“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller I’m Cindy, a single empty-nester, writer, editor, and English professor passionate about travel and culture. My story is here. I’ve been in school since I was five. I can assure you as an educator and learner that NOTHING teaches […]
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This summer I led a travel writing retreat based in Marrakesh, Morocco — the city where I lived for two years. Last week an earthquake took thousands of lives in the Atlas Mountains, one of the places we explored, and left thousands more Moroccans homeless. My heart breaks for families who are hurting there. Thankfully, my friends in the video below who live in Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains are safe, but former students and friends I’ve talked with are still in shock.
I appreciate friends on social media who have showed concern and asked about ways to help. I’ve worked with Amal, Project SOAR, and Education for All, below. They’re run by people who will be sure your donations provide relief.
A great way to support Morocco is tourism. The country has taken hits from pandemic border closings, lockdowns, and the earthquake. Marrakesh is up and running. If you want the epic adventure of a lifetime, start planning a trip for 2024. Message me at email@example.com if I can help. Please see just a bit of what a stay in Marrakesh is like in the video below. If you book at Riad Mur Akush, our home base for the retreat, within the next 4 weeks, the riad is donating 20% to Amal Center for Earthquake Relief Fund. To help in this way, you must useTHIS LINK.
And if you’d like to join a community of creative explorers like the incredible women who joined me last summer, reach out. Morocco has been inspiring artists for centuries. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding writing workshops online, in Morocco, and beyond.
Last month before leading a travel writing retreat in Marrakesh, I took a three-day solo timeout to rest and reset. I arrived in Morocco after long flights and layovers … and a spring semester of teaching, editing, and caring for family. In short … I was spent. Those three days brought me back to life. Take a tour (above) of Palais Blanc Riad, and two nearby attractions, Bahia Palace and Jardin Majorelle and start planning your dream escape. If I can be of help, leave a comment or contact me at email@example.com.
If you missed the last post where I highlighted Morocco’s UNESCO sites and another luxury stay in Marrakesh, go here.
Note to readers: I only feature accommodations and attractions I’ve experienced myself. As always, the opinions on this blog are my own. I also use affiliate links to offset blog and podcast costs at no expense to the reader/consumer.
You can listen to the podcast versions of what happened in those three days (episode above is here), but I recommend YOUTUBE for what words alone can’t say.
Imagine entering a world without stress.
Inside a cloud, you have suite dreams.
Imagine waking up rested.
You can see yourself and the world around you. Clearly.
Renewed mind, body, and soul, you remember who you are and what you want.
At Palais Blanc Riad, you have a respite.
Just time to relax … sleep … swim …
Lean into Il bel far niente (Italian for The beauty of doing nothing.) Just … breathe and be.
A room, a terrace, a table with a view gives new perspective.
We vow to dwell in joy and peace. To fulfill old dreams and create new ones. To envision what can be.
We get a glimpse of heaven, and we don’t want to leave.
From the first year that I lived in Marrakesh, I dreamed of leading a travel writing retreat there. No country has been a muse to me like Morocco. I wanted to share inspiring experiences with women who also need to write and explore. The pandemic postponed my dream. But while waiting for borders to reopen, I wrote a memoir about my years in the Red City.
Meanwhile, a woman named Laila Krattiger was trying to fulfill her dream — a haven for travelers that offers Morocco’s warm hospitality, Switzerland’s pristine precision, and Italy’s dramatic style. She opened the doors to Riad Luciano in Marrakesh… and pandemic slammed them shut. The world was on lockdown. As she discusses in the interview below, she shook off the shock with optimism and then used the time to make a major renovation and assemble a dream team.
The word quarantine is derived from the Italian quaranta giorni which means “40 days.” During the Middle Ages, passengers were detained on ships in ports for this length of time to quell the spread of bubonic plague. The Black Death killed one-third of the world’s population. However, in the next era, survivors celebrated life and were more creative than ever before. During the Renaissance, which means “Rebirth,” art flourished.
Likewise, post-pandemic we’re traveling like never before. We recognize our need for adventure, beauty, and connection. Riad Luciano reopened and is a work of art even more beautiful than before. Laila’s tenacity paid off, and her vision was realized. I’m so glad I could experience it.
My writing retreat finally happened. Before it started, I set aside three days of solo stays in Marrakesh. Since becoming a caregiver to my mom over a year ago, I’ve valued solo travel more than ever. Since 2013, I’ve featured my favorite resorts, boutique hotels, and Moroccan riads on this blog. Every property has an essence — the souls, the people who are the brand. A place of beauty has heart. It’s the product of hard work, tears, and tenacity. The realization of a dream.
I read websites and reviews on about a hundred resorts and riads before choosing Riad Luciano for my first night back in Morocco. It promised Moroccan warmth, Swiss precision, and Italian style… and delivered. I still dream of living in Italy, and I fell in love with Switzerland on my first trip to Lucerne. The stay was even better than I anticipated. Take a tour of Riad Luciano below. Meet Laila who lives her life in Zug, a city between Zurich and Lucerne, and Morocco. We talk about living cross-culturally and she gives must-dos in her cities. Hear her advice to younger people on seeing the world.
If you prefer listening to the podcast, the audio is here. You can book Riad Luciano on the website link above or here.
Disclosure: I was a guest at Hotel Luciano. I only recommend accommodations I’ve stayed in personally and HIGHLY endorse. As always, all opinions on this blog are my own.
Disclosure: Some posts on this blog have affiliate links to offset my cost at no additional fees for the consumer.
Below are photos of Laila in Morocco and Switzerland with family and colleagues with whom she designs excursions.
Choosing accommodations when you’re a solo traveler in a new city is especially important. And yes, a vital consideration is location, location, location. As Laila points out in our interview, guests aren’t forced. to stay in their rooms or go out when there are plenty of public spaces for relaxing. As in any large city, I don’t typically go out alone on foot after dark. Having a balcony and rooftop allows me to enjoy city lights, cool breezes, and full moons.
I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for a decade for the reasons below. Most of all, I like shopping online for the selection and convenience. Below are some of my favorite finds over the last decade. Because I enjoy sharing them, I’m also an Amazon Associate. Disclosure: I get a commission at no cost to the consumer on goods and services bought with affiliate links.
If you aren’t a Prime member, try this free trial for epic deals and these year-long benefits:
Audible starts my mornings with guided meditations for connecting with the Creator and self, releasing tension, and exchanging anxiety with hope. Audible teaches me on work commutes, entertains me on trips, and tells me bedtime stories when I’m too tired to read. Check out their podcasts, books, original content, and music here.
I love to TRAVEL and live for ADVENTURE. Exploring new places… meeting new people … reconnecting with family and friends … taking solo beauty breaks for the soul. For my Key West, L.A., Palm Springs, and Morocco trips this year, I found some great carry-on choices.
The One I Went With
I love the spinner wheels, sturdy hard body, color/design, and phone charger. Click on images below for details.
Other Great Choices
I love the look of the DELSEY Paris Chatelet Hardside 2.0. I’m a rose girl, but this Angora set is gorgeous and on my wishlist.
When I moved to Morocco, my sister bought me a large It check-in bag. It was lightweight and tough enough for two years in North Africa, another in the Caribbean, and beyond. I also bought a tiny It carry-on bag in London to meet budget airline size specifications. I managed 13 days in six European cities in winter with just that carry-on and the backpack below. This carry-on looks fun and I remain a huge fan of the brand.
My 3rd trusty It piece is this one. The color of my Filament 28″ Softside 8 Wheel Expandable Spinner is appropriately named Moroccan Blue/Dress Blues. This one has made two return trips to Morocco as well as Sarasota, Anna Maria Island, and Captiva Island.
I felt like Lucille Ball in 2013 when my overstuffed backpack exploded in the Atlanta airport and I had to grab a new one to make my flight to Costa Rica. It was one of the best purchases I ever made. A decade and a dozen countries later, the bag is still going strong.
