A ‘beautiful day’ in Dublin

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Kiss me, I’m Irish.  Or at least I was while I was in Ireland.  Everyone becomes a little Irish when you’re in the beating heart that is Dublin.  The city draws you in, makes you a believer in the spirit and magic that makes the Emerald Isle unique. It’s no one tree hill.

It was a real quick trip (through your wires) there on the way to the UK, but it was a blitz of activity, colors, sounds and sights.  From Guinness to U2, the history of the city provides a backbone to a truly intriguing place whose energy pulses at all hours of the day.  As an aside, Irish history is very interesting, and not so distantly in the past were the Troubles, a very turbulent period for the Irish in general, it’s worth researching a little before you go.

I had a great time, to say the least.  In the words of the magnificent Bono, it was a beautiful day…

Hold me, thrill me, kiss me…

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day trip to Louisville: Derby time!

Derby City has a long, illustrious history of horse farms, and of course, the Kentucky Derby, but there’s so much more to the city.  It’s the hometown of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger and great southern eats like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Come on, you know you love those 13 spices.

I only got to drive through this city, but the roadtrip through this part of the country is serene and beautiful.  There’s fields of bluegrass for as far as the eye can see and pastoral scenes of horse farms and billboards advertising bourbon distilleries and caves.  It does not get more southern than this.  If you’re coming from the South, you will pass Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, too.  Louisville sits on the banks of the Ohio river and for that, was/is considered the gateway to the South.  And in fact, if you cross the river, you’ll be in Indiana.

Louisville, even though steeped in Southern history, seems very vibrant and young, maybe in part due to the college atmosphere.  There are a lot of trendy coffeeshops, I really liked Quills and local chain Sunergos.

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My first must see in the River City was the Muhammad Ali Center, a cultural museum dedicated to Cassius Clay, the man who would become the greatest American boxer of all time.  This center has interactive displays, movies and even a boxing ring.

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There’s tons of paintings and art featuring him, including this gorgeous piece by LeRoy Neiman.

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It’s not for profit, and celebrates the life of a man who inspired so many.

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The center sits on Louisville’s waterfront, which features a large lawn and green area, with playgrounds, paths and an outdoor event venue.

Louisville’s downtown is actually larger than I expected, with the center being the KFC YUM Center, where the Louisville Cardinal NCAA team plays basketball.  You are in Bourbon country, so there is a Woodford Reserve Club in the arena, and just down the street is one of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, Evan Williams.

The buildings in the West Main District and Whiskey Row have facades in the cast iron revivalist style, similar to those in SoHo in NYC.  There are tons of art galleries and museums, hotels in this walkable area.  It’s also home to the arts district of Louisville, with the Center of the Performing Arts and Actors Theatre.  Inside the Actors Theatre is MilkWood, one of severeal Top Chef allum Ed Lee’s dining experiences in the city.  I wanted to try this place so badly, but it was closed when I was passing through.  Louisville has a ton of high end dining options: maybe you’ll run into Tom Brady at Decca or the Fat Lamb, you never know.

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Behind that large gold replica of Michelangelo’s David (not sure the reason for that), lies Proof, a funkily decorated dining room that features everything from catfish dip to bourbon pie.  And of course, they’ve got juleps, which you’ve got to try when you’re in Kentucky.

Just a few blocks down is the Louisville Slugger museum.  You can’t miss it, it’s the one with the 120 foot tall baseball bat in front of it.

IMG_7115.JPGThis museum also serves as an active factory and you can take a 20 minute tour where they show you from start to finish how the bats are made.  Everyone gets a free mini-bat, but just remember not to put it in your carry on if you’re flying (it will be confiscated).  There’s a wall of famous “slugger” autographs and batting cages, of course.  There’s also famous bats that you can hold.  It’s kitschy, but I’m into baseball, so I liked it.

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This was a super quick trip, but that’s a good starting point to your Derby weekend.  Even though Churchill Downs is the main event, don’t forget to explore the other amazing attractions this city has to offer.

Famous Louisvillians: Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence, Hunter S. Thompson, Diane Sawyer, and Rajon Rondo (a motley crew if there ever was one)

Listen to: Nicole Scherzinger, My Morning Jacket, Patty Loveless and Bryson Tiller (Louisville gets more and more interesting as this list goes on)

Souvenirs: umm, Bourbon and a Louisville Sluggers — that should make for a fun night?

3 days in Reykjavik

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Iceland is super trendy.  In the past decade, there’s been a >300% increase in the amount of visitors to Iceland — it’s almost to the point where you barely see any locals.  Because I have the worst FOMO ever, I needed to go here before tourists overrun everything and American chains start moving in.  Everyone in my family had already gone (which is not a reason to travel, but again, FOMO), so off I headed to Reykjavik for an Icelandic adventure.

all is full of love…

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Rome if you want to…

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Rome is a polarizing place.  For some, it represents the peak of romance, beauty and charm. For others, it’s a crowded, tourist-laden nightmare.  I think its real appeal is that it’s both; it’s a city of contradictions.  There is a mix of ancient and modern, sometimes seamless in execution (turning on a busy street and seeing the Parthenon) and others not so much (the futile attempt of expanding the Metro due to delays in the name of archeology). It’s very urban, but yet has simple charms similar to those found in Italy’s most rural countryside villages.  There are so many relics and ruins; it’s often a little overwhelming! But, if you take a step back to enjoy the moment, it’s a city that can leave you breathless.  You will understand why it’s called the Eternal City.

