More Time to Travel is a site that provides advice, information and inspiration for travellers who have reached their midlife. Follow us to keep up with Travel advice, information, & inspiration for travelers over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist. Topics include - Destinations, Cruises, Food, Hotels, Tips, and Photo galleries.
From May 19 through October 28, 2018, visitors to the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx can witness the beauty that inspired iconic artist Georgia O’Keeffe—and that was captured by her artwork after a visit to the Hawaiian Islands. This ambitious exhibit, called Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i, includes a variety of day, evening and weekend events.
The 250-acre New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx is a virtual museum without walls—one whose permanent and temporary exhibitions change with the seasons. Some of the most anticipated events are those held spring and summer evenings when the crowds are fewer; evening breezes cool the air; and incredible tales come alive, woven through curated exhibits. Aloha Nights offers one of these special opportunities.
The backstory: An advertising gig
Vintage pineapple memorabilia on display
In 1939, an advertising company invited Georgia O’Keeffe to travel from New York City to Hawaii to produce paintings that could be used to promote the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (which later became the Dole Food Company).
O’Keeffe studied the tropical landscapes and plants she found on the Hawaiian Islands and produced more than 20 paintings and sketches. After her return in 1940, these works were exhibited at An American Place, Alfred Stieglitz’s New York Gallery.
O’Keeffe’s work received critical acclaim for capturing the sense of place of the Hawaiian Islands. Two of the paintings she produced were eventually used in advertisements, one of a heliconia and the other of a pineapple bud.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i at the NYBG has four major components inspired by the iconic artist’s nine-week, 1939 visit:
The stunning Enid A. Haupt Conservatory houses an installation of the tropical plants that inspired the artist’s work in Hawaii. The variety of flora displayed showcase the biological diversity of the Hawaiian Islands.
Inside the Conservatory
Some of the flowers and plants on display at the NYBG
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery holds an extraordinary exhibition of 17 O’Keeffe paintings, borrowed from private and museum collections, that haven’t been seen as a group since their 1940 New York debut. Also on display (although they pale in comparison to the spectacular paintings) are manuscripts, maps and other artifacts from the same time as the artist’s stay in Hawaii.
Exterior of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery
Hibiscus with Plumeria (on loan from the Smithsonian)
Along the winding paths lush with greenery and flowers, visitors will find contemporary lanterns and sculptures by Mark Chai, which were also inspired by the plants of Hawaii.
One of the lanterns illuminating a path
Finally, an exhibit called “A Closer Look” offers art and science activities for children and youth.
Aloha Nights are held on select Saturday evenings (June 23 & 30, July 7 &21 and August 4-18. From 6:30-10:30 PM), music fills the evening air, helping set the tropical mood with live, interactive hula dancing demonstrations on the lawn beside the Conservatory.
During our visit, the dancing instructor prefaced his lesson by explaining that Aloha means hello, goodbye and “I Love You.”
Learning the Hula - YouTube
Guests are encouraged to wander through the grounds at their own pace, stopping at the Conservatory and the Library.
At an outdoor lei-making booth, a native Hawaiian explains how to make the traditional necklaces with fresh orchids that are so closely associated with Hawaiian hospitality.
A “Poke” food truck adds to the ambiance with Hawaiian fare and cocktails for purchase.
An interactive Media Guide with free Wi-Fi, used via your smartphone, offers details to help visitors better understand the scope of what they are seeing and experiencing.
Signage explaining the interactive guide
Whether your interests are focused on art, plants, travel and/or culture, Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i at the New York Botanical Garden is a tightly-focused but memorable New York experience, held in an exquisite setting—especially on Aloha Nights.
Tropical flowers in the Conservatory
Disclosure: The author was a guest of the New York Botanical Garden at an event sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers.
*NYBG has partnered with the Grand Hyatt New York and Metro-North to offer visitors a special package with a discounted hotel rate, admission to the exhibition and round-trip rail tickets from Grand Central Terminal.
Additional information on the O’Keeffe Exhibit from the NYBG Curator
Kicking back at Estrella del Mar in Mazatlan, Mexico could be the perfect antidote for the traveler seeking a breather from the hectic pace and hassles of everyday life.
With three miles of largely unpopulated Pacific beachfront as well as multiple dining options, a salon and spa and—for the more athletically inclined, tennis courts, soccer fields, and acres of golf greens—Estrella del Mar proves to be the perfect destination for an actual vacation, the sort where the hardest decision of the day is deciding whether to head first to the pool or the beach.
You will, indeed, be tempted to slip into one or the other and sigh, “Mexico, take me away!”
Estrella del Mar pool and beach
Comfort, convenience, and miles of beach
What else makes the Estrella del Mar so good?
Located just four miles from the Mazatlán International Airport, the resort makes for a convenient retreat. Guests get to enjoy their own 900-acre gated community and that spectacular—and amazingly secluded— beachfront.
The relaxed vibe of life in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, the highly attentive and friendly service at Estrella del Mar (and the exceptional skills of the masseuses at the spa), and the hotel’s 47 rooms with balconies or patios make this place, translated into English as the “star of the sea,” an escapist sanctuary. (For travelers with larger groups, onsite condominiums with one to three bedrooms are also available for rent or for purchase.)
Indoor/outdoor living merge with sun and surf
This is a place where outdoor living is a way of life. Built in colonial style, Estrella del Mar features a large, open hacienda on the first floor. My room, with its own shaded patio perfect for morning coffee, opens onto an internal courtyard with a fountain. I have a broad, sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean while taking breakfast at Los Delfines, one of the onsite restaurants. (This traveler is very partial to the covered patio, the water view, and the ceviche at another onsite restaurant, La Paloma.)
Guestroom at Estrella del Mar
As if anyone needed an excuse to spend more time on those three miles of pristine beachfront, Estrella del Mar also houses a turtle sanctuary, and around sunset, visitors can help release newly hatched baby turtles into the ocean. Nothing is cuter.
