Silver&Fit International Classes For Travel to Punta Cana, Cabo San Lucas, & Montego Bay From Home

Disclosure: I received compensation for trying the Silver&Fit International class offerings. As always, I endorse only products and services I’ve personally used. I recommend only brands with missions based on values that align with mine. The opinions below are my own. 

Disclosure:There are Amazon Affiliate links below for which I am paid a small amount for purchases. They do not affect the buyer’s price.

 

I do love a beach. Especially now. 

Last week my city, Nashville, Tennessee was frozen for days. Ice, snow and subfreezing temperatures buried cars, stopped garbage trucks, and even cancelled (gasp) my Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods delivery orders. Meanwhile… escape artist that I am, I was beach-hopping. I took a trip to the sunny shores of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic–a country where I lived 2016-17. I traveled by way of Silver&Fit International Series– FREE to the public on Facebook and YouTube

One of the nation’s leading healthy aging and exercise programs, Silver&Fit was created for adults 50+ to live their most vibrant lives. Each daily International Class is filmed in various dream destinations. All classes–Cardio, Strength, Yoga, Dance, Flex and Balance, Mixed Format, Tai Chi– are offered at all fitness levels so my mom can exercise on virtual trips, too. 

The program combines travel, exercise, sunshine, and the ocean–all scientifically to improve mood. As a travel writer, my goal is to not only transport readers vicariously to amazing locations but also to move them–literally–to travel for physical, mental, and spiritual health. Travel can reduce long-term stress, anxiety, and the risk of heart disease. Studies at University of Surrey and Cornell show that even just planning a trip makes us happier. Taking classes from teachers in these locations of beauty can inspire planning an actual adventure there for one day. 

Silver&Fit offers many workouts– including 9 live classes streamed daily on Facebook and YouTube, 6 days per week. Recordings are posted so videos are available anytime, anywhere. Instructors are inclusive and encouraging–suggesting you use the belt of a robe or sand in a bottle if you’re on vacation or at the beach.

I did 30-minute yoga and cardio classes for my first getaways. They reduced anxiety and Covid fatigue, made it easier to keep up with daily fitness goals for 2021, and were fun. 

I enjoyed Stephanie’s International Cardio Class for building strength and endurance filmed in Huatulco, Mexico. I’m thinking my next destination abroad might be Mexico, and I’ve been curious about Oaxaca for awhile. Jump rope could be good for jump starting the morning. The shadow boxing could be great for a burst of late afternoon energy. I’d been needing a pandemic punching bag.

Jumping rope in Silver&Fit Cardio Class
Shadow boxing

I loved Jill’s International Yoga Class –one of the most popular–filmed at Montego Bay. I could blame losing my balance a couple of times on Ella, but I’ll fess up. I hadn’t done a class since last month. It was good to get back on track. Yoga is great during lunch breaks to release stress and strain from teaching and writing in front of a computer screen all day. 

International Yoga With Silver&Fit Instructor Jill on Montego Bay

Silver&Fit International Yoga Class Montego Bay
Stretching and cooling down

My knees greatly appreciated De De’s International Flexibility & Balance Class in beautiful Cabo San Lucas. A classy, career professional, she has worked with athletes and celebrities. 

Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, a marine biologist and author of Blue Mind, found that exercising near water or the ocean can relax the mind even more. I have always preferred walking or biking–really any activity–in an outdoor, beautiful setting VS a gym with blaring music or tvs. Thus, Joli’s International Yoga class, filmed in Mexico at sunrise just a few feet from the tide, was a wonderful workout and gets my Best Beach Experience Award.  

In Marrakesh I became addicted to pool days. Pretty pools are backdrops an added bonus to Kelly’s International Yoga Class in Punta Cana and Joanie’s International Flexibility & Balance class in Montego Bay and. 

Follow The Silver & Fit Facebook Page for weekly and daily schedules as well as Live Stream alerts. There you’ll find an active community that shares educational articles, fun challenges, tips, recipes, and photos. If you try a class, let me know what you think. If you know someone who would benefit from this info, please share. 

Go to ​www.SilverandFit.com​

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Behind-the-Scene Tour of The Ringling, Crown Jewel of Florida’s Cultural Coast

Disclosure: Thank you, VisitSarasota.com and partners, for the hospitality, education, and fun. Readers, as always, the opinions here are my own.

 

This last feature of a 3-part series celebrating Florida’s Cultural Coast pays tribute to Sarasota’s crown jewel, The Ringling. The 66-acre complex of world-class art and circus museums, an educational center, a glass pavilion, historic theater, arboretum, gardens, and  palatial mansion is a place where lovers of all kinds can wander away from crowds. More a destination than an attraction, The Ringling alone is worth a trip to Sarasota County. It’s also a cultural center for local members and a dream venue for romance and weddings.

I took a three-hour private tour with Virginia Harshman, Ringling Public Relations Head, M.A. Harvard University in Museum Studies. She gave me a behind-the-scenes look, unlocking secret areas with keys, masterful storytelling, and passion for the property and the people who built it. I left wishing that I’d explored this hidden gem and national/global treasure a long time ago and looking forward to a future visit.

The Ringling is beautiful in any season. It’s not too late to plan  the perfect Valentine’s, Spring Break, Remote School, or Summer Getaway.

Who loves The Ringling? 

The Ringling Art Museum Courtyard

I Do! I Do! And if you’re one of these 10 Kinds of Lovers, you will, too…

1) Lovers of Love Stories & The 1920s American Dream

Even before I heard the love story of John and Mabel Ringling, American Royalty who owned the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, I fell in love at first sight with their home. Ca’ d’Zan transported me to my favorite era, the Roaring ‘20s, and two of my favorite places on earth. Its Moorish arches took me back to Morocco 

and its overall design to Venice where I started another new year. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace on the Grand Canal, the five-story Venetian Gothic Revival mansion overlooks Sarasota Bay. 

Doge’s Palace, New Year’s Eve, 2015
Doge’s Palace
Ca’ d’Zan Photo Courtesy of The Ringling

The exterior’s stucco as well as many glass windows and bedrooms are pink hues. My favorite color,  the breathtaking property, and  John Ringling’s story reminded me of one of my favorite characters, Jay Gatsby, and his pink suit. John Ringling, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonist, had humble beginnings and both tenaciously pursued The American Dream. I could imagine Jay Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce, called a “circus wagon,” parked in the driveway beside John Ringling’s Rolls-Royce, now on exhibit in the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.

Walking the grounds, I could imagine legendary ‘20s parties around Gatsby’s and on the Ringling terrace.  John and Mabel frequently entertained celebrities, like Will Rogers who had his own guest room, movie directors, politicians, and actresses, such as Billie Burke, better known as Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Jay was “The Great Gatsby”and “John was King of The Greatest Show on Earth.” Both built romantic palaces for the women they loved, but here the parallels end. Daisy rejected Jay and his new money. John and Mabel had similar values–maybe because she, too, came from a modest family. They were kindred spirits in their shared love for culture, art, and travel, as well as their desire to give back. Their legacy is now the State Art Museum of Florida administered by Florida State University. 

Though Ca’ d’Zan means “House of John” in the Venetian dialect, it has been called John’s “love letter” to Mabel. They built it together, getting ideas as they traveled the world for twenty-five years buying art and new circus acts.  She collected in an oilskin portfolio photos and sketches of architecture, gardens, and design. See the video below of my behind-the-scenes tour where I learned more about Mabel and why everyone at The Ringling adores her.

John and Mabel Ringling

2)  Lovers of Architecture and Design

In 1911, John and Mabel began spending winters in Sarasota on 20 acres of waterfront property they purchased. They continued buying real estate and at one time owned 25% of the town. In 1924 they hired architect Dwight James Baum to design and Owen Burns to build the 36,000 square-foot Mediterranean Revival of their dreams. In addition to the Doge’s Palace, Ca’ d’Oro and the Grand Hotel d’Italie Bauer-Grünwald  inspired the plans. 

Ca’ d’Oro, Venice taken New Year’s Day, 2016

The roof was made of 16th century tiles John found in Barcelona and sent home in two cargo ships. The marble bayside terrace –now used for weddings, yoga classes, and other gatherings– was used by the Ringlings for entertaining. The orchestra played for guests from their yacht, Zalophus, beside Mabel’s gondola which bobbed in the bay. Their dining room table seated 22, and cocktails were served in style at parties and in John’s Man Cave. 

