouds filled the sky. Tranquil turquoise ocean water welcomed swimmers. Sparkling sandy beaches lured sun-bathers. Ancient Venetian forts and old cities with narrow cobblestone lanes beckoned walkers. Fine dining, fresh seafood and wonderful Plavac Mali; (Croatian pronunciation- [plǎːʋat͡s mǎli]), red, and Pošip, white, wines tickled and warmed the palate – what’s not to like?
Story and photos by Lee Daley. For a soul soothing stay in San Miguel de Allende, Hotel Matilda, the “hotel different,” is an eye-opener. When you travel to a Mexican colonial city that has been designated a World Heritage Site, you might expect to stay in a well-preserved restored mansion turned hotel. And, in San Miguel, you would have your choice of some of Mexico’s finest examples of Baroque and Neoclassical architecture.The city’s historic center is filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, many lovingly restored.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo. On a recent Katarina Line cruise of Croatian discovery, we learned that wine makers in the Dalmatian Islands have left an indelible mark on the fine wines produced in California, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. Remarkably, throughout wars, conquest and droughts, the islands of the Adriatic Sea, (East of Italy and South of the Alps), have produced fine wines for 2,500 years. Galleys and sailing ships transported that wine up and down the Mediterranean throughout Greek (500BC) and Roman times well into the 14th century. Greek writer Athenaeus wrote 18 centuries ago about the high quality of Croatian wine especially those coming from the islands of Hvar and Korčula.
Story by Lee Daley with photos by Lee Daley and John Sundsmo. “Where are we eating next?” became the favorite game my husband and I played during our brief four-night cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau aboard Holland America Line Nieuw Amsterdam. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at sea gave us ample opportunity to sample the offerings of the Holland America Line kitchen and the ambience of its restaurants. Our cruise included two outings on land; one on Half Moon Cay, a private island owned by Holland America and the other a stop in port at Nassau. Except for lunch in those two ports, we hopscotched from one on-board eatery to the next. And in almost a dozen meals at sea, we never met with disappointment.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. Traveling from Hanoi to Saigon during the month of December, a time of warm and balmy weather, I felt completely immersed in the diverse culture of Vietnam as soon as I arrived. My travel companion and I used Hanoi and Saigon as bases, fanning out into the countryside for side trips. This juxtaposition of city and country vastly enriched our cultural immersion. No sooner had our spirits overdosed on a city’s vibrant and vivacious street life, than the laconic landscape of the countryside provided a calming counterpoint. (http://www.epicureandestinations.com/immersed-in-the-diverse-culture-of-vietnam )
Story by Carol Canter with photos by Carol Canter and Jack Heyman. On a Mekong River cruise, we meandered along Asia’s “Mother River,” from Vietnam into Cambodia in late March aboard the AmaDara, visiting floating markets and riverside villages where houses rise on stilts. We moored overnight in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city once considered the “Pearl of the Orient.” Along the way we passed fishing boats of every stripe, fruit orchards and fish farms, pagodas and rice paddies–all sustained by the ebb and flow and unparalleled biodiversity of Southeast Asia’s longest river. Even as we ventured forth to visit a glorious gilded palace, historic Buddhist monastery, and small craft workshops producing silk, copper, candy or woven rattan mats, we relished the return to the air-conditioned comfort of our beautiful AmaDara, greeted with a chilled hand towel and a cold drink. AmaWaterways’ new ship–its woodwork gleaming and staterooms spacious–was launched in mid-2015 to cocoon its 124 passengers in comfort on a seasonal 7-Night Mekong River cruise between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Siem Reap (gateway to Angkor Wat), on journeys billed as “Vietnam, Cambodia and the Riches of the Mekong.” Rich it was.
