Israel.

"There are other places to go." That is one of many unenthused responses I received when I mentioned I was going to Israel. All I could say was "Why not?" Yes there is a heated political climate and it calls us to be more aware. However, I would think any major global city now is calling for more awareness. Have no fear. I went to Israel. I loved it. I would go back again and again.

1. Food. I knew 10 out of 10 times I would love everything I ate in Israel. Middle Eastern food is delicious and if I am reminded of anything similar to what I ate when I was in Turkey I am all over it. There are many Israeli food options they also have beautiful modern restaurants that serve fresh ceviches, tartars, pastas and more. Some highlights: *Israeli inspired Indian food at Taizu *hummus with warm pita at Hummus HaCarmel at Carmel market *shawarma and falafel sandwich at Hakosem *Lamb pide at Onza *White Fish Tartar at Milgo & Milbar *the sesame bread at Santa Katarina...
I could go on and on but I am in despair because I want to go back...to eat.

2. Jerusalem. (First Pic) It was beautiful, emotional, epic and fulfilling to be in Jerusalem. I went to Catholic school, took religion classes and learned so much about Jerusalem but being here was an experience like no other. The Western Wall was magical. Seeing all these religions come together in one place makes you remember the power of belief. I cannot describe in words what it felt like being here. It must be experienced. If only once.

3. Dead Sea. (Last Pic)Oh the good 'ol Dead Sea. Yes you can float. Yes it is fun. But that salt is danger! No life can survive there. There are a few rules you must abide by to swim in the Dead Sea. The first one is you are taking a painful risk if you even walk in with a minor cut. The most important one is to keep your head out of the water so you keep the water out of your eyes. I went in, I floated, I took pictures, I flapped around and my skin became soft. Win.

4. Nightlife. Tel Aviv is a fun city for any type of person that wants to be out. There are some fun cocktail bars and fun people working at those cocktail bars. Whether it is hanging out at the beach restaurants or one of these below, you cannot go wrong.

  • Double Standard: Fun neighborhood cocktail bar, sit outside on couches, nice drinks, great service
  • Imperial Cocktail Company: tiny bar inside the Hotel Imperial, in 2015 it was voted as one of 20 best bars in the World's 50 Best Bar Awards, great drinks, nice service, quiet scene
  • Spicehaus: Fun drinks, quaint atmosphere, Daniel and Alfie were fun bartenders and gave us a lot of insight into other places, great for groups
  • Bellboy: The icing on the cake it seems. This was one of the most fun experiences. The bartenders were crafty and innovative. The staff was full of friendly girls that made it that much more fun to stay longer. The bathroom that was like going to a horror movie. It was dark, strange music with loud voices and flashing lights. They have a fun brunch event that was the talk of the town.

5. People. The place is as good as its people right? The people are light-hearted, modest, quiet and just beautiful. People from all different backgrounds and ethnicities live in Tel Aviv. It is such a central destination for the nationalities of the Middle East. There is a young generation that is spirited, relaxed, optimistic and loves to laugh and have fun. How could I not love that?

Hotels.

Let's all admit there is nothing better than staying at a hotel with a giant comfortable bed, room service, concierge staff that will make your reservations and when your shoes are in two different places the helpful housekeeping staff will always arrange them perfectly for you. And the plus side is most hotel rooms are likely bigger than my NYC apartment. A good hotel stay, based on how much you want to pay, is not just a stay but an experience. You realize all the hours of work, sleeplessness and planning gave way for you to have this luxury. For the purposes of this list I have narrowed it down to five. I have stayed in many gorgeous modern hotels (The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas) to converted convents (Hotel Cenacolo, Asissi Italy) and it is challenging to select just a few. However, this list is pretty sweet. Read on.

1. Hotel Nelligan. Montreal, Canada. My love for Montreal increases each time I stay at this charming hotel on Rue St. Paul. The staff is wonderful. The rooms are spacious and the exposed brick is cozy. The attached restaurant makes it easy to eat during crazy winters. And they have a charming fireplace where I can cuddle up with a book or my laptop on the couch. Winning in every way.

