Friday Fantasy Vacation: Honfleur, France


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La Ferme Saint-Siméon

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy and the beginning of summer-long events and remembrances marking this history-altering moment. I had the pleasure of visiting Normandy and some of the famous beaches a couple of summers ago and it was a wonderful experience, though trying to reconcile the museum images of the landings with modern children eating ice cream with their toes in the water of those same beaches was moving, to say the least. The OTHER thing about Normandy though, that doesn’t always get mentioned due to its important place in history, is just how gorgeous it is. Decidedly French but with ancient and strong ties to Britain, it’s an interesting mix of French and English influences and one of the few places in France where you might feel that everyone does speak English. Oh, and crepes! Glorious, beautiful crepes and galettes washed down with cider and maybe a bit of Calvados at your hotel for a nightcap. If your hotel is La Ferme Saint-Siméon in the ridiculously charming harbor townlet of Honfleur, all the better.

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All photos courtesy of Relais & Chateau

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Viniferous Vacation: Virginia’s Monticello AVA


Wine is made in all 50 states and every state will tell you their “home-grown” wines are fantastic, wonderful, the best. But we all know that there are few states that have the conditions needed to actually grow grapes that can be made into wine of any real quality. You’ve got basically the whole West Coast, bits of New York, an even smaller bit of Arizona and then Virginia. (And no, I will not accept that there are currently other states making really good wine. And, yes, I’ve tasted Texas wine.) There has been much written about the influence of Thomas Jefferson on American winemaking and much smarter people than I have written many books which you should read if you want the full story. Basically it boils down to this: he was totally on to something. The current Monticello AVA encompasses Jefferson’s own vineyard, which you can visit and should right after you complete the tour of his amazing home. Charlottesville is the nearest city and you could certainly make it a home base for visiting wineries, but then this would have to be a Charlottesville post and it is not. Besides there are the following spectacular places to stay in the country including two that are on the site of wineries you will want to explore anyway. And I say cheers to that!

Keswick Hall

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The 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards

There is a chance that if you stay here you won’t make it to anything else. The scenery is stunning, there are ruins to explore, wines to drink and a stellar restaurant.

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Clifton Inn

The Clifton may not be at a winery but it does not lack in gorgeous views. You can stay at the main house, a variety of small cottages or on the farm, any of which are so nice you’ll wish you could live in them.

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Crossfields Vacation Rental

According to Home Away this is an estate rental and for once, it seems that label is accurate. This place is so nice and so perfect for a large family getaway or a friend reunion and with 5 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms there is plenty of space. Not that you’ll feel cramped with 23 acres to roam.

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Friday Fantasy Vacation: Casa Oh, Sintra, Portugal


Portugal has been on my list of must-visit countries since I made two short visits there while living in Spain during college. I have fond memories of very friendly people and drop dead gorgeous scenery, although I doubt the charming wooden trains are still in action. Now, this adorable small hotel in the historic town of Sintra is officially on the list. Many people visit Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but with all this medieval and Moorish architecture to see it only makes sense to spend a night, or two, or three. This hotel is centrally located but off the most busy street and includes breakfast. What’s even more amazing is that rates start at just about $100 per night.

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All photos courtesy of Boutique Homes

Friday Fantasy Vacation: Bellevue Syrene Hotel, Sorrento


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This is officially the home stretch of winter, even though most of us are still wearing our long-johns to bed at night. But what better time to fantasize about a few days (or weeks?) at a luxurious hotel in Sorrento, Italy? 

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 Photos curtesy of Bellevue Syrene Hotel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Virtual Vacation: New Orleans


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The Columns

Genteel and well located on St. Charles with a huge porch for evening cocktails or morning coffee.

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Creole Gardens
Funky and affordable with breakfast included and an easy walk around the block to catch a trolley. Not to mention super friendly staff.

Creole Gardens

Race and Religious                                                                                                        
 Comprised of an old creole cottage, row house and slave quarter this corner of Race St. and Religious St. is now a perfect getaway for large and small groups. With so much of the buildings’ history preserved it’s like no other lodging in the city.

Race and Religious

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Café du Monde
Some tourist attractions are ridiculously popular for a reason and crispy, light, sugar-mounded beignets are as good of a reason as it gets for standing in line first thing in the morning. 

Get in line at Cafe du Monde

District Donuts and Sliders
A new addition to Magazine St. this is all day noshing spot is a great place to break from shopping. With donut flavors like Vietnamese Iced Coffee and an almost Northwest-style coffee bar in the a.m. that transforms into beers and sliders around lunch, this place will have you covered.

District Donuts and Sliders

Casamento’s
There are many options for oysters in this town, but not many are as delicious and charming as Casamento’s. Whether it’s oysters on the half shell, the “oyster loaf” or gumbo, you will eat well and you will leave happy.

Casamento's

Cochon Butcher
Around the corner from big brother Cochon the restaurant is this butcher/sandwich shop/ meat heaven. Get a meat filled sandwich or even a suckling pig to go. 

