For the Shoe Fashionista

(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)

Madrid. A blend of history, art and fashion. While I have so many fond memories of this lively city — Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum, the throne room at the Palacio Real, the impressive grandeur of the Plaza Mayor, and the ubiquitous jamon y queso — what I remember most were the giant, 10-foot shoes decorating Calle Serrano, Madrid’s most fashionable street. A temporary exhibition in June called “Shoe Street Art” lined the sidewalks with about 25 stiletto shoes made from fiberglass and polyester. Each shoe had a unique design, exploding with color. The exhibition was a delightful expression of contemporary art and fashion, in the midst of a city rich in tradition and culture.

Manolo Blahnik, eat your heart out.

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Evening Glow Along Croatia’s Coast

(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)

Rovinj was our first stop in Croatia after two weeks in Italy. It felt like forever getting there. Altogether, an almost 5-hour journey from our hotel in Venice, combining vaporetto, trains and bus, and two border crossings into Slovenia and Croatia. Needless to say, we were anxious to arrive.

Rovinj is on the coast in the Istrian region of Croatia, facing the Adriatic Sea. It has a rich history, occupied by first the Romans, then Venetians, Austrians, Italians. With the rest of Croatia, it became part of Yugoslavia before Croatia gained its independence. The old town has many narrow cobblestone streets, which lead to its most famous site, the Basilica of St. Euphemia. Many fishing and sightseeing boats dot the harbor. If you love seafood, this is where to splurge. Simple, yet fresh and delicious dishes.

On our third evening, we joined a sunset sailboat ride and enjoyed the view from the sea. We were tickled by the breeze, which cooled us from the day’s high temperatures and humidity. The reflection of lights on the water from the road, restaurants and bars was a stunning sight. The church had a soothing and serene glow. Restaurants at the waterfront had special tables teetering on the rocks. Very romantic, yet one wrong move and you and your spaghetti vongole would make an unplanned dip into the Adriatic. My husband and I had a drink at Valentino Bar, where we drank our mojitos on colorful cushions, inches from the sea.

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Some Enchanted Evening

(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)

Shakespeare’s tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet, will forever immortalize the words, “in fair Verona”. The town where these two lovers met is not just for the romantic, but also for the history and opera aficionado. I am not an expert in either subject, but was determined that my family would take part in this town’s summer tradition — an evening of opera in a 2,000-year old Roman amphitheater. I really didn’t care which opera we were seeing, but was relieved that it was Carmen, since I would at least recognize some of the music.

The scene was breathtaking. Close your eyes and imagine. Sitting where Roman spectators gathered as early as AD 30; as the sun dips behind the theater, lighting each other’s tiny candle (thousands) to welcome the opening act; gazing at the twinkly stars; listening to beautiful voices magnified naturally by the theater’s outstanding acoustics; and oohing at the colorful pageantry of costumes and stage sets. I still get goosebumps whenever I remember this enchanted evening.

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An Italian Kaleidoscope of Color

(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)

My family was in Venice for just 2 nights, so I squeezed in one island to visit just to get away from the crowds. I decided on Burano because I wanted to see the multi-colored houses I had seen in so many travel magazines. And, I knew that the farther away it was from Venice, the fewer the tourists.

We took a 45-minute vaporetto ride from Fondamenta Nove station in Venice and arrived at about 6:30 in the evening. What a treat! Burano definitely has character and charm. By the time we got there, tourists had come and gone earlier in the day, so it was very quiet. We walked up and down the streets, which were lined with brightly painted houses. The people are certainly not timid about their colors. Each house color contrasting perfectly to the next. Every street was like this. Certainly a feast for the eyes. No cars, but motor boats lining the canals. We caught glimpses of the lagoon from so many different spots. Senior residents pulled chairs out of their houses to sit outdoors and enjoy the refreshing breeze and evening conversation. The quaint piazza centrale has a small church and no more than a dozen restaurants and stores.

The vaporetto ride back to Venice at night could have been romantic, if my husband and I were not traveling with our three kids. Nonetheless, it was wonderful seeing the lagoon lit up by lamps, and the glow of Venice.

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Croatia’s Unspoiled Beauty

(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)

At the end of our one-month summer vacation through Europe, we had had enough of the heat and crowds of touristy cities. We longed for open space and fresh air. After an overnight stay at a nearby pension, my family and I finally arrived early morning at this long-awaited, breathtaking wonder of nature.

The photos on the travel websites were real! The lakes are a stunning palette of emerald, turquoise and azure blue. Crystal clear waters show off the abundance of trout. The waterfalls, of varying heights, surprise you around the bend, and flow nonstop as if the turn-off valve had broken. Close your eyes and hear the gurgling. Butterflies with velvet blue wings flutter by. Ducks float quietly over the trout. Limestone provides a nice contrast in color and texture to moss and algae.

We easily explored the connection of lakes by shuttle bus, ferry and boardwalks. These walkways allowed us to traverse the lakes, while in other areas, protect plants from foot traffic. Plitvice Lakes National Park, the largest in Croatia, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Though it has attracted many tourists over the years, it is excellently maintained — no trash lying around, swimming and fishing are forbidden, no cars allowed inside.

We have been back in California for a few weeks now. Of the 8,000 photos we took on our trip, only one has been framed and sits in a prominent spot in our living room. With a glimpse of the blue-green water, I smile at the memory.

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