Hatched baby turtles head to the oceanHatched baby turtles head to the ocean
Something for everyone: Things to do in Mazatlán
For those motivated to do more than partake of sun and surf, the nearby and very colorful city of Mazatlán offers shopping, dining and nightlife options. My favorite way to get there from Estrella del Mar was via a very small ferry (seating maybe 20 people), boarded at Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra) and then by ‘pulmonia’. The Spanish word means pneumonia but it refers to the golf-cart-like taxis that transport tourists on the short trip to the Centro Historico.
Two good restaurant options are El Presidio (I appreciated the trees in the interior of the restaurant and the rooftop dining) and Pedro & Lola, located at Plaza Machado. After dinner, take a walk around the square, dance if a band happens to be playing in the gazebo, and bargain with textile vendors for souvenirs and jewelry. Being in Mazatlán, which was founded in 1531, makes a visitor feel like she is experiencing the real Mexico, not a version created to draw tourists.
Indeed, for a bit, Mazatlán managed to deter visitors. For a period, the region tended to show up in national newspapers for all the wrong reasons, mostly due to drug violence and the antics of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, who was captured in an apartment complex in Mazatlán in 2014 after escaping from prison. A U.S. State Department warning suggests that tourists not travel to the state of Sinaloa although U.S. government employees may travel to Mazatlán’s historic town center.
Now, Mazatlán, with a population around 500,000, sports a refurbished 13-mile-long seaside walkway called the Malecón along with colorful galleries and street art that entrances visitors.
Back at Estrella del Mar, the president of Mexico, I am told, sometimes golfs Here. On my visit, I find the resort full of American tourists as well as Mexicans on vacation. I find no reason to stay away.
Beyond the resort and Mazatlán
Those interested in small-town Mexico might enjoy visiting the colonial town of El Quelite and, in particular, the colorful, open-air restaurant El Meson de Los Laureanos (you will want to have reservations) known for its flavorful orange coffee and traditional breakfasts (and for the free-range chickens that just might hop on a chair an join you!). Work off the calories afterward by taking a stroll around town and checking out the church just across the street from Los Laureanos.
For travelers seeking a different sort of spirit, head to La Vinata de Los Osuna in El Noria for an historic lesson on how the innocent agave plant is transformed into something a bit magical at a distillery that has been around since 1876. Don’t forget to stop for a tasting! What is Los Osuna?
It looks like tequila, tastes like tequila, and is made like tequila—but it cannot be called tequila because it is not made in certain designated areas of Mexico.
Flavorful beverages at La Vinata de Los Osuna
Another good stop for a little history, a bit of a walking tour, some shopping, and food is the town of Concordia, which was founded in 1565 and today is known for furniture hand-made by artisans who have shops around town. From the center square, tour San Sebastián church before taking in the history of the town at the police station to the left of the church. Afterward, stop in for a quick bite at La Chara Enamorada, on the right side of the town square if you are facing the church.
Don’t worry about the water at Estrella del Mar, which uses an onsite water filtration system. This visitor was not particularly cautious with water at offsite locations, which seemed perfectly fine.
Even if travelers do not speak Spanish, they should be fine at the Mazatlán, Mexico resort and its vicinity. Not everyone speaks perfect English, but people are friendly and helpful.
Guests of the resort can arrange for Estrella del Mar’s shuttle to transport them to the airport or to the Centro Historico in Mazatlán.
If you are the marrying kind, consider Estrella del Mar for a beachfront destination wedding. A Mexican couple got married there during my visit, and I was able to observe the preparations and the actual event. The staff handled the event efficiently while still providing good service to other visitors. The sunset festivities charmed everyone.
It was a perfect sail away. We were with an American tour company—on board a small, elegant French cruise ship—sailing slowly along the Grand Canal of Venice with the iconic buildings of St. Mark’s Square glowing in the sunset.
We were about to sail east and south into the Adriatic Sea with visits to the Dalmatian coasts of Croatia and Montenegro. Along with 215 fellow guests from the United States, Australia and Canada we were looking forward to a week filled with historic medieval communities, friendly people, stunning topography, thriving vineyards and olive groves plus ancient Roman landmarks.
New England-based Tauck organizes land, river and ocean tours in more than 70 countries. Small ship cruising is one of its newest ventures.
The company, which started in 1925, is unique because virtually all extras are included and all tours are accompanied by a team of dedicated Directors who work closely with small groups of guests and find the best local guides.
Sailing on Le Lyrial, a luxury yacht
Our ship, leased by Tauck, was Le Lyrial, the newest vessel in the growing French cruise line, Ponant. Built more like a luxury yacht than a traditional cruise ship, it features a stylish, modern interior with muted color tones of cream, tan and grey.
Meeting the officers of Le Lyrial
The atrium includes a large, imaginative mobile. The standard rooms are small but very comfortable with a sophisticated TV/movie system, excellent bedside reading lights and high-end Hermes toiletries in the bathroom. Almost all the rooms have a private balcony but many, like ours, have a solid steel slab beneath the handrail making viewing from the balcony chairs impossible. The Hotel Manager told us it was a design flaw, planned to make the exterior of the ship look sleeker.
But there was no design flaw in the spacious lounges, large comfortable theatre (with a resident troupe of very fine dancers) and twin dining areas – the main restaurant on Deck 2 and the more casual buffet area at the rear of Deck 6 (including many tables by the outdoor pool).
Food, in the French style, was usually excellent and the fine complimentary wines at lunch and dinner were of high quality.
The cheeses, both French and local, were especially good. The chefs made a point of seeking fresh fish in several of the Adriatic ports and we remember one memorable lunch of very fresh sea bream, grilled whole. Delicious.
Fresh whole sea bream
Our pre-cruise adventure with Tauck
For this tour, Tauck offered all guests two complimentary pre-cruise nights in a canal-side hotel in Venice, a surprise gondola ride through the canals (with accompaniment by an accordionist and singer), plus an excellent tour of several top attractions in St. Mark’s Square, including the Doge’s Palace.