Cochon Butcher

Arnaud’s
So, yes, you’ve got your Galatoire’s, your Antoine’s and your Arnaud’s and they all seem very similar from the tourist’s point of view. However,  Arnaud’s wins out for me not only because of the wonderful bar, French 75, and the excellent food, but also a little bit because it’s got one of the most beautiful dining rooms anywhere. 

Arnaud's

Commander’s Palace
Another tourist place, you are asking? Here’s the thing, brunch at Commander’s Palace is still one of the most enjoyable things a tourist can do in New Orleans. Between the roving jazz trio and the hollandaise and the bloody mary served like nowhere else (meaning you are served the fixings and then a bottle of vodka frozen in ice is brought over and poured until you ‘say when’) it’s just fun. Do it. 
 

Brunch at Commander's Palace

Parasol’s
This Irish Channel bar/restaurant may be best known for their roast beef po boys and their miniscule men’s room but they make, in my opinion, the perfect example of a shrimp po boy.

Parasol's

Napoleon House
In a city full of ambiance, the Napoleon House still manages to drop jaws. Their specialty is the Pimm’s Cup which could not be more refreshing or pair more fantastically with the gulf shrimp salad and remoulade. 

Napoleon House

Jacques Imo’s
The sign outside reads “Warm Beer, Lousy Food, Poor Service” none of which is true, of course. But, if you like the idea of eating cheeky, tasty food in the atmosphere of a crazy fun house party, this is your spot.

Jacques Imo's

Willie Mae’s Scotch House
The world’s best fried chicken. Enough said.

Willie Mae's Scotch House

Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
Tell me, where else in America can you drink a Sazerac in a building that’s close to 300 years old and was used as a front for one of the country’s most famous smuggling operations? Yeah, this is pretty much it.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
First things first. A snowball is NOT a snow cone or shaved ice or any other frozen ball-shaped water substance put into a cone or cup with syrup poured on it. The texture of a New Orelans snowball is nearly impossible to describe as it’s just too divine. Also, you can get condensed milk on your snowball which is, obviously, total heaven. There is much debate about who makes the best snowball in the city but Hansen’s has been doing it for 74 years, is still run by the same family and makes all their own syrups, so get in line.

Hansen's Sno-Bliz

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Ogden Museum of Southern Art
The largest collection of American southern art in the world it’s a really fantastic museum that has a stellar permanent collection as well as wonderful temporary shows.
Aioli Dinner by George Rodrigue on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Aioli Dinner by George Rodrigue

National World War II Museum
Short of visiting the D-day landing beaches of Normandy, this is the place to visit for a full view of the war.

National World War II Museum

Magazine St.
Stretching from almost downtown to through the garden district this street has a shop for almost everyone. 

Magazine Street

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
Established in 1823 by America’s first licensed pharmacist and now a museum that’s like a step back in time. 

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Tipitina’s
Certainly not as famous as another popular music venue in town, yet also very important to the musical landscape of New Orleans. A great place to see your next favorite band.

See a Show at Tipitina's

Save Our Cemeteries
Intriguing, beautiful and possibly haunted, many of the cemeteries are not open to casual visitors. You can, however take a tour with this organization and not only get to see the tombs up close but even learn a little something. 
 

Cemetery Tour with Save Our Cemeteries

Photo Credits:

1. Morgan Ennis 2. Tom Barnes 3. Danny Keaton 4. Michael Siu 5. Jason Perlow 6. curtesy of District Donuts 7. Mark Shands 8. Jablow via flickr 9. curtesy of Arnaud’s 10. curtesy of Experience LA 11. Morgan Ennis 12. Exit Lines via flickr 13. Willo O’Brien 14. curtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance 15. Kit Hancock 16. Charlotte Cox 17. Wendy Rodrigue 18. curtesy of NY Times 19. Avenue Inn B&B 20. Educational Tours 21. mdub70 via flickr 22. curtesy of Times-Picayune

Virtual Vacation: Richmond, Virginia


Photo by Bill Dickinson

Photo by Bill Dickinson

Richmond may seem like an odd choice for the first Virtual Vacation but this city seems ripe for some attention. And besides, it’s not Fantasy Vacation! At least not always. The point is that Richmond is a city I’ve had a fascination with for awhile. As the former capital of the Confederacy, there’s plenty of history and old architecture to satisfy my need for long walks in new places. Like many southern towns, Richmond also seems to be in the midst of a “food revolution” as well, which I’m always excited about. Vacations, to me, consist of three main things: eating/drinking, sleeping, activities/sights. All a good vacation requires, in my opinion, is a pleasant combination of all three. I think Richmond’s got it. 

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The Jefferson Hotel

Certainly the swankiest option, the Jefferson originally opened on Halloween 1895. It was the brainchild of a former New Yorker, Lewis Ginter, who had long made Richmond his adopted home (and has a fascinating biography of his own). Like many hotels of its time, there were fires and renovations but it has remained a beautiful place to stay, or at least a great spot for afternoon tea. Ghost hunters, I hear you should book room 19.