Ballroom Ceiling

John’s Man Cave

Virginia gave me a look at the upper floors of the house which were closed due to Covid. I felt like I was a kid again–Nancy Drew on a snoop–when she showed me the secret Playroom. Overlooking Sarasota from the 82-foot tower is a moment I won’t forget. (See video below.)

Everywhere you look there is regal beauty. John Ringling’s bedroom
Mabel and John painted on The Playroom ceiling
Some guest rooms, such this one where Will Rogers often stayed, were closed due to Covid
Everyday feels like a holiday at Ca’ de’Zan

 

3) Lovers of Art and History

After Ca’ d’Zan was completed, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In the courtyard stands a cast bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David purchased from the Chiurrazi Foundry outside of Rome, Italy.  It’s now the symbol of the City of Sarasota on Florida’s Cultural Coast.

The Ringling, Sarasota, Florida’s Cultural Coast

Ringling Courtyard Photo Courtesy of VistSarasota.com

 Inside are collections of Classical and Modern Masters. In 1931, two years after the death of Mabel, John opened the museum to the public to promote “education and art appreciation, especially for our young people.” In 1936 he left it to the state of Florida upon his death. See the video above on the Rubens Gallery, the family crest John had designed, and Modern Art exhibits, such as the photography series, A Girl and Her Room . A world-class cultural center, The Ringling Art Museum was just awarded another grant–this one from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

At the Museum of Art and Education Center budding artists,  Artists in Residence, and teachers find resources, professional development, and inspiration. 

4) Lovers of Theater/Performing Arts

The Historic Asolo Theater itself, once in the castle in Asolo, Italy of Queen Caterina Cornaro, Venetian-born widow of the King of Cyprus is a MUST-SEE.

It has been restored and moved into the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, designed by Yann Wemouth, architect for the Pyramide du Lovre, East Wing of the National Gallery in D.C. and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. See performing arts schedule here.

5) Lovers of Glass Art

Grouped by country of origin, works of art from the studio glass movement from the 1940s to the present are in the Glass Pavilion here.

5) Lovers of Gardens and Gorgeous Landscapes

In the 66-acre paradise are waterfront gardens and a Level II Arboretum with 100 different species of trees to hug. John and Mabel are buried in the Secret Garden below.

Secret Garden

6) Lovers of Cinderella Stories, Business, and Finance

The Ringling family story is fascinating. In 1927 John Ringling, one of the wealthiest men in the world, made Sarasota the winter headquarters for the circus. In addition to owning “The Greatest Show on Earth” he invested in oil, railroads, Madison Square Garden, and his community. When he died his estate appraised at $23.5 million, and he had $311 in the bank. Business Insider gives an in-depth analysis here.  

7) The Circus and Circus Movies

Ok, I admit it. I’ve saved the best for near-last.  One of my favorite movies as a child wasThe Greatest Show on Earth  which I watched again this week while writing this piece. Director Cecil B. DeMille traveled with the circus for research and John North, John Ringling’s nephew, plays himself in the film as he tries to save the show in changing times. I loved seeing Sarasota where it was filmed–especially the parade down Main Street which included locals as extras. When it was made, there was no Walt Disney World; time under the Big Top was the premiere happy place for children. The movie was the highest grossing film of the year. Though some critics didn’t agree with it winning Best Picture, I’m with  Stephen Spielberg, another fan. He said it was the first movie he ever saw and it inspired his film career.  Since my mom’s generation, kids would say, “I’m goin’ run away and join the circus!” Swinging from a trapeze in sequins and feathers still looks pretty fun to me. 

Check out Sarasota’s Circus Legacy and Circus Museum here. Don’t miss the world’s largest model circus (see video) and special exhibits, like Circus and Suffragists

9) Lovers of Visionaries, Dreamers, and Muses

John was one of eight children of a German immigrant. Mabel grew up in a small farming community in a family of eight. John began in a small circus as a clown. 

After making his fortune, he bought Saint Armand’s Key to develop it into a center for shopping, restaurants, and art. Though the Great Depression deferred his dream, it was fulfilled later by others. Today his statue overlooks Saint Armand’s Circle, a global destination. Here statues he donated to the city  transport visitors to other cultural centers, like Rome and Athens. Other plans he had for Sarasota were thwarted by the times, such as a residence for a U.S. President and a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key. The statues today in The Ringing Art Museum Courtyard had been purchased for the hotel.  One thing is for sure. He shared his love for mythology and was a muse and myth maker himself.

St. Armands Circle

10) Lovers of Photos Ops

If you are vacationing with teens and they aren’t convinced yet to do The Ringling, tell them it’s Instagram heaven. You can also book professional  portraits  here. 

 

MORE OPPORTUNITIES

Until you can visit in person, virtual options are here:

https://www.ringling.org/events/virtual-talks-lectures

https://www.ringling.org/events/learn-home-anytime

Valentine Celebration

Spring Break Treat April 1–my favorite artist on the Big Screen here.

Florida’s Cultural Coast: Part 1

Part 2

 

 

 

Sarasota County Part 2: Where Locals and Tourists Go for Health, Wellness, and To Give Back

Disclosure: Thank you VisitSarasota.com and partners for the hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

Sarasota County: Part 2

Wellness is one of many reasons U. S. News and World Report named Sarasota, FloriDa the #1 Place 2020-2021 to Retire and the #16 Best Place to Live.
LOVE LOVE LOVE Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio

So how are those 2021 health and fitness goals going? January 1, I kicked off  the new year making wellness a priority at Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio–a highlight of my Sarasota County trip

While vacationing on the west coast of Florida the previous two winters, I saw happy, fit folks of all ages everywhere. Snowbirds love this area–maybe now more than ever– because, unlike the northern parts of the state or most of the US, it’s warm enough to socially distance outdoors all year. Only an outside studio could have coaxed me into a class the morning after celebrating New Year’s Eve, but I’d missed my yoga studio in Nashville, closed due to Covid now for almost a year. I had just restarted the practice that gave me peace, joy, and community while living in Marrakesh, and though I’ve done some online classes since the pandemic started, it hasn’t been the same.  So I traded my comfortable bed at Art Ovation Hotel for one of the bikes they provide and took off on empty but sunny streets.

I enjoyed the ride through the Burns Court neighborhood. When I arrived at the studio–a haven that Claudia Baeza has created in Sarasota–I  instantly felt welcome,  energized. Something also seemed very familiar…like a Moroccan coastal yogi retreat.  

Please watch the video below to understand why, meet some amazing ladies, hear about a haven for locals and tourists…and a model for giving back.

I understand why locals love Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio, named in Sarasota Magazine Best New Yoga Studio 2019 and in SRQ Magazine, Best Local Yoga Studio 2020. On-demand classes, online teacher training , studio and live streaming, and here’s just a few events: history yoga classes, Dock Yoga at Marina Jack on Valentine’s Day, Poolside Yoga at the Moderns Sarasota Hotel, Moving Meditation at the Ringling Museum, Throwback 90 Outdoor Yoga Party. AND… check out other experiences offered on beach, boat or paddle board here. Take me back please!

Best of all, staying fit and having fun funds the Dharma Footprint Project so others can, too–so many incredible programs for those listed here AND their care-partners : Yoga and Cycling for Parkinson’s, Love Your Brain™ Yoga (LYBY) for those who have experienced a TBI (traumatic brain injury) or concussion, Y12SR yoga with 12-step programs for addiction recovery, Trauma Sensitive Yoga for Anxiety and Depression, Yoga for Veterans, Yoga for Differently Disabled.

I loved meeting Claudia, a kindred spirit. If you saw the end of the video, stay tuned… when the coast is clear we just may team up in Morocco for a writing and yoga retreat!

Some of Sarasota County’s many wellness opportunities, outdoor sports, adventures on the water and an unbelievable list of gorgeous beaches and parks make for a healthy 2021 body, mind, and soul.

Here’s a few I’d like to try:

Canopy Walk at Myakka River State Park 
Mangrove Tunnels

My podcast guest, Morgan Henderson, talked about the fun her boys had on this family field trip they did during remote school. 

Quick Point Nature Reserve at Longboat Key
Epic Equine Experiences
Photo Credit Epic Adventures
Turtle Beach Campground Waterfront Siesta Key
Bike Tour and Siesta Key Sunset Tour
And of course, my favorite thing about Sarasota County…. miles of beaches for walking, running, shell gathering … exercise, mental health, peace.
Siesta Key, Named #1 US Beach, Photo by VisitSarasota.com

 

 Where to Eat for Health and Wellness

After my January 1 class, I biked through a park, around the corner, and up Main Street for brunch.