If you’re Carrie Bradshaw with a trendy shoe addiction, unlimited budget, and desire to run in heels … DON’T buy Chaco’s. You’ll tire of the look long before they wear out.
If you do want quality sports sandals that go the extra mile for years, this is your brand. Mine saved me in mudslides in Ecuador and in slippery Tennessee streams. They got me over the Atlas Mountains by mule and foot and across the Sahara Desert by camel in 2014 (above) and 2023.
The same is true for Birkenstock. I have worn my silver Gizeh model almost daily for three summers. On my wishlist is this one…
When I travel, I take my Cannon for stills, Go-Pro for YouTube/Podcast interviews and videos, and phone for Instagram Reels. My Cannon Rebel EOS T4i that I bought in 2013 is still going strong. I did replace a lens in 2020. If you need a Cannon Rebel replacement lens, body, or accessory, Amazon has options. If you want Santa to bring you a newer model, check out the T7 and T8 with Built-in WiFi.
This is my go-to for video. The size makes it discreet and the quality is incredible.
Stay tuned for more reading recommendations for Kindle and Audible. Here are three of my favorites from my bookshelf. The first is a memoir by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I fell in love with her books on Italy before realizing she was raised in the U.S. South like me. I haven’t met her in person but spoken with her a couple of times by email. She is one of my favorite living authors.
I had the honor of meeting a granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and great great granddaughter of this author at a writing retreat. The book is a timeless classic based on the Sanibel-Captiva Island area of Florida.
This one was a reference on architecture and design when. I wrote my memoir on living in Morocco. Gatherings in Maryam’s beautiful home outside of Marrakesh and volunteering at Project SOAR are sweet memories.
This comforter is still soft and plush after several washings.
This pillow relieves lower back tension for better sleep.
I love my Gatsby-era/Art Deco champagne/cocktail coupes.
I normally make my sangria, but this mix is delicious, too.
Apartment living is easier with this grocery cart. Be sure to get one with spinner wheels.
My favorite essential oils are these two. Neroli is the scent of orange blossoms and transports me to Morocco. Likewise, my computer cover takes me to faraway places while working at home.
NOTHING gets up animal hair like a Dyson (says the owner of a Golden retriever, lab, and Persian cat.) I loved my upright in the 2000s and the Animal stick model has changed my life.
Pretty for carrying to a wedding or hanging in the boudoir
Layer these in indifferent links.
From Boho to Copacabana, Amazon carries some cool clothes.
Sadly, this bathing suit is out of stock, but there is a similar one and a couple of others I’ve bought at this store.
On Day 6 of our Spring Break Getaway we left L.A. It was Cole’s 30th birthday which began with a stop at Joshua Tree on our way to Palm Springs.
We drove from L.A. to Joshua Tree 127 miles via Interstate 10, passing the San Bernardino National Park and and San Gorgonio Pass windmills on our way to the Yuca Valley. You can tour the windmill farm. Info is here.
Joshua Tree, California
We had a big lunch at Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree, California. Popular with locals and folks passing through, they have vegan options, a huge breakfast menu available until 1:30 PM, and local brews. Their hours were 7 AM – 9 PM (check website to be sure).
We wanted to spend more time in Joshua Tree National Park but between the 5 days in L.A. and road trip, we were ready to get to our Palm Springs hotel and relax. Ben had been to Joshua Tree before. I first heard of the place thanks to U2, but learned that Joshua trees are actually succulents. 19th-century Mormon settlers named them after Joshua in the Bible because they felt the trees’ outstretched arms were guiding them westward. The rock formations remind me of those we’d seen in Colorado Springs.
On to Palm Springs and napping by the pool under tall palms…
Palm Springs is as postcard perfect as it gets. Spotless. Safe. Midcentury Modern. Beautiful. Even the airport is cool.
Locals obviously love living there — especially women of a certain age (mine and older) who I saw chilling with friends downtown. My family loved it too. However, if you stay where we did, be warned.
There’s just one problem with The Saguaro in Palm Springs…
you won’t want to leave! No, really. It isn’t an all-inclusive resort, but we so enjoyed the property, relaxed vibe, and food and drinks at great prices that we spent most of our remaining vacation time there. Even when it was over, I still didn’t want to leave.
The 14-color palette was chosen by the Sydell Group and architects Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat based on the hues of local wildflowers. At first, the Palm Springs Architectural Advisory Committee rejected the departure from neutral shades, but Aferiat argued the hotel’s rainbow effect inspires optimism. Thanks to Flower Power and persistence, the architects won. Read more about the Battle of the Beige here.
Californians love The Saguaro (and the Coachella Valley which hosts the music festival). Our host in L.A. asked where we were staying in Palm Springs. When we said The Saguaro, he said he likes to stay there and we’d love it, too. If you’re headed to Coachella this year or ANY year, The Saguaro is a great option. It was the perfect way to spend the last two days of our vacation. Here you can book a stay at Saguaro Palm Springs, too.
When we pulled into the hotel parking lot, it was crush-at-first-sight. Cole went inside to check us in. When he came out I asked him what the reception area looked like. He grinned with a sigh and shook his head. “You’re going to go crazy.” I did.
Palm Springs is a dream town for artists. No wonder surrealist Salvador Dali loved it. Go no further than the reception area of The Saguaro and you’ll find an installation of works created at the hotel in 2016 by Anna-Alexia Basile. An Italian -American who grew up between Italy and Florida, the fashion, travel, and lifestyle photographer loves using color to explore the relationship between reality and the surreal. Her extensive client list includes Elle Decor, Apple, Disney, H&M, Vogue, Refinery29, and Banana Republic. She says The Saguaro is “the perfect place to bring my inner world to life.” Her online photography classes look amazing!
Resting and playing in such spaces is a beauty break for the soul. The natural wonders of Palm Springs fuel creativity.
I was in pink heaven. Our suite was huge. See all of the room choices on a virtual tour here.
We had a gorgeous mountain view (above). Across the street was a grocery, but we didn’t need it. El Jefe Desert Cantina has great breakfast options, poolside lunch service, and daily Happy Hour on the patio. Their Taco Tuesday and Thursday deal is amazing. They also have a 24-hour fitness center, weekend yoga, free bikes (Palm Springs is the perfect bike town), two hot tubs, and other areas to socialize in all weather. The patio has fire features. There are Adirondack chairs, hammocks, and a bocce ball court.
We missed this event by a week. It tops my Next Time list.
While my kids slept in after a late night playing pool, I took photos of the gardens, had breakfast on the patio, and met a new friend by the swimming pool. A yoga teacher, author, and for several years single mom, Erin Ford hit a milestone at Palm Springs Recording Studio. She showed me her book, Words That Rhyme and Lullabies which is available here. We talked about writing and the value of creative community (aka retreats). She wants to do my next writing retreat in Morocco. I want to do her yoga retreat in Palm Springs. She told me about hiking by a waterfall and the Thursday Night Palm Springs Village Fest. A huge bonus of travel is meeting kindred spirits.
I couldn’t leave Palm Springs without attempting a drive-by of the homes of Elvis (my first pretend boyfriend) and Frank Sinatra. Cole drove me and sent his sister a photo of me stalking Frank.
On the California Now podcast, Palm Springs Celebrity Kurt Cyr explains why the city is the epicenter of Midcentury Modern design. He explains Desert Modernism that started after World War 2 and why Palm Springs became the playground for celebrities. Note the hotel featured on the episode cover. I’d love to do his Rat Pack Tour to see homes that belonged to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (my grandmother loved Dino and I’ve always been obsessed with both of them), Peter Lawford, and Marilyn Monroe. It ends with Martinis at Melvyn’s, a Rat Pack hangout. How cool is Melvyn’s? Check this out.
The perfect time to be in Palm Springs is Modernism Week. Flip through the pages of the October 2022 schedule and be blown away at all there is to see. And by the way, October is just the mini-festival! The 11-day event is February 15-25, 2024. Make plans now for these events. If you go at other times of the year, fear not. You can do a self-guided tour of desert modern design or contact Kurt Cyr for a Mod Squad tour.
