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Santa Fe--A Southwestern Adventure of Sunshine, Art & Food.

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Grey and rainy days blanketed New York City in melancholy. My soul yearned for freedom, adventure and sunshine. Santa Fe, New Mexico beckoned me westward bound.

Santa Fe is a small town with the cosmopolitan culture of a large city. Pedestrian-friendly streets, a thriving art scene and world-renown cuisine reminded me of New York City. Open skies, adobe architecture and mountainous terrain told me I was firmly planted in the Southwest. 

I stayed at the Santa Fe Motel & Inn, which allowed easy walkability to so many great areas. A dog-friendly town, Freddy Mercury (my beloved pooch) came along for the adventure. 

Here are some favorite takeaways from my November 2018 trip:

1.   The Plaza.

The Historic Plaza is an open-air park in the center of downtown Santa Fe. It’s a hub of activity--people chatting, vendors selling tamales and Native American artisans displaying crafts alongside the Palace of Governors. No better place to sit and people-watch for a while. 

2.   Ten Thousand Waves.

Vacations are all about relaxation. Where better to wash away your worries than a Japanese-inspired spa on a mountaintop? The healing communal baths are outdoors, so you can gaze upon pine trees while being cocooned in healing waters. The onsite restaurant, Izanami, is modeled after a traditional izakaya—serving small plates and alcohol in a casual atmosphere.

3.   Canyon Road.

Santa Fe has the second largest art market in the USA after New York City. Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road has over 100 galleries, boutiques and restaurants in a half-mile walk and is worthy of a full-day of exploration. Freddy and I ambled slowly from gallery to gallery (the majority of which are dog-friendly), enjoying everything from modern, contemporary, and abstract art to Native American turquoise jewelry. Gallery owners were beyond friendly—one even beckoned me to sit and share a pot of tea. 

4.    The Railyard & Railyard Arts District.

A stone’s throw from my motel, The Santa Fe Railyard houses a cornucopia of good things—a weekly farmer’s market, contemporary art galleries, restaurants, a brewery, and the Violet Crown Cinema (where you can watch a movie and eat dinner). My favorite galleries were Tai Modern (featuring intricate, Japanese-inspired bamboo baskets) and Evoke (showcasing the work of the talented graphic novelist Kent Williams). 

5.   Gastronomic Pleasures.

I never discriminate when it comes to food. The street-side tamale is just as worthy as a Michelin-starred meal. Santa Fe is a foodie’s dream. I wish I could have stayed longer and eaten more. But, here are some favorite spots from my weeklong trip: 

  • The Hotel St. Francis has a great bar called Secreto. Their welcoming staff offered me a free smoked sage margarita. When I shared that I was a Japanophile, they insisted I try a specialty cocktail featuring sake and homemade mushroom bitters. One of my favorite drinks of 2018, it perfectly captured umami. 

  • Vinaigrette is a bright, vegetarian-friendly restaurant with an extensive list of yummy salads. I veered away from the standards, opting for an Ethiopian-inspired stew and it was hearty and delicious, especially paired with a fragrant white wine. Their neighboring sister restaurant, Modern General, would be Martha Stewart’s dream—filled with wooden tools, books and organic, sustainable eats. 

  • Want to rest your weary feet after all that walking? No better place to lounge than Rosewood Inn at Anasazi’s—a modern, upscale version of the pueblo.  Their lounge features light bites and classic cocktails in a peaceful, unpretentious setting.

  • Santa Fe Spirits is a friendly bar where bonding with locals is easy. Chase away the evening chill with an apple hot toddy. I didn’t try the distillery’s $10 tasting flight, but it had everyone buzzing.

In a week, Santa Fe worked its magic. I returned home refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. 

My trip cost $1300 through Expedia for both hotel and flights from NYC.

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How To Hike, Surf & Eat Your Way Through Portugal On a Budget

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There are so many places in the world I want to see, so I rarely return to a country twice.

