My love affair with skiing began in the cradle of the San Bernardino Mountains with the first snowfall. Four of us excused ourselves from high-school classes at noon, tossed our skis in the back of an old woody wagon, and headed up the two-lane road to Snow Valley, praying the snowplow had done its job and chains for the tires wouldn’t be required. Pulling over and putting on chains cut into our precious afternoon time on the mountain. Once we arrived at Snow Valley, we zipped the faded- blue nylon pants over our jeans, buckled up ski boots, and crunched through the snow with our lengthy second-hand Head skis, replete with funky bindings you’d find in a museum today. Ski gondolas were an item of the future, so we coupled up on the double chair lift, which capitulated us to the top of the mountain.
Story by Stephanie Levin.Let me put my domestic and international driving record into perspective: it’s perfect. My foray into driving began with the family stick shift bouncing up the block until I got the hang of the clutch and gear coordination. Subsequently, all my cars have been powerful little manual gears. There’s a connection with a stick shift you cannot obtain with an automatic. I love the regulation of speed, the windows rolled down, the breeze flirting with my imagination whether I’m downshifting through traffic-choked Mexico City, desolate Moroccan roads, or ripping around rond-points in Paris. Simply said, why any driver would opt for an uneventful automatic over a stylish stick shift is beyond me. That is until I recall my Corsica Rond Point and the Stick Shift Saga. (Rond-point is a roundabout.)
Like many people in 2021, I chose domestic over international travel, open space over urban centers. Steamboat Springs, Colorado, was the perfect choice-pristine countryside, blue skies, and enough to do to peak my activity barometer.
My usual route to Steamboat Springs was a short flight to Denver, a car rental accompanied by a scenic three-hour drive wending through some of the prettiest countries in Northwestern, Colorado, replete with panoramic views of peaks and meadows before descending into Rabbit Ears Pass. The eroded large rock towers resemble rabbit ears, and the pass opens into the mountain resort of Steamboat Springs. Due to Covid this last year, car rentals were as scarce as silver dollar coins, so I flew to Hayden, Steamboat Springs airport, 30 minutes from Steamboat Springs. My brother retrieved me, but there are daily busses that go to and from the airport.
Seated at the southernmost tip of the Hawaiian Archipelago, the Big Island, Hawaii, is a magnet for individuals seeking geographical diversity and a whir of activities. The 4,028 square mile land mass (twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined) offers a tapestry of terrain ranging from wet rain forest on the windward Hamakua Coast juxtaposed by miles of chunky volcanic rock on the dry leeward Kohala Coast.
San Francisco’s gorgeous gal, Golden Gate Park celebrates her 150th birthday in April. Like many in the Bay Area, I have an intimate relationship with the park, roaming her hidden trails, sniffing and whiffing her medicinal treasures, gazing across the Moon Garden flanked by seasonal fuchsia-flecked camellia blooms and powdery pink cherry trees, each rosy and ripe in the spring, naked and lonely in the winter. Indifferent to the seasons, I never miss a chance to sprint across one of the Botanical Garden’s vast apple green lawns only to be surprised that one abuts massive grandfather redwoods, the entrance to the Redwood Forest, and home to some of the oldest trees in the park. But I digress, have gotten ahead of time, and must take you back 150 years ago to the inception of Golden Gate Park.
To arrive at night in colonial Guanajuato, Mexico is to be swept up in the lively energy that pulsates through this vibrant colonial city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guanajuato is located in the central highlands of Mexico. Sunrise claims a different view of Guanajuato. A palette of primary colors- terra-cotta abuts lapis azure, splashes of cobalt and lime vie for the eye of colonial architecture and small square houses that reside side-by-side.
Like a beacon of good will that is anchored in the history of a bygone era, the Flamingo Hotel Spa and Conference Center, located in Santa Rosa, California, has been welcoming guests since 1957. Two years after it opened, word sifted south to Hollywood and “those in the know” traveled north to stay in the famed hotel. Today this historic landmark has retained old-world charm with 21st Century modernity. Located in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, travelers, families, weekend escapees and conferences attendees mingle over breakfast, swim in the enormous outdoor L-shaped pool, lounge in the garden Jacuzzi, or treat themselves to spa, tennis or dining – literally from the pool to the table. As I relaxed outside under a dreamy spacious sky, surrounded by sycamore and cedar trees, a sense of well-being and contentment sifted over me.