Gondolas on the Grand Canal
Serenaded in Venice
On Day 2 we all took a boat ride to the Venetian Lagoon islands of Murano (famous for its creative glassware) and Burano, a lace-making centre with colorful fishermen’s houses.
Splendid shore excursions
The major destinations of this cruise were the countries of Croatia and Montenegro, two of the seven nations that constituted the former republic of Yugoslavia. The region is a complicated crossroads between Eastern and Western Christendom and between historically Christian and historically Islamic territories. Some tensions continue in the region but tourism is important to the economy and we always felt welcome.
A major benefit of touring with Tauck is the wide range of tours available in each port – all complimentary. Our first stop was the ancient walled city of Korcula, Croatia, reputed to be the childhood home of Marco Polo. Guests could choose among a city walking tour, hiking on nearby mountain trails or kayaking in crystalline waters.
With our interest in food and wine, we chose a visit to the 100-year-old Bire family estate and winery. It was our first taste of Croatian wines and we were impressed, especially with the wine made from Plavac Mali grapes, similar to American Zinfandel. This wine tasting (and most other ones) was accompanied by traditional prosciutto, marinated sardines, fresh bread, olives and cheese.
Before we returned to the ship, Tauck surprised everyone with one of its unannounced but very special “extras”. At a local theatre, the community band accompanied a traditional, 15th-century Moreska sword dance with twenty or more red and black-clad warriors, representing good and evil, fighting over the affection of a maiden.
Traditional Moreska Sword Dance
Split (population, 175,000) is the second largest city in Croatia and has seen many regimes over its 1600-year history. Again, Tauck offered an array of intriguing excursions including biking, sea kayaking, a boat ride on a river between towering limestone cliffs, touring by bus or just joining a guided walk through the old city. Most tours include the 4th Century Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, used as a location for “The Game of Thrones.”
Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.
High above Dubrovnik
Its well-preserved stone wall, ramparts and cobbled streets were started in the 10th century and are key reasons why UNESCO has designated the whole walled city a World Heritage Site. Tauck small ship cruising offers several walking tours but also includes a cable car ride for a splendid overview, more kayaking, a visit to local villages and wineries plus the Maritime Museum. We were lucky enough to include a visit to the Karaman Winery, winner of several major international awards, especially for its Malvasia wine.
Award-winning Karaman Winery
To reach the harbor city of Kotor in Montenegro (literally, Black Mountain), Le Lyrial sailed several miles up a picturesque fjord that could be mistaken for Scandinavia. The fortified town of 14,000 has kept its Middle Ages feel and is a delight to explore by foot.
Folk dancers in Montenegro
Several boat trips were offered by Tauck (including one to the famous Our Lady of the Rocks island church) but we chose the “Gastronomy Experience” where just eight of us visited a local home where the proprietor (a cookbook author) and her husband prepared a traditional local meal of prosciutto, cheese and sardines followed by potato gnocchi (she showed us how to make it) and tender beef. A soft meringue dessert with forest berries was followed by homemade cherry brandy and grappa. Our hosts even sang us a traditional song as she played the piano.
Before we left Montenegro, a troupe of Boka local folk dancers in elaborately embroidered costumes entertained us in the ship’s theatre. Another extra touch that makes Tauck so special.
Heading north again we stopped at the long, slim island of Hvar, Croatia, first established as a Greek Colony around 385BC. It remains a center for lavender and several stands are set up to sell the fragrant product.
Lavender stand in Hvar
The village of Stari Grad was full of interesting shops and roving entertainers (including one with an unusual goatskin bagpipe).
On our last day of Tauck small ship cruising, we stopped at two communities on the northern Croatian peninsula of Istria. The huge, first-century Roman amphitheater in Pula was remarkable, a slightly smaller version of the Rome Coliseum. It once held 23,000 Romans and is still used for concerts including past performances by Pavarotti and Leonard Cohen.
Huge Roman Amphitheatre in Pula, Croatia
The peninsula is also a major source of olive oil so we visited the Chiavalon family farm, producer of some of the world’s best olive oil. We naturally had an extensive tasting of the fresh grassy and spicy oil. It was so good we couldn’t resist buying a bottle.
Our last stop was in the quaint town of Rovinj, a community with tangles of cobbled streets that felt very Italian. In fact, because of its close proximity to Venice (just across a narrow part of the Adriatic), the village has two official languages, Croatian and Italian. The area is renowned for its truffles (black truffles were in season) and one Tauck tour took guests on a truffle hunt. We’re told it was outstanding.
A final toast to Tauck small ship cruising
Our tour included Croatia’s best known sparkling wine producer, Misal, with bubbly made the traditional French way from Malvasia and Pinot Noir grapes. We were amazed at the quality of its brut, sec and semi-sec varieties. Along with the other guests on this tour, it gave us a chance to make a final toast to Tauck small ship cruising and a remarkable Dalmatian Coast cruise.
Can we agree that finding Father’s Day gifts for men who travel —fathers, grandfathers, husbands, sons, grandsons, or father figures— is a daunting proposition?
These guys probably want to pack light, dress well—or at least appropriately—and enjoy whichever environment they might happen to find themselves in. They likely already have everything they really need. And some of us just are not creative gift-givers.
GREAT GIFTS FOR MEN WHO TRAVEL
But, this time around, we are looking to expand beyond go-to gifts, like wallets or carry-on bags, as gifts for the big day. Here are some of our suggestions for perfect Father’s Day gifts. You and the fathers in your life may like them, too!
For the Classic Dad: A ribbon belt from F. H. Wadsworth
F.H. Wadsworth Snowbird Money Belt
Admittedly, it had been a while since we’ve come across a ribbon belt, but for the traveling man, a ribbon belt can be the perfect gift. It makes for easy-off removal during those oh-so-delightful encounters with airport security.
We are particularly partial to the navy-and-white “Snowbird” belt by F. H. Wadsworth ($59). Handmade in New York City, the belt features grosgrain ribbon (this ribbon will last!) and silver-tone rings. The ribbons come in plenty of other colors and patterns as well, ranging from solid navy to “The Toto” (with light purple, pale green, beige, and white stripes). Sizes range from XS to XXL.
