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Monthly Archives: November 2011

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by Megan McDonough

Paris remains as one of my all-time favorite cities. Of course, I’m sure this is true for many travelers and art lovers alike. The first time I stepped foot in the City of Lights was during my junior year of college, when I studied and worked in London. Our program was hosting a weekend trip to Paris so I made sure I was the first person to sign up.

As a young student with limited funds, I remember my friends and I stuffing leftover croissants from breakfast into our purses to serve as a mid-day snack. Looking back, I cringe at this slightly embarrassing memory, but I don’t regret the experience one bit. Two years later, I re-visited Paris on a solo trip and although I was no longer a broke college student, I still took advantage of the free and fabulous views one can find in Paris.

Montmartre

I used to wonder why Parisians were so thin despite eating carbohydrates all day. Then I discovered Montmartre and things started making sense. Although this artsy neighborhood of Paris is relatively close to a metro stop, it definitely requires an uphill hike to make it to le Sacre Coeur – therefore helping me understand how locals stay so fit. Below the hills, just outside of the church is one of the most magnificent views. I recommend going here just as the sun begins to set. You will see the city transform from day to night, as the city lights are illuminated.

Galeries Lafayette

It took me two trips to Paris to figure out that Galeries Lafayette was not only a shopaholic’s paradise but also one of the best views in Paris. The shopping center is massive, so do your best to avoid picking up a shirt here or a skirt there. Go all the way up to the top floor and find the door that leads outside. I was pleasantly surprised not only that this outdoor space existed, but also at the spectacular view in general.

Centre Georges Pompidou

Similar to Galeries Lafayette, the Centre Georges Pompidou rooftop offers a memorable view of Paris for the reasonable price of zero euros. If you have already bought a ticket to the National Museum of Modern Art, take advantage of the elevator, which takes you to the rooftop where you have a clear view of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre Coeur. If you are in the mood to feel rich minus a huge bank account, head to the trendy Georges Restaurant and order a glass of wine.

Parc du Champs de Mars

Although this is not a view from a 50-story building, the panoramic view from Parc du Champs de Mars is not only free, but one of the best ways to see the Eiffel Tower up close and personal. If you want to see the Eiffel Tower glitter, make sure you arrive closer to the evening hours. During the day, the view is equally stunning and the architectural details are front and center. If I were planning another trip to Paris right now, I would call up a group of friends and plan an afternoon picnic in the park and make sure we had enough wine and cheese to last us a few hours.

Arc de Triomphe

Anyone visiting Paris will undoubtedly make it to the Arc de Triomphe at some point on his or her trip. I suggest heading there in the evening because the romantic city lights will be turned on. Bonus points if you are visiting around Christmas time. My second trip to Paris was in late December and there were holiday decorations and outdoor markets all along the Champs-Élysées. Standing underneath the Arc itself gives you a panoramic view of the city as you watch beeping cars speed their way around the roundabout.

Other views for a small price: For just a few euros, you can take an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower. To actually see the Eiffel Tower at night, you won’t get a better view than the one on the top floor of Montparnasse tower. I paid for both of these views and did not regret it. In fact, these views were so memorable that I don’t even remember what I paid in the first place.

Don’t know where to pick up your holiday gifts this year? No worries, there are great shopping destinations in every continent. If you still need to find an urban shopping paradise, check out the following cities.

1. London

London is home to luxury shops and quirky retailers alike. While Harrods is certainly the most famous high-end department store, hip fashion, unique gifts, rare sweets or one-off handmade jewellery are best found in Covent Garden. At big shopping centers like Westfield, in turn, you can find refuge among more than 275 luxury, premium and high-street retailers showcasing over 700 brands. It’s the largest urban shopping centre in Europe, including a cinema, gym, several bars and restaurants – all under one roof. Consult Visit London for more details on London’s best shopping areas.

2. New York

New York is a fashionista’s paradise. From the high-end boutiques on Madison Avenue to the luxury department stores on Fifth Avenue, to the funky shops in SoHo, there is something here for just about everyone’s taste.

New York magazine provides information on current sales and store openings. An even more curated guide is Daily Candy, which features a handpicked selection of all that’s fun, fashionable, food related, and culturally stimulating in the Big Apple.

3. Paris

After museums and monuments, shopping in Paris attracts millions of visitors each year. While in the Marais, you can find great eclectic fashion, unique jewelry, antiques and fine art, the area around St. German-des-Près is known for chic classic design, books, and home furnishings. Then, there’s the must-visit: the grand department store called “Galeries Lafayette.”

Consult Conciergie.com and ShoppingbyParis for useful information.