2. Casa de Uco. Mendoza, Argentina. This surreal hotel is in the middle of the beautiful wine region of Mendoza, Argentina. Luscious vineyards for days amongst the purple capped Andes Mountains…delicious asado (barbecue) and rooms that are pure modern comfort. The hotel itself is built sustainably and has its own wine. And do not miss the sunrise. Or the sunset. See the view from one of the lounge areas in picture 1. 

3. SuryaGarh. Jaisalmer, India.  If you dream of kings and queens then this is your place. Suryagarh is a serene oasis in the desert. The rooms take you back to the time of the maharajahs where royal kings ruled the land. The service is impeccable as are the meals. The entire hotel is a sight to behold. A hotel of dreams. See the beautiful courtyard with a live flute player in picture 2.

4. Hotel Imperial. Vienna, Austria. This is an old palace  turned into a hotel. The rooms certainly were “palatial” style with long silk window drapes, beautiful art and old-style keys. The cafe next door where we had breakfast had the “imperial tort” which is a delicious treat anytime of the day. The beds were probably the most comfortable ever. A pleasant stay at a beautiful location in Europe. See our sweet goodnight greeting and torte in picture 3.

5. Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge. Northern Tanzania. The Serena group of hotels offer a variety of authentic and unique places in a handful of African nations and Asia. They really play on the nature of the land to create beautiful lodges. Africa in itself is a dream but to experience it within a lodge is another bonus. The hotel is a central location to embark on safari drives twice a day and relax with a wonderful meal in the evening combined with entertainment like tribal dance. They will do whatever they can to make your stay super comfortable including wishing you good morning with fresh passion fruit juice before your safari. 

 

Vienna.

Ahh Vienna. The home of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Freud, the oldest zoo in the world, Pez (yes the candy) and schnitzel. With those being just a sampling of its offerings it is needless to say this city is rich in everything from music to history, to food and coffee.

1. Architecture. Always, always be looking up in Vienna. The intricate details of each historical building (such as the Opera House to the palaces) is not to be missed. There is a combination of diverse styles of art almost everywhere. Travel around Karlsplatz and Stephansplatz where you can see the contrast. Take a look at St. Stephen's Cathedral and Charles Cathedral for an idea.

2. Cafe culture. You can go to any one of Vienna's gorgeous cafes and make yourself at home for the day. No joke. If you order just one espresso, sit there reading Anna Karenina for hours, check your Instagram...they will not bother you. What a beautiful concept. The Imperial Palace cafe, Cafe Mozart and Cafe Central are popular ones. CafeMuseum is another one that had a popular clientele like Klimt. Whether it is in the morning to read the paper with breakfast, an afternoon rest or a post-dinner coffee it is an experience that transforms you to another era yet also keeps you in the moment. The pastries, desserts and long menu of drinks can have you feeling like it is Christmas every day. 

3. Food. In a nutshell? There is something for everyone here. The cafes have delicious breakfasts and snacks. Indian food is delicious. I loved my schnitzel at Motto am Fluss which is near the Wien-City ferry terminal. The menu and atmosphere is just fun. And hot dogs? Too easy. These are available at most central places. Walk up and get the giant sausage that comes between the fresh bread. Add mustard. Enjoy. The town hall, Rathaus, has a giant square where there can be food vendors and markets to sample from. One of my favorite evenings however was walking Naschmarkt which is a pop-up restaurant market. There are restaurants back to back that represent all types of cuisine. My personal favorite was Neni. An Israeli restaurant where I ate so much I forgot to breathe. After your meal, you can definitely hop over to one of the cocktail bars around. 

4. Palaces. Once again, the grandiosity of these buildings can only be seen up close. I would suggest starting with Hofburg, an imperial palace in the center of the city. Schonbrunn palace is a short train ride away from central Vienna. It can take a good half day for the entire visit depending on the crowd. Buy tickets before you go so you can cut the long lines during high season. Belvedere Palace is also another Baroque beauty right in Vienna with a large collection of Klimt paintings. 