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Linden Row Inn

Just a few blocks from the Jefferson is the homier Linden Row Inn, a group of seven row houses built in the mid-1800’s, one of which was once the home of Edgar Allen Poe. My husband stayed here briefly a few months back and had nothing but good things to say about it. Convenient location, very nice people, comfortable rooms and a good breakfast. Sounds perfect.

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Lamplighter Roasting Company

I’m not going to lie, the hip kids always know where the good coffee is.

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Mekong Restaurant

Voted best beer bar in America (yes, the whole nation!) on craftbeer.com this is a serious beer drinking destination that also happens to be a good Vietnamese restaurant. 

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Secco Wine Bar

If you know me in any way you’ll know that a beer is fine and good but what I really want is an excellent wine bar. Preferably one that has great food AND can offer me a nice glass of Amontillado Sherry.

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 Peter Chang China Café

By all accounts Peter Chang makes some mind blowing Szechuan cuisine. Once an unknown in America, even after spending two years as the private chef to the Chinese Ambassador in DC, he now has restaurants throughout Virginia. Just scroll through the photo gallery on his website and do not hold me accountable for drooling on your desk.

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The Magpie

I have a soft spot for chefs who are also hunters. It means there’s a chance for game meats on the menu, good homemade sausages and for the love of god they have bacon hush puppies and chicken fried pheasant on the brunch menu!

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Rappahanock 

Rappahanock River Oysters is on a mission to bring back healthy populations of native Chesapeake Bay oysters and make everyone remember why native varieties are so. much. better.

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The Roosevelt

In researching Richmond’s food scene I kept coming across mentions and recommendations for the Roosevelt in Church Hill, the city’s oldest neighborhood. Ok, fine, I google the website and oh my gosh. Adorable, obviously, and beautiful food. I can’t wait to eat here some time.

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Museum and White House of the Confederacy

So, I realize that much of the population here might wish that the rest of the country would move on from the idea that it’s only claim to fame is that is was the capital city of the Confederacy. However, for a tourist that’s pretty interesting stuff and the best place to start your Richmond Civil War History touring would be here. 

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The Museum of Edgar Allen Poe

One thing I suspect Richmonders might be a bit more proud of is that Edgar Allen Poe grew up here. A great place to learn about his life and works is at the museum dedicated to just that. While not his actual residence, the museum is housed in the oldest remaining house in Richmond, built in 1740.

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Richmond Liberty Trail

If you’ve ever done Boston’s Freedom Trail then you know exactly what to expect with the Liberty Trail. It’s a self-guided walking tour that leads you around the city (with the help of blue painted markers on the sidewalk) stopping at multiple sites of historical interest. It intersects with the Slave Trail as well and is a great way to get the bigger picture, historically, of the town.

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Explore the James River Park System

As a former Portlander, I understand the value of a large wild park in the midst of your city (see: Forest Park). This one happens to encompass the James River and depending on the time of year offers kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, swimming, tree climbing, mountain biking, fishing, science excursions for kids and probably a whole lot more. A popular and beautiful spot to start exploring is Belle Isle, a 54 acre island in the river that in the past housed a quarry, nail manufacturer, prisoner of war camp and a hydroelectric plant. Fortunately, it’s a lot more fun now. Riverside Outfitters is a good resource for tours and various rentals. 

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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

A large expansion of  the museum was finished in 2010 and now this, free(!), museum features a permanent collection that spans over 5,000 years of history featuring more than 33,000 artifacts and items, including the largest collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Russia. There are also temporary exhibitions such as Hollywood Costume and conceptual photographs from the 1970s-80’s. Open 365 days a year. 

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Really, I could go on and on. I haven’t even touched on shopping (exploring Carytown, Shockhoe Design District – which you can see before or after the Poe Museum since it’s in the neighborhood, Bygones Vintage Clothing, and Ledbury among others) or gawking at beautiful houses (the Fan District). But that’s how I know I’ve hit a Virtual Vacation that I hope to turn into a Real Vacation, when the more I dig the more great places I find. 

Church Hill neighborhood

Church Hill neighborhood

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.


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The Wander Plan never sat right with me as a title for what I wanted to do here. It was more like wanderlust, but that didn’t work either. I’ve been thinking about this platform and what to do with it, where I want it to go. It wasn’t until a conversation a couple of days ago with a friend who has known me for a long, long time (and been part of more than a few vacations I’ve planned over the years) that the virtual vacation reared it’s head. It made perfect sense. I’m currently living in what I’m referring to as one of life’s “layovers”.  Living in a place that I’m hoping I won’t be in in a year and not exactly going on a lot of vacations. I, like many people I know, love to travel and really want to travel but, let’s just say that winning Powerball ticket has not yet arrived.

In this case, I’m perfectly situated for the Virtual Vacation. Armchair Travel or what have you. I’m hoping to become a bit more focused on a location and what I would want to explore, where I would want to stay, eat and blow up my Instagram account from. I doubt I’ll abandon lodging snapshots altogether as there are some places that just deserve a lot of attention, but who knows? I mean, this is my fantasy life after all…

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