Drive a few hours north of downtown San Francisco and a different world awaits. On a recent weekend getaway, my city stress lessened and lessened, almost in layers, and finally just plain disappeared once my amble north landed in the land of lakes, aptly named Lake County. With dormant winter chill now giving way to warmer, sunnier days, I found a haven of rolling hillsides and emerald green valleys nestled in the grandeur of mountainsides. Grape vines and trees are just starting to open their buds, lake fishing looks good and goats in the valleys are having their kids. (http://epicureandestinations.com/lake-county-northern-californias-sweet-spot/)
Story and Photos by Stephanie Levin. We, who live in the Bay Area, have a tendency to boast about our place on the planet. You know the hype: great chefs, culinary creativity, culture galore, three recycling bins, green bike lanes, entitlement…need I continue? To escape all this glamour, I’m constantly scouting for a weekend escape to settle myself, simplify my senses, get away from it all. Alas, Upper Lake County, cloaked in natural splendor and grace with just enough elegance rubbing elbows with salt of the earth people, is that place.
By John Sundsmo. The catchy logo of Mendocino County, “Find Your Happy,” was on display at the recent Taste of Mendocino held at San Francisco’s Fort Mason. With vintners, fresh press olive oils, craft whiskey, goat cheeses, gourmet appetizers, coffee and luxurious resorts all competing for my attention, I soon found myself feeling quite happy. The venue provided a good opportunity to review some fine Mendocino County wines and upcoming events. In the interest of sharing the Mendocino “Happy” vibe, what follows is a list of some Taste of Mendocino participants (with links), along with wine tasting destinations and a short calendar of upcoming events in Mendocino County. Hopefully, with the following tips, you too will “Find your Happy in Mendocino County.”
Story and Photos by Stephanie Levin. Snippets of independent, quiet conversations from our little band of hikers erupted as an umbrella of oak trees narrowed to a dirt trail that ascended, descended, twisted and ascended again before leveling out. I had signed on for the pre-dawn two-mile hike up to La Cocina Que Canta, translated as “The Kitchen That Sings,” Rancho La Puerta’s organic garden and cooking school. I’d never actually hiked anywhere before the sun came up; in fact, I don’t like to get up before sunrise, but the opportunity to enjoy breakfast at La Cocina Que Canta with ingredients from the renown organic garden was too irresistible to pass up. As the hike progressed, the serenity, the crunch of our shoes on the dirt, the aroma of sages, salvias and shrubs peaked my senses. I scanned the eastern sky as the sunrise yawned awake. ( http://epicureandestinations.com/rave-reviews-rancho-la-puertas-la-cocina-que-canta )
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. “Come. Taste my wines and experience the glory of Greece.” So said Georgós Zanganas, company founder of Georgós Nu Wines. And so our small group of wine lovers gathered in San Francisco to listen to the myths and taste the wines made from grapes organically grown and fermented in Greece on family land. We dined on complimentary bites accompanied by tastings of his five premium varietals, each symbolically named for iconic Greek islands and gods. I was fascinated with the homage given to the gods of Georgós homeland as much as I savored the uniquely palatable tastings. ( http://epicureandestinations.com/mythological-wine-tasting-georgos-nu-wines/)
Story and Photos by Lee Daley.
What is it about the Greek island of Santorini that captivates all who visit? It’s easy to credit its beauty to the shimmering blue Aegean, the drama of its white washed cube dwellings built atop one another, clinging to the cliff side, some even built cave-like into it. But inexplicably, it’s much more than that. One has only to wander for a day along the winding pathway above the caldera in the village of Oia to sense the fundamental union of elements at play.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. Approaching Palm Springs, that desert oasis nestled between two mountains–the Santa Rosa to the south and the San Jacinto to the west—I knew a treat was in store. The scent of sagebrush carried on the wings of clean desert air stimulated my senses. Feeling calm and rejuvenated, I soon realized this destination deserved many more returns. Whether in search of sybaritic spas, outdoor adventure, night life, art and culture, fine dining or a resort pool, Palm Springs seems to cover it all. After spending a day in the desert and another at the magnificent Palm Springs Art Museum, I explored the lively dining scene in town. (http://epicureandestinations.com/palm-springs/ )
When I sat down to watch the film, “The Danish Girl,” I had no idea it would inspire me to travel to Copenhagen where I would walk the cobbled streets and explore the same Old Town waterfront where the film’s fated artistic couple lived during the 1920s. ( http://epicureandestinations.com/copenhagen-danish-girls-footsteps/)
Story and Photos by Lee Daley.