Why we like it: It’s preppy and convenient, so much so that we want one, too!
For the Man of Many Hats: A straw sun protection hat from Tenth Street
Tenth Street Scala hat
Time once was that men wore hats for almost every occasion. Ease the man in your life back into that (quite dashing!) habit with a sun protection hat from Tenth Street Hats.
We are partial to the straw fedora called the “Bethpage” ($97), which provides shielding from the sun, allows plenty of breathing room, and includes a stylish grosgrain band. Other hats available (generally in sizes M to XL) include Panama hats of varying brims and styles and crushable hats.
Why we like it: It’s an easy and stylish way to enhance protection from the sun.
For the Father with Smart Scents: The Collector’s Traveler Set from Robert Graham
Robert Graham Collector’s Set
Life on the road, whether for leisure or work, occasionally takes a stressful turn. Why not ease one’s way with fragrance that exudes confidence—and in a travel size, no less?
We are partial to Robert Graham’s Courage cologne with its wisps of vodka citron, fresh bergamot, and smoky guaiac wood wafting our way. The Collector’s Traveler set ($65) includes a .25 ounce vial and a refillable case (inspired by an antique hourglass) that makes for easy transport. Other scents include Valour and Fortitude. In case you were wondering: perfume in carry-on bags is okay so long as it’s less than 3.4 ounces.
Why we like it: It is easy to transport and smells so good we just might borrow it!
Why we like it: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!
For the Spirited Dad: A copy of Linda Ruffenach’s How to Be a Bourbon Badass
How to Be a Bourbon Badass
Almost as good as drinking spirits is learning about their history—and touring the places where they are made. Even bourbon novices will appreciate Linda Ruffenach’s How to Be a Bourbon Badass (Red Lightning Books 2018), which goes over how bourbon is made, explains introductory and high-end bourbons, and includes menus for bourbon supper clubs (hardback $24).
Travelers who want to take their passion for bourbon one step farther should also look out for The State of Bourbon: A Guide to the Spirit of Kentucky, a travel guide of sorts by Cameron Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess to be published this summer.
Why we like it: Can there be anything better than a recipe for Krispy Kreme Bourbon Barbecue Pork Sliders?
For Cool Dads: A pair of Ted Baker sunglasses
Ted Baker Sunglasses in Black
Some of us go through sunglasses like we go through vacations—all too quickly. Give the man in your life a pair he will want to hold on to: polarized Ted Baker sunglasses (we are partial to model no. TBM015 in black).
Why we like it: They’re just cool shades—and lightweight and durable, too!
In general, if you want extra legroom on a long flight and aren’t able—or don’t want to—pay exorbitant first-class or business class fares, flying Premium Economy is a good way to go.
About Air France
Air France is the French flag carrier. In 2003, the airline merged with KLM, renaming it AirFrance-KLM, although it still operates under each of those brand names. In 2007, it established a strategic collaboration with Delta Air Lines, China Eastern Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Air France also operates flights on its subsidiary regional carrier, Hop!.
Flying Air France Premium Economy from Paris to New York
Returning home from Lyon, France, we booked a short one hour, 10-minute flight to catch our Air France overseas flight (AF6) departing from Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Airport in Paris to John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York.
We opted for Air France Premium Economy seats because we wanted additional legroom on the long flight across the Atlantic. It also allowed us priority boarding. Our plane was an Airbus A380, double-decker wide-bodied plane, said to be the largest passenger airplane now flying. It is also one of the quietest.
Getting around CDG
Here’s an immediate tip based on our experience:
If you have a short layover (less than two hours) and can avoid changing planes at CDG, do so. We had to walk over a mile to get to our connecting flight in another terminal that included waiting for and taking a bus, getting on a very long queue to get our passports checked, and then walking through a vast and busy shopping court before we finally got to the assigned gate.
No airport personnel was available during the long journey to verify that we were even headed in the right direction. We really sweated it, wondering if we would make our connecting flight in time.
Arriving at the gate
Our first impression of Air France wasn’t favorable. Once we arrived at gate M44, there were a series of unannounced boarding delays. Three lines for boarding—in Economy, Premium Economy, and Business class—seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. More frustrating than the wait was that Air France personnel provided no updates about the delays until coaxed to do so by a passenger in the crowd. They explained that they were cleaning the cabin.
Living room (as it’s called in the trade)
Interior of our Air France Premium Economy cabin
Our seats, 83 B &C, were on the upper deck of the Airbus behind business class. The Premium Economy seats on this flight did not recline but with a seat width of 19” and pitch of 38” (six inches more than economy seats), they were roomy and comfortable.
The seats were nicely cushioned and had adjustable foot and neck rests. The configuration of the cabin was 2-3-2, with only one middle seat per row in each of the six rows. (The small economy cabin behind us on the upper deck had a 2-4-2 configuration).
We sat in the middle section but window seats had additional storage compartments under a wide armrest. (This also offered extra space beside the seat.) The aisles were larger than usual, making for easy passage. Each seat had USB and electrical outlets.
Extra room next to window seat
Another nice touch: There was no space between the seats in the row in front of us, so we and the passengers in front and in back of us were afforded more privacy.
Privacy between rows
The divider held a compartment with complimentary Evian water bottles. In another twist on the usual, instead of overhead lighting on the ceiling, gooseneck lamps attached to each seat were easier to access and focused light more directly and unobtrusively on reading material. The plane also had soft mood lighting.
At each seat was a full-size velour blanket and pillow. Within minutes, flights attendants handed out small amenity kits, with an eye mask, toothpaste, and brush and socks. Not quite business class-worthy but a nice touch.
Air France Premium Economy amenity kit
Food and service
When you have been feasting in France for more than a week, your taste buds have been heightened and spoiled, perhaps forever. Despite that, we had no complaints about food on Air France.