 

Main Street, Sarasota, Florida

 

Sarasota has been named the Best City for Vegans in America.
My son. has been vegan for a few years and has opened my mind and tastebuds to some delicious dishes. Lila, recommended by locals, was a great choice. Pronounced Lee-lah, translated as fun, whimsical and creative, the eatery lives up to its name.

Grilled Tofu with Lila’s Dragon Sauce
Ginger Margarita, Macro Bowl with Chickpeas, Brown Rice, Fermentlicious Sauerkraut,  Avocado, Cucumber, Warm Kale, Togarashi, Tumeric-Tahini Vinaigrette. Dessert wan a cappuccino before I hit the road and biked back to the hotel.
I love that Sarasota County  is  known for  Clean Conscious Eating. Here are more suggestions.

MORE ON PINEAPPLE STUDIO and BEACHES HERESARASOTA COUNTY, FLORIDA, BEST OF ALL WORLDS: PART 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feedspot Names 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021

Thank you, Feedspot, for naming Southern Girl Gone Global on  your Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021.  

Feedspot is a content reader that simplifies life by combining websites and blogs you follow into one space. They also match brands with 100k influential Bloggers in over 1500 niche categories for marketing.

I’m honored and humbled to be listed with bloggers I admire for their adventurous spirits, humor, and commitment to inspiring and equipping those planning to travel or live abroad.  Just a few mentions from the list…

Are you dreaming of living in Portugal or Scotland? Of visiting there for a month?  Check out the recent posts of Life Part 2 where a retired couple living in Porto, Portugal gives us the costs. I LOVED Porto (and not just because J.K. Rowling juggled teaching, having a child, and writing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Lello Bookstore, inspiration for Hogwarts.)  Also see their posts on Sicily (where a lot of us were meeting for the Travel Writers Exchange last March until Covid shut it down 🙁 . One day…

Also see stunning shots of Utah and the Free Boomer Walking Tour of Prague, a city I also love, on  My Itchy Travel Feet

Been streaming or rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and ready to head to New Zealand?  Albom Adventures has the scoop.

Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel is a lady I’d like to hang out with for awhile. See all she has done since 2007 when she followed her passions and found true joy.

I love the idea of traveling with my brunette sister. Check out how that’s working out for these two on Blonde Brunette Travel sisters. 

And this lady–Suzanne Fluhr–of Boomeresque has entertained, informed, and inspired readers for years. She has built a community of female boomer bloggers and I’m happy to call her my friend.

Sarasota County, Florida’s Cultural Coast, Offers Best of All Worlds: Part 1

Disclosure:  A big thank you to VisitSarasota for the gracious hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own. 

Please note: Decisions about traveling during the pandemic are important and personal. CDC guidelines are here.  As I do when home, I take precautions, such as choosing restaurants and activities with outdoor seating/spaces, and on planes wearing a mask, sometimes with a shield.  When planning a trip, check for the latest updates on what is open and closed in Sarasota County due to Covid-19 or weather conditions here

In this series I’ll explain just a few reasons why Sarasota County has won so many awards. In 2020 Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice™ Awards ranked Siesta Beach #11 of the Top Beaches in the World and #1 Beach in the US. In 2020-21 Sarasota was named #1 Best Place to Retire and #16 Best Place to Live by US News and Report.  In 2020 Southern Living ranked it #7 Best Beach Town for Retirement. In 2019 Conde Nast Traveler ranked it #2 for the Best Places to Retire and Rent.com named it the #1 Best City for Vegans in America.

Unconditional Surrender Statue, Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
I was swept away by Sarasota County on a quick trip there last summer when I saw its beauty and  learned that it is Florida’s Cultural Coast.

I wanted to start 2021 in this sunny place for a brighter year. I especially looked forward to returning after quiet holidays when my family couldn’t gather as usual because Nashville was too cold for us to meet outdoors.

Snowbird friends nest in this area yearly. My sister and brother-in-law spent their honeymoon in Sarasota, and we hope to gather our adult children, cousins, and moms for a multi-generational reunion there one day.  Since I was a child, Florida has been my Happy Place.  My children loved it too. The Destin area is only 7 hours by car from Nashville so many families from here make it their go-to vacation spot.  But over the last couple of years, I’ve been working my way down the west coast. Sarasota County truly offers the best of all worlds—the most beautiful beaches in the country, a welcoming community of locals focused on health and fitness, AND a big city art and culinary scene.

When planning a vacation, we can feel forced to choose between two types we love– exploring a new city or relaxing on a beach. The liberal arts instructor in me likes to nerd-out in artistic centers.

I’ve been moved by paintings in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome… 
The Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
ballet in St. Petersburg and Bratislava… theater in New York and London…
Venice Theater,  Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
sculptures in Athens and Florence…
The David at The Ringling Courtyard, Sarasota
 palatial architecture in Marrakesh, Venice, and Rome.
Ringling Museum of Art Courtyard, Sarasota, Photo Courtesy of VistSarasota.com
Sarasota County offers all of these experiences. 

Sometimes the free spirit in  me just wants a dozen raw oysters and live music, a transcendent sunset, days spent gathering seashells and crashing on powdered sugar sand. 

Siesta Key Beach, voted #1 in the US, is that place, too.
If you enjoy walking or biking to patios of locally-owned coffee shops and cafes …
Lila, Sarasota
checking out craft beer breweries
Big Top Brewing Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
…or having a cocktail on a rooftop looking down on city lights and an ocean bay… 
Art Ovation Rooftop Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
Sarasota County is your place.

Family members have different interests and priorities… shopping vs golfing, playing beach volleyball vs working out, eating vegan vs grilling steak or seafood, exploring nature vs hopping beaches, watching dolphins vs watching the Braves. Here everybody gets to do his or her thing.

Sarasota County also makes the ideal remote classroom. It’s why some parents working from home have moved their children’s virtual learning to Florida’s west coast. Here family bonds over all kinds of field trips–opportunities providing education and wellness for mind, body, and spirit.

Selby Butterfly Garden Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

 

Research shows that just planning a trip makes us happier. Even just a long weekend away can reduce stress. Sarasota is only a 2-hour flight from Nashville and much of the southeast. I flew Allegiant as I’ve done in the past and been very pleased. Last fall Allegiant added 8 new cities with flights to Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. Other departures include Asheville, NC; Fairfax, VA; Louisville, KY; and Knoxville, TN. 

Below is my 3-day itinerary of starting 2021 in Sarasota County. Please check out highlights in the video below. 

The Pineapple Drop  was cancelled but should be back to bring in 2022. Ubers were booked for the weekend. I had better luck scheduling ahead with Lyft. Other than wanting to stay longer…like a month…a year…I wouldn’t have changed a thing. 

(Those I recorded in video removed masks  for interviews only).

Day One
Arrive in Sarasota County at SRQ Airport
Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Check In Art Ovation Hotel, Autograph Collection 

Art Ovation Hotel  is located in downtown Sarasota, the heart of world-class culture and cuisine.  Florida Studio TheatreSarasota Opera House  , other venues and Main Street are steps away. The boutique hotel itself celebrates and inspires creativity with exhibits of contemporary artists throughout.  I felt at home the minute I stepped out of the taxi when I heard salsa music playing throughout the lobby and Overture Bar where rotating art exhibits represent global cultures. Cuban art was in the spotlight  while I was there– inspiring workshops, the menu,  and the playlist.

Upon arrival I was given a guide inviting guests to ten events over the weekend including the New Year’s Eve party on the rooftop, tours led by cultural curators of art galleries throughout the property, live musical performances by Motown and jazz artists, and the weekly Vino Y Arte class where a local artist paints live, then teaches participants her/his techniques as they sip wine and create masterpieces of their own.

Art Ovation Hotel Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
Sarasota Opera Production of Romeo & Juliet Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

 

Florida Studio Theatre, Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

 

Lobby Lounge

 

The hotel provides courtesy bikes and beach chairs. After the New Year’s Eve party I was tempted to grab a cabana poolside but instead took a bike to my yoga class, to lunch, and to check out the neighborhood.

The staff are consummate professionals. They were gracious and helpful with ordering a quick breakfast in the room, scheduling rides, and  and providing insider tips on venues for Latin dance. My King Guest Room was on the 6th floor with  a view of the city lights. In addition to luxurious bedding, walk-in shower, and bath products, in each room is a ukulele for  find your musician within. Their commitment to inspiring creativity extends to all ages, even after you’ve returned home.