We’re not sure if we saw the outside of Elvis’ hideaway or not. I did stumble upon (literally) his star on a quick stop downtown and on Trixie’s Cactus Garden.
BIG THANKS to Cole for planning this trip (and for donning the Cannon for a mini photo shoot). L.A. and Palm Springs provided a perfect getaway. To Cole, Taylor, and Ben I saw in the words of Bob Hope, a former resident of Palm Springs, thanks for the memories!
I’ve been saying for years that the best gift to give your children is travel. Recently, I learned the reverse is true when my son, Cole, sent my daughter, her fiancé, and me plane tickets and booked accommodations and a rental car for a seven-day trip to L.A. and Palm Springs, California. A spring break vacation with my people was the most exciting gift I’ve ever received! Check out options here for adult family time in L.A.
Driving up California’s breezy coast — Mediterranean blue waters, cathedral rocks, mountains, and palm trees — feels like a getaway to southern Spain. Walking along Venice Beach canals is a trip to Italy. Star-gazing in Hollywood or at an NBA game… riding the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica’s Pier, or basking on the Baywatch beach is quintessential U.S.A. Los Angeles is the second most populated city in the US (New York City is first), but because Los Angeles County has such vast, diverse areas, there’s something for everyone. Beaches, parks, and a coastal drive on the Pacific Coast Highway are freeing. Celebrities — anyone really — can get lost here.
Returning to L. A. was nostalgic. We loved our 2009 vacation there. Then Cole mostly rode in the back seat of the convertible, but in our Vacation: The Sequel, it was great being with adults and having a man make plans and take the wheel.
Cole booked a beautiful home for five nights near Venice Beach just a couple of blocks from where we’d stayed before on Marina Del Ray. The neighborhood was quiet but just a couple of blocks from restaurants, groceries, shops, and the Venice Canals. We highly recommend it.
Southern California offers a great escape, and there are multiple options for adult family time in L.A. If you need a multigenerational gathering spot or want to give the ultimate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift, this trip is it.
Why Stay in Venice?
It’s the “Venice of America.” On the canals, you’ll think you’re in Italy!
I, like other Americans, fell in love with Venice, Italy— the canals, gondolas, architecture, and romantic/mysterious/artistic vibe.
Fifteen years earlier, millionaire John Abbot had an even grander vision. On July 4, 1905, he replicated the entire city and opened “The Venice of America.” He hoped to build a community of artists and writers who would bring a cultural renaissance to California.
After his death, the seaside resort town was annexed to Los Angeles in 1926. See what happened to Abbott’s dream in the “Lost LA” series by KCET, Southern and Central California’s Educational station/affiliate of PBS:
Check out the quote on the wall above. Venice has a retro, dream-like vibe that reminds me of a time not only when my kids were younger but also when I was a child, too.
Venice is Bohemian with the Bonus of a Beach.
Venice Beach, California — associated with the Beat Generation of the 50s and artists like Jim Morrison and the Doors in the 60s —is still home to an eclectic mix. It’s bohemian, much like Paris’s Montmartre or Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, but with surfers, skateboarders (the sport was invented here), and Muscle Beach where former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed biceps. The area is artistic and unconventional. The quirk factor is huge, so don’t be surprised if you almost bump into someone, like I did, who is wearing nothing but blue paint. Like the rest of L.A., Venice is diverse … The City of Angels and Land Of Mystics.
Gentrification has displaced former residents. Some live in tents, or in the case of one man we saw, on a couch on the sidewalk. One-bedroom studio apartments rent for $3,000+ a month. On the canals, homes rent for $12,000 – $28,000 a month and sell for $2 – $7 million.
Venice, California is “Little Hollywood.”
Celebrities who’ve lived in Venice:
Julia Roberts (now lives in Malibu)
Nicholas Cage (moved to Malibu, then to his own island)
Venice and the Surrounding Area are Film Locations for Movies and Series.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Grease (1978)
Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan in The Doors (1991)
Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed (1994)
Californication, the Showtime series starring David Duchovny
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach party movies (1963-66), like Beach Blanket Bingo, at Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park
I think this last one sums up why I love the Cali coast. As a kid in the 60s, I dreamed of being a teen and experiencing this…
Venice is minutes from Santa Monica and a Gorgeous Ride to Malibu via The Pacific Coast Highway. It’s Only 14 miles from Venice Beach to Hollywood via Legendary Sunset Boulevard.
Travel Tips to Make Arrival Less Stressful
If traveling from different locations, it’s important to coordinate flight schedules for adult family time in L.A. Cole flew from his home in Colorado and met us at the airport (LAX). He suggested using TripCase. When you get the flight confirmation email after booking, you can forward it to the app at firstname.lastname@example.org. The app imports all info and keeps you updated on delays and arrivals of members of your party. It’s also useful for picking up out-of-town family members and friends at the airport when they fly home.
When picking up a car at LAX, catch a free shuttle when you exit the airport because it’s too far to walk. Both times we’ve picked up a car the line has been long, but there’s a waiting area to sit in sun or shade outside the rental building and water in vending machines to hydrate after the flight.
What to Do
Day One: Venice Beach for Lunch, Food Trucks for Dinner
After an early flight, rental car pickup, and getting settled in, stretching your legs on a walk through the neighborhood and relaxing over lunch is top priority. We wanted seafood — oysters in particular for Taylor and me. Pier House beside the Venice Beach pier was pricey pre-Happy Hour (especially for the small size of the oysters), but celebrating our reunion and week ahead with grilled octopus, calamari, vegan options for Cole, and drinks on the patio was worth the splurge. Also, don’t miss the skateboarding park. (See Insta post above.)
Other Seafood Options
We didn’t want to drive anywhere and it was too windy/chilly to sit on a rooftop, but these restaurants get good reviews, too:
Fishbar, located on Manhattan Beach 15 minutes by car south of Venice Beach
Across the street from Pier House is The Venice Whaler. The menu is similar to that of Pier House. They do have a rooftop area and a takeaway food window. I love that they have a Rumi quote, too.
Dinner and a Movie
When we met our host at the rental home, he told us we had arrived on a perfect day — First Friday — and that we could walk to the food trucks where locals gather monthly for dinner. We’re fans of food trucks and movies, especially when needing to relax on a travel day. I highly recommend these guys. When you find your favorite food truck at home or in LA, you can stalk it here. What’s your favorite app for finding street food? Please tell us in the comments.
Other Food Truck Options
Two neighborhoods south and north of Venice have smaller, weekly food truck events. Marina Del Ray’s Beach Eats runs from late May to early September and Food Truck Wednesdays happen at Santa Monica’s California Heritage Museum.
Before exploring Griffith Observatory: See Rebel with a Cause and La La Land.
After driving in LA traffic: Watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to let off steam. (Warning 1: Tarantino isn’t for everyone — usually he’s too dark for me. This one I like because I was obsessed with Sharon Tate and the Charles Manson murders as a kid and it’s set around LA. Warning 2: You might be tempted to get back in the car to check out filming locations.)
For adult family time in L.A. with lots of laughts, take home movies with you on a jump drive. If you live in the Nashville area and haven’t converted home movies from videotapes to digital, I highly recommend The Transfer Lab.
Day 2: Walk of Fame, Hollywood Hills, Griffith Observatory
We had a great lunch at It’s Pho, Vietnamese and Thai Fusion, located at 1821 North Cahuenga Boulevard, LA, CA 90028.
Much has changed since we were in Hollywood in 2009. Then, Michael Jackson had died the week before. I was writing for Examiner and was determined to get a shot of his star despite the mass of people blocking the way. My kids still tell the story of watching me crawl on my knees, then disappear into the fray. When I crawled out, my favorite sweater that was tied around my neck was gone, never to be found again. In 2008, Heath Ledger died and The Dark Night was released. Michel Jackson and Joker impersonators were out in full force.