Lunch was actually quite good. We were offered a choice of a pasta or chicken Florentine entrée. The meal was preceded by beverage service with a salty snack. The complimentary beverage menu offered a range of choices of apertifs (including champagne) and wines.
Air France lunch
The lunch tray came with a linen napkin and real glass for wine. It included an appetizer of Norwegian salmon, sliced fresh apples and a chunk of Camembert cheese, a shortbread biscuit with red berries, and a roll and butter.
After lunch, the flight attendant encouraged us to tray a pear digestif.
About an hour and a half before landing, we were served again: A snack with orange juice, a roll and butter, strawberry yogurt, and two galettes with a choice of coffee, tea or soft drinks.
Entertainment and technology
The Airbus 380 has a modern in-flight entertainment system with TV, films, mindfulness exercises, interactive maps, and front, tail and body cameras. Premium Economy seats came with real headphones rather than buds.
Earphone next to our seats
Passengers can also view camera images of the front, side and top of the plane. The seatback had a thick and interesting inflight print magazine.
Nice large display on seatback
While our toilette was shared with the economy cabin, it remained immaculately clean and fully equipped, when checked, five hours into the flight.
Compared to our Delta flight to Europe, for which we also paid for extra legroom, Air France Premium Economy definitely provided a superior experience in-flight.
Generous legroom was complemented by gracious service and a more than decent meal. Truly hospitable, the crew seems genuinely happy to do their job.
By the time we landed after one catnap turned into another, we had almost forgotten about the chaos of Charles De Gaulle Airport and the half-hour boarding delay. Unfortunately, we then learned that the Lufthansa plane at our arrival gate hadn’t yet left, so we were forced to spend another ½ hour waiting on the ground. So Air France Premium Economy was great “up in the air” but not so great on the ground.
We’ve done both. In terms of time, the two-hour train ride wins: It took us 50-minutes to get to the Lyon airport from the center of Lyon. Then we had to check-in and wait for more than an hour and a half to board the 1-hour-10-minute flight.
In terms of cost, a first class seat on the train was about 1/3 the cost of the flight between Paris and Lyon (in addition to taxi fares since the airports in both Lyon and Paris are removed from the city centers.
Our suggestion: Unless the trains are on strike (which often happens in Europe) or you have a great deal of luggage, take the train.
This is one of a series of posts about my experiences on new-to-me airlines. Surely, each flight is different but it’s always helpful to get general impressions of what to expect before you fly. If you fly Air France and have a very different experience, please feel free to comment below.
Limestone formations (Pancake Rocks) with a blowhole in Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park, New Zealand
Guest writer Ena Hutchinson from Moatrek shares her top 10 tips on how to get the most out of your travels by getting off the beaten track in New Zealand. A baby boomer herself, Ena has been designing and curating tours for baby boomers for over 30 years that are beyond the typical tourist trail.
When you get off the beaten track you really get to see and experience the heart of the land, the culture and its people. Today everyone is seeking unique experiences and connections that make these travel moments unforgettable.
Below are Ena’s Top 10 Tips for Getting Off the Beaten Track in New Zealand:
1. Get off the tourist trail
Search out those special places such as the natural hot pools around Rotorua. Pretty much only the locals knew about the hot pools at Lake Rotoiti when I was a kid. Called Manupirua, they’re right on the lakefront and you can only get there by water. They’ve still got that “away from it all” feeling today. You can relax in the hot pools then zip down the slide into the lake to cool off.
Relaxing at Lake Rotoiti hot pools
2. Get to know the locals
No matter how great a place is, it’s the people that really make it special. So for me, genuinely connecting with the locals is the best part of travelling. Kiwis love chatting with visitors and these chance conversations will give you a feel for our way of life. There’s an extra dimension to driving through the countryside when you can meet the people that actually live there and get an idea of what goes on beyond the farm gate. You’ll find country homes and farms offer home hosted accommodation and others provide a farm tour and lunch.
Traveling in small groups is a nice way to bond with friends, new or old
3. Go with a local company
You can’t beat having Kiwis show you around their neck of the woods. Discovering all the hidden secrets and interesting stories that only a local character can impart. It’s the best way to connect with the people, learn about our Maori culture and history and get to know the place. Whenever I travel, I always go local.
4. Consider a small group tour
When I’m on holiday, I want to feel like I’m on holiday. And that means I don’t want to feel too restricted, I want to be free! You want to forget all about the routines of the daily grind. The beauty of small group tours is the freedom to stop when you want and briefly detour from the itinerary when something sparks your interest. It’s like being organised and flexible at the same time. Perfect! And with small groups, you really get to know your driver and your fellow travellers will feel like old friends in no time.
5: Customise your tour
Enjoying a wine-tasting at Blenheim Forrest Estate
There’s nothing like doing something you love in a totally new environment. Love wine? Well, tailor your tour to visit some of the best wine regions the world has to offer. Love a good hike? Then customise your tour to go on a few extra trails. Love hiking and wine? No problem – do both! Isn’t doing what you love what life’s all about? Wine and walks, sounds good to me – just maybe not in that order.
Edgewater is a favorite destination for food and wine lovers
6. See more on foot
Breathing in the air and going for a good old-fashioned walk is the best way to take in a place and really feel it. I try to be aware of all my senses and clear my mind as I walk. That might all sound a bit airy-fairy, but it might just be that acutely observed native bird that hopped about while you were taking a head-clearing walk that sticks with you for years to come.
7. Try the local produce
You don’t go halfway around the world to eat the same food you eat at home. And New Zealand is home to wide range of unique culinary opportunities.
A must-do experience while travelling the Haast Highway on the West Coast is to try what we New Zealanders refer to as “West Coast White Gold”. This is whitebait, “inanga” in Maori, caught fresh in a net that morning and cooked up in front of you as delicious fritters. It really is a kiwi delicacy!
A unique Kiwi experience: Eating whitebait fritters at Curly Tree
8. Choose small places to stay
It’s a good trick to choose places to stay where there’s only limited accommodation. That way you can enjoy the peace and quiet plus the beauty. If you’re visiting the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks on the West Coast consider staying nearby. Punakaiki is tiny and you’ll almost have the place to yourselves in the evening.