4. Milan

Milan’s shopping can essentially be divided into the following neighborhoods: Monte Napoleone [quintessential], Vittorio Emanuele [most central], Brera [trendy], Torino, Ticinese [avant-garde], Buenos Aires [popular], Paolo Sarpi [Milan’s Chinatown], and Corso Vercelli [unexpected].

5. Shanghai

Shanghai is often called the “Oriental Paris.” Whether it’s crickets or pearls, you can get them at the markets in this city. Those who prefer high-end shopping, in turn, should head to West Nanjing Road. In addition, there are numerous malls to choose from, such as the Super Brand Mall, the largest shopping centre in the city.

6. Mumbai

Why not come back from India with a number of unique souvenirs, including scarves and other Indian crafts? If this sounds like the trip for you, then the markets of Mumbai are ideal. Lonely Planet tells us that you can purchase just about anything in the bazaars located north of the Fort. The main areas are Crawford Market (fruits and vegetables), Mangaldas Market (silk and cloths), Zaveri Bazaar (jewellery), Bhuleshwar Market (fruits and vegetables) and Chor Bazaar (antiques and furniture). Dhabu St, in turn, is the place to get leather goods, while Mutton Street is great for antiques, reproductions and junk.

7. Istanbul

There are so many items to buy in Istanbul, it’s really more of a question of narrowing down your choices. At the big malls, such as Istinye Park, you can purchase many of the brands that are available all over the world (this particular mall even has a Porsche dealership). However, for more characteristically local souvenirs, a great place to go is the Grand Bazaar. Here, you can purchase anything from leather goods to belly dancing costumes. For Turkish delights, head to the Spice Market.

8. Marrakech

Like in Istanbul, many international brands have flagships stores in Marrakech. However, the real excitement is to be had at the souks. Here, you can have fun bargaining as you browse through Moroccan slippers and Oriental lamps. Saffron and other spices are also great local finds that are worth seeking out and bringing home. There are time-old shops that specialize in these specialties, and you can even hire a guide to take you through the souks.

9. Munich

Munich is the best place in Germany to buy beer, but many other products can be purchased here, too. Main shopping streets include the Kaufingerstrasse and the Neuhauserstrasse, where international as well as local brands can be found. For higher end shopping, head to the Theatinerstrasse, the Fünf Höfe and the Maximilianstrasse for even more luxury.

10. Tokyo

Tokyo offers shopping for all budgets. While the 100-Yen shops offer chopsticks, tableware, fans, kites, origami paper, calligraphy sets, “Hello Kitty” and more, the high end stores specialize in luxurious japanese designs.

Happy shopping!

After several hours of prepping and over an hour of eating Thanksgiving dinner (and other holiday meals), my family likes to go on a nice, long walk. Whether we’re in the city or countryside that particular year, we always find someplace to explore on foot, while burning off calories, catching up on stories, and breathing in the crisp air. Not only is it a tradition for us and many families, it’s also a green—and completely free—activity.

If you’re staying in a vacation rental for the holidays, look for one with easy access to great walks. There are plenty of notable FlipKey-listed properties that are adjacent to walking trails and paths that offer an active way to de-stress while exploring the natural and cultural offerings of the area.

You can get to know the rivers and lakes of the U.S. with stays at many of these vacation rentals:

  • This three-bedroom house in Tennessee is near a walking trail along the Little Pigeon River, which has several forks and tributaries and flows through Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountains. Afterwards, relax in the hot tub or by the fireplace.
  • A one-bedroom cabin in Nebraska features a wooded path to the Platte River, a significant waterway that eventually flows into the great Mississippi and out into the Gulf of Mexico. While staying here, you can also try some catch-and-release fishing on the pond and keep your eye out for wild turkeys roaming the property.
  • If a lakeside retreat is what you had in mind, check out this four-bedroom rental home in Maryland with a walking path next to Deep Creek Lake, a reservoir bordered by a state park where black bears can be sighted. More family fun can be had at the pool table or foosball table, both available for guest use in the house.
  • Or look into this three-bedroom cottage in North Carolina that offers direct access to a path along Lake Tomahawk, a popular fishing spot with views of the surrounding mountains. If the weather allows for more outdoor activities, the house is also within walking distance of tennis courts and a public playground.

If you’re looking to live life to the fullest, the capital of Spain is the place to go. Madrid is a sophisticated city, which attracts thousands of tourists year-round, offering entertainment and leisurely pursuits for people with many different interests and tastes.

Here are ten ideas to get you started:

1. Stroll around in the Retiro Park. Whether you are looking to go for a stroll, a jog or a romantic row, there are plenty of outdoor activities you can pursue in this park. There are also frequent art exhibitions (both indoor and outdoor) as well as countless activities for children and families.