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9 pm Dinner at Columbia Restaurant

Since taking a quick spin around St. Armands Circle last summer, I was on a mission to eat at this award-winning institution. Being there on NYE was a real treat. Columbia’s, founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., has additional locations in Tampa, St. Augustine, and Clearwater.  It has been owned and operated by 5 generations and is  known as Florida’s oldest restaurant, the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, and was named one of the most historic restaurants in the country by USA Today. Like the food and service, the guest list is stellar–  Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minelli, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Tyler, and George Clooney.

After living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic I  miss  favorites enjoyed in my Piantini neighborhood and at  Pat’s Palo in the Colonial Zone . Columbia’s has empanadas, croquettes, paella, sangria –oh my!–and so many other choices on the dinner and wine menus choosing is difficult.  My server, Roxy, helped with this. I had  the Ybor City Devil Crab Croquettes, the Original 1905 Salad, the Filet Mignon, and a glass of Don Cesar 2011 Ribera del Duero Spanish wine. Roxy recommended for another day one of their most popular dishes, Salteado . Was I pleased with my experience? See the highlight video above. Reservations recommended, and they offer catering.

Roxy, my amazing server, is new to Sarasota and loving it. She makes me want to move here, too. Another server stopped by to say he grew up in Budapest and has been to all 50 states. He settled in Sarasota and says, “I know it’s a cliche, but this IS paradise.”
The Original 1005  salad is worth the hype. It would also be perfect for lunch with a dessert.

 

I can’t believe they share recipes for their signature  salad (above), popular Cuban sandwich, Mojitos and more here! Columbia’s makes not only guests happy but also servers and management who stay. Manager Richard Appelgren told me he came here from Chile in 1984: “It was my first job and I never left. I love it here.” When I asked how Covid-19 has affected business, he said they adhere to  all safety  measures and fill tables at 50%. He added, “People trust us, and that’s why they keep coming back.”

Columbia’s Manager, Richard Appelgren

NYE Party for Guests on Art Ovation Rooftop–See story on Instagram Highlight. 

Day Two
11:00-12:00 AM Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio 

(In this outdoor cycling/yoga class we wore masks unless on our mats or bikes, and class size was restricted to follow social distancing guidelines. More about Yoga and Lila in Part 2.)

1:00 Lunch at Lila
Afternoon on Lido Beach
Dinner at Element. Steak. Seafood. Pasta. 

Around here exceptionally talented creatives aren’t just found on stages. They are found behind-the-scenes making magic.  I love the stories of Executive Chef Nils and Chef Michelle . These culinary artists, a top-tier staff, an extensive wine list, and gorgeous setting make Element a favorite of local foodies and out-of-town guests. The modern dining rooms and candle-lit terraces make this restaurant a haven. Manager James Harries makes sure all feel welcome. My fun server, Phillipe, suggested the scallops. They were served on parmesan farro risotto with a citrus herb crumb topping and cucumber mint relish. The dish was incredible, and so was the white wine he turned me onto– a Sancerre named for the Upper Loire Valley in France. See highlights in video above. Recommendations recommended.

Element’s elegant dining room
I loved the terraces at Element for their quiet, private spaces.
Day 3
Morning Check out of Art Ovation Hotel  
Private 3-hour tour of The Ringling with Virginia Harshman 
An incredible behind-the-scenes look at the museums and Ca’ d’Zan will be featured in Part 3 of this series. 
Check in at Sarasota Surf & Racquet Club 

My condo was spacious–perfect for a family vacation. As always, my favorite room was the screened in lanai overlooking the pool, beach, and sea. I wasn’t there long enough to buy groceries or grill out, so for lunch I took a trolley a couple of miles down Midnight Pass Road to Siesta Key Village for oysters.  (See video for highlights.) The sunset behind the Club was beautiful as expected, and I hear there’s a drum circle on Siesta Key Beach on Sundays at sunset. Check out other things to do here.

Nightlife in Siesta Key Village, Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
8:30 Dinner Ophelia’s on the Bay on Siesta Key

Ok, this is a  Must-Do. Please see the video above with highlights. I understand why Ophelia’s on the Bay has received recognition from magazines such as Gourmet and Food and Wine. And why it is a popular wedding venue. In fact, a ceremony had just ended before I arrived. Owner Daniel Olson started working in his father’s restaurant in  Maryland at age 14. In 2000 he moved to Sarasota and in  2004 became Executive Chef. His passion and creativity sustains  a loyal  following  of locals and of tourists who always come back.

I loved eating under twinkling lights and a full moon reflected on the bay. I was thrilled to learn that my server, Cassy Belliveau. lived in Nashville six years and worked at one of my favorite restaurants there. She recommended what I believe was the best salad I’ve had in my life. The lobster and pasta made in-house are perfection. The creamy Champagne sauce made the dish so rich and delicious that I saved a bit to carry away for breakfast. Other recommendations are the Maryland Crab Cakes and the Eggplant Crepes, made with Mascarpone, Ricotta, Fontina, spinach, basil, and San Marzano Pomodoro Sauce–staples on the menu for twenty-five years. Reservations recommended.

Ophelia’s on the Bay, Photo Courtesy of Visit Sarasota.com
~  Lioni Latticini Burrata Con Panna Mozzarella ~Heirloom Tomato and Heart of Palm Salad, Prosciutto di Parma, Country Olives, Roasted Peppers,
Black Truffle Marcona Almonds, Black Truffle-Dijon Vinaigrette

1 ½ Pound “Lazy” Maine Lobster, Butter Poached, Handmade Fresh Tortellini, Champagne Lobster Sauce
Day 4
Morning Check out of Sarasota Surf and Racquet Club
Depart from SRQ Airport  

MORE PlACES TO STAY AND PLAY

See the Official Visitors Guide containing a a map, activities for younger children, and MUCH more: digital version and additional guides to download here. 

First, FESTIVALS, My Favorite Thing

See the calendar of annual events in Digital Guide mentioned above — Pages 36-37. Below I’ve highlighted a few festivals and events happening in the next few months (one in November below) to get you started…

FEBRUURY

4th Annual Taste of New Orleans

Thunder by the Bay–Music and Motorcycles Fest for Local Charities

Sarasota Ski-A-Rees–Ski Show normally every weekend February-May. On hold but check back for reopening.

MARCH

Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash

APRIL

Venice Shark Tooth Festival

MAY

Myakka River Blues Festival

JUNE

Sarasota Music Festival

2022

SarasotaHighlandGames.com

Sarasota Music Half Marathon

More Places to Stay

Luxury, Boutique and More here.

Longboat Key

The Resort at Longboat Key, Winner of the Condé Nast Traveler 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards
The Resort at Longboat Key, Photo Courtesy of VistSarasota.com

 

Zota Beach Resort, Winner of the Condé Nast Traveler 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards
Zota Beach Resort, Photo Courtesy of VistiSarasota.com

 

Lido Beach

Lido Beach Resort
Lido Beach Resort, Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

 

Hotel Indigo

Don’t forget the fur babies…

Hotel Indigo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

 

Legacy Hotel

Legacy Hotel, Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Other Places to Learn and Play

 Mangrove Tunnels at Lido Beach
Mangrove Tunnels Lido Beach, Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com
Sarasota Farmer’s Market
Sarasota Farmer’s Market, Photo Courtesy of VisitSaraosta.com
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Photo Courtesy of VistSarasota.com
Civil Rights Tour , Photo Courtesy of VisitSarasota.com.

 

Other possibilities for beauty, adventure, Education and fun include Mary Selby Botanical Gardens, MOTE Marine LABROTORY & AQUARIUM, Civil Rights Tour, and Siesta Key Water Sports.

More Places to Eat

Places to ShopSt. Armands Circle & Beyond

L. Boutique–See all of their designers. I fell in love with kaftans in Morocco so no surprise I LOVE Camilla’s Kaftans and her story. 

T.Georgiano’s  

Influence Style

Island Pursuit

Molly & Zoey

Apricot Lane Boutique 

Fixxation Boutique,

Lotus Boutique,

Pineapple Lain Boutique

The Bazaar on Apricot and Lime 

Camilyn Beth

In the next 2 posts I’ll focus on Health and Wellness Getaways and the Biggest Attraction in Town.

 

 

Local’s Guide to Tarpon Springs, Florida: A Greek Village for Travel Bucket List or Retirement

*Did you know the 12 Days of Christmas are December 25-January 5 anticipating The Epiphany/Three Kings Day on January 6? Did you know the largest Epiphany celebration in the northern hemisphere is in Tarpon Springs? Join me on a podcast tour of Tarpon Springs with Dr. Vincent Huth to learn more, plan a trip, plan a new life. See links below post for your Travel Bucket List to his Must Sees, Must Dos, and Must Eats. 

