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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Snowmen and Palaces

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       I love the snow. I like the way it shimmers off the trees and covers streets and sidewalks. On my days off I like to go outside to make snow angels and snowmen. At times I’ve been known to build a snow fort. In my mind these are masterpieces of art. I’ve even gone so far as to take pictures of my artwork with pride. So when I became aware of China’s yearly Ice Sculpture Festival I was intrigued. Did I have the same skills? 

       In Harbin, China it stays below forty degrees for a half the year. The way they celebrate the coldness without letting the temperature get them down is to build and compete with ice sculptures. Beautiful pieces of art are displayed. Great dragons, a woman playing the flute and ice sculptures of animals are just a few that can be seen. Trees are decorated with hundreds of lights in colors of pink and blue. At night the sculptures are lit up with multi-colors. Ice palaces become alive. The Great Wall is lit in green and becomes an ice slope. You can hop on and go for a ride. There’s an ice wall you can climb. Ice horses you can sit on and have your picture taken. Take a ride on horse-drawn carriages. Go ice skating or sledding. 

       The Festival lasts for an entire month of January and into February. People from all over the world participate in the event. Whether they are building their own sculptures or just visiting. Couples will say their vows under castles in matrimony. There is something for everyone from swimming competitions to dance shows to paddling down the river during the Lantern Festival in ice boats. On any given day there is an activity going on that you can participate in or watch. 

       While I will still go out and make my snowmen with carrots for noses and stones for buttons and call them masterpieces. I will know somewhere; someone is perfecting my abilities by building an ice sculpture so beautiful even my snowman would bow in appreciation. 

       

       

     

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Finding Relaxation

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As much as I love everything that goes with the holidays;  Christmas lights on homes, fresh baked cookies, presents under the tree and champagne on New Year’s, I am always ready for new beginning. I get out my journal, make a list of goals I want to accomplish for the upcoming year and reminisce on what I did accomplish the year that has gone by. Of course I’m usually exhausted by the second week of January. I don’t feel the need to dive right into life. Rather I like to take a moment to reflect and get my juices flowing again, in the form of a spa. 

There are spas all over the world for anything you desire. Horse ranch style spas in the Mid-West, a chocolate spa at the Hotel Hershey and of course yoga retreats in just about every corner you can think of. This year while I’m living in Boston I’m thinking warm. Very warm, a place that doesn’t have snow. I’m thinking the tranquil sunny Mexico. The Rancho La Puerto Resort, where everything I need to motivate me into a new year is here.

The holidays for me mean lots of delicious food and parties. By January I’m in need of a physical jump-start. Rancho La Puerto Resort is just the place to get my metabolism back on track. The resort offers all kinds of wonderful fitness programs. Here I can wake up and do yoga or Pilates or if I feel like taking the day by storm jumping right into cardio. After a day or two of yoga I can unwind with a day of reflective fitness. Which involves walking, meditating and a silent dinner to find my inner self. 

I can only exercise for so long and well, that’s not the only way to rejuvenate. Not only is fitness important but so are facials, massages and body treatments; all a necessity to get the energy flowing in a more positive direction. 

The Resort offers other amenities that are not for me. But some may want to take a cooking class, go bird watching or play golf. While those options sound tempting, as far as I’ll get is to the food and I won’t be preparing it. The resort serves freshly picked fruit and vegetables and well as serving fresh fish; the type of meal to clear my mind and help me focus on my new-found goals. 

Yes, this is the place to relax, find inner peace and energize for the year ahead. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Ballrooms and Champagne

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      This year many of us did the same thing on New Year’s Eve. We watched the ball drop with friends and family and toasted at midnight. But if you were one of the fortunate few who was in Vienna, your night was a little different. 

      

      In Vienna, Austria, the entire city turns into a party to celebrate the coming of a new year. The streets are alive with music and everyone from all over the world are in their homes and hotel rooms putting on their tuxedo’s and ball gowns getting ready for a night they shall never forget. 

      

      Palaces host the most extraordinary night. Everyone is dressed in glittering gowns and tuxedos. The women will have spent the day getting their hair just right and the makeup perfect. Their gowns will be dressed up with their best jewels. 

      

      As the night begins, champagne toasts start the evening. Ballet dancers in unique costumes come on to the dance floor and perform throughout the evening. Delicious multi-course meals are served with assorted flavors of coffee. Cocktail areas in different rooms have the latest music to dance into the early hours.   Rooms are transposed into dance floors with people waltzing the night away to live orchestras. As the night draws to a close, fireworks are set off to welcome the coming year. Afterwards, breakfast will be served and the night continues until the sun rises.  

      

This year as I watched the ball drop I imagined putting on my to do list for next year: find a ball gown and Cinderella shoes, and book my flight to Vienna for next New Year’s Eve. 

Monday, 03 December 2012

Christmas Time in New York

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I love this time of year. I bake hundreds of cookies; snicker doodles, oatmeal raisin and my favorite peppermint snowballs. I wait until midnight on Black Friday, make some coffee and shop until the sun comes up. I don’t usually buy a lot, but I do like the rush of everyone being on the streets and in the malls racing for the best bargains. I decorate my house with at least three Christmas trees and always have eggnog on hand. As the time draws closer to Christmas I try to leave my weekends open to visit New York City. 