Take a Roman holiday…

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Japan part Ni: kyoto, nara, osaka

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In honor of Sakura, the internationally renowned spring cherry blossom season, we continue our journey through Japan.  Next destination: Kyoto.  One of the most magical cities in Japan, it feels like you’re a character in a novel from eons ago when you’re here.  Literally, if this city does not make you feel like you’re in Memoirs of a Geisha or Shogun, then Sayonara, Felicia.

Kyoto has a dark magic feel to it, the city of geishas.  You just know there’s secrets hidden in the dark, wooded architecture.

If these rice paper walls could talk…

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36 hours in Charleston

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Charleston, South Carolina is quite possibly one of the most charming cities in the US. This coastal hamlet has unparalleled appeal, historical value, and probably one of the highest ratios of award winning restaurants to actual citizens within its small limits.  No wonder it’s a popular destination for tourism and living alike.  It’s also the location for a Bravo reality TV show, so you know they’ve gotta be doing something right.

Charleston chew…

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24 hours in Budapest

Budapest is probably my favorite European city…well, maybe within the top 3.  It is different than anywhere else you’ve been. You don’t feel like you’re in Europe, you feel like you’re in the old world.  It’s got this dark magic, and I love it.

It’s a little more subdued, but yet very distinct from its other former Eastern Bloc neighbors, but don’t let that fool you.   There’s so much history from the Ottoman Empire and Turks and Romans to the Soviet influence, everyone has crossed through this area, including the Roma people, who give Hungarians their gypsy culture.   All of this historic interchange has led to Hungary (and Hungarians) to be a melting pot of mixed ethnicities.

Heroes’ Square is one of the landmark plazas on the Pest side, featuring Magyar and other prominent Hungarian leaders.  The central column is topped by Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown.  It is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Art.

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One of the most memorable places I’ve been is the Central Market Hall.  This grand indoor market is full of colors and sounds and smells, it’s sensory way overload.  Marketplaces seem ubiquitous in America these days, but this feels so original.

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getting hungary just looking at this

There’s giant sausages and other encased meats everywhere (literally so many kinds of sausage), cheeses, pickles of all types. Hungarian food is one of my all time favorite cuisines.  Put a plate of chicken paprikash or goulash in front of me and you’re golden.  You must (read: MUST) buy paprika from Hungary.  So closely associated with this country, their paprika is the smoky and rich and perfect.  They sell it everywhere.

On the Buda side of town sits the Castle Hill complex, made up of Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a Gothic style viewpoint that looks like something out of a fairy tale.  This very popular tourist attraction provides sweeping views of the river and the Pest side from high above.

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The Danube river runs right through the center of town, splitting it into the two sides, Buda and Pest.  The gorgeous bridges that span the river are spectacles in and of themselves, and are lovely at night.

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chain, chain, chain…

Along the Pest side of the river is a long promenade dotted with cafes and riverfront restaurants.  This is a wonderful way to wind down and watch as the lights transform this city into something even more fantastical.  Budapest at night is something else.

Venhajo-Etterem restaurant is located on a converted steamboat and has direct views of the castle.  Dubarry is also an amazing dining experience, if the weather permits you must sit outside in the white linen bistro tables.  Both restaurants serve traditional Hungarian fare of which I cannot get enough.

Walking along the river front will afford you the most spectacular views, the low light of early evening is the perfect time to snap a photo of the Buda Castle.

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Unfortunately, I only spent a very limited amount of time in this wonderful city, and a lot of it was spent with family (yes, unexpectedly have family here), so I didn’t have a chance to visit the thermal hot springs. This is a must when you visit. The Romans were originally drawn to this area for the touted benefits of these mineral water pools. Of course, the Turks came through and built Turkish baths, some of which are still in use. The Szécheny Baths are a grand structure on the Pest side of town that has many baths.  Guess I know where I’m headed next time…

have a great weekend!

4 tres magnifique days in Paris

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There are not enough adjectives to describe the wonder of Paris.  No one needs a guide to this city, there are a million ways to enjoy it, and the little discoveries down every alleyway are what makes this place special.  You don’t need a ton of money, you don’t even need to see any of the popular tourist attractions.  You could walk around for days and not spend one cent and be content.  It’s all splendor.  The air is different when you arrive in this city of light and magic.  You feel different, you get a new lease on life– nouvelle joie de vivre.

I’ve been all over the world, and there is no city that causes my heart to take flight like Paris.  No city that comes close in terms of architecture and art and food.  It’s the ultimate muse for any travel fantasy, it puts the lust in wanderlust.  There’s a romanticism that cannot be recreated anywhere else; it’s no wonder that Paris salons attracted the best in art and literature to a bohemian lifestyle in the capital city.

To get a true sense of the city, you have to at least spend 4-5 days here.  My first visit more than a decade ago lasted for almost two weeks.  I saw the entire city as a 16 year old, and even though we did not have smart phones back in the dark ages (le horreur), I’ll never forget the moments during that trip.  It started my love affair with France and gets reignited every time I come back. C’est magnifique.

la vie en rose

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