Top Ten Places to Travel Virtually

Stonehenge

Hon, hope you had a nice July 4th weekend!

This year, though our friends’ holiday bbq was nixed, we still got together, socially distancing of course. Since our school district doesn’t let out until late June, July 4th feels like the official start of summer. But what does this summer hold? Will I return to work or not? Will Elegant Lifestyles publish a September issue? Is it safe to visit family in different states? Will one of my daughters have to quarantine when she returns home after four months away? Will my younger daughter’s college hold classes? The questions go on and on. One thing we can do is travel…virtually. This is a list of places I’d love to go one day. Where would you like to go?

Top Ten Places to Travel Virtually

1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

David Attenborough leads you on an interactive tour underwater to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Through interactive time-lapses, videos, and weather maps, the tour shows you the Earth’s most bio-diverse ecosystem.

All the while, a tracker notes miles traveled, total sailing time, and the effects of climate change during your “exhibition,” making this a great educational tour for adults and kids alike!

2. The Great Wall of China

China’s most famous attraction offers virtual tours of some of the most visited sections of the wall, 3,000 miles of which are walkable. With much of the country under quarantine measures, the virtual tour offers a reprieve from the crowds who normally come from all over the world to see the 2,000-year-old marvel.

3. Iceland

Welcome to Iceland 360 VR!Select one of hundreds of locations around Iceland in the search field, panorama location list or location map or try out our location basedand themed virtual tours!

4. Taj Mahal, India

Our online virtual tour enables visitors to interactively explore the “UNESCO World Heritage Site”, the Taj Mahal at Agra in India. Visitors may tour 22 different areas of the monument and gardens through 360° panoramas, maps, narrated mini-movies, music and text.

5. Alaska

Experience virtual tours and in-depth educational videos of Kenai Fjords National Park. Journey into the beautiful landscape of Alaska to discover the wonders of the glaciers, local wildlife, geology and so much more!

6. Ireland–25 Virtual Tours

In an attempt to bring those of you that want to be here a little closer to Ireland, we’ve created a guide that’s packed with virtual tours (and 360 photos) for some of Ireland’s best-known attractions.

7. Scotland

“Immerse yourself in the amazing history, cities and landscapes of Scotland from the comfort of your own home…virtual tours of Scotland, including fascinating documentaries and Scottish museums that offer online tours. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your virtual journey through Scotland.

8. Safaris, Africa

Get up close with some of the world’s most amazing animals from the safety of your sofa.

9. Israel

Coronavirus messing up your plans? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Join us for a virtual tour of the most beautiful places in Israel with our popular series, Postcards from Israel.

10. Redwoods, California

Join an interpretive ranger in series of VR episodes about some of the natural and cultural history of the park. Move your mouse, handheld device, or wear VR glasses to experience this in 360 degrees.

 

 

Fabulous Flooring, Published in Elegant Lifestyles Magazine

How are flooring and a throat on fire related?

I learned enough researching finishes for “Fabulous Flooring, Timeless and Trending,” published in the December issue of Elegant Lifestyles Magazine, that when Hubby and I were in London, I could tell the type of distressing done on our hotel’s wide wood plank floors. I highly recommend the St. Ermin’s Hotel, which is in walking distance to Westminster Abbey, not just for the wood floors and stylish rooms, but for the service.

When I woke up in the middle of the night with my throat on fire, I knew I had strep throat. We were supposed to be touring the city that day and taking an overnight ferry to France the next, so I needed to see a doctor asap! What to do? 

The concierge was as helpful as could be! He called doctor’s offices, found one nearby, and scheduled an appointment. I was in and out with an antibiotic in hand. Amazing!

Hon, have you ever gotten sick on vacation? What did you do?

 

A Fat Cat and a Big Ego

Midnight, my petite cat.
Oliver, my sister’s oversized cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you hear about the 22-pound cat who was smuggled onto a flight? 

Not all news is bad news. Some of it is downright funny. Take, for instance, the story involving a man, a plan, a cat, and a rat (the man himself). On 11/13/19 in The New York Times,  wrote: His 22-Pound Cat Was Too Fat to Fly. So He Called In an Understudy.

The funniest line in the article…
“Mr. Putin said that the Kremlin did not comment about cats.” Ha!

A man who tricked his way into getting his overweight cat into the passenger cabin of a plane has been penalized by a Russian airline.

Aeroflot stripped the passenger, Mikhail Galin, of his air miles and removed him from their frequent-flier program after he bragged on social media about sneaking his hefty pet onboard by switching him for a lighter cat during check-in.