French painter and Post-Impressionist, Paul Gauguin, cultivated and inhabited two images, one a sensitive artist, the other a self-imposed outcast, and in Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey, currently on exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, (November 17, 2018-April 7, 2019) the viewer experiences Gauguin’s spiritual journey through both his paintings and sculptures. The exhibit, which includes paintings, wood carvings and ceramics are from the renowned Ny Glypotek collection in Copenhagen.
Traveling alone for a woman affords multiple advantages: she meets people she would never mingle with when traveling with a companion, she depends on herself for all decisions from where to hang her hat to switching itinerary mid-trip, no discussion. There are small courteous conversations that erupt spontaneously over a painting, the weather, politics and this summer over the World Cup. Yet, when lunch or dinner time arrives, what comes to mind is clinking glasses of wine, romance, toes touching under the table, or starry-eyed couples in love.
I’m often miffed that tourists prefer air to train travel once inside Europe, especially in Paris with its beautiful Parisian train stations. Typically, airports are a goodly distance from city centers, expensive by taxi, and oh la la, those airport lines. My preference whenever possible is train travel, not simply for the high-speed trains, which don’t exist in the United States, but also for the history and intrigue of the actual stations . Since I park myself in Paris every summer, I’ve discovered Parisian train stations offer convenience, economy and art and have come to appreciate some of the most intriguing train stations in the City of Lights.
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.
“It’s in his kiss, that’s where it is.” Yes, indeed, that zingy sensation causing our hearts to turn somersaults is in a kiss. And if you’re lucky enough to be in San Francisco for Valentine’s Day, the romantic city where Tony Bennett left his heart, here’s eight of the best places to kiss.
Warning! This is not a quiz. But if you’re not from Canada, or your geographical antenna isn’t pointed toward Quebec, the Lower Laurentians might bypass your radar screen, and that would be too bad, particularly for the traveler who thrives on unassuming pristine landscapes, sporting adventures, family farms and wide-open spaces.
It’s never about food. It’s about the people who share your table, who invite you into the beautiful blessing of friendship, the profoundly social urge to share, a small mitzvah of psychological well being. I didn’t fully grasp this concept until I moved to France; and even then, my American habit of adamantly requiring advance notice in lieu of spontaneity dictated dining, causing culinary chaos in my new marriage. “It’s not about the food; it’s the company,” my husband reprimanded. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my husband greeted me at the train station in La Rochelle, all smiles, a sack of mussels and an announcement: we would be having dinner in the backyard of our friend’s home, Chez Didier, for my birthday. “C’est pas vrai!” I quipped, eyeballing the mussels.
My last memory of Venice was as a 21 year old, running to catch a train with a backpack the size of my body molded to my spine. Too young, and too inexperienced a traveler, the magic spell Venice casts over first time arrivals completely washed over me. Now, decades later, I have returned to Venice, a seasoned traveler, a much older woman traveling alone with eyes and senses wide open, and as I enter the island on the Alilaguna boat from the airport, the immensity and expansiveness of Venice far surpass the impressions an eye or film can capture. The domes and cupolas asserting their architectural puissance, the palette of terra cotta and sunset colored palaces are a testament to the heart and soul that define Venice.
When Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun, became an overnight success, traveling to Tuscany became De rigueur. But with an aversion to following crowds, I circumvented Italy in my travels. Then a year ago, I would wake up in sweat dreaming about Italy; I dabbled in Italian, and listened to opera. Eventually, I bought a ticket to Italy fully aware I was not going to have a Frances Mayes experience-no Italian lover whisking me off for a brief tryst, nor a perfect villa with a view of paradise. Yet, as Italy beckoned like a languid lover, I sensed the land, or perhaps the people would offer something I hadn’t yet experienced in my travels. Tuscany did not disappoint.
Located at the base of mystical Mount Kuchumaa range, Rancho La Puerta defies definition. Some hail it a holistic healing environment; others define it as a bounty of beauty and relaxation, and those who sojourn yearly simply refer to it as “the Ranch.” La Puerta means door in Spanish, and the moment one wends through the mix of intoxicating beauty–meadows carpeted with fragrant flowers, giant oaks flanking perfectly placed pathways and velvety, verdant lawns–you realize that you have walked through a door like no other; a cherished experience you want to tuck into your suitcase and carry home.
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.