When a friend and fellow world explorer told me he’d decided not to retire on the southern coast of Spain or Ireland as he’d planned–that he, in fact, was moving to the Gulf of Mexico in the US, I was surprised. But with the enthusiasm of Ponce de León, he told me about discovering Tarpon Springs, Florida  a Greek Village of 24,000 so relaxed and affordable that he’d changed his course.  Thanks to Anastasios Papapostolou of GreekReporter.com for permission to use this video:

I love Greece, so on a road trip to Anna Maria Island with my friend, Traci, we stopped  to check out his new home. We caught up with fresh salads and a seafood pizza from Jimmy’s (which I’ve longed for since) at a seaside picnic table minutes from his house.

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The pines swayed in the ocean breeze on that hot July day as did boats tied to the sponge docks we walked past after lunch. Along the historic main street we strolled past Hellenistic statues and quaint Greek shops. We stopped for dessert at Hella’s Restaurant and Bakery which alone is worth the trip. Sorry, Italy, but a cone of their Banana Foster is the best gelato I’ve ever had!

I plan to return for more walking (and biking and boating) to drink in more of the natural beauty of parks, beaches, and lakes surrounding a European-style city center of Victorian homes.  Though the ancestors of  Epicurus make this a place to eat, drink, and be merry, we somehow left feeling lighter. As for Vince, it’s obvious perfect weather, performing arts, gorgeous cathedrals and a close community quickens the spirit. Away from the madding crowds, such a Florida find is a sip from the fountain of youth and a taste of nectar from the gods.

Tarpon Springs, Florida, less than an hour from crowded Clearwater or Tampa, was built by Greek immigrants in 1875 who made a quaint village on the Gulf of Mexico the sponge capital of the world. Today the city still has more Greek-American residents than anywhere in the US and the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western hemisphere. January 6 typically draws over 10,000 visitors to watch boys dive as their grandfathers did for a cross thrown into the ocean.  

What to See in Tarpon Springs

Vince’s Must-Eats discussed on Podcast

Nearby events and destinations Mentioned on Podcast

 

 

Reasons for a Road Trip (or Move) to Denver

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost. 

Been holed up too long? Need a fall road trip?   Want to celebrate the holidays with a  family  experience to remember rather than  gifts no one needs and will soon forget?

Plan a  trip to Denver, the only US city named by Lonely Planet as one of the “Top Ten Cities in the World to Visit in 2020.” Situated between Boulder and Colorado Springs, the area offers a positive, laid back, vibe; natural beauty and outdoor attractions; and a creative and culinary scene. Or if you need an escape from the current climate,  channel Steinbeck and go all Travels with Charley in Search of America because Denver also made  Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Cities to Visit with your Dog.

If  the pandemic has moved you to make a bigger move… U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver the #2 best place to live in the country based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Read on and when you’re sold and ready to make the move, check out Hello Landing for Denver apartment options and enjoy your new location with their pro advice: 6 Fun Things to Do in Denver for New Residents.  

Prior to 2020, my only experience in Colorado was chaperoning a school trip at Purgatory Resort in Durango. The resort lived up to its name when  my first attempt at skiing was a bust (I may be the only person who has ridden a ski lift down the slope after thinking I’d broken my tailbone when I jumped from the chair). I wrote off Colorado thinking it’s all about skiing—one of those things, like eating with chopsticks, I’m just too uncoordinated to do. Until… one weekend last year when my son, Cole, visited Denver and Colorado Springs and decided he’d make the area his new home.

It was a fit for his IT career and healthy lifestyle. And he loved Denver (as he did Marrakesh, Morocco where I’d lived and he’d visited) for its arid climate; majestic, snow-capped mountain range; and sunny skies about 300 days per year. Bonus are flight schools so he can work on a pilot’s license—another goal. So he flew back to Tennessee on a mission.  By June 2020 he was hired by a large company in Broomfield, “The Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” and found an apartment there. Last July he packed his belongings into a moving truck and set out on a 1400- mile road trip from his home in Knoxville with his car (and me–a stowaway!) in tow. Seriously, I’m so thankful he allowed me to tag along to document the adventure. Doesn’t every mom want to see her adult child’s dream coming true? 

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Broomfield is 10 minutes from Boulder, 30 minutes from Denver, and #3 for raising a family in Colorado with great schools and low crime. Like many who have moved to new cities during Covid, he hasn’t met his coworkers in person since everyone works from home. But he likes that getting a driver’s license in his new state meant automatic voter registration and a mail-in ballot; that his electricity is powered by windmills nearby on clean, open spaces; that there are more vegan options than in Knoxville; that his company has a basketball goal and outdoor grilling area, that he has pro hockey, baseball, football, basketball and soccer teams. 

Reasons to Plan a Trip (Or Move) to Denver

Disclaimer: This list is not as comprehensive as other guides I’ve written on destinations in the US and abroad. Partly because Covid changes everything daily from what is closed, what is open, the whens and wheres.  But mostly my guide is a work in progress because I need to do more research on multiple visits.  🙂

Topping my list of why I love the Denver area so far are all the outdoor areas to explore–  hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams…street art and live music… and a multitude of restaurant and brewery patios. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as masks, allowing everyone to chill for awhile and breathe. 

Boulder

Top of my must-do list on my first trip  was an electric bike tour of Boulder.

I’m a big believer in starting with a guided tour of any city to get the “lay of the land.” I hoped this one would be as fun and informative as the food tour I did in Madrid or the electric bike tour I did through Costa Brava hill towns.  Cole was a good sport to go with me (and the two other ladies my age we met on the tour) –especially on a record-high hot July day. He said later that coasting down hills made him feel like a kid again and I loved feeling that way, too. We learned a lot from our guide about these…

MUST-SEES:

Boulder Creek Path–Watch locals tubing down the stream.

The University of Colorado Boulder–The flagship of the UC system established in 1876.

Historic Hotel Boulderado

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse— A gift from Dushanbe to Boulder, their Sister City, built by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. The hand-carved ceiling and woodwork is stunning.

The Flatirons–Amazing Photo Opp

Chautauqua–I couldn’t wait to see this given my love for the Chautauqua movement that started in the1890s and continues at Monteagle, Tennessee where I began solo travel trips in the 2000s and still love writing retreats in the Assembly today.

Bonus was a stop at The Sink, where  Robert Redford was a janitor in 1955 and famous guests include President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.

 

Note: This July bike tour was my first experience using the  GoPro Hero 8 and Performance Chest Mount. Because some shots were blocked when I also used my camera phone,  I plan to use the Head Mount for moving shots in the future.

And add to the list Pearl Street to hang out in a coffee shop or book store, dance to live music, skate, skateboard, shop, eat, or drink.

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Zeal’s Conscious Kale Salad and a Mojito–Loved Zeal on my first trip which was then located outside Denver. Though that location has closed, you can get their fresh fare in Boulder.

Colorado Springs

Last weekend Cole took me to the the place he liked most on his visit last year to Colorado. In 1859 after the “Pike’s Peak or Bust”  gold rush, men began looking for a site for a town at the mountain’s base. Two Kansas builders of what would become Colorado Springs happened upon red rock formations in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by nothing but trails the American Indians used.  One of them, Melancthon Beach, thought it would be an ideal place for a beer garden one day, while his partner, Rufus Cable, disagreed: 

          “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods.”

Postcards from Garden of the Gods

I hope to explore more off-the-beaten-path areas like the one above near Garden of the Gods –especially the hot springs.

Denver

This is a foodie town and we’re just getting started…

Brunch on the North Side

On the way to Colorado Springs, we stopped north of Denver in Sunnyside, a  neighborhood that has been revived over the last ten years with a strong sense of community. It  reminded me of East Nashville before the Music City boom. I’d read that Bacon had a huge patio and great food, but because the wait was so long, we went to El Jeffe next door and were glad we did.  I didn’t order the  Breakfast Burrito, a Denver delicacy, because the Pescado Tacos and Huevos Con Chorizo Tacos were too tempting.  We couldn’t do the Bottomless Brunch (you can mix and match Blood Marys, Mimosa, and Sangrias), but we did have a sangria before taking off and I’d love to return and try more good stuff on their dinner menu.

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Dinner Downtown

I didn’t realize that many consider Denver the #1 US City for Beer. I was there during Denver Beer Week, so when in Rome…

On the way back from Colorado Springs, we had some great pizza and brews– Pikes Peak Little London and Blue Mesa Tropical– outdoors at 16th Street Mall. 

