Stephanie’s Articles

In Sicily, Dining with the Deities

Domo, and restaurant Cefalù, Sicily, ItalyStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

If I could sum up the Italian character in three words, I would say: emotive, social, gastronomic. Of course, one cannot define a culture in three words; that’s an absurdity, particularly for a country as varied and steeped in both culinary and social traditions as Italy. In the gastronomic arena, Sicily is no exception. Here, gastronomy reigns supreme from the large northeastern city of Catania to its quaint southern tip, Syracuse. And while differing vastly in size, Agrigento, sitting along the expansive southwestern coast compared with tiny Cefalù, dotting the northwestern coast, both share their generous appetites for gastronomy.



Sicily for the Magic, the Lore and the History of Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Temple of Concord, Valle die Templi in Agrigento, Sicily, ItalyStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

A month is a trickle of time to tackle Sicily’s landscape, temples, and architecture. I flew into Northwestern Sicily, next to the calm Ionian Sea  but under the feared and loved eye of the Mount Etna Volcano. I landed in Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The other two sites I visited were Syracuse and Valle dei Templi in Agrigento.


Sicily With Unpredictable Events Connecting to Chance Encounters

Benediction statue, Villa San Giovanni, Sicily, ItalyStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

Sicily to Rome by train was never on the map of my travel itinerary; then nature intervened. My flight sat on the tarmac when Etna abruptly erupted, spewing volcanic ash from Catania to Palermo, cancelling all incoming and outgoing flights for two days, or until the volcano settled down. I’d been in Sicily a month, hiked Etna on a stunning warm day, and the largest volcano in Sicily decided the hour of my one-hour flight to Rome to flex its volcanic muscle.



California Dreaming: A Nod to my Love Affair Skiing the Golden State

California Skiing, Lake Tahoe, CaliforniaStory by Stephanie Levin.

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.



Perusing Paris at Night

The Seine at sunset, Paris, FranceStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

The first time I heard “My Father” lyrics by Judy Collins: “my father always promised me we would live in France, go boating on the Seine and learn to dance,” I knew I would have a relationship with Paris. I recently dug out a photo of me on my first trip to Paris, posing on the ledge bordering the Seine, legs crossed, hair twisted up French style. I could not foresee then that I would live in France for some years and, upon each return, fall more passionately in love with Paris.


Corsica Rond Point and the Stick Shift Saga

Twingo car rental, CorsicaStory 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.)

Ski Town USA© nurtures Olympic medal winners in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Howelson Hill, Ski town USA©, Steamboat Springs, ColoradoStory by Stephanie Levin with ski-jump photos by Rory Clow.

Travel is always filled with surprises, especially over beer and conversation on a soft summer night. Per habit in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, also known as Ski Town USA©, no matter the season, the conversation eventually drifts toward skiing and the town’s Olympian competitors. Someone asked if I had taken the Olympic Tour. When I said no, all heads spun around like tops and in unison said, “It is not to be missed!”



Leonard Cohen–author, songwriter, lyricist, and poet (1934-2016) inspired, captivated, and illuminated generations of artists and audiences around the globe; his baritone voice and mythical lyrics touched the prosaic psyche and soul with his mind.  Cohen was strongly influenced by his life experiences, and his childhood in Montreal, the town where he grew up, was educated and would return to dip into the spiritual fountain that distinguished his lyrics and the man himself.



A Retrospective of Feminist Artist Judy Chicago Opens Its Tour in San Francisco

Remember The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s eponymous multimedia instillation, her 36 x 575 x 576-inch masterpiece the public wasn’t quite ready to digest in 1979? Crafted by hundreds of volunteers over a five-year period, and to a resounding success at its opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Dinner Party was subsequently scorned elsewhere, derided for its imagery, dubbed “feminine craft, and panned by institutional art critics. The controversy eclipsed Chicago’s vast body of work for decades.



Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Fish Creek Falls, Steamboat Springs, ColoradoStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

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.


Hawaii’s Kohala Coast-Legend and Lore

Anaeho'omalu Bay, Kohala, Big Island, HawaiiStory by Stephanie Levin.

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.



Splendor in the Grass: Golden Gate Park Celebrates 150 years and you are invited to the party

Golden Gate Park, Moon Garden, San Francisco, CaliforniaStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

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.



Colonial Guanajuato, Mexico

Colonial Guanajuato MexicoStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

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.



Santa Rosa -From the Pool to the Table

Visit Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa, CaliforniaStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

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.


Paul Gauguin’s Spiritual Journey Now at the de Young Museum in San Francisco

Story and Photos by Stephanie Levin.

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.


Stepping out Solo in Paris

Le Jardin Des Pates Fraiches restaurant, Paris, France, for Stepping out Solo in Paris to dineStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.


Exploring Parisian Train Stations

Parisian Train Stations, Gare d'Est Parisian Train Station, Paris, FranceStory by Stephanie Levin

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.


Hvar Island, Jewel of the Adriatic, A village trapped in time, the jewel of Croatia's Dalmatian coastStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

If you’re traveling to Croatia, and have only time for one island, set sail to Hvar Island. The longest of the 1185 Croatian islands dotting the Adriatic Sea, Hvar Island is a feast for the senses. Vineyards abut ancient olive groves; scented pines and lavender blanket fertile hillsides; and fabled towns stake out history on limestone cliffs. Stone houses studded into the limestone hillsides, connected by small bridges that date back centuries, grace the entire island. No matter where you park yourself on the island, you’ll be enchanted……..


Miles from Nowhere is just fine in Upper Lake County

Upper Lake County, Upper Lake County, Timeless Main Street, Upper Lake, Lake County, CaliforniaStory 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.



Best Places to Kiss in San Francisco

Best places to kiss in San Francisco, Heart Sculpture, Union Square, San FranciscoStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.



The Lower Laurentians Canada

Lower Laurentians, Bases-Laurentides, CanadaStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.




My Dinner at Chez Didier

dinner at Chez Didier, Moule au fou, Eclade, a specialty of the Charente region of France,French dining with friendship on mussels, La Rochelle, FranceStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.


Impressions of Venice Then and Now

Impressions of Venice, then and now. Venice street art watercolor, Venice magic spell revealed, Venice, ItalyStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.


In Italy, a Slice of Tuscany

A slice of Tuscany, Sunset in Pogiacolle agriturisn, Tuscany, ItalyStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.


Rancho La Puerta to Enrich, Relax and Renew

Rancho La Puerta, Mexico, Patio off the dining room where many choose to relax during lunch at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California, MexicoStory and Photos by Stephanie Levin

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.




Rave Reviews for Rancho La Puerta’s La Cocina Que Canta

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.


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