But my trip to northern Portugal in 2015 was so incredible that it had me breaking my own rule. I returned to the country the following year for a magical vacation.

Always mindful of my budget, I used frequent-flyer miles to pay for my ticket and stayed at some incredibly interesting (and affordable) Airbnbs along the way.

I have affectionately nicknamed Portugal the "California of Europe" because of its scenic ocean views, plentiful sunshine, delicious farm-to-table food, amazingly affordable wines, and laid-back, warm people. It's the perfect place for budget travelers who enjoy going off the beaten path.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to spend Portugal's idyllic days and calming nights in rugged Alentejo, regal Sintra, romantic Porto, and the breathtaking Duoro Valley.

1. Hiking and Surfing in Alentejo.

The Hike & Surf Lodge in a tiny village called Vila Nova de Milfontes offers group surf lessons at an incredibly reasonable price. From Vila Nova, you can easily access Rota Vicentina—a 400-kilometer hiking route considered to be among the most beautiful coastal areas of southern Europe. During my visit, the wildflowers were in full bloom, adding a dazzling array of color to the seaside vistas.

2. Castle Wandering in Sintra.

Sintra is a fairy-tale town dotted with mansions, palaces, vertical gardens, and lush hills, easily accessible from Lisbon by train. A World Heritage site, Sintra is easily one of the most romantic places in Portugal and deserves several days of exploration. I spent my visit climbing steep hills, wandering the breathtaking palaces and castles, and feasting on local fare.

Through Airbnb, I was able to book a recently renovated villa in Sintra, The Five House, for less than $50 per night!

The fresh cheeses, handpicked berries and figs, and tapas are all spectacular, as are the Portuguese wines, including the renowned vinho verde, a type of young wine with a slightly sparkling effervescence.

3. Wine Tasting in the Duoro Valley.

The Douro Valley is the world's first designated wine region and it's so breathtakingly beautiful that photographs cannot do it justice. The Douro River runs through lush, terraced vineyards carved into mountains with whitewashed quintas, or wine estates, atop granite bluffs.

Since I was traveling without a car, I took the train from Porto to Regua. In Regua, I stayed at the Casa Grande Do Sorrado—an 18th-century home lovingly furnished with antiques and fine linens. The owners are friendly and kind and included personalized tours with the price of the room.

When I was in the valley, I took a relaxing boat ride down the Douro River to Pinhão, another small village that welcomed me with a glass of port and a pastel de nata—Portugal's famous creamy custard tart. The atmosphere was so relaxing and tranquil, and I spent many afternoons drinking decaf espresso and writing—my dream life!

4. Exploring Porto.

Porto is giving Brooklyn a run for its money as my favorite city in the world. Romantic Fado music filled the air in the evenings and the home's owner gave me an insider's guide on the best places to visit, including the Crystal Palace, one of the most lush and romantic gardens in Porto filled with terraced lookouts, peacocks, and fountains, and the Romantic Path, a cobblestone stroll lined with fragrant rose petals.

Through Airbnb, I scored a mini-home there for less than $50 a night. Nestled in the backyard of a renovated townhome in one of the hippest areas of Porto, my tiny yard—surrounded by lemon trees and lavender plants—was a peaceful respite.

Along the Romantic Path, I stumbled upon the best outdoor grilled sardines in all of Portugal. The area's Ribeira district is another foodie destination not to be missed, with its riverside cafes, street musicians, and lighthearted revelry. A short bridge connects the Ribeira to the Gaia waterfront, where you can spend the day drinking port and eating chocolate in the famous underground cellars.

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Ode To Berlin

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If Berlin were a woman, she would be undeniably sexy…and enigmatic. She’s the type of seductress who pairs pink, silk lingerie with combat boots. Smudged eyeliner and tousled hair betray evenings at the nightclub. Her scent (vanilla + leather) represents the masculine and feminine of her persona.