I don’t have a favorite place I go as I love all of New York City. But there are of course my favorite places to go during the holidays. I make sure I bring along gloves, earmuffs and a warm coat. Whether it’s hot or cold, I will be walking or skating. Everyone goes to Rockefeller to ice skate but not me. I opt for going ice skating at Central Park. It’s not as crowded and as far as I’m concerned more beautiful. With trees all around and buildings in the background I could stay there for hours. I’ve tried taking pictures on the ice only to have the security tap me on the shoulder. There is no standing on the ice. Who knew? If time permits, my friends and I will rent a horse and carriage and take a stroll through the park. It lasts about an hour and cost around a hundred dollars. It seems like a lot of money but it is well worth every penny. To be able to sit back, listen to the sounds of the city and the hooves touching the pavement is beyond words. 

I might not go to Rockefeller to skate but I will take a quick look at the tree. It’s a must see. I have never been able to get too close as this is a definite favorite spot for tourists but if you have the time the lighting of the tree is awesome. So many lights fill the night sky. It’s magical. And speaking of magic, the windows on 5th avenue bring out the truly creative. Each one is different and magnificent. The stores display their imagination in every way possible to draw you into their stores. FAO Schwarz is in the heart of 5th avenue. The toy store made famous in the 80’s by the movie “Big” has an endless amount of toys. Any toy you can imagine, they will probably have. From huge teddy bears, Barbie’s to Harry Potter toys. I always leave with something even if it’s from their candy shop, which is just as big as some of their stuffed animals! 

While I enjoy the shopping and the ice skating, I cannot miss the Rockette’s Christmas show at Radio City. The first time I went I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t even sure I was going to like the show. After the first five minutes I was glued to my seat until it was over. The show started with a movie of Santa done in 3-D. Then the Rockette’s came on stage and I was memorized until the end. They were flawless in the singing and dancing, not to mention the famous kicking. An absolute beautiful show. One that needs to be added to the yearly must do’s for Christmas. 

The Radio Christmas show with the Rockette’s isn’t the only show to see. For a more traditional elegant performance, the ballet of “The Nutcracker” is only shown throughout the holiday season. With toy soldiers, a Christmas tree and children dancing in exquisite outfits, it is another must see to top off your Christmas. 

This is just the start of my Christmas. New York City is bursting with shows, museums and food. I could go on forever about the food. But most of this can be done throughout the year and at Christmas time I want to immerse myself in its simplicity and remember what it’s like to be a kid again. If I’m lucky I’ll get a chance to go to Macy’s and see the most famous Santa of all. 


Monday, 26 November 2012

From Ireland to Italy

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After an exhaustive but wonderfully great time in Ireland I will be taking a short flight to Italy. As in Ireland, I plan to backpack my way through Italy too. There are many hotels to stay in but for my trip I plan to stay in hostels. Many are very inexpensive and provide food. Though, I doubt when in Italy I will be eating at a hostel. I will be in search of the best slice of pizza. I have been told it exists in Naples. I’ve been everywhere in New York City and think I found the best slice in the Bronx but I want to see if it compares to the off the vine tomatoes and homemade mozzarella found in Italy.  Of course pizza isn’t the only food I want to experience. In another lifetime I plan to move to the Almalfi coast. For now, I will be trekking my way there to view the breathtaking ocean and homes that line the hillsides of the Almalfi coast. I am hoping to have enough time and money saved to take a cooking class at one of the many places that teach. It has been a dream and I can’t imagine a better place to learn the art of making pasta and sauce. I have a feeling it will take years to perfect but an authentic cooking class will put me in the right direction. Italy is all about food, family and country but before I travel into wine country I will try a gelato. Gelato is a lot like ice cream only richer and denser. I’ve tried it many times in the States but I have a feeling there will be no comparison when I try Italy’s. Afterwards I will relax with a cappuccino and enjoy the conversations around me.

The tourist attractions will no doubt draw me in as I convince my friend we must go for a gondola ride in Venice. There is a tour that includes being serenaded and dinner afterwards. I always imagined I would be with my soul mate on such a romantic outing but as they say, when in Vegas or in this case when in Venice. Isn’t this a must do in Italy? All of this romance will take me into the countryside and bask in the wonderfulness called wine country. 

Tuscany. Rolling hillsides, never-ending views, vineyards and olive groves make up this beautiful land.  While I do plan to stay in hostels I may opt to stay at a farmhouse in Tuscany. Where I can help with the harvesting of grapes or olives and enjoy the warmness of the host by sharing dinners with their family. Many farmhouses will organize activities such as wine tastings, horse-back riding or hiking. I want to be spontaneous on my trip but a little help is always welcomed. If I’m lucky instead of a farmhouse I will find a castle in need of help. Now this would top off my days in Italy. Many castles and farmhouses are more than my budget will allow but there are a few to be found. 

I should plan out my destinations; make sure I see everything I’ve always wanted to see, but where is the fun? I will miss out on the places I might not have seen or the people I might not have met if I do have an itinerary. Granted, the Coliseum in Rome is on my list as is the Church of San Lorenzo. I want to explore all that Pompeii has to offer. Take a boat ride to Grotta Azzurra and pass through the cave opening. Go shopping in prestigious Milan. Explore the caves of Liguria. My list is endless. But if all I do is drink wine, get my feet purple and find the perfect slice I will have found heaven. My only reservation: is two weeks enough time to backpack through Ireland and Italy. I have a feeling I better set more time aside as I’m going to be extending my flight. 


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