RiNo Art District and Denver Central Market

Since covering a Street Art Exhibit in Marrakesh, I’ve loved seeing artists’ works in other cities. RiNo is a place to enjoy sunshine, takeout from Central Market, and the skyline.

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Cole’s grandfather/my dad was an outdoorsman who loved Colorado. He would have loved visiting Cole, too.

Next time I want to find the best Rocky Mountain Oysters and Green Chile in Denver–any suggestions?  I want to  buy a University of Colorado sweatshirt and learn to fly fish (know a guide)?   I love a mix of exploring new territory and enjoying family traditions, too–like last weekend when we watched Iron Man and SNL while eating takeout from  Tsing Tao and  Azitra.

Whether you travel or stay home for the holidays, stay safe and celebrate the good times that have happened despite a very difficult year. No matter what 2021 holds… remember…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Maria Island: World Class Beaches with Old Florida Charm

Bradenton Beach, Florida
Beautiful Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island–pristine and peaceful place to spread out, relax, breathe.

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The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.Jacques Yves Cousteau

What can I say? I’m a Pisces and was caught in the ocean’s net long ago.

When my spring break trip to Sicily was cancelled by Covid and borders began closing, I planned an escape to another island–this one in the US.  My sister and brother-in-law love Anna Maria Island, Florida where they vacation (and Sarasota where they married just down the road).  We grew up doing summer sojurns with Mom and our grandparents to Panama City, then took our own children to build sandcastles in Destin, also on Florida’s northern “Emerald Coast.” I’ve explored Florida’s east coast from Daytona to Miami to the Keys so began last year chasing the legendary sunsets on beaches in  the Tampa Bay area and southwest Florida. 

I’m drawn to all kinds of water–whether it laps the beach gently or crashes against its rugged rocks.  While living in Morocco I escaped the city to inhale, exhale with the tide in Essaouira, Agadir, Taghazout, Asilah and Tangier.  I’ve been thrilled by coasts in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, France, Monaco, Greece, Italy…Costa Rica and the Bahamas…California, Hawaii, Tybee Island, Folly Island, and Hilton Head.

But if you want an island escape with sand, white and soft as powdered sugar, and clear, green/blue waters,  check out the Cies Isles in Europe; The Dominican Republic, where I lived for a year in the Caribbean, and Anna Maria Island. This US destination provides gorgeous sunsets; major shelling; live music; dolphin and manatee sightings; no high rises or food chains, a trolley to take you all the way to Sarasota, and a laid-back Old Florida vibe.  I now understand why residents call it Paradise and travelers become pilgrims who return yearly. Woman on shore of Bradenton Beach

Beaches on the 7-mile island include Anna Maria City, Bean Point, Holmes, Bradenton and Coquina. We stayed on a private section of Bradenton Beach where there was plenty of room for social distancing.

I went with my friend, Traci, also a teacher, who has to plan vacations around school. When our spring breaks were cancelled, we made plans for June, then postponed them to July thinking Covid would calm down. It didn’t.  Florida became a hot spot, but we’d chosen an area that wasn’t. We’d booked a condo which had a kitchen for meals and deeded  beach  property. We also drove rather than flew, did dinners in restaurants with outdoor/open spaces maintaining social distancing, and wore masks in the few enclosed public spaces we went. We also stayed in touch with friends who are Florida residents and kept us current on the situation. There was no heavy traffic or long waits at restaurants. As with any vacation in the pandemic era, be sure to check the latest information on health-related sites. This one might also be useful for  Covid-19 Travel Information for Florida.

Where to Stay

Location. Location. Location. Our comfortable, spacious condo was located in Bradenton Beach on a bay beside Cortez Bridge.  It had paved paths both to its deeded beach property across the street and to Historic Bridge Street a couple of blocks away where the clock tower calls locals and tourists to a hub of fun. Owner Morgan Henderson is an amazing host who after months of staying in touch now feels like an old friend! She had everything we needed in the 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom space including a wagon to carry coolers, an umbrella, beach chairs, and towels to the beach. If you book with her, please say hi for me!

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We enjoyed the calming decor of the condo– blue hues of the Gulf. The living area windows and sliding doors to the lanai illuminated the space with a view of the bridge and bay.
Bradenton Beach Condo overlooking bay
Here mornings begin with a cup of coffee and evenings with a glass of wine. On a rainy afternoon, a dolphin joined me.

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Where to Play and Relax

The Beach of Course!

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Entrance to Historic Bridge Streeta couple of blocks away

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My favorite hangout was  listening to music on the water dockside at Bridge Tender Inn..

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Dan Signor IS a “big shot” the way he tears up the keys and strings at Bridge Tender Inn. He had me from the moment he played Van Morrison’s “The Mystic.”
Anna Maria Oyster Bar–great raw oysters outside on the water with a view. This place was so good we went twice!
Surround me with water!
Loved walks in the quirky local neighborhood between our condo and Bridge Street.
Meanwhile, back at the condo…
Next door was a GREAT place for Mexican food, Wicked Cantina. They also have a restaurant in Sarasota. We went away with leftovers and stuffed.
MUST DOs are the margaritas and guacamole bites –freshly made guac rolled in a fried tortilla chip crust served with Jalapeño Ranch sauce
The shrimp burrito was so good!
Gulf Drive Cafe was across the street on the beach. Great place for ocean view, drinks, “food, and fellowship” as we say in Kentucky and Nashville where we’re from.
After a rough 2020 we were in a girl trip crash-at-the beach and relax- near- the- condo mode. We saved the north end of the island for the last day and did get to places below, but rain thwarted plans to do Bean Point (named for the first permanent resident ), then a late lunch or dinner at The Sandbar . Though the restaurant has a parking lot, getting to the northernmost beach is daunting due to lack of public parking near there. Better to take the trolley rather than a car unless you can hike, bike, or golf cart it . Traci is  bringing her family to AMI later this year, I can’t wait to be back with mine, so no worries… next time.
Cutest store ever is the Shiny Fish Emporium where you can paint a sand dollar for $15, find a bohemian or vintage frock, and eye the green velvet couches for an island nap. We enjoyed chatting with Grace who works there and gave us the scoop on navigating Pine Avenue and her end of the island. In addition to popular restaurants, like The Donut Experiment and Poppos Taqueria next door, there’s Beach Bums for renting bikes, golf carts, and water gear.
This Latin dancer’s dream…cha cha cha
Shiny Fish Emporium
Our last night we went for more live music at Island Time. I enjoyed my lobster tail and steak and hearing Robert Garcia play favorites by Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart while heckling the audience.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDUPiUy0w5I

Traci’s friend, Pam, who recently moved to Florida joined us for beach time, dinners on Bradenton Beach, and on our excursion to Sarasota. She suggested for future stays Lazy Lobster and Dry Dark Waterfront Grill in Longboat Key. We’d already tried Mar Vista there and loved eating by the water under the trees. The scallops were amazing! Down the coast (a 30-minute drive from AMI) we took a quick spin around St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, bought by Charles and John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1917. In 1927 they moved the circus to Sarasota as their winter headquarters. John Ringling’s permanent art collection was left to the public. Guests can tour the galleries, now the State Art Museum of Florida, and the Ringlings’ Mediterranean Revival-style mansion on the Ringling estate. I can’t wait to further explore “Florida’s Cultural Coast”--hopefully during the Sarasota Highland Games and Celtic Festival celebrating Scottish roots. I want to know more about Sarasota’s intriguing history and that of Anna Maria Island.

So what have I learned in the year of the Great American Road Trip after being grounded from Europe? I’m told in Sarasota I’d normally hear languages from around the world as I do there. I miss that! But I’m discovering incredible natural beauty in my home country–a place of diverse, gorgeous landscapes; immigrant influence; and indigenous roots. So much more to see…

2020 has been a stormy year. None of us can know when this pandemic will end–when borders will open and global travel resume. We keep watching the sky, but I believe with God’s help, we can weather the storms–even find beauty in the midst of them– and more than we dare dream on the other side.

Disclosure: I received a discount on my accommodations, but as always, the opinions on this blog are my own.

New YouTube Series Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams Episode 1: Spain

Watch Episode One here or skip to sections which interest you marked below.

