dublinoverview.jpgWhat was supposed to be nothing more than meeting my good friend Robert – who is like a brother to me – in Dublin, Ireland to celebrate our birthdays in December, turned out to be something of an excellent extravaganza. Robert is the CEO of Clive Christian, "the world's most beautiful kitchens" according to their monthly ad in Architectural Digest. He had a meeting in Dublin that happened to fall on my birthday 2 days after his. He appears to be a stuffy, British guy with his finely tailored 3-piece suits with Hermes ties who speaks the proper "Queen's English", but his biggest claim to fame is that he was a 'roadie' for ABBA back in the 80's. Depeche Mode, another rock band from that decade was playing in Dublin at the time, so that's what we decided to do for our birthdays. 

Word got out and next thing I knew, six of my closest girlfriends signed up to come along. It is no easy feat to organize a trip with six women, traveling across the big pond. However, I had some things working in my favor. Being a 'stewardess' for 20 years, I have a bit of seniority and get 8 buddy passes per year to give to whomever I want. Don't get excited as they are not free and you have to fly standby. Thanks to a fancy computer program I have to see the bookings and the fact that few people travel to Ireland in December, the odds were stacked in my favor. It was amazing that we all managed to get Business Class seats coming and going.

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Glowing the color peachblow, I’ve just returned from subsidizing Sonoma’s Wine Country  and have this to say of their grapes: “Fussy, yet serene, bossy yet submissive, a hint of herbaceous seepweed, a scent of doleful dégringolade”.  At least that’s the kind of verbal dexterity I wished I had displayed during  tastings at Lynmar, Martinelli, Siduri, and Kosta Browne wineries (don’t try to find the last one – it has no address and may not even exist). 

Instead I mainly stuck to:  “That’s a great chardonnay or – wow! – that’s a really good pinot noir (if you are looking for cabernet go crash your car in Napa).   I knew that Sonoma was a fun palace for wine but what caught me unawares was the high level of food to be found.

After my girlfriend Betsy and I deplaned at Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, we depacked at Kenwood Inn and Spa for a four night stay (think Twin Peaks meets Fawlty Towers) and headed straight away for delunch at “the girl & the fig” in Sonoma – a perfect bistro beginning to the trip (don’t miss the salt cod croquettes with white bean purée, caramelized onions, meyer lemon-herb salad). Stuffed roasted quail at Café LeHaye (also in Sonoma) would be a must have at another meal and you should be detained and questioned if you don’t order the charcuterie plate at Mosaic in Forestville. 

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london6.jpgIn our effort to downsize but continue to have fun, we scrambled together all our frequent flyer miles and managed to put together two return flights to London and Italy. Then, by making a small investment on a home exchange site, we found a young woman in Prato (twenty minutes from Florence), willing to do a non-simultaneous exchange with our desert house in Joshua Tree.

Our first stop was London, where a kind friend loaned us her house. Although I grew up in London I have not lived there in over 30 years. The minute I walked off the plane, I was surprised by the intense 80-degree heat, a byproduct of global warming, and something I had never encountered in my childhood, where you were lucky if it reached the mid 70’s in the summer.  After struggling with the new monetary denominations and a new subway system, I began to feel like a stranger in my hometown,

Yet, one area that has vastly improved since I lived in London is the food. But like everything else, it is very expensive. Fortunately, another ex-Brit friend had recently visited London and her sage advice was that bargains could be had at posh restaurants if you went at lunch, rather than dinner.  Following her recommendation, backed up by “Time out”– still the best magazine to tell you what is going on in London – I made reservations at Gauthier, a French restaurant in Soho.  

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santefe.jpg A trip to Santa Fe is at once exhilarating and embarrassing.  You say to yourself, “how can I be so corny and fall in love with the food, the shopping, the art, and the physical beauty all over again?”. And yet, you do, embracing it all as you roll your eyes at your own enthusiasm.  The food, of course, is of superior class with an emphasis on how we want to eat today: local and seasonal.  And each Santa Fe friend has their own passionate reason why their favorite restaurant has the best green chili.  But there is more to the palette of Santa Fe food than traditional Northern New Mexico cuisine, as good as that is.  Here are a half dozen of my personal favorites.  One of the great things about them all is their unique points of view on feeding you. Unique, like Santa Fe itself. 

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montrealrue_st_paul.jpgMontreal is a city of diversity – be it the multi-national communities, the varied, ethnic cuisines, fascinating neighbourhoods and marvellous mix of people. Everywhere you go the eye alights on interesting architecture (keep a lookout for outdoor spiral staircases along Laval Street), historical buildings, and a myriad of eateries. Of course, shopping the elegant chi-chi boutiques for designer clothes is also an important part of this vibrant city. Bookstores and bars, museums and markets abound whilst the nightlife is comparable to any major European city.

But where to start your journey of discovery can be a little discombobulating unless you are willing to just wander from one neighbourhood to another – clutching a earmarked map of the city in one hand and the proverbial bottle of water in the other.

Old Montreal is the soul of the city where you will find cobblestones, historic architecture, waterfront taverns and narrow streets – home to local designer boutiques and art galleries. Wander along St. Paul’s which is the first street in Montreal or drive in a typical horse-drawn caleche past the Notre-Dame Basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Visit the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum where the beginnings of Montreal are displayed and enjoy café au lait and fresh croissants at one of the charming cafes along the way.

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