When airline employees told Mr. Galin that his 22-pound cat, Viktor, was simply too heavy to fly in the passenger cabin on a flight to Vladivostok, in eastern Russia, he devised a plan to ensure his kitty did not wind up in the cargo hold.

Mr. Galin said in a post on Facebook that he delayed his flight and used air miles to secure a business class seat for himself and Viktor. After asking friends for help, he then sourced a 15-pound feline called Fibi, describing her as an “understudy cat.”

When he presented the slimmer pet at check-in, she came under the airline’s limit of eight kilograms, or about 17 pounds, for animals flying in the passenger cabin. Mr. Galin and Fibi were approved for takeoff.

But unknown to Aeroflot and its staff, Mr. Galin swapped Fibi for his real pet, Viktor, before boarding the plane.

Mr. Galin, unable to resist the temptation to capture the moment, took photographs and posted them on Facebook and Instagram.

Viktor, a brown cat with black stripes and long white whiskers, was snapped in a pet carrier in front of a glass of what appears to be sparkling wine.

He was also shown being held up to the plane window by Mr. Galin, with Aeroflot’s branding clearly visible on the headrest.

Those images eventually played a role in his downfall.

The airline told Agence France-Presse that it opened an investigation after Mr. Galin’s post caught their attention, and that it eventually found video surveillance footage of the cat swap at check-in.

“Aeroflot has taken the decision to take this passenger out of its frequent flier program,” Aeroflot told the agency. “All of the miles collected during his time in the program will be annulled.” According to news reports, Mr. Galin had nearly 400,000 miles on his account.

Aeroflot did not respond to requests for comment. In a message, Mr. Galin confirmed that his frequent flier account had been blocked, and said he found out about the penalty through news reports.

The story of the cat swap became so widespread in Russia that it was even mentioned on Wednesday in a daily call between President Vladimir V. Putin and Russian journalists.

Mr. Putin said that the Kremlin did not comment about cats.

Mr. Galin justified his actions in his social media posts, saying that Viktor had become ill on the first leg of his trip, from Riga, Latvia, to Moscow.

Two days later, before the second flight, from Moscow to Vladivostok, a fastidious employee weighed Viktor and declared him too tubby to continue to fly in the cabin. Mr. Galin was then offered the chance to check the cat into the hold.

He said he had engineered the swap because he feared Viktor would be traumatized by such an experience and might not survive the eight-hour flight.

Last year, a French bulldog named Kokito died after a flight attendant placed the animal in an overhead compartment on a United Airlines flight.

The same airline faced questions in 2017 when an apparently healthy giant rabbit died in the cargo hold.

Mr. Galin said he had spent the last two years working in Latvia and was flying home to Vladivostok with Viktor.

He explained the cat’s unusual size was because of its breed, though he did not specify which one. And added that he had asked the person sitting next to him if they had any allergies.

At the end of his post, Mr. Galin rewarded the thousands of people who had followed the story with a throwback snap to when Viktor was a kitten.

“A photo of young Viktor,” he wrote. “When his weight still met the requirements of the airline.”

 

DIY Paris-Inspired Terrariums

Beautiful terrariums on a table in the Maison Astor Paris.

At our chic hotel Maison Astor Paris, a tabletop arrangement of terrariums inspired me to make my own. I bought large and medium-sized glass globes and succulents to add to the vessels and plants I already had at home. I also picked up small, white rocks, soil and moss. On a walk, I found fallen pine boughs and plan to scatter tiny pine cones around the succulents. Guess what’s doubling as Thanksgiving centerpieces?

Happy indoor gardening, hon!

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Charming and Comfortable Hotel Tardif in Bayeux, France

This gorgeous courtyard leads to the main entrance.

Hôtel Tardif, Noble Guesthouse in Bayeux, France

gets my vote as the most charming place I’ve ever stayed!

Hubby and I arrived in Bayeux early in the morning after crossing the English Channel on a ferry. Friends had recommended Hôtel Tardif (shout out to Deb and Dave) and, right away, owner Anthony Voidie welcomed us, answered our questions, and even had our room prepared earlier than anticipated. After a delicious breakfast (think crêpes, croissants, and amazing coffee), we were ready to explore the town. But wait, there was so much to see in the guest house and grounds. Hubby had to convince me to leave since I was enamored of the decorating details and, hon, you know I love details! The fireplace, the fabrics, the fresh flowers…oh so lovely!

From the hotel’s website:

 Enjoy the priviledge of a stay in a  historic monument dating of the 18th century, in the heart of  medival Bayeux.