A small group stops for lunch at Lake Wanaka
Taking time to soak in the scenery near the lake
9. Take your time – New Zealand isn’t as small as it looks
On the map, we’re just a couple of small islands at the bottom of the South Pacific but we’re bigger than you think. Our scenery changes at almost every corner so you’ll always be stopping for photos and our roads are hilly and winding. You really need three weeks here to enjoy the North Island as well as the South and take the time to discover the Maori culture of Rotorua and Northland.
10. And finally – travel light
Travel light as you probably won’t wear about half of what you bring. Plus, Kiwis are pretty casual dressers so you won’t need your Sunday best over here. However, you may need to dress in layers at times as temperatures can change at the drop of a hat. We’re known for our four seasons in one day! The good news is that your accommodation will have laundry facilities and an iron. You’ll probably have to put time into deciding what to pack rather than hurling everything in at the last moment but believe me it’s worth it. I recently did six weeks in Europe with just a carry-on!
Interested in getting off the beaten track in New Zealand on a small group tour?
About MoaTrek: MoaTrek is a kiwi-owned tour company offering small, intimate group tours to some of the most stunning locations in New Zealand. They strive to create an experience that feels just like you are exploring the Land of the Long White Cloud at a laid-back pace with your very best friends.
Learn more about the full range of bespoke New Zealand Group Tours at MoaTrek
New Zealand expert Ena Hutchinson of MoaTrek
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by MoaTrek. We are always selective about our sponsors, seeking out travel experiences that will appeal to discerning, over-50 travelers.
Lyon, France is one of the premier places in the world for food lovers: Even Parisians begrudgingly admit there is no better food than that found in Lyon.
We’ve written many times about the city’s historical and culinary treasures—but if you take the TGV high-speed, fast train from Paris to Lyon, half the fun of the trip is getting there!
SCNF/TGV tickets can be purchased in person or online. The concierge in our hotel in Paris helped us secure tickets (although you can do-it-yourself, even from home).
We opted for luxury and purchased comfortable first-class seats for the two-hour, non-stop, just under 250-mile ride—at a cost of 54€ per person.
The high-speed train has two seating levels, upper or lower floor. You choose the one you prefer as well as the location of your seats when purchasing tickets. If you’re traveling with suitcases, it’s easier to sit on the first level, avoiding a narrow flight of stairs.
Navigating the Gare de Lyon railway station
Our train, Number 6609, was scheduled to leave from the elegant, architecturally beautiful Gare de Lyon station, one of the six large railway stations in Paris. Worth a visit in its own right, it was built at the turn of the 20th century.
Clock atop Gare de Lyon, built in a similar style to that of Big Ben
Upon entering the station, you need to find out the number of the hall (lobby) from which your train will depart; it will be listed on one of the information boards overhead. As the time for departure approaches, another board directs you to the correct voie (train track.)
If you arrive early for your train, you’ll have a chance to poke into some of the shops or purchase a coffee and croissant at a kiosk. In addition, a full-service restaurant with excellent ratings is located at the station, Le Train Bleu, which was designated a national historic landmark in 1972.
One of the kiosks at the Gare de Lyon
Le Train Bleu Restaurant at Gare de Lyon
Your ticket tells you which voiture (car) you’ll be riding and the location of your seats. You pass through an automated self-service ticket scanner to get to the train platforms. Walking to our car seemed to take forever, as we passed about 20 cars. The car number is posted on an electronic board near the door of each car.
Getting onboard the fast train from Paris to Lyon
Getting read to board
Our plush, velvet-upholstered, reclining seats on TGV train 6609 were extremely comfortable and roomy with ample legroom. The seats allow you to recline if you want to sleep through the ride but we wouldn’t recommend that you miss the experience!
Seats on the fast train: Wish they had these on airplanes
Soon after finding our seats, we were greeted by Jean Louis, an affable train conductor who told us he would be walking through the car periodically in case we needed anything or had any questions.
Our new friend, Jean Louis
Once onboard, there were plenty of options to make time pass quickly. Of course, your eyes are drawn to the large windows framing the beautiful countryside as the train moves by at a speed of approximately 180 miles per hour. The ride was surprisingly smooth and bump free compared to the subway or Metro North in New York City, or even the Acela Express on the northeast corridor.
But there was plenty of competition for your attention onboard:
Free, high-speed Internet connection as well as electrical charging outlets at each seat,
A web page that pops up with details about your ticket purchase and information about connecting trains should you need them,
An option to play online games or watch Yoga exercises you can do at your seat,
City guides you can read with tourist information for major cities on the SCNF lines,
You can track your train on the map on the train’s website on your laptop or phone,
Order food online for in-seat service (only available in first-class) or order it for pick-up at a priority line in the café-bar car on the train. Our train offered a breakfast menu, foodie menu, a la carte menu and meals created by celebrity chefs, or
Engage in a “T-chat” with fellow passengers. Instructions for use suggest that you might want to ask someone to share a charger or provide you with information for your travels.
Screenshot of Wi-Fi homepage on the TGV train
Each car has racks to store your luggage and restrooms located at the end of cars. If you do want to nap and miss the trip, you can simply pull down the window shade beside your seat.
You won’t find any boom boxes or strap-hanging dancers on this train. Most of the passengers traveling the fast train from Paris to Lyon seemed to be daily commuters. The typical uniform for a businessman: a beautifully tailored blue blazer and jeans.
When our very pleasant conductor passed through the car again, we decided to take him up on his earlier offer and asked him whether he had any restaurant recommendations in Lyon. He told us that he lived outside the city but bellowed out to our fellow passengers, soliciting their restaurant recommendations.
One passenger came forward from the other end of the car and told us about his favorite bouchon (typical Lyonnais tavern) in the city. Then a kind gentleman behind us discretely passed us a piece of paper with the names and addresses of three of his favorite restaurants written on it.