2. Go see a flamenco show. Listening to traditional Spanish music and watching gitanos (gypsies) dance to it is a tourist staple. In Madrid, there are numerous flamenco venues to choose from, some more touristy than others. Head to the Tablao Las Carboneras for a small-scale venue that offers dinner, drinks and flamenco shows.

3. Eat chocolate con churros. The classic in terms of Spanish breakfast. Churros are pieces of fried dough, and chocolate is, well, chocolate. At the Chocolatería San Ginés, you can get this treat at any time of the day.

4. Take a tour of the Bernabeu soccer stadium. Soccer fans will find delight in this stadium. During the tour, you can learn about the history of the building as well as the Real Madrid team. All their trophies are on view here. You can also fill up on energy at the Puerta 57 bar and restaurant. Last but not least, if you are in town when a game is going on, you can witness the Spanish fans (and players) first-hand.

5. Admire Spanish masterpieces at the Prado museum. If you are interested in art, the Prado is a must-do. Here, you can revel in front of Velazquez, Goya and many others.

6. Take a day trip to Toledo. Just a 34-minute train ride away, the small city of Toledo is well worth a visit. Rich in history, it still retains its traces of three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

7. Fill up on energy with a cocido madrileño. Especially if you are visiting in the winter, this typical stew will keep you warm. It includes chickpeas, onions, potatoes and meat.

8. Go for tapas in La Latina. Tapas can be had all over town, but the La Latina neighborhood is a great place to hop from bar to bar. Especially if you are coming on a weekend, be prepared to stand and wait; the popular places tend to fill up fast.

9. Party until the sun comes up. Madrid, and Spain in general, is famous for its nightlife. In the capital, you can choose from bars and clubs with all kinds of music, from traditional guitar songs to jazz festivals to contemporary music discos.

10. Witness a bullfight. Barcelona has abolished bullfights, but in Madrid, you can still attend one. The ideal month to go is during the San Isidro fair in May. Should you just want to take a tour of the Las Ventas arena that is possible, too.

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There’s more to a great ski vacation than just a lift ticket and a cozy apres-ski fireplace. To really prepare for a week on the slopes, skiers should plan on covering the four S’s: swaps, squats, socks, and snow-dancing. November is the time to start planning for ski season, to be fully prepared to make that first run!

Swaps

It’s okay to rent ski gear if needed, but even better to find a great deal on your own skis and boots that you know will fit right. All across the country, November is the month for ski swaps, when warehouses and convention centers fill with last year’s models and gently used gear, at prices that put skiing within reach of any budget. Most swaps are held by ski clubs or teams, so the aisles are filled with folks eager to talk shop, and point you in the right direction for gear that is right for you.

Squats

All that hiking and biking you did over the summer may have left you in terrific cardio shape, but what about those quads? Remember last year, when the first day of your ski vacation left your lower half screaming for mercy? That’s right – start doing squats now, and build your tucking endurance. If you’re very serious, start a whole plyometric regimen to develop explosive jumping power. Your thighs will thank you.

Socks

As the first S implies, I’m all about the bargain when it comes to ski gear, except when it comes to socks. Never skimp on ski socks; warm, comfortable feet are fundamental to a fun day on the slopes. Buying a new pair of cushy, cute ski socks has become a pre-season tradition for me (and they make thoughtful pre-vacation gifts for your traveling companions as well.) Three things to look for in a good ski sock: a merino wool blend for maximum warmth, wicking, and non-itchiness, a thinner section at the ankle to reduce bulk in the boot, and of course a little snazzy style–stripes are a favorite!

T-shirts, keychains and shot glasses are easy souvenirs, but they don’t carry a whole lot of significance for the giver or receiver. Besides, what’s the point of buying something made in Thailand when your vacation was actually to Costa Rica?

If you didn’t have time (or funds) to comb through artisan markets and pick out locally made crafts for all of your friends and family during your trip, it’s not too late to turn your travels into meaningful gifts… Roll up your sleeves and start making them yourself.

First, identify what materials you have to work with. Besides the photos you took, did you save any maps, brochures, currency, transit passes, newspapers, magazines, bottles, coasters, shopping bags? (If not, then keep it mind on your next trip!)

The list of objects you can craft from these salvaged bits of your travels is endless. Here are some ideas to get your imagination rolling:

  • Print your best photos and stick them onto business-card-sized magnets.
  • Cut maps into squares and make origami ornaments.
  • Construct a mobile or piece of wall art out of subway passes.
  • Cover a box with clips from travel brochures and fill it with homemade treats from a recipe you learned on your trip.
  • Use a page from a foreign-language newspaper or magazine to make a picture frame.
  • Craft maps into paper flowers and use exotic glass bottles as vases…

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the things we value most in life.  For my Californian extended family, turkey and football aren’t exactly at the top of that list.  Instead, we cherish healthy food, good wine, time spent outdoors, and time spent laughing together.  Each year we head to my aunt and uncle’s beautiful old ranch on the Santa Barbara coast to catch up, cook, eat, and play.