This time, we were there just before The Oscars. The Red Carpet was being changed to champagne.
We couldn’t get near The Chinese Theater because of the preparations, but I found stars of celebrities Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials will recognize.
Hollywood isn’t just about actors. Recording artists are also aplenty there. If your people are into vinyl, adult family time in L.A. should include a stop at Amoeba Music, one of the largest indie record stores in the world. Formerly located on Sunset Boulevard/now on Hollywood Boulevard, their free live events have Stevie Nicks, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Costello, Nancy Sinatra, and newer artists my kids know but I don’t. 🙂 Amoeba also has shops in San Francisco and Berkeley, California.
Tip: A photo opportunity with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop is on the terrace outside the food area of Target.
I love riding bikes around Denver and Boulder when visiting Cole. I’d read that the Marvin Brande Bike Trail runs for 22 miles and is a great way to see surfers, hang gliders and street performers from Venus to Santa Monica and beyond. I’d envisioned renting bikes in Santa Monica on an all-day pass. I thought we’d ride a couple of hours to get exercise and have time for photos and lunch. However, also on our agenda was walking the Venice Canals and seeing a Clippers Game. So we rented electric bikes nearby in Venice Beach for an hour instead.
In hindsight, Venice Beach rentals cost more and the bike route on a Sunday is too crowded. Families and couples stroll there to avoid the crowded Boardwalk. I was all smiles below at the start of our ride, but after breaking constantly and almost taking out a toddler whose parents allowed him to walk into oncoming bikers, I was traumatized. (The child and parents ambled on unfazed).
The Venice Canals were more romantic than I imagined. (Also see the video above made on a sunnier day). They are one of the U.S.’s best-kept secrets. They’re tucked away so well that we missed them in 2009. Thanks to scenes with Ashton Kutcher and George Lopez filmed on them in the movie Valentine’s Day released in 2010 (and scenes of the Marriott Del Ray where we stayed), I was determined to see walk the canals this time.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, seeing the LA Clippers is fun. I enjoy the high drama of the NBA. One day we want to see The Lakers, but the ticket prices were too much when we were there.
Tip: When traveling with people you love, communication (just as it is in all things relationships) is key. My kids say I’m the Energizer Bunny on vacation and need to chill. I am an early riser and love to plan. But I also like exploring with no agenda. By serendipity, we make wonderful discoveries that way.
Traveling solo and leading educational tours is very different from adult family time in L.A. We all have different interests, energy levels, and pace preferences. I enjoy finding options. I ask family members for their must-sees and must-dos so we can try to make them happen. I learned on this trip that it’s also important to discuss details — as in the case of biking (Day 3) and driving up the coast (Day 4) — how far we want to go, where we want to stop, and at what pace. This is especially important if you have an event or dinner reservation. My plan for Day 3 was probably a bit too ambitious given a late start and game tickets that night.
We debated other road trips (see below), but in the end, we took the nostalgic route to Malibu. Photo on the left: 2009. Photo on the right: 2023
We really enjoyed Neptune’s Net which was Taylor’s suggestion. The oysters are BIG. All the seafood great is great. We sat at picnic tables watching waves and talking with locals. 5 minutes down the road is Leo Carrillo Beach where Grease and Karate Kid were filmed.
We’ve changed a bit over 14 years….
But not really ….
Be Sure To Stop Where We Didn’t…
We ended up exploring past Malibu. Inland and around the US Naval Base in Ventura County we saw farmland and the largest fields of rose nurseries I’ve ever seen. We didn’t make it to the Getty Villa Museum on the way back, but it is high on the NEXT TIME list for adult family time in L.A.
Other Road Trip Options from L.A.
Solvang is a village 2 hours north of Malibu built by Danish settlers in 1911. With only 5,000 residents, it not only looks like a European village but also feels like one.
Newport Beach is an hour south of Venice and a great location for whale watching. 20 minutes south of Newport is Laguna Beach featured in the reality show, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.
Day 5: Farewell Walk Along Venice Canals, Italian Lunch, Vintage Shopping in Santa Monica
If you’re an early riser and value morning quiet time, take a solo walk on the Venice Canals. All you’ll hear are hummingbirds chattering, bees humming, and water parting as ducks glide by. You might meet a resident walking to work, pushing a stroller, or walking a dog. But mostly, you’ll experience in solitude a beauty break for the soul. I remembered again why God created the perfect world as a garden.
The architecture and landscaping of each home on the Venice Canals are unique. If your idea of heaven on earth is gathering with friends and family in an outdoor space under blue skies … if you love the smell of citrus and colorful blooms… if you smile at succulents and palm trees twitching in the breeze … this is your place for escape and inspiration to create your own outdoor space.
Italian For Lunch
I loved the Malloreddus at Ospi — Beef Cheek Ragu Napoletano with thyme and Toscano. Everyone was happy with the Spicy Rigatoni, Spaghetti, and Spicy Eggplant, and Zucchini. Cocktails and a Super Tuscan Red were yummy, too.
Santa Monica Restaurants for adult family time in L.A.:
Masilla for food from France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Happy Hour is 11 AM – 6:30 PM Monday-Friday with 50% off craft cocktails and wine
Manchego has California-Spanish tapas and wine. During weekend brunch, they have bottomless sangria and mimosas.
Fig, a popular Mediterranean- inspired bistro located in the Fairmount Miramar, is a favorite local Happy Hour Spot. During Fig @ 5 – 5 to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday — most of their menu is half price. If you want to get fancy for Mother’s Day Brunch, during DineLA Restaurant Week April 28 to May 12, or for a private event, this is the place. Georgina Jones, who built the original Miramar with her husband, was a botanist who planted the hotel’s first fig tree and dispensed herbal tonics from what is now The Potting Shed, a space for special dinner parties.
Cole spotted Coco wheeling down the street — a robot that delivers food that was created by two young men when they were students at UCLA. I can’t wait to share this with my university students who write business plans and Kickstarter and social media campaigns for their present and future business projects.
Takeaway from L.A.
I’ve been in the classroom — as a student and educator — since I was five. NOTHING inspires me to be a lifelong learner more than travel. When we expand our horizons with people we love we build stronger relationships. We’re energized by adventure, beauty, and new ideas. Travel inspires critical and creative thinking.
Abbot Kinney’s story is inspiring. He was born in New Jersey. His family moved to Washington, D.C. where they became involved in politics. At age 16 he went to Europe for his education and became fluent in six languages. While there, he visited Venice, Italy. Years later, he would create a New Venice in California with the goal of bringing a Renaissance of art, health, and education to the area. His asthma improved in California, so he wanted others to experience fresh ocean air.
No doubt Kinney enjoyed privileges many people don’t have. He made money with his brother in tobacco. But he also used his education and resources to benefit others. The man who wanted to bring a Renaissance to the Sunshine State was a Renaissance Man himself. His path to building Venice was long and not linear. First he…
Served as a Member of the Maryland National Guard and U.S. Geological Survey Team
Mapped the Sioux reservations of the Dakotas
Served on a survey team in Yosemite Valley
Traveled to Egypt, Macedonia, India, New Guinea, Australia
Chaired the California Board of Forestry
Partnered with fellow conservationist John Muir to establish the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve
Reported poor living conditions that led to the Mission Indian Act of 1891
Established the first forestry station in the U.S. in Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. One project was a study of eucalyptus trees that had been introduced to the region.
In 1905, a marshy area was reborn as a town of canals called “Ocean Park.” It would take him six more years to get the name officially changed to Venice. Kinney imported gondolas and gondoliers from Venice, Italy. Residents of downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica rode trolleys to experience the Venetian-style shops, carnival rides, and an aquarium. He brought in professors and writers to deliver lectures. Sadly, few people took advantage of this free education.
Today only a remnant of the canals remain but are protected as part of the Venice Historical District. Kinney’s story reminds me of a line from a familiar quote often attributed to Mother Theresa: “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”
Apparently, the author was Dr. Kent Keith in 1968 while a young student leader at Harvard. It was on a poster in my classroom in Nashville for many years:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Thanks, Abbot, for Venice. Thanks again, Cole, for an unforgettable time away.