   Our guest house of charm is nestled in the former park of the botanist Moisson de Vaux, where many species like Magnolias were first acclimated in Europe. A peaceful location, between the Bayeux Tapestry museum, the cathedral, many restaurants bars and shops.

If you want more autonomy you can also opt for one of our  furnished tourism accomodation located on the street.

  You can easily reach the famous landing beaches, Omaha Beach, Arromanches, the Caen Memorial, Honfleur, Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

     This private mansion reflects a glorious past with its wood paneling, fireplaces in marble, a remarkable staircase, some rare centuries old trees …  

 

Bayeux, France in Photos, Part 1

IMG_1139
Macarons bigger than Oreos!

Hubby and I are now in Paris and today we’re headed to Giverny!

I’ll have lots to post when we get back to the U.S., but in the meantime, here are some pics of Bayeux, France. We rode a commuter train from London to Portsmouth, England and, from there, crossed the English Channel on an overnight Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth to France.

Bayeux feels like a step back in time. We had visited Bath, England which is also historic, but Bath is filled with stores that you see everywhere which, in my opinion, takes away from the town’s authenticity. Bayeux has plenty of stores–our Normandie tour guide called it bourgeois–but they and the cafes seemed individually owned rather than international chains. The village is filled with quirky shops:  a ceramicist’s gallery that includes her studio (throwing wheel, bags of clay, and unfinished work right behind a half wall, just my kind of place!); a tiny home goods shop with beautiful, velvet bed covers and pillows; a shop just for hats; shops featuring locals artisans; a needlework store or “Broderie” that recalls the town’s famous tapestry; and a shop that sells merchandise adorned with poppies–so specific to the region.

Bayeux is a town on the Aure river in the Normandy region of northwestern France, 10 kilometers from the Channel coast. Its medieval center contains cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and the towering, Norman-Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame. The famed 68-meter Tapisserie de Bayeux, an 11th-century tapestry depicting the 1066 Norman invasion of England, is on display in an 18th-century seminary.

 

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Travel Bug Part 2, Crayon Box Burano, Fishing Village

Burano, Venice, Italy
Burano, Venice, Italy

This is a re-post of the 2nd part of Crayon Box Burano in honor of travel!

Hubby and I are off to England and then France for a whirlwind anniversary trip. We’re not the only ones in the family who will be abroad. Morgan’s  going to direct a music video in Tokyo and is there now! She packed up and left within 48 hours of finding out. (“Mom, I guess you can do that when you’re 25 years old.” My response, “True, true.”)

Shout out to our amazing children along with my dad and Hubby’s mom, who are treating us to this vacation.

Hon, happy and safe travels whenever and wherever you go.

Crayon Box Colored Homes

Burano, an old fishing village in the Northern Venetian Lagoon, is famous for its brightly colored homes as well as its lace-making. Legend has it that fisherman couldn’t recognize their houses through the fog, so they painted their homes bright colors.  It’s said that house colors have been with families for centuries. Today, if someone wants to repaint his house, he must send a request to the government, who will let the him know which colors are permitted for that lot.

When we toured the islands of Murano, Torcello and Burano, I’m glad our vaporetti, or water taxi, stopped at Burano last. It was definitely the jewel-in-the-crown.

Previous Post:  Crayon Box Burano, Venice, Italy (Part 1)

Striped curtains match house colors.
Striped curtains match house colors.
Many houses and buildings are adorned with religious wall plaques.
Many houses and buildings are adorned with religious wall plaques.
Laundry lines are a common sight.
Laundry lines are a common sight.
Pink up close.
Pink up close.
Colorful canal.
Colorful canal.

Travel Bug, Crayon Box Burano, Venice, Italy (Part 1)

Burano, Venice, Italy

In honor of Hubby’s and my upcoming trip to Europe, I’m re-posting these photos from Burano, Italy. We’re headed to England and France where I’m sure to be bitten by the travel bug. If I was independently wealthy, I’d travel the world! Hey, I can write anywhere, and what better way to get inspired than to meet new people and visit new places?

And, as for my love of children, ask my own kids–language barriers aren’t barriers at all when a child’s smiling eyes meet mine. If that sounds sappy, so be it, but consider…

  • in an airport security line, a mom handed me her baby to hold while she struggled to open up her stroller,
  • in a store, a toddler giggled at our silly game, then threw her arms around me for big hugs,
  • in Sienna, Italy, a 5 year old German boy and I  played hide and seek at breakfast,
  • in a shoe department, a 3 year old boy slid over to me and let me tie his shoes,
  • in a bookstore, a 4 year old girl and I read books together,
  • on a train from Manhattan, a 6 year old girl and I played I Spy,
  • in a restaurant, new twins parents and I bonded over being parents of multiples and then took me up on my offer to hold a baby so the mom could eat,
  • at the store where I work, two 5th grade girls asked me to be in their  Tic Toc video (umm, yes!), and then hung around for hours chatting about their siblings, parents and teachers,
  • And so many more wonderful encounters here and abroad.