Berlin is creative, gritty and independent-minded. Similar to Brooklyn, there is an electric energy that makes a visitor feel alive and young. One week was barely enough time to scratch the surface. But, here are some favorites:

1.   Vabali.

When an old back injury flared up on Day 1 of my trip, I did what any intelligent traveler does—I headed straight to the spa. 

Saunas are an integral part of my wellness routine—and Germans have elevated sweating to an art form. Vabali is a slice of Indonesia in the center of the city. This sprawling spa complex beckons the weary traveler to BREATHE. With a terrific and affordable onsite restaurant, don’t be surprised if you lose hours here. Check your inhibitions at the door, as the facilities are co-ed and clothing-free.

2.    Chiro House.

Feeling a bit more limber, I was lucky enough to score an appointment with one of Berlin’s finest chiropractors, Dr. Joan Monserrat. Dr. Joan is not a regular practitioner, but a healer of the finest order. His gifted hands (and kind bedside manner) eased my aching back immediately. We talked effortlessly of the mind-body connection—including the importance of exercise, an anti-inflammatory diet and mindfulness to ease chronic back pain. 

3.    Holzmarkt.

Dr. Joan’s office is located in an urban village (on the River Spree) called Holzmarkt. This self-contained community—conceived by Berlin’s best nightclub owners—is a hodge-podge of recycled wood, old windows, and swinging hammocks. Grab lunch at Fame Restaurant and experience real diversity as you watch punk artists and businessmen dining side-by-side.

4.   The Food. The Glorious Food.

Speaking of food…

Berlin has no shortage of culinary treasures on every corner. German bread is the stuff of dreams—coarse and dense, it’s composed of whole grains like rye, spelt, millet and wheat. Their organic salads were similarly transporting--brimming with buttery lettuce, bulgar, tomatoes, beetroot, grapes, chia seeds and a tangy avocado dressing. The fruit (especially tiny, jewel-like strawberries) was bursting with summer sweetness. Chinese teahouses, vegan gelaterias and Vietnamese hole-in-the-walls all beckoned my palate.

5.    BeCycle.

After embracing the culinary delights, you’ll want to burn some calories. 

No better place than Gundula Cöllen’s boutique cycling-yoga-barre studio. Styled like a West Elm showroom, this body-positive space hosts community events aimed to elevate physical, emotional and spiritual health. Gundula’s warm, effusive personality beckons you inside. The adjoining café serves healthy fare and invites you to linger for a while.

6.    KaDeWe.

As a minimalist, I curate my closet carefully. Berlin’s most exclusive department store is every woman’s dream—resplendent with beautiful, tailored, and stylish European clothing. More foodie than fashionista? Head to their top-floor food hall, where the abundance of culinary treats will make you think you’ve died and gone to heaven.

7.    Berghain.

No visit to Berlin would be complete without crossing the hallowed threshold of Europe’s most exclusive and notorious nightclub. With one of the strictest door policies in the world, solo travelers allegedly have an easier time gaining entry. Worth the hype? 100%. Phone and camera-free, you can enjoy the thumping beats and positive vibes without distraction. Eleven hours later, I still hankered for more. 

8.   Public Transportation.

As NYC suffers under an infrastructure apocalypse, Berlin’s expansive train, tram and bus network is the perfect antidote. Affordable, clean and efficient, I rarely waited more than three minutes for a train. Totally crush-worthy.

9.   Monkey Bar.

One of Berlin’s hippest bars, the views over (you guessed it) the monkey cages at the Berlin zoo leave you slack-jawed in delight. A great place to see and be seen—I coincidentally stumbled upon the same international travelers I met on my walking tour a few days prior. The adjoining restaurant, NENI, serves decadent food with Persian, Russian, Arabic, Moroccan, Israeli, Turkish, Spanish, German and Austrian influence. 

10.  Public Parks.

On an afternoon amble surrounding Hackescher Market, I stumbled upon tiny Monbijou Park. Joining other Berliners, I sprawled out on the grass to gaze at the azure sky. As I contemplated my good fortune—I prayed this visit would not be the last time I saw Berlin.