So if Irish culture makes you happy, why not keep the party going? Book a trip to Ireland this year.
I remember the moment I was smitten with the country. I’d never ridden a public bus. Never been anywhere abroad alone. Outside the window, I saw verdant knolls with whitewashed cottages roll by. Their chimneys were small and their front doors bold in shades of orange, red, and green. I’d volunteered for a service trip with a group of strangers. For a week we’d slept four-to-a-room in bunk beds in an inn in Greystones. The showers were icy, the egg salad sandwiches with salt and vinegar chips divine. In that fishing village twenty miles south of Dublin, I sat each balmy morning on a cliff looking down at the Irish Sea. At night we’d walk to The Beach House for fish, chips, and Guinness. At 10 PM — sunset — we’d stroll back as coral and gold streaked the sky and reflected on the water in the bay. We sang in a beautiful church, hiked around a lake in County Wicklow, and drove past U2’s studio dreaming of a chance chat with Bono.
On our free day, I left the group to explore the next village a few miles down the road. Traveling anonymously with locals felt strangely exciting. And familiar. The rural hills reminded me of Lexington, Kentucky where I lived on a horse farm when I was a new bride. I’d been divorced four years. Life seemed simple, peaceful, safe in the countryside of Ireland. I heard a whisper: You could get a teaching job and raise the kids here.
We didn’t move to Ireland and my children are now grown. But my son wants to visit and I just learned that his company has a branch in Cork. Who knows?
When to Visit
Weather-wise, June-August are prime months to see Ireland. Single travelers wanting to taste the West Coast should go in September for the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival. And if you’re looking for a good time and possibly a partner, attend the month-long Matchmaking Festival in County Clare hosted by Willy Daly, a fourth-generation matchmaker. A friend attended and said it was a lot of fun! Dracula fans will be want to check out the Bram Stoker Festival.
If you’re a fan of Bono, knighted by Elizabeth II for global humanitarian work, too, and want to wake up in the city and walk to museums, book The Clarence Hotel. The hotel is in the heart of Temple Bar District, a neighborhood on the south bank of the River Liffey full of history, trendy bookshops, art galleries, and pubs. One of the latter is The Temple Bar, site of the former home of Sir William Temple, Provost of Trinity College. Here you can find live traditional bands, eat fresh oysters, and check out the Wall of Fame of Irish musicians.
3) Shop on Grafton Street, the high street of Dublin stores featuring goods by Irish and international designers. Or shop vintage boutiques and permanent stalls at George’s Street Arcade, an enclosed Victorian market.
4) Roam a castle. Dublin Castle offers guided tours of the State Apartments and a medieval a subterranean chamber dating to Viking times. Or wander Drimnagh Castle which has a 17th century garden and Great Hall. It’s the only Irish castle surrounded by a flooded moat. It’s believed that Oliver Cromwell kept his horses here while punishing Irish rebellion, and some locals have claimed they’ve seen his ghost!
8) In Dublin, eat at The Brazen Head. Established in 1198, it’s the oldest pub on the island with traditional Irish storytelling evenings, great food and Irish music nightly. Their menu includes Irish favorites, like Beef and Guinness Stew or Steamed Mussels, as well as Vegetarian Pie.
Excursions are my favorite part of any trip. If you’re staying in Dublin but want to hike along the water, take a bus or train to Bray. From there, do the two-hour Cliff Walk along the Irish Sea.
One choice for longer trips is to book a Wild Rover Tour. They can make dreams come true for Harry Potter and Princess Bride fans (both filmed at Cliffs of Moher).
They also have a Game of Thrones tour that takes you through the Dark Hedges.
If you want to navigate your own Jedi-jaunt, take a train or car to UNESCO World Heritage site, Skellig Michael, home of a five-hundred-year-old monastery and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The commute is 3 hours to Ring of Kerry, a group of colorful fishing villages dotting the Wild Atlantic Way. From Portmagee, you will see Skelling Michael. Tours to the island run from May-October, and hiking it is only possible if the sea is calm. Visitors allowed on the island at one time are limited. If you stay at The Moorings Guesthouse, you can arrange a tour there. Eco-Tours (sailing around the island without disembarking) are recommended and available on shorter notice. For more on booking a tour, go here.
When you visit Ireland, may the road rise up to meet you and the Force be with you.
Here’s to an icon who should be celebrated beyond Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Mother’s Day. I’m forever grateful for the invitation to stay in Josephine Baker’s former Moroccan home. Like many women, she found rest and strength to reinvent herself in Morocco. If you need inspiration, try on a bit of Josephine Baker at Riad Star.When I raided the library, I discovered a missing part of my education. I met a superstar, a spy, a hero, and a mother. She was the only woman who spoke at the March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. When he was killed, Corette Scott King asked Josephine to take his place. She declined, saying that her children were “too young to lose their mother.”
When people ask How? Why? I moved to Morocco sight unseen, I think to myself, I didn’t. Though I’d never been to Africa, my soul brimmed with vivid images from exotic Arabian tales my grandmother read to me from my dad’s childhood book.
I was lured by sultry desert tents, regal riads, and secret gardens where princes and princesses lounged in plush, cushioned comfort. In my imagination, birds sang by day and lanterns glowed by night in arched Andalusian courtyards of fabulous fountains, mosaic tile, and intricately carved woodwork. I was meant to come here — a place where so many desires of my heart have been fulfilled for which I am forever grateful.
Likewise, for some time I felt drawn to the Moroccan home of Josephine Baker, Queen of the Jazz Age. I was first attracted by the place and a moment in time — the blending of beautiful Marrakesh design with an era I’ve loved since I was a little girl dressing up in my grandmother’s drop waist dresses and pumps. As an adult obsessed with Post- World War I Paris expats and Harlem Renaissance artists, I teach The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and Jazz, and when living in the US had students play dress up, too, for our annual ’20s Day event.
I finally stayed at Riad Star and met “Jazz Cleopatra,” the legend for whom the boutique hotel is named.
I now realize that what drew me there was more than one period of history. It was a Renaissance Woman who before and beyond Harlem and the 20s never stopped changing, growing, giving, and overcoming. A woman of tenacity and tenderness.
You can meet Josephine Baker at Riad Star by trying on the banana skirt that made her famous as well as her flapper-era frocks…
You can meet Josephine Baker at Riad Star in many ways. When Aziz greeted me at the taxi, walked me to the riad, and placed my bag in her very suite, The Josephine Room, I was in awe. There, under a photograph of Josephine’s close friend, Grace Kelly, my favorite American Hollywood actress since I was a teen…
You can meet Josephine Baker at Riad Star by devouring her biographies. I found book on her life in my room and the library downstairs. Like Own Wilson in Midnight in Paris (a movie where a writer returns to the Jazz Age and meets Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Salvador Dali, and other icons of the Roaring 20s), I was transported to the Jazz Age and met my fascinating host …
In the afternoon sun on the rooftop
near the cool courtyard,
and under the covers at night,
like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris I was transported to another time.
There I discovered a new treasure in Marrakesh..the “Black Pearl”…the “Bronze Venus” who Ernest Hemingway, her fellow expat in Paris, called “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”
Or Angelina Jolie…
You can meet Josephine Baker at Riad Star by studying the framed photos of the mom who energetically entertained crowds for fifty years and raised her “Rainbow Tribe.”
Baker was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, Zouzou(1934) and to become a world-famous entertainer. A superstar before Marilyn or Madonna, Josephine was named in 2012 Time magazine in the Top 100 Fashion Icons of All Time.
Likewise she was muse for artists and intellectuals of the 1930s such as Picasso, Pirandello, Georges Roualt, Le Corbusier, and e.e. cummings. Dance Magazine explained the allure of Josephine — the “geometry” of her oval head and lithe body — during the Cubist and Art Deco movements, both influenced by African art and sculpture. You can meet Josephine Baker at Riad Star where you’re immersed in artistic eras she inspired.