So, while we travel, I’ll be on the lookout for smiling eyes because those connections, no matter how short, are joyful.

And hon, I need a whole lot of joy just about now.

Shops along the canal, Burano.
Shops along the canal.
School boys meeting by a first floor window.
School boys meeting by a first floor window.
Photographer's delight.
Photographer’s delight.
Hubby and daughters.
Hubby and daughters.

The Best Blondies

I found this recipe for “The Best Blondies” on Crazy for Crust and, trust me hon, they are a mouthful of yumminess. Since I’m officially “Team Mom” on the trip to Cape Kennedy (to view the test launch of the Orion Ascent Abort-2, lots of upcoming posts about the trip!), I figured blondies for the plane ride were in order. I’m also going to pack playing cards, travel games, bandaids and Tylenol. So exciting!
Mix wet and dry ingredients.
Add mix-in’s.
Cool before cutting.
THE BEST BLONDIE MIX-INS ARE:
  • M&Ms
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Nuts
  • Butterscotch chips
  • Peanut Butter chips
  • Chopped candy bars like Snickers, Milky Way, or peanut butter cups
  • Anything YOU like!
SERVINGS: 24 BARS
INGREDIENTS
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar — packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups mix-ins: toffee, chopped candy bars, M&Ms, chocolate chips, nuts, etc
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13” pan with foil and spray well with cooking spray.
  2. Mix butter and brown sugar with a stand or a hand mixer until crumbly. Mix in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Mix in salt, baking powder, then flour. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the mix-ins.
  3. Spread in prepared pan. The mixture is wet so it’s best to spray your hands with cooking spray and then smooth the dough with your hands to get an even layer. Top with remaining mix-ins
  4. Bake for about 22-25 minutes until they start to turn golden. Err on the side of under baked with these – they’ll finish baking as the cool and you don’t want them over baked.

Bubbly and Black Flies, a Mystery

Tuscany, Italy.
Tuscany, Italy.

It all started in Tuscany.

In August 2016 while traveling in Italy, my daughter Morgan and I took a day trip to Tuscany. We toured two vineyards and an olive oil farm, enjoying a lovely meal prepared by the owners of the smaller vineyard. Once we returned to the U.S., we excitedly awaited our shipments of wine.

Fast forward to Spring 2017. In Brooklyn, Morgan’s roommate was enjoying a quiet day when, out of nowhere,  POP! SPRAY! SPLASH! a bottle of wine exploded! It was wine shipped from Tuscany. The cork popped out and the wine sprayed all over the kitchen. How very strange!

Fast forward again, to Summer 2017.  In New Jersey, our house was plagued by black flies. Not small house flies but big, bluebottle flies. Yuck! We closed doors and windows, cleaned fastidiously, and “disposed” of as many as we could. But they kept on coming. Hubby and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.

One daughter who doesn’t like bugs of any kind, wore a hat in the house and hid in her room.

Another daughter who likes some bugs, practically dove into her cellphone.

Our dog Lucy caught and ate some. They wiggled in her mouth! Double yuck!!

Still, Hubby and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. It was a mystery!

Then, out of nowhere, they were gone.

A few months later, in preparation for Thanksgiving, Morgan was choosing wine and happened upon an empty bottle. “Who drank a bottle of wine and put it back empty?” she asked.

“Who indeed?” I wondered.

Hubby hadn’t and neither had any of my daughters. It was a mystery!

Then Hubby had an epiphany. “Remember those black flies? I bet the cork popped out of that bottle the same way it did in Morgan’s apartment. The flies must have been attracted to the wine.”

We checked the label and, sure enough, it was a bottle from the same winery as the exploding bottle in Brooklyn. Mystery solved, except for one more mystery…

Do you think the flies got tipsy from the wine?

Why would corks pop out of a bottle? Here are some possible reasons:

A cork would start to pop out of the bottle only if the wine or pressure inside the bottle started to expand, and that only happens at temperature extremes of hot or cold.

 

[Corks popping out of bottles is] more than likely caused by either: (1) not allowing the fermentation to complete all the way before bottling, or (2) adding sugar after the fermentation to sweeten the wine, but doing so without adding a wine stabilizer.

Barrels in Tuscany.
Me and Morgan in Italy, August 2016. 

Sources: Wine SpectatorECKraus, Ehrlich