Rule #1 of California Thanksgiving- Eat outside

No matter how cold it is, Thanksgiving dinner is enjoyed outdoors.  We pull a bunch of wooden picnic tables together under the Eucalyptus trees and cover them with tablecloths, flowers, dried leaves, and candles.  We wrap up in warm jackets and put on our thick socks, and keep a fire going in the fire pit.  There’s nothing like enjoying the festivities with the sound of the waves crashing in the distance and the breeze rustling the leaves. 

Rule #2 of California Thanksgiving- Don’t forget about the vegetarians

In our family, there are quite a few vegetarians, so the spread has to include plenty of options for the non meat-eaters.  We make tons and tons of food, and sometimes two of the same dish, one with meat and one without.  Some of the family favorites are a green bean casserole with water chestnuts and crispy fried onions, and grandma’s weird dessert of green jello full of nuts and cottage cheese.

Rule #3 of California Thanksgiving- Keep the wine flowing

Some of the best wine in the world comes from California, so we give thanks for living in such a beautiful climate that produces all kinds of grapes for all the different varietals.  Usually earlier on the year, our family goes wine tasting at different vineyards in Napa and Sonoma.  We buy all our favorites, and save them to enjoy when we all see each other again in the fall.  We appreciate the bottles so much more after waiting to drink them together!

In my family, we are always trying to get creative in the kitchen when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. Often we’ll incorporate less traditional side-dishes into our meal to keep things interesting, but regardless of the accompaniments, there’s always a turkey on the table.

Coincidentally, though we’ve always cooked a turkey, every year it seems we forget exactly how to best cook a turkey – the tips to keep it moist and juicy, how to prepare it for roasting, how to give it the best flavor, and how long it needs to cook for. There are so many pieces to consider when cooking the perfect turkey, it’s almost impossible to remember them all! This year in an attempt to have the best turkey ever, I’ve compiled a list of essential tips and tricks, plus a few fun ideas for proving your turkey finesse, and wowing the entire family.

 Getting Started

Let’s start with the basics. Every turkey is different, and every family’s tastes differ, so you need to know first how to handle and prepare the turkey that’s going to grace your table. If you’re using a frozen turkey, be sure to defrost it completely before starting work with it.

To begin, there are a few options. You can brine your turkey ahead of time, helping it to keep its moisture as it cooks – it’s a simple trick that makes worlds of difference, but can be time consuming. If you’re going to brine, just be sure to plan it out ahead of time – some recipes (like the one above) have you brine overnight!

You can also fill the bird with stuffing, and I usually find that a combination of coarsely chopped veggies (carrots, onions, and celery) works best. You can even tuck chopped fresh herbs and garlic (and maybe a few slabs of butter?!) under the skin of the bird if you’re feeling fancy, which lends great flavor with minimal effort. Just keep in mind – your turkey will cook more evenly if it’s not too densely stuffed, so if you’re stuffing, do so sparingly!

Another fun idea to try when preparing your turkey is to make an edible rack to rest it on. This means you won’t have to worry about the hassle of using (and cleaning) a traditional roasting rack, plus your leftover pan drippings will be enhanced with wonderful veggie flavors, and will be the perfect base for homemade gravy! To make an edible rack, simply stack whole carrots and celery stalks crisscrossed on the bottom of a roasting pan, and lay your turkey on top of that.

FlipKey is proud to announce our first ever sweepstakes, the Flippin’ Awesome Vacation Giveaway! From now until January 10, 2012, you can enter to win a seven-night stay in one of three amazing luxury vacation rentals. The grand prize winner will be able to enjoy their selected property with up to 10 guests! Enter now by checking out our Facebook page!

The Grand Prize

  • One week (7 night) vacation in your choice of one of three luxury vacation rentals
  • $3000 for airfare and expenses
  • Invite up to 10 friends to your vacation!

by Barrie Cleveland
California Winery Advisor

What a year in the California Vineyards! In 2011 it was a “perfect storm” of strong winds, hail, devastating frosts, thunder-storms, cool summer temperatures, heat spikes and then September rain and then more rain in October!

Gary Gibson, owner of Shadow Canyon Cellars in Paso Robles feels fortunate, “We received less rain than Napa Valley, and so the weather did not have the same impact here as up north. We are just very lucky we are having a warm, rain free period that is going to allow the fruit to ripen.”

Not all growers had the same luck.