A World War II spy for the French Resistance, Josephine Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle and the Rosette of the Résistance. At her death, she was mourned in Paris by 20,000 people including Princess Grace who gathered for her funeral procession. She was buried with military honors in Monaco, a place she and her family visited often as guests of the royal family.
A civil rights activist, she was the only woman who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington alongside Martin Luther, King. She told the crowd that day: You are on the eve of a complete victory. You can’t go wrong. The world is behind you.
Later she said of her personal victory:
Until the March on Washington, I always had this little feeling in my stomach. I was always afraid. I couldn’t meet white American people. I didn’t want to be around them. But now that little gnawing feeling is gone. For the first time in my life I feel free. I know that everything is right now.
And for a time, she lived in Marrakesh in a room I just stayed in.
Mike and Lucie Wood, British owners of Marrakech Riad, added Riad Star in 2010 to their collection of boutique hotels in the medina. Mike explained their mission:
We bought our first riad (Riad Cinnamon) in 2005 after I was introduced to Marrakech by a Moroccan friend. We are passionate about introducing our guests to Moroccan culture, especially first-time visitors. As well as the riads we are very involved in a charity which we founded with another English couple. It’s called Henna Cafe and has an active programme of education.
The Pasha Thami el Glaoui formerly owned what is now Riad Star, a guest annex to the palace which is now the Marrakech museum. Mike says he learned Josephine Baker stayed there when talking to a neighbor. The people of Derb Alilich still remember her warmth and she appreciated theirs. In the Josephine Room there’s a window looking onto the street–nonexistent in most riads where windows, doors, and balconies face inward toward private courtyards. It is believed the Pasha of Marrakech paid children to sit outside Josephine’s window and read for her while she was convalescing after a nineteen-month stay at a hospital in Casablanca in 1941-42.
Mike Wood says of the purchase:
The restoration was extensive and took two years with a team of highly skilled local craftsmen. We did not really change much except adding the rolling roof which is very practical and putting in more bathrooms.
Ah, but the details the Woods added are symbolic of a spirit whose beauty, sensitivity, and toughness transcended adversity. There are nine rooms at Riad Star, each named for a part of Josephine’s life, such as the Jazz room, Paris room, Chiquita room, and Rainbow room. Though historically themed, each room has modern conveniences, such as refrigerators, WiFi, and flat-screen televisions.
Josephine was born in 1906 in St. Louis to Carrie McDonald, daughter of former slaves, and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson who carried her onstage when she was a toddler but left the family soon after. She cleaned houses and tended children for white families who told her not to kiss the babies. One mistress burned her hands for using too much soap when washing clothes. At age twelve she began a waitressing job at The Old Chauffeur’s Club which led to being married off unsuccessfully at thirteen. At fifteen she was noticed for her street dancing and recruited for vaudeville. After witnessing the St. Louis race riots and experiencing abusive treatment which led to a time she lived on the streets and ate from trash bins, she moved to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance and performed at the Plantation Club. As the last girl in the chorus line, her role was to make the audience laugh–something she loved doing her entire life. But in 1925 Paris she moved from last to superstardom overnight when she opened in La Revue Nègre at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Continuing to amaze crowds with her sensual dances, costumes, and charisma, by 1927 she earned more than any entertainer in Europe. And then she took on another continent…
In Josephine: The Hungry Heart, Jean-Claude Baker, and Chris Chase wrote of Josephine’s “Arabian Nights” when “she came to Northern Africa with twenty-eight pieces of luggage and her animals.” Before she adopted twelve children from various countries (she suffered miscarriages and “many surgeries” trying to have her own and a complication that confined her to the Casablanca hospital ), she had a menagerie consisting of Chiquita, her famous leopard she walked on a leash; Ethel, a chimpanzee; Albert, a pig; Kiki, a snake, and a goat, parrot, parakeets, fish three cats and seven dogs. In Morocco, her monkeys played in the orange trees.
You can meet Josephine Baker at Riad Star in the exotic, colorful signature Moroccan way of life all around. Her son records accounts of his mother’s time at Riad Star :
Every morning, as soon as the birds started singing, Josephine was up and running around in the buff going to the kitchen to help the servants cook… The house had four bedrooms—one which had her big brass bed from France… She adopted Arab customs. She liked eating with her hands, wearing the loose djelleba, going with her maids to the hammam, the Turkish baths, once a week.
….And wasn’t it queer that Josephine, who had spent her childhood dreaming of kings in golden slippers, should find herself there? In a place where, even more amazingly, racial discrimination did not exist? Thami el Glaousi, pasha of Marrakesh and the most powerful tribal chieftain in French Morocco at that time, was himself black.
From northern Africa, Josephine was safe from Nazi racism. Langston Hughes wrote she “was as much a victim of Hitler as the soldiers who fall in Africa today fighting his armies. The Aryans drove Josephine away from her beloved Paris.” Nonetheless, while in Africa as she’d done throughout Europe, Josephine continued entertaining troops for Charles de Gaulle and carrying information for the Allied forces from Spain. Among the dignitaries who visited her while in the hospital in Casa was Jacques Abtrey, Head of Intelligence against the Germans. Outside as a military parade with American, French, and Moroccan troops marched by, he and Josephine toasted with champagne. He recalls: “We raised our glasses to America, to England, and to our eternal France.”
Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Director of the African and African-American Studies Research Center at the University of California – San Diego and author of Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image wrote of Josephine making Paris her home and learning not only French but Italian and Russian:
As a black woman, had she stayed in the United States, she could not have accomplished what she did….She never made a Hollywood film. But at the same time she was recording in France, you had the likes of Hattie McDaniel playing maids in Gone with the Wind…[She] was among the early path-breakers to use performance celebrity for political ends.
When in the US she refused to perform in venues that did not admit minorities. Says Jules-Rosette: “She was the first person to desegregate the Las Vegas casinos, not Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.”
Still, in 1951 she was refused admittance to some hotels and restaurants, and when she charged the Stork Club in New York City of racism when the owner would not serve her, she was placed on the FBI watch list and lost her US citizenship rights for over a decade. In 1963 she returned with the help of Attorney General Robert Kennedy to speak at the March on Washington. She told the crowd:
You know I have always taken the rocky path…I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had.
Summing up her journey, Josephine said: “I did take the blows [of life], but I took them with my chin up, in dignity, because I so profoundly love and respect humanity…I believe in prayer. It’s the best way we have to draw strength from heaven.”
When not reading at Riad Star, I chatted over dinner with a lovely group of ladies on holiday from England. All moms, they had decided to treat themselves to a girls’ getaway. For information on package deals including a Girls’ Getaway and other specialty escapes, go here.
The next morning, I spent breakfast with a little bird by the pool, then took off with Aziz to see two other properties owned by the Woods. I’m a fan of Girls’ Getaways and solo travel. Women need safe, peaceful places — especially when in need of a reset or reinvention.
Though all guests are provided a downloadable App and cell phone to navigate the medina, after two years here and still taking wrong turns at times in the medina, I was thrilled Aziz was happy to walk me to and from the taxi as well as show me two other riads.
Riad Cinnamon has five suites, each named for a city in Morocco: Fez, Essaouira, Chefchaouen, Casablanca, and Meknes. Since I’ve been to all but Meknes, four of the rooms transported me to fine Morocco Moments across the country.
After raiding my grandmother’s trunk for dress up clothes, I’d wear them out into her garden to watch butterflies playing in the flowers. At Riad Papillon (Riad Butterly), imagination takes flight in rooms named for blooms, such as Bougainvillea, Jasmine, and Rose known to attract those feathery-winged wonders. The riad is just off Dar El Bacha, one of my favorite shopping streets in the souks, while Star and Cinnamon are just around corners from Merdersa Ben Youseff, a medina must-see. All are also near the Spice Square and Henna Cafe.