The kind man behind us on the fast train from Paris to Lyon
The recommendations we received on the train
Arriving in Lyon
A convenient taxi stand was just outside the train station with waiting vehicles. (You can also use Uber in Lyon.)
Our only complaint: Our time on the comfortable, relaxed fast train from Paris to Lyon passed all too quickly.
Before we knew it, we were at the Lyon-Part-Dieu station. But we were eager to re-explore one of our favorite cities and try out the restaurant recommendations from the locals we had met on the train.
View of Zurich and the Limmat River (Credit: Pixabay)
Have you ever tasted raclette or fondue?
Switzerland is known for its large variety of excellent cheeses. The country takes great pride in its AOP (which, in French, stands for Appellation d’Origine Protegée) designated cheeses—ones whose names, like fine wines, are associated with the specific regions where they are produced.
In addition, there are more than 450 other cheeses considered to undeniably be of Swiss origin. Given the abundance of cheese choices, it’s not surprising, that Swiss cuisine features many cheese-centric dishes like raclette and fondue.
Exploring Zurich through its cuisine
Our Viking Hild River Cruise began with a two-night stay in Zurich. Not only did it offer us the opportunity to overcome jet lag before boarding the ship, it also allowed us the opportunity to explore Zurich and learn about some of the city’s customs and traditions from an expert guide. (Viking River Cruises provides free excursions at all its ports. In Zurich, we signed up for a mix of a walking tour through the historic center of the city as well as a scenic boat tour on Lake Zurich).
Except for breakfasts, meals in Zurich were on our own prior to boarding the ship, so we seized the opportunity to savor one of the most traditional dishes associated with Switzerland, fondue. Although it has lost its caché at home since it was popularized at the 1964 World’s Fair—perhaps, because due to its deadly combo of calories and cholesterol—we still fondly remember fondue date nights. Yes, that far back!
We were less familiar with another popular cheese dish favorite in Zurich, called raclette, and couldn’t decide which to have for lunch. In a Solomon-like decision, we decided to try them both and put them to the taste test.
Finding Swiss Chuchi
Exterior of Swiss Chuchi in the Hotel Adler
Located on an easy-to-find corner in Zurich’s old town, Swiss Chuchi is a traditional restaurant located in the three-star Hotel Adler, which is said to date back to the 16th century. Diners can eat indoors or out, weather permitting. The place is cozy and comfortable. Attractive murals that look as if they were drawn in watercolor line the entry and interior of the restaurant.
One of the murals at Swiss Chuchi
The restaurant was recommended by our Viking tour guide and also scored high on Google and TripAdvisor reviews.
Despite many reviews citing long waits, we were comfortably seated right away and immediately began to relax over a couple of glasses of excellent, local rosé wine.
We had checked the menu beforehand to make sure we could order both fondue and raclette here. (Some restaurants only serve one or the other.) The place had the feel of an Alpine ski chalet with warm woods, kitsch décor (including cuckoo clocks), waiters in red-and-white checkered attire and black-and-white placemats.
The challenge: Raclette or Fondue?
We placed orders for both fondue and raclette to share between us.
Place serving for preparing raclette
The raclette was served in a horseshoe-shaped divided dish with cheese slices, sliced tomatoes, pickled baby corns, cornichons, and pearl onions accompanied by a pretty red-and-white-lined burlap sack of pommes de terre (small boiled potatoes).
Pommes de terre
Our waiter brought over a miniature electric grill with a small square pan (called a coupelle) on each side). He showed us how to heat a slice of Swiss cheese on the pan and then scrape it off over the vegetables.
Cheese warming on the coupelle
The terms raclette literally means: scraping off, in French. Legend has it that herders in the mountains used to scrape cheese over rocks and melt it over food. (The same term, raclette also refers to the semi-hard cheese after which the dish is named.)
Cast iron fondue pot
We ordered the traditional fondue made with four cheeses, white wine, cherry liqueur and garlic. Other versions add additional ingredients to the mix, such as mushrooms or prosecco and poached pears, for example.
The fondue was served tableside in a red cast iron pot over a flame along with a basket of crusty bread cubes for dipping. The lovely fragrance of the dish foreshadowed its excellent taste. We ate with long three-pronged forks used for dipping the bread and rolling it in the cheese before carefully placing the coated cubes in our mouths. (Our Viking tour guide had told us about a fondue tradition: If someone drops the cheesy cube back into the pot, they are obliged to pay for the entire meal!)
Fondue literally means: to melt. Apparently, poor herders created this dish to make use of old hardened cheese and stale bread. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union promoted fondues as a way to increase cheese consumption.
Which to order?
Another wall mural at Swiss Chuchi
Both dishes were delicious and quite hearty, probably best eaten in winter on the slopes, unless opportunities are limited and a traveler is only in Zurich for a couple of days like we were.
Chuchi’s portions were large. Cooking at the table made for a relaxing and very sociable meal. If you have children, grandchildren or travel writers with you, they will be forced to put down their smartphones and engage.
Because of the variety of vegetable ingredients, raclette offers a more balanced meal. Because it doesn’t call for bread, it’s also a better choice for anyone on a gluten-free diet.
But if we were forced to choose between the two cheesy Swiss dishes, we both agreed that we would opt for fondue. We loved the consistency of the melted cheeses, their rich flavor and the fun of cooking over a fire.
But why choose between raclette or fondue when you can have both?
So you may be wondering: What exactly is ‘Swiss Cheese?’ Actually, it is the generic name used in North America to describe yellow, medium-hard cheeses like Emmental cheese—but these Swiss-like cheeses usually are NOT true AOP cheeses from Switzerland.
Friday night at Frau Gerolds Brau Garten in Zurich
We discovered Frau Gerolds Brau Garten (Mrs. Gerold’s Beer Garden), a favorite with locals, though a Yelp search. After exploring the neighborhood around the Markthalle im Viadukt (a covered food market in Zurich set under the stone arches in what once was an old viaduct), we wanted a light supper. The pitch-perfect weather propelled us to search for a place with outdoor seating.