A lot of us are getting through sheltering at home by meeting online with old friends.  I thank God for technology that bashes through borders during a pandemic. Looking back at how we’ve navigated change in the past can transform how we handle new norms in the present and future. Being grounded for many has been grounding–even if what we know about an invisible enemy seems to shift every hour. In Nashville we’ve been saturated with spring storms and power outages. Worldwide we’re assaulted with staggering statistics of death tolls and unemployment. So I’m wondering…

How are we doing? Reassessing life’s meaning? Seeking a new job or career? A new life? Needing to reinvent ourselves again?

I’d planned to start a podcast this summer but decided to first launch as a YOUTUBE series since we’re home on computers more than commuting to work or traveling. Welcome to this first episode where we’ll travel to Spain and meet my friend, Monica Fernandez Chantada, master of reinvention and growth, who shows us how she and her country are dealing with months of pandemic lockdown, social distancing, and unemployment. Her journey from a Corporate Human Resources position to International Teacher to Camino de Santiago Tour Guide to Life Coach will inspire you as she shares coping tips, travel go-to places, and the beauty of her backyard. She explains how saying “Yes!” changes challenges into adventures and offers to teach you Spanish online.

Moni will walk us through her province of Galicia, Bucket List worthy for its mountains, coast, Celtic ruins, wine, and wonderful people. Through here pilgrims since the 9th century have traveled to the Cathedral in Santiago on the Camino or St. James’ Way–backdrop for the Martin Sheen movie (trailer below). We’ve walked three continents together and I’m still inspired by her journey and spirit. I think you will be, too.

If you’re planning a getaway for when the coast is clear and up for a Camino or stay in Galicia, check out options at Moni’s company, Spanish Steps, and/or stay in her home in Vigo where she’s a Superhost here.

0.00-3.30 “Travel People” Series Intro. “Come Run Away with Me” by Carole Edwards https://www.reverbnation.com/caroleed… Photography https://cindymccain.photoshelter.com/… and courtesy of Monica Fernandez Chantada

4:15 Meet Moni in beautiful Vigo and learn how Spaniards do Lockdown (started March 14)

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6:20 Memories of Madrid: Attention chocolate lovers!

7:05 How Moni and I met in Nashville, Tennessee

9:30 Moni’s US Teaching and Traveling; Alaska, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas

11:00 The Wanderer Returns Home to Vigo

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11:30 How to Reinvent a Life (Again) From Journalism to Working in Corporate Human Resources Job to Teaching Spanish is the US to Camino de Santiago Guide “I always say ‘Yes!’ Every challenge, I take it!”–Moni

13:30 Effect of Pandemic on 2020 Camino Tourism

14:00 Moni’s Call to Another Life, Spanish Financial Crisis, Realizing in India what she really wanted

15:30 Moni’s Mom’s Advice

17:20 Pandemic Effects on Finances and Family

20:00 How Emergency State in Spain differs from US Lockdown

22:30 Dealing with Solitary Confinement after divorce

25:43 Beautiful Vigo–My visit with Moni and Ale on St. John’sEve/Summer Solstice

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26:28 Meeting Moni in Porto, Portugal

27:28 Cies Islands–one of my favorite travel experiences ever

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28:30 Spain Photos from Other Journeys

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29:37 Eating and Socializing in Spain

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32:15 Toledo –Day trip from Madrid

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34:40 Camino options based on distance, routes, fitness, purpose

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40:08 Photos of Coastal Camino through Galicia; Pilgrims; Goals

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45:40 My journeys with Moni: Morocco and Andalusia, Spain

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48:40 Oregon

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49:22 Moni’s Other Travels for Growth ; Backpacking at 37 in India

50:20 Travel Deals Now

52:30 Moni’s Call; Nashville, Kenya, Japan, New Zealand. What’s on her Bucket List now Moni: “I’m rich because I have freedom.”

1:03:00 Healthcare in Spain

1:05:00 What Moni would tell a 20something daughter or her 20something self

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1:06:00 Join Spain’s 8 PM Lockdown Celebration of Solidarity and Spirit

1:09:001:10:00 Closing Contact Moni: mfchantada@yahoo.es or Cindy: cindylmccain1@gmail.com More on Portugal and Spain:

StyleBlueprint Feature on Our Trip to Portugal and Spain

Southern Girl Gone Global Posts on Spain

She Knows Guide to Madrid

 

And for some more Good News, Thank you Feedspot for naming SouthernGirlGoneGlobal.com a Top 30 Baby Boomer Travel Blog or Website to Watch in 2020 !

Global Recipes and Music for Lockdown Comfort Food and Escape

First and foremost, I pray for those fighting the Coronavirus around the world, families grieving loved ones, and all feeling global angst and loss. I pray for protection for those on the front lines, like my daughter and sister in patient care, first responders, and grocery store employees who are caring and kind. I pray for wisdom for researchers seeking a vaccine, leaders around the world, all of us facing something so frightening, evasive, new. 

COVID-19 has stolen income. It has postponed or cancelled lifelong dreams. Instead of graduation and milestone birthday celebrations with families…  honeymoon dinners in piazzas…  spring break escapes overlooking azure seas, we are on lockdown–many in solitary seclusion– practicing  social distancing. We never dreamed going to the grocery (for those of us able) would be our only “getaway” where we hold our breath, swerve to miss other shoppers, and shake our heads at empty shelves.

We need to cook and stay in. Meal planning needs to be strategic so when we brave the store we can get in and get out. But when we can’t find our default foods we’re too overwhelmed with all that is swirling around us to be creative. Sometimes we’re too distracted and tired to even think.

March 2020 proved a 19th century proverb wrong–the one that says if the month comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. Tornados ripped through Nashville March 3 and made global headline news. Since then COVID-19 has ravaged much of the US and the world.

I started the month trying three times to outrun the outbreak. When my travel blogging conference in Sicily was cancelled last minute (thankfully, given the crisis that hit full force a week later),  I considered using my connecting flight to New York City and spending spring break there. When the Coronavirus was reported there, I booked a flight to Florida but canceled within 24 hours because they were being hit, too.  For most of us, there’s nowhere else to run and home is the only place to hide.

But we’re also learning that being grounded can be grounding.

The university classes I teach have gone remote for the rest of the year, and with no more commuting, I have more time and technology to be in touch with those I love.  I’ve traveled via books and movies which I suggested here, and I’ve discovered some new music that sweeps me away.

I’ve remembered teaching English in a small village in Italy one summer and my own childhood where families ate hot lunches together in the middle of the day. I’ve been cooking more and through food, music, and memories returning to some of my favorite places.  It started when I cancelled birthday reservations at an Irish pub and made my first corned beef brisket at home. 

Below are ways to make cooking an adventure, meal planning easier, and eating more fun. I’ve  included links for delivery for those who can’t get out/ feel safer not doing so, such as moms with children in tow.

First, make a space to breathe, a nook for relaxing and enjoying what you cook.

For almost three weeks I’ve gone nowhere except to buy groceries and my birthday present–  plants for my patio — knowing it would become my home office and world.  Spring rains have made everything I see Ireland-green grass and pink blooming trees. As the bulbs push through soil in Italy-blue pots around me, and the natural world comes back to life again, I’m reminded daily to trust God who sees what I can’t… knows what I don’t. 

But this I do know. Neighbors I’d never seen before have come out of their homes. They are walking and playing as families six-feet away. They smile, wave, and nod at Ella (my yellow lab mix) and me. The world–once a blur of motion– has slowed down for many and the value of health, relationships, connection has come sharper into focus. 

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These are some recipes I’ve made during lockdown. I’ve also included cooking playlists–  links from Spotify and Amazon Prime Music members can stream for free. 

Several of these ingredients are used in more than one dish. I shop multiple groceries–especially now when some shelves are bare–but have linked to Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh organic products for health and convenience. Those with Amazon Prime can get groceries delivered free–important to many during self-quarantine but also a reason why they may be out of some of these products periodically and locations/terms of delivery may change. 

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from an Amazon link in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost but helps a bit to keep this blog going.

One more thing…I’m also a big believer in improvisation. While living in Morocco without a car and some ingredients I needed for recipes, I learned to substitute or do without. When I wanted to make clam chowder, one of my go-to comfort foods, I couldn’t find clams. No worries–I used shrimp which were plentiful and inexpensive. Thankfully my grandmother taught me that cooking isn’t an exact science. It’s “a little of this, a little of that.” 

With the right music while cooking… a dance in the kitchen… and a pretty place setting (pun intended), we can exhale calm. We can taste escape… and hope.