I enjoyed the morning and my Midnight in Marrakesh experience. HBO’s 1991 movie, The Jordan Baker Story, winner of five Emmys and a Golden Globe now tops my list of must-see films. In “My Josephine Baker” her son explains in The New York Times how and why he had to write a biography of her: “When she died, something was taken from me. I suffered a loss and I wanted to know who she was, that woman I had seen in so many ways, sometimes a criminal, sometimes a saint.”
When she passed away in 1975, no doubt there were mixed opinions of her because she was– and her critics are– after all, human. Her legacy lives on in Riad Star in the Red City where others find rest and shelter and at the Henna Cafe that promotes appreciation of diversity, cross-cultural communication, and understanding. Though Josephine left school to work as a child, she later learned French, Russian, and Italian, an inspiration to language learners everywhere.
Thank you to Riad Star for the hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
*Thanks to Pier House for reviving my mind, heart, body, and soul. As always, the following opinions are my own.
Wishing you could just ride (or sail away) into the sunset?
Sick of winter or overwhelmed by a longer season of taking care of business, children, grandchildren, or parents?
Recently I found the port in the storm I needed.
Sure, Pier House Resort and Spa in Key West is a destination for dream weddings, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations. But it’s also PARADISE if you need a Solo Soul Retreat. A safe harbor of beauty and a launchpad for adventure. A place where I enjoyed some solitude and experienced the kindness of strangers.
If one of your resolutions this year is to take better care of yourself, this is the place. Put it on your Bucket List — not in spite of but because of loved ones depending on you.
“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh,Gift from the Sea
Pier House Resort and Spa, a destination in its own right, is located on Fantasy Island, a.k.a Key West. If you’ve heard that all the beaches are manmade and that deters you, don’t let it. An island in the largest living coral reef in the Continental U.S. (and 3rd largest in the world) where you can play in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico is something to behold. Key West is a three-hour scenic drive from Miami, a ferry ride from Fort Myers, and accessible by commercial airlines.
Key West feels like the Caribbean where I lived for a year minus the worries of what can happen if you leave the resort. The town is the best of Old Florida with a twist of New Orleans quirk. But members of The Conch Republic pride themselves in being different from the rest of the state — or anywhere — for that matter. You have to love rebels with a cause who are celebrating over 40 years of Fun-dependence since they staged a kind-of-coup in 1982. They’re an inclusive bunch, inviting you to celebrate this historic moment with them in April and every sunset year-round.
From the moment I saw from my plane fleets of sailboats bobbing below on emerald, turquoise, aqua, and midnight blue waters, I was smitten. I loved walking down the ramp and across the tarmac to the tiny airport (4 gates) as if in some classic movie. If you’re a romantic, too, I advise you to experience the Key West International Airport before the completion of the expansion in 2024.
Getting around couldn’t be easier. The Lyft driver met me at the pickup point a few steps from Arrivals within 5 minutes of my call. I paid $20 for the 15-minute drive to Pier House, and other than hitching a ride in a Pedicab and sailboat, I enjoyed walking everywhere during my 3-day stay. You can also rent a bike, Vespa, or go-cart to explore the 2 by 4-mile island.
Riding along the Malecón took me back to The Dominican Republic. The temperature was 75, 40 degrees warmer than the temperature in Nashville when I left. Palm trees, oh, how I love palm trees! waved a welcome as did the waves, clear and blue as the sky.
We rode through the Historic District of Old Town Key West where homes and churches circa 1800s – early 20th century line the streets. Pretty in pink, yellow, and blue hues, they have shuttered windows, verandas, and gardens with white picket fences. Similar to architecture in New Orleans, there are stately two-storied, white- columned homes, Spanish Colonials, and Queen Annes with gingerbread trim and whimsical gables, turrets, and towers. The single-storied conch cottages or “cigar houses” built by Cuban cigar makers are charming.
My plan was to drop my bag off at the resort and explore until my room was ready. I’d caught the Allegiant red- eye flight at 6 AM to get the $150 roundtrip deal. Allegiant flies to and from Nashville on Fridays and Mondays only, so I was happy to get an early start on my weekend. I got up with the chickens so I’d decided to have breakfast with the roosters at Blue Heaven built on the site of the Key West Arena in Bahama Village where Ernest Hemingway refereed open-air boxing matches.
Normally I like getting my bearings in a new place with a low-key food tour where I also get a local’s tip on where to eat. This trip I was THRILLED that I’d be eating meals at the resort not only because the menu looked amazing but also because I was too tired to make decisions. I’d left the house at 3:30 AM, but, to be honest, I arrived weary from becoming a full-time caregiver last April. As I often felt as a single mom from the time my kids were tiny, I just wanted someone to take the wheel. I was armed with a map and directions, but when a pedicab driver with big personality and a cute little friend named Oliver offered me a ride and impromptu tour in his pedicab, I hopped in.
In our short ride I learned about “South Vegas,” saw The Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, the former home of Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness actress who moved to Key West in the early ’90s to raise her family in the friendly, small town), banyan trees, roaming chickens, termites, Mile Marker 0 (end of Highway US 1), and “the best people on the planet.” It was a joy ride.
The Lobster Benedict, live music, and roosters lived up to the hype at Blue Heaven. The wait was over an hour, but you can eat at the bar straight away if there’s an empty chair. I like doing this when alone because it’s a way to meet locals and other travelers who’ll give you their must-sees and don’t-dos. Trey from Ohio who often comes to Key West with his sailing friends sat down beside me and did just that.
Quick Travel Tale for Caregivers on Why Getting Away is Important
As I started breakfast, the lady I’d hired to care for Mom called. I couldn’t hear her questions over the band or understand her text. Afraid something was wrong, I said I’d call her from outside as soon as I paid the check. Trey saw that I was shaking, told the waitress (who was slammed) to add my tab to his, and insisted that I go. He said, “My dad passed away a few months ago. It’s a good thing you’re doing.” I told him I haven’t been doing it so well lately.
I actually felt like a failure. I share this story because 1) there are kind people in the world and plenty of them in Key West, 2) if you’re a caregiver to the elderly and feel isolated, know that you’re not alone. According to the CDC, 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are receiving care at home. Approximately two-thirds of dementia caregivers are women… and approximately one-quarter of dementia caregivers are also caring for children under age 18. 3) Give yourself a break. Mom and I have had fun together and share moments I’ll treasure forever. But some days I’ve felt depressed, irritable, and frustrated, then guilty, because I can’t imagine how hard many days feels to her. A social worker told me that no matter what we do, don’t do, or how we do it, when our parents are gone we feel we should have… could have… done more. She said burnout is real, and if we don’t put on our own oxygen mask we can’t care for others. My mom knew this when my kids were little. She’d take them once or twice a year while I went alone to a Tennessee B & B. I returned a better mother. After Key West, I returned a better daughter.
By the time I returned to Pier House, my room was ready. As the video shows, the property is a tropical hideaway in the #1 location in Key West. The address is literally 1 Duval (Duval being the main artery of town pulsing with restaurants, bars, and shopping all the way to the Southernmost Point in the US. Steps from the front door of the resort is Sunset Pier and Mallory Square where folks from everywhere on the 2 x 4- mile island migrate daily to toast the sunset. Everyone is invited to the party. I met new friends there and on the property. Pier House is the perfect place to retreat or engage as needed.
These 2 photos are courtesy of Pier House Resort and Spa Key West
There was room for a party on my balcony, but I enjoyed relaxing to the rhythm of the Gulf below. The view from my comfortable bed in my one-bedroom suite was stunning. Pier House also has two-bedroom Ocean View Suites and a Presidential Suite, which encompasses the entire top floor of the building overlooking the harbour.
The property has 119 rooms, 23 suites, a private beach, pool and hot tub, an award-winning spa, a beach bar and One Duval on the Gulf of Mexico. Pier House was listed #1 Best Hotel in Key West by Southern Living magazine in 2022, received the Experts’ Choice Award in the 2022 Trip Expert Awards, and was voted Top 13 Resorts in the Florida Keys in the 2021 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.