5. People. Once again, the key to travel is always the people of the country. I love listening to their stories. I love how our doorman at the Imperial Palace hotel had a smile for us every time he saw us. I loved his story about how he came from Croatia to make a life in Austria. I loved our piano man that played at the bar for us almost every night while composing spontaneously. There is a lot of peace in the people. There is a patience. There is an honor for life. Those cafes I was telling you about? Go there and observe life. Stay in the moment.

Montreal 2.0

And we're back! To Montreal. It is a destination I cannot stop going to. My first post already tells you why. Each time it gets better and better. 

1. Notre Dame. This is probably the most magical place in Montreal. It is transforming and enchanting as soon as you step inside. It is not about religion but about peace and being in the moment. The interior beauty is other worldly. The times vary every day so it is important to check before you go.

2. Food. Montreal has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America,  second to New York City. There is literally something for everyone. I had my fix of poutine again in Jacques Quartier. Always remember French fries are an entree in Montreal. Le Serpent is a new favorite with high industrial ceilings and specials every day. I hopped into Olive & Gourmande on an extremely frigid day for a delightful gourmet sandwich and coffee drink. This is a bustling place for a great afternoon. Two of my favorite haunts: Marche de la Villette and Garde Manger stand the test of time. Marche de la Villette lets you pick from a casual French food menu (think Croque Monsier) while you pretend to sing along to loud French classics on their speaker. And Garde Manger. My dear Garde Manger...I could continue to write you a love letter over and over. I cannot say enough about this place. 

3. Culture. One evening I was invited out to a samba performance at Le Resonance. It is one of those places where if you walk too fast you'll likely miss it from the outside. It is a cozy vegan cafe with performances at night. On this night, there was a super fun samba vocalist, drummer and guitarist. The cafe was packed and the lines for drinks were quite long. It is a first come first serve type of place. It is so thrilling to find a place like this off the beaten path. 

4. Art. The art in Montreal has a large canvas. Everywhere you go, you will see all types of art and graffiti. Old Town has beautiful galleries on Rue Saint Paul but really some of the best art is in the graffiti, the sculptures and installations all around town. During warmer weather a walk around the Plateau district and Mont Royal will showcase all types of art. 

5. Canada! Our neighbors to the north are truly lovely. Meeting people from other parts of Canada provides additional motivation to travel to their areas such as Toronto, Banff, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (for their oyster at the very least!). I have met charming people and made new friends who join in on the fun and laughter during each of my Montreal experiences. It is wonderful to appreciate their positivity and cheer in a world that always seems to be under duress. 

Budapest.

Ladies & Gentlemen, set your sights on one of the most visually rich destinations on this planet. 

1. Architecture/History. As a history buff I was amazed to learn Budapest had Nazi and a Communist occupation. The stories, the remnants and the influence is eye-opening when here. I would recommend taking a tour with a guide that is able to talk about this. 

2. Street food? Yes. If anybody knows me they will tell you one of my favorite things on this planet is a good hot dog. Budapest has incredible hot dogs. No they're not from the freezer section I promise. They also have something gorgeous called Langos (see image below). This is Hungarian fry bread with sour cream, garlic sauce and cheese topping. At first bite it was definitely a big O-M-G. Goulash is also available in most Hungarian restaurants and I imagine in the winter it is so delightful. Do yourself a favor and get some authentic Hungarian paprika. 

3. Baths. When the Ottoman Empire occupied Hungary they discovered the country was full of waters with healing properties. These waters contain healing mineral elements like magnesium. We heard the best ones were the Schzenyi baths (image below) about 30 minutes from the center of Budapest. There are many different ways one can enjoy these baths and you really can spend hours on end here. Whatever is in those baths, believe me it works. It was physically and mentally relaxing. 

4. River Cruise. The Danube flows through Budapest and a river cruise is highly recommended. When would it be best? I say dusk and in the evening. The city charms you with the various structures against the backdrop of dusk and the night sky. Breathtaking to say the least. 