Switzerland

Playlist: Music to wake you up and want to dance on Amazon

My first trip to Europe was with my students in the early 90s, a Grand Tour of England, France, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  Standing on my balcony in the Swiss Alps between snow-capped peaks and Lake Lucerne, I drew in a long breath of cool, clean air to the jingle of cowbells.  I wondered later as I climbed under the crisp, white down duvet if I’d stay warm enough–it was so lightweight!–but I did and have slept under nothing since. I met the group in the regal dining room the next morning where sunlight streamed through large windows spotlighting a sumptuous spread.  We’d been told we’d have only “continental breakfasts” on our tour so not to expect eggs, bacon and biscuits, staples in the southern US. In London we’d had dinner rolls every morning, in Paris croissants served with butter and jam. But in Switzerland at a hotel/hospitality training school, waiters in white served fresh fruit, marmalade, and plates of delicious cheeses and cold meats– sausages, salami, hams. It was the beginning of a love affair I still have with charcuterie served anytime of day. 

Breakfast (Zmorge, Swiss German for “in the morning”)

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Spain

Spanish Guitar and Pablo Segovia Gardel on Amazon Music and Soundtrack of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Spotify  

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Above: Sangria with lunch here

If you have shifted to a later sleeping/waking schedule, you can imagine you are in Spain. There breakfast starts around 10 AM, lunch at 2 PM, tapas (appetizers) and drinks late afternoon/early evening, and dinner at 10 PM. I love the food culture, climate, people from Vigo to Madrid , across Andalusia and Catalonia … everything about Spain

Tapas and Sangria

Using items above on another night, make a charcuterie board for a light dinner.  Add nuts, like Marcona almonds, olives, hot peppers and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cut brussel sprouts in half and place on a roasting pan.  Sprinkle with minced garlic (3-4 cloves), salt, and paprika, then drizzle with olive oil. Back at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until tender. Pair. with Spanish wine or sangria (recipe below).

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Italian variation added: prosciutto and cantaloupe

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Sangria in Barcelona

Red Sangria (our family favorite for summer and Christmas, too)

Ingredients

  • Bottle of Red wine (Spanish wine recommended but I’ve used merlot or cabs, too)
  • Orange and Mango Juice
  • 1/4. cup of brandy
  • Dash of club soda
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • And if you like, throw in a few strawberries, blackberries, and a dash of cinnamon, too.

Morocco

Playlist: Morocco, Traditional Music Around the World and Berber Musicians of Morocco on Spotify

In Morocco, I taught at the American School of Marrakesh which had no cafeteria. Students’ hot lunches were delivered by drivers or they packed cold ones as I did. All produce was organic and sold in the grocery markets, hanuts (Moroccan form of minute markets) and on fruit and vegetable carts. Fresh produce  coupled with having no car and walking everywhere made me feel more fit than ever. Lunches were salads and clementines ( peeled and eaten like candy or sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon). Oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mint for tea (or for expats, mojitos 🙂 were available year-round. 

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Clementines

I no longer make coffee on the stovetop in an expresso maker, but I have still squeezed oranges for fresh juice since living in Marrakesh. I use an older model of this Juiceman (see photo below).

Oranges in Marrakesh
Acima in Marrakesh

Salads

(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar

(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil. 

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Olives

These guys are ubiquitous in Morocco, found in bowls on restaurant tables beside loaves of bread. At school, the elementary teachers loved the shade of the olive trees at recess but had to keep watch over students tempted to pelt each other with olives. I’ve thought a lot lately about a  Thanksgiving spent at Peacock Pavillions when Maryam Montague decorated the table with olive branches, symbols of simplicity and peace. She spoke about another global crisis–that of refugees and displaced people groups.

Moroccan Tagine

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A tagine is a traditional dish named for the the clay pot in which vegetables, fruits, and meats are cooked on a stovetop or open fire. It is loved for its savory-sweetness in modest homes, restaurants, and palaces  throughout the country. I ate lamb, chicken, and vegetarian tagines with friends from Marrakesh  (where our  favorite waiter at Chez Joel and favorite manager at Riad Mur Akush uncovered the dish with ceremonious flair) to the Sahara desert gathered on the ground family-style in a Berber tent. 

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While living in Marrakesh I made only one tagine because my housekeeper, Sayida, made the dish for me often.  I did enjoy the lesson at the La Maison Arabe Cooking School, and when a former student and friend visited me, they enjoyed learning from the ladies at the Amal Center. Last week I craved comfort, so I made my first tagine unsupervised. Sayida would probably roll her eyes at me with a grin, but I spiced it up and loved it.

Maison Arabe Cooking School

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Tagine at the Amal Center

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Sayida always made me enough couscous and tagine to last me a week.

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Sayida and I had already said goodbye when I heard the doorbell ring. She surprised me with a parting gift and a mischievous smile–the same grin I’d get for making a crockpot tagine.

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My first unsupervised Moroccan tagine

Ingredients:

*Optional: 

  • Add lamb, beef or chicken. I used 2 chicken breasts, skin removed cut into square pieces
  • Serve over Couscous –made on stovetop or in microwave

Spray or rub lightly the inside of the crockpot with olive oil. Layer vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Place meat (optional) and prunes on top. Mix seasonings with garlic, tomato paste, and broth, then pour over all. 

The best couscous I’ve ever had was at Riad Hikaya. Making it like they do is on my Cooking Bucket List.

Italy 

Playlist: French and Italian Cooking Music (one of my favorites of all time) on Sptofiy

Tuscany

The first recipe below I learned in a cooking class with Chef Paulette who just published The Easy Italian Cookbook: 100 Quick and Authentic Recipes. I’ve been a fan of hers and of Italy for decades. Sicily would have been my ninth trip. When lockdown is lifted, if you are anywhere near Nashville, take one of her classes.

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Anchovy Butter (with slight variations–I used gluten-free pasta, added shrimp and red pepper flakes, and halved original recipe.)

Boil the pasta. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in hot, melted butter and oil in a saute pan.  Cook for 2 minutes and add 2 Tablespoons of pasta water. Add tomatoes and cook until they pop. Drain pasta and mix with other ingredients in a saute pan. Add shrimp and red pepper flakes (if desired) and parsley until all is heated through. 

*For another easy, super-fast pasta dish, mix a jar of pesto and 8 ounces of pasta. Eat hot or cold.

Tuscan White Bean Soup (for those last rainy spring days)

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1/2 onion minced 
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots diced
  • 5 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans white or cannellini beans
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • Pepper to taste (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you want more heat)
  • Improv: add a cup of chopped baby spinach, 4 ounces of diced pancetta or bacon , splash of white wine

Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery, then garlic. Add a splash of wine if desired. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender (about 10- 15 minutes). 

France 

French Playlists by Charles AznavourJacqueline Taieb, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf,  stream free on Amazon Prime

Coq au Riesling

Coq au Riesling has been a “Cooking for Company” dish since 2013 when I posted about it.  It was created by Nigel Slater –check out other delicious dishes on his website (and yes, he is English, not French)–and was reprinted on the Simply Delicious blog . I’ve changed measurements below to US equivalents, and rather than use parsley, I use rosemary and thyme. I’ve often used Sauvignon Blanc rather than Riesling because I’m more likely to have it on hand.

  • 2 ounces butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 4 bacon/pancetta sliced into thin strips (I dice.)
  • 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 8 chicken pieces on the bone (thighs or drumsticks)
  • 8 ounces portabella mushrooms sliced
  • 500 ml (⅔ of bottle) Riesling or dry white wine of your choice
  • 8 ounces cream (heavy or half and half)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • handful chopped parsley (I use rosemary and thyme instead.)
  1. Melt the butter and oil together in a large pan.
  2. Brown the chicken pieces all over and remove from the pan.
  3. Add the onions and bacon and allow to fry until the onions are soft and translucent and the bacon has rendered its fat.
  4. Add the garlic and allow to saute for another 30 seconds before removing the mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind).
  5. Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the onion and bacon mixture along with the browned chicken back to the pan.
  7. Pour in the wine and allow to come up to a boil. Turn down the heat and cover. Allow to simmer for 15-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  8. After 15 minutes, uncover, turn up the heat and add the cream. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
  9. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.
  10. Serve with rice, pasta or crusty bread.

If the only recipe or ritual you take from this post is to peel an orange and let its juicy goodness run down your wrist while sitting  in a spot of sunlight… mission accomplished. From Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who inspired me to make the leap and live abroad… a word on the art of cooking and eating from her Eat, Pray, Love

There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich…

I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert—a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.

And as Easter, time of rebirth, nears, my prayer for us all is…

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!–Romans 15:13

Vineyards in Montepulciano waiting with Italy and the world for spring to finally come