People who Make Pier House Home
The resort and spa staff took such good care of me I was tempted to never leave. I immediately bonded with Thekla who has been working in the spa for over twenty years. She says Pier House feels like a family. She is from Salzburg, The Sound of Music city I adore and was intrigued about solo travel. I loved hearing about her journey from Austria to the Keys. By the time we were finished, she said she is going to take her first solo trip to her Dream Destination, and I had a podcast episode I’ll share with you soon.
Other staff members who made me feel at home were Roman from The Czech Republic, Joko at the beach bar, Naz and Cristina at One Duval, Marc, bartender at The Chart Room, and Lee, the Concierge who gave me tips to chart my course when I arrived. Turns out, even when I went rogue, he saved the day. Literally.
I saved 2 Bucket List items for last — deep sea fishing and The Hemingway Museum. I planned to call the post, “The Old Lady and the Sea.” Being a do-it-yourself, bargain-hunting kind of girl, I booked a fishing charter online with my go-to tour company. I bought a sunblock shirt at CVS on the corner, a pair of shorts at a $5 shop a local lady volunteered to take me to, and and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. I grew up fishing with my dad on lakes in Kentucky. A Hemingway sort himself, he’d caught a sand shark the one time he fished in Florida. I was soooo excited to finally fish on the high seas.
The Hemingway Museum was amazing. (More on that in another post.) When I stopped by Lee’s desk to ask where to catch the boat for the 2:30 fishing excursion I’d booked, he looked worried. He called the captain. There was no 2:30 trip on Sunday, just one at 8 AM. The captain offered to take me on Monday, but I told him I was leaving the next morning. I wanted to cry.
“Let’s get you on the water,” Lee said kindly.
It was too late to book a fishing charter, but he had many other options. I said a sunset cruise with food, drinks, and live music would be great. I mentioned a rambunctious crew I’d heard on a party boat my first night, but he steered me away. I listened because I’d learned a lesson. Let local pros handle your stay. They truly know best. He broke down several cruises by company, type of ship, food and drink, music, and number of passengers.
Lee’s expertise can also help with parasailing, biking, scuba diving, reef snorkeling, dolphin swimming, jet skiing, rain and trolley rides as well as:
Red Barn Theatre
Fort Zachary Taylor
Harry S. Truman Little White House
Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Hogs Breath Saloon
Sloppy Joe’s Key West
Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park
Key West Acquarium
Ernest Hemingway House
Don’t Miss The Chart Room
Pier House was actually built around this institution. Check out photos of Jimmy Buffet starting his career here and other celebrity sorts. Great drinks and free popcorn, peanuts and hot dogs nightly.
The Key West Effect
Poets, pirates, parrotheads, and painters…bikers, hippies, cowboys, and sailors. Boomers to Zoomers … animals with attitudes … in Key West, fun is had by all.
In reel below, I learned at Island Cigar Factory all about Alvin’s Doggy Speed Dating and wedding. And at the Hemingway Museum, cats spread their paws in boredom knowing tourists are searching for that 6th toe. Pets are welcome at Pier House. For a Pet Fee of you get bowls for food and water, luxury pet bed, flashlight and waste bag holder and Pier House treats.
Fun Fact: The Hemingway Museum consulted a cat therapist to be sure the growing number of descendants of Snow White, a gift to Hemingway’s son, were doing ok. A couple of the cats were enjoying the bed during my tour of the home. Obviously, all is well.
Happy Sails to You, Key West, Until We Meet Again…
Something about the sun melting into the Gulf of Mexico makes everyone happy. Just a few nice folks I met…
I met Dennis and Teri the first night. They had a rental for a month and had biked to Sunset Pier for the Sundown Celebration. Though retired, they help their daughter by caring for grandchildren. Thanks for the Rum Runner!
I met Jane and Joe on the last night on a sunset cruise celebrating Joe’s 75th birthday. They said they aren’t into partying, but found so much history to enjoy in Key West.
Pretty ladies from California enjoying the cruise, too.
By the time we glided into the port that last day, I was a different person. I’m still smiling. My administrator noticed it at our spring semester kickoff meeting, marking my 80th semester of teaching. Last August, I’d started this 40th year clearly exhausted.
“You seem so calm,” she said.
“I am,” I grinned. “I just got back from Key West.”
Our world expands — literally and mentally — when we explore wide, open spaces and try diverse diversions. Offering plenty of both, Denver, Colorado is one of my favorite US destinations.
My initial encounter with the state was not love at first sight. Decades ago, a colleague and I took students to Durango, Colorado on a ski trip. As I peered up at the appropriately-named Purgatory Mountain, Mr. H said I didn’t need a lesson — You can water ski, right? So I hopped on a chair lift and we took off. How hard could it be?
As we neared the summit, I realized this wasn’t a ride at the Western Kentucky State Fair. No carnival worker was waiting to stop the lift and let me off. So I took the leap … and busted my tailbone on the ice. Groaning and groping, I managed to catch another chair. I was the only person who rode the lift down the slopes that day (or maybe on any day).
Determined to experience the thrill of victory and erase the agony of defeat, I soaked in the hot tub and the next day, attempted a lesson on the Bunny slopes. All you have to do is learn how to stop, Mr. H said. How hard can it be?
Ask the kids screaming and dodging the woman on runaway skis. They’ll tell you they were just thankful (as was I) for the concession stand at the bottom of the hill that stopped me. Humiliated again, I never planned to give the state a second look. But when my son moved to Denver in 2020, I learned you don’t have to be a skier to enjoy Colorado! Four stays later, I’m in love with the place.
If you’re a beach person, I get it. I’m a Pisces, the “Dreamy Fish” who usually opts for escapes to the ocean. But around Denver, pristine lakes and rivers glisten under sun 300 days a year. From downtown in the Mile-High City, you can see 120 miles of The Rocky Mountains dolloped with snow and lush with green pines. Denver is base camp for exploring natural wonders — like Pike’s Peak, Old-West towns, and The Continental Divide.
Denver tourists and 2.8 million residents can enjoy six professional sports teams, 3 downtown stadiums, 6 art districts, 100 breweries, museums, botanic gardens, parks, animal sanctuaries, a bison preserve, an aquarium, butterfly pavilion, and (whew—let me catch my breath) a world-famous music venue.
What I love most about this area, is the eclectic mix of people. Big Tech Professionals, University of Colorado Students, Hippies, Hipsters, and Cowboys call the Denver area home. (As I write this, the National Western Stock Show Kick-Off Parade is happening at Union Station. Longhorn cattle and Yellowstone fans are everywhere.)
Something fun for everyone is always happening here! Choose upcoming events and festivals that interest you and consider these reasons for planning a 2023 trip!
1. A WINTER WONDERLAND (and Beautiful Ski Resorts Nearby)
Even if you don’t ski, snowboard, or snowshoe, you can watch the snow fall while sipping a toddy in the hot tub or tea beside a fire. Gourmet chefs make just a day trip worthwhile. Resort season is in full swing, so make plans now.
After discovering the wonder of Christmas markets in London, England and Cologne, Germany, I was THRILLED to learn that Christkindlmarket is a Denver tradition. In a village of European-style huts lights twinkle, hand-painted and hand-blown glass ornaments shimmer, German candle carousels twirl, nutcrackers and nesting dolls grin. Brats, beers, Glühwein (mulled spiced wine), s’mores kits and fire pits to use them, cinnamon almonds… so much good food.
After roaming markets-by-day on foot, we enjoyed a warm drive-through of Denver- by- night aglow. Historic neighborhoods, Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens, and Zoo Lights where families were lined up stroller-to-stroller were sights to behold. These, and other holiday traditions, like The Nutcracker, sell out early so plan ahead.
3. Fun Food Halls and Cozy Eateries
The Dairy Block, a food hall that’s fun year-round, has a small outdoor market during the Christmas season where you can get a photo with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, buy a Be Hippy tee from the brand designer, or rock out with a swing trio.