5. Culture. As is with any country you visit there are some tips we learned in Budapest. If you say "thank you" while paying your check with cash typically this means that the remaining change is a tip for the servers. Always wait if you need change and say thank you after it comes back to you. Another tip was about the service in restaurants. Most restaurants do not rush you and it often feels like they have forgotten about you but they really just want you to eat at your leisure. 

 

 

Malta.

"Where is Malta? I know it's in Europe but where?" This was the question I was asked when I mentioned I was going to Malta. As great as my geography is (it is one of my favorite subjects) I had to look it up for the exact location. It is a small island right central between North Africa and Sicily. Speaking of little...

1. Islands. The main island Malta has the capital Valletta and other port destinations with great hotels, restaurants and beaches. However in the summer this island is quite packed. I would definitely not rule out going to the smaller islands of Gozo and Camino. There are daily boat rides from Valletta. Just bring a backpack with bathing suit, change of clothes, water bottles and a snack. And sunscreen. Lots of it. 

2. High Summer. I am sure it goes without saying summer is busy season for Malta. I would highly recommend booking excursions early and being patient with the number of people there are around you. There are a lot of students and families. It is easy to walk almost everywhere but there are also lots of cars so keep your eyes open for all the vehicles. 

3. History. Malta has impressive history, especially from being in the center of two major continents. Gozo is famous for the home of Calypso in The Odyssey and for the oldest free-standing temples in the world. The architecture serves as a terrific backdrop for numerous films and shows like Game of Thrones, Troy, Captain Philips and others. The Arab and European influence is prevalent in the people, food, culture and architecture. I mean Napoleon wanted to control it. Napoleon.

4. Melting Pot. I asked my server at the restaurant where he was from and he said Russia. I asked our driver where he was from and he said Italy. The background of the Maltese is mixed and you will meet people from everywhere. The languages are mixed. For such a small island it was amazing to meet people of many different backgrounds and hear several languages all at once..

5. Swimming. All the time. You can literally go swimming anywhere. If there is water you're likely allowed to jump in from anywhere. Just keep your bathing suit and a towel and you can walk down the steps near the central part of St.Julien's and go swimming at night.  

 

London.

I have a lot of family in London so it often feels like an extension of "home" when I visit because I would stay in their homes and they are my tour guides. Only recently I had the opportunity to stay in a hotel after a long time of visiting. The city has evolved. It used to be really expensive to eat out at restaurants for locals and visitors alike. Now, the city is overrun with amazing bars, restaurants, lounges and markets that offer everyone something delicious for a reasonable spend. I have found that AirBnBs can be just as much as hotels in certain areas so be sure to do your research on hotels as well.

  1. High Tea. I highly suggest booking a reservation before you go at one of the many hotels and cafes that serve high tea with tradition. Two that stand out are Sketch and The Savoy. Eat, drink and be merry. Make reservations as these do get booked up in advance. 
  2. Trains. Trains. Trains. The train system in London is probably one of the best in the world to use as a visitor. It is pretty simple once you figure out which direction you need to go in. The traffic can be a nightmare and taxis quite expensive so repeat after me "trains, trains, trains..."
  3. Indian Food! The exclamation alone hopefully shows you how exciting this is for me. They have delicious ethnic food in general but Indian food in London is something else. I was at Dishoom twice during my stay there because it was the best Indian food I have had outside of India. The dishes are not standard Indian fare and everything I tried had complex flavor. I am still dreaming about those kheema pav buns. 
  4. Venture away. City of London has many neighborhoods and it is easy to want to stay near Central London but venturing out can be worth it. I stayed in the Shoreditch area (north east London) and am so glad I did. My hotel, Citizen M, was the perfect stay and it was an area with some fun street art (pics below). They had unique restaurants, areas to walk and you were not competing with a lot of tourists in getting anywhere. The Central Line stops near by. 
  5. A good hub. London is a great hub to jumpstart your European travels. A tip? Prices often drop from major US cities to London throughout the course of the year. If you book that ticket to London you can easily book European airlines (which are pretty cheap) to other destination cities or even hop on trains to Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam. Don't forget Scotland and Ireland are other close destinations which offer stunning scenery, scotch, brown bread etc. 