A true Epicurean knows when to save and when to splurge and it’s easy to do both in Copenhagen, one of Europe’s most elegant cities. By seeking out free and affordable opportunities without sacrificing quality you’ll be able to set aside your Danish krone for those indispensable splurges found only in Copenhagen. Based on a recent stay, here are my top suggestions for a boundary pushing visit that won’t break the budget.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. It’s early morning and I have spent the last 10 minutes admiring the light and shadows on a small brave bush somewhere alongside the road to Furnace Creek in Death Valley, a place my husband and I have come to de-stress and transition into the new year. This is a mystical place that has long inspired artists and awe. Driving through the valley’s lunar landscape, we find ourselves slowly banishing thoughts of schedules, appointments and deadlines. What seemed like an impending crisis back home now feels like a ridiculously insignificant issue in the grandness of this other-worldly moonscape. “Oh goody,” I say, as I send one more of these annoyances out into the universe. ( http://epicureandestinations.com/death-valley/)
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. I’ve always known Pacifica’s coastline boasts just about the best and most diverse five-mile span of beaches in Northern California. I thought I knew it well. Until I extended my usual day-trip to two nights and three days in this quintessential surfer haven beach town, I had no idea how much I was missing. I soon discovered the beaches are only the beginning. (http://epicureandestinations.com/pacifica-beaches-beginning/ )
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo. As an American I never really investigated my Swedish/Norwegian/UK heritage. That all changed after a spur of the moment decision to fly to Iceland for a week. My pre-trip research told me that Iceland was colonized about 870 AD by Ingólfr Arnason, a Viking from Norway. Why I wondered, would a family uproot itself from a stable comfortable home and set out on a 900 mile voyage in an open boat to a land of ice and snow. As a child of the nuclear-holocaust-be-prepared-60s, I always wondered what tools it would take to survive in a hostile world.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo. As our plane came in for a landing at Reykjavik Keflavik International Airport on Iceland I looked out over the rocky volcanic landscape onto the unforgiving North Atlantic Ocean. From my reading of Iceland’s maritime heritage, I knew Icelanders fished year round. As a sailor I knew that a man overboard in winter had about ten minutes before losing consciousness. Having taken a fair number of risks on the water myself, I wondered what it would take to get me out in January or February aboard a frail wood Icelandic boat. Sitting comfortably in my warm airline seat, I realized only one thing – survival.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. In 2003, I traveled to Myanmar, formerly called Burma. We flew to the capital, Yangon, once called Rangoon, before journeying on to Mandalay where my traveling companion and I boarded the river boat, The Road to Mandalay.Thus began some of our most memorable days in the country. We talked with locals who often told us of their love for dissident Aung San Sui Kyi, whom they called “The Lady,” and of their desire to see Myanmar’s name restored back to Burma.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. Burma is now on many world travelers’ “A” list. With the release of Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and her subsequent triumphant election campaign, tourism to the country is at an all-time high. Decades of international isolation have left the former British colony’s major city, Rangoon, with an enduring colonial charm that has pretty much disappeared elsewhere in Asia.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. Rangoon, Burma’s bustling metropolis is like a living museum where traditional tea houses, pagodas and temples sit side by side with grand edifices like the Strand Hotel built during the days of British colonialism. Among these treasures is the 2,500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda considered the most magnificent Buddhist shrine in all of Asia. During the Colonial Era, when Rudyard Kipling sailed up the Yangon River, he wrote of his sighting of the pagoda’s golden dome upon the horizon as his vessel neared the city. That glistening stupa still dominates today, both architecturally and symbolically.
Story and Photos by Lee Daley. Approaching Punta de Mita on a bright fall day, the flawless sky a cerulean blue, I knew I was in for something special. The warm breeze felt like a caress; its clarity etched the curves of the Sierra Madre Mountains creating an epic backdrop to the famed Bay of Banderas and the valley below.