Stephanie’s Articles

 

Exploring Parisian Train Stations

Parisian Train Stations, Gare d'Est Parisian Train Station, Paris, France

Story 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 coast

Story 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, California
Timeless Main Street

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.

 

 

Best Places to Kiss in San Francisco

Best places to kiss in San Francisco, Heart Sculpture, Union Square, San Francisco

Story 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, Canada

Story 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, France

Story 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, Italy

Story 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, Italy

Story 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, Mexico

Story 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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