German export updated for the times
“Floor Plan” of Gerolds Brau Garten
Beer gardens are a popular German export to Switzerland: informal places to eat local foods, drink beer and commune with friends. We hit Frau Gerolds Brau Garten on a Friday night when it was packed with people letting loose after the workweek, along with some families with kids.
The place is so large that the huge yurt (Turkish-type tent) within it only takes up a tiny space.
Under the Yurt
Plants & graffiti decor
The garden holds many hundreds of drinkers/diners who either sit on benches at long wooden tables on the sprawling gravel floor, eat on the large sundeck/patio above, or are coupled and cozying up on the huge shipping containers (boxcars) that form an elevated seating platform.
Diners at long wooden tables
On the rooftop terrace
On the steps
In a vibrant neighborhood, once industrial and now reclaimed and filled with arty, alternative stores, all the décor on the walls of the beer garden look like street art. Greenery was everywhere, often complemented by large, colorful garden umbrellas faded from the sun. The beer garden sits under the shadow of the Prime Tower, a 413-foot edifice (one of the tallest skyscrapers in Zurich) that didn’t appear all that tall to New Yorkers.
Small walk-up bars line the perimeter with what looks like a couple of food stands with lines on one side.
One of the bars at Gerolds Brau Garte
One of the whimsical signs
Figuring out what and how to order at Gerolds Brau Garten
Because the crowded garden was massive, operated on a totally self-serve basis and we had little command of the German language or menu, we felt lost in translation.
Most of the cooking takes place at this grill
Fortunately, most people in Zurich speak English so we asked a friendly looking, random person nearby. She explained that you place your order for both food and drinks at one of the stands, pay for it there, and then pick it up at another with your ticket.
The language-daunting menu
Food pickup window
Menus (in German only) were both on a chalkboard overhead and on placards sitting on the counter but they were impossible for us to decipher. Again, we prevailed upon our new-found friend (who, oddly, happened to be an expat from Tulum, Mexico). She explained that everyone orders the barbecued wurst (sausages), which we ordered and enjoyed with hot mustard and ketchup. (We realized later that most people order the wurst or barbecued chicken with sides of German potato salad.)
Our tasty wurst
With a bottle of deep brown pale ale and an Aperol Spritz (an Italian important that has gone universal) at hand, it wasn’t long before we, too, succumbed to the relaxed, playful atmosphere.
Pale ale: Refreshing, smooth and flavorful
The Brau Garten is kid-friendly, too
Fun for kids and kids-at-heart
Afterward, we meandered through a few of the small shops that complete this “mini-theme” park of sorts, very happy with our choice of venue for one of the two nights we would be here before embarking on our Viking River Cruise from Zurich to Paris on the Viking Hild.
A trendy second-hand clothes shop in the courtyard
Calling all seafood lovers! Enter the Camerons Seafood Giveaway and you can have a taste of the Maryland shore delivered to your doorstep.
We were delighted to receive an overnight package on a Saturday morning, courtesy of Cameron’s Seafood. Beautifully packaged on ice, it was filled with some of our favorite types of shellfish.
The seafood-filled styrofoam case that came inside the carton
Cameron’s Seafood has offered to send this same seafood sampler to one lucky reader of MoreTimeToTravel. Interested? Read on.
In what now feels like a prior life, we spent many weekends sailing the Chesapeake Bay when we lived in the Washington, DC area and weekended in Annapolis. The area was seafood-rich, a mecca for foodies with succulent seafood wherever we turned. Why? As the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is home to some 348 species of finfish and 173 species of shellfish.
But it’s most famous and delicious denizen has to be the Maryland Blue Crab!
After a day on the Bay, we would look forward to eating seafood dinners in our condo in Eastport, Maryland, one of the historic Annapolis neighborhoods bordering the Chesapeake. On Friday nights, we would order take-out, seafood and corn on the cob from the nearby fish shack to steam at home. It came in a huge galvanized steel pail that we returned empty during our next visit.
Other times, we would drive to a crab house on the South River where everyone wears bibs. Long tables were lined with brown wrapping paper as we and other diners worked for our dinner, using seafood pliers and mallets to extract the sweet meat from hard shell crabs.
The Cameron Seafood Sampler
But like us now, not everyone lives near the source! You may even be land-locked.
½ dozen #1 male crabs (considered the largest and heaviest)
two crab cakes
a pound of spiced shrimp (with yummy Old Bay seasoning), and
16 ounces of rich crab of crab soup
Ready-to-be warmed Maryland Cream of Crab Soup
Cold, spiced shrimp, ready-to-eat
Very meaty crab cakes ready for broiling or heating on the stove top
Maryland Blue Crabs (before and after steaming)
The food is shipped fresh, the same day it’s caught, and comes with easy-to-follow preparation instructions so there’s minimal fuss. (No need to shop or purchase other ingredients.) Even though we are hearty eaters, the sample was so bountiful that it lasted for three meals.
Easy-to-follow instruction cards
Our store-bought corn (for old time’s sake)
We thoroughly enjoyed our nostalgic seafood feast(s), the next best thing to dining on the Chesapeake Bay and hope you will, too.
Disclaimer: Eating hard shell crabs tends to be messy but is SO worth the cleanup. See the video below for insttuctions.
THE CAMERONS SEAFOOD GIVEAWAY
Collage of our seafood feast!
Cameron’s Seafood will be giving away one sampler (valued at $99) to one randomly selected reader.
To be eligible for the giveaway:
Leave a comment below on or before midnight EST on 5/30/18 telling whether you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating Maryland Blue Crabs.
Limited to U.S. mainland addresses only.
All entrants agree to have their email address forwarded to the contest sponsor and to be emailed by Cameron’s Seafood.
The randomly selected winner (announced here shortly thereafter) will have the choice of winning a $100 gift card or the Free Shipping Sampler delivered to their home.
Disclosure: We received the complimentary seafood sampler for review but any opinions expressed in this post are our own.