Iceland.

1. They believe in trolls. Our tour guide mentioned several times the Icelandic people won't confirm if you ask them "Do you believe in trolls?" but they won't deny it either. They have a lot of stories that revolve around evil trolls and often build infrastructure (roads) around possible troll homes. I think it is charming.

2. All Icelandic people are distantly related. There is an app that tells you how far back you go in case you happen to meet a lovely gentleman or lady while you are out one evening. They don't have a lot of immigration and their population is relatively small so there you have it.

3. It is one of the most naturally beautiful countries I have seen. Giant parts of this country are un-touched and so pristine it is surreal. There is no over development and they have kept more of its natural beauty in tact instead of building giant cities. The air is extremely fresh and the water is the best I have ever tasted. They also have have little to no insects. 

4. They don't think it is that cold. It was pretty cold while I was there in April (say 40s or below). I mentioned to an Icelandic person that it was a beautiful country but very cold. He told me he thought anything above 70 Fahrenheit felt too hot for them. They really can stand the cold. Brilliant!

5. Northern Lights. My desire is to see these from every location on the globe that allows me. Iceland was the first place. It was magical, breathtaking and it made me feel truly we just belong to something much bigger and larger that is quite awe-inspiring. 

 

 

Montreal 1.0

I’m often asked why I choose to go to Montreal over and over again. I think that’s an easy answer. It’s a 55 minute flight from NYC and it’s being out of the country without the long travel hours. Plus it’s aesthetically charming, has the sweetest people and beautiful food. My list of to-do’s will always grow but here’s a snapshot of my top 5. Contact me for additional suggestions. 

  1. Eat. Let’s start with my favorite thing to do here. Chef Chuck Hughes is innovative time and again in all his restaurants. My two favorites are Le Bremner and Garde-Manger. Maison Publique and Le Vin Papillon also never disappoint. LOV is a great option for lunch and for vegetarians. Modavie in the old port never disappoints and has live jazz nights. There is wild game in the winter and seafood all year around.  I try something unique each time and the service is friendly and fun. 
  2. Stay. I don’t doubt there are probably great Air B&B options but if I can get a hotel I’m swinging that way. I like being taken care of from time to time :) My favorite area is the Old Port because you can walk around easily in this quaint part of town. The Inter-contentinental and Park Hyatt are close by and you can’t go wrong with the Marriott on (St. Catherines) or the Omni Mont Royal. I recently stayed at Hotel Nelligan on Rue Saint Paul and I can’t rave enough about it. The service, rooms and ambience is pure bliss. Hotel William Gray is another one I may try next time.
  3. Do. There is something here to suit every taste. Art galleries. Museums. Boat rides in the summer. Outdoor eating and cocktails in the summer. Montreal Jazz fest in July. Indoor shopping malls in winter. Ski resorts are a short drive away. Cirque du Soleil was founded here in Montreal and the first time I saw their show (Luzia) was here. It’s a children-friendly city as well as a perfect destination for groups, couples and the solo traveler. Try some maple syrup while you’re at it because it’s delicious.
  4. Poutine. Yes an entire section dedicated to poutine. I love French fries more than anything and they are an entree in Canada. It’s brilliant. The traditional poutine is French fries with cheese curds and gravy. However, most restaurants now have their own variation with smoked meat, bacon, breakfast poutine, lobster poutine (heaven), and some other yummy ones. It’s not the same as disco fries. It’s just not. Have fun with it.
  5. French. Everyone is pretty much bi-lingual here. However, they usually start by speaking French. It’s not required as a visitor but isn’t it nice to try? It’s fun and seemingly polite to greet them and then switch to English if you feel uncomfortable. That’s the whole point of getting away for me. Try something new and be a little uncomfortable. We can always go back to our comfort when we go home right?