**Round-trip airfare and 8-nights in Select Hotel Ostbahnof—a 4-star hotel in the heart of the city—cost $900.

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Lifelong Lessons From Living In Kyoto, Japan

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A woman never forgets the first time she falls in love.

It was 1994—long before Skype or Google Maps—when I boarded a plane headed to the other side of the world. Only 23, I was (to put it mildly) completely clueless, albeit ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Nothing could have prepared me for the heady rush of that yearlong affair.

While I’ve gotten many passport stamps since, Kyoto remains irreplaceable in my heart.

Kyoto was the Imperial Capital of Japan. Spared the atomic blitz of World War II, it retained the Old World beauty of a different era. Imagine Japanese temple complexes, geisha walking on cobblestone streets, and picnics among the cherry blossoms. Simply put, the city was—and still is—stunning. I could attempt to describe the beauty of Shinto architecture or Zen rock gardens, but why? These places aren't for reading about—they're for experiencing firsthand.

That foray into Kyoto proved to me that travel expands consciousness. As we forge friendships in different countries, we find not only our similarities but ways to learn from our differences. These are some of the most poignant universal lessons from the people I met in Kyoto that continue to shape my life back in the states.

1. Kindness + Hospitality Make Way for Miracles.

The Japanese are consummate cultural ambassadors. Take, for example, the older businessman who gifted me origami cranes during my morning commute one day. When he invited me to visit the kimono factory he owned, he unveiled a showroom of intricate wedding kimonos—some costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When he urged me to try one, I picked up a lavish number laced with gold thread and learned it was apparently a favorite of Princess Diana! It was a unique experience I'll remember forever and a reminder that miracles happen every day when you’re open to them.

2. Food Should Be Simple & Seasonal.

Largely macrobiotic, the Japanese diet is unprocessed, plant-based and seasonal. When in Kyoto, I ate everything—eggplant marinated in miso, chirashi sushi over rice, and nabeyaki udon—a hot soup filled with fish, egg, and vegetables. I drank everything, too! Unbeknownst to me, I was a budding sake and Kirin Ichiban connoisseur waiting to be born.

Japan also introduced me to the delights of probiotics long before they were trending in the Stats. Daily miso soup and pickled vegetables became a favorite. While there, my acne cleared, my mind became calm and focused, and I lost two dress sizes without trying—a true testament to the power of real, whole food packed with probiotics.

3. Love Comes from Hard Work & Discipline.

The Japanese are master craftsmen. While today’s American culture lauds instant success, in Japan they strive to be artisans of a different kind. "Shokunin" implies working not only with technical skills but with an attitude of social consciousness. The artist has a social obligation to work his or her best for the general welfare of the people.

This approach to life really stuck with me. As a writer, teacher, and lawyer, I understand that mastery is the result of daily discipline. The Japanese taught me that mastery isn’t built over weeks or years but over a lifetime of service.

4. Less Is More.

The Japanese embrace the notion that less is more. Living in a small studio apartment while I was in Kyoto taught me that things don’t make happiness, but experiences do. Admiring the local way of dressing—a "stylish utilitarian" vibe that values quality over quantity—inspired me to adopt a capsule wardrobe of my own. 

They were on to something, because now minimalism is taking over everywhere. Figures like Marie Kondo are famous for spreading the gospel of throwing everything out and keeping just what you need for the sake of your sanity. There are also practical reasons to live simply: It's cheaper to be a minimalist. And because Japan is regularly beset by earthquakes, it doesn't make sense to have a lot of valuable possessions lying around in your house.

As a result of my trip, I now live a decidedly minimalist lifestyle. When friends ask how I’ve managed to travel the world, I reply that I simply don’t spend money on things that bring me little return on the investment—clothes, gadgets, etc. Rather, I put money toward experiences that I know will make an indelible impact--like transformative trips abroad.

 

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