Please tell me: who doesn’t like fireworks? Even better- free entertainment? Lambertville and New Hope (PA) combine the two and collectively ignite the warmer months with a fifteen minute firework show displayed over the Delaware River every Friday night from Memorial Day Weekend until Labor Day Weekend, starting 9:30 PM. There are plenty of great eats, sweets, and shops on either side of the bridge for enjoyment before and/or after, but if you’re looking for fun on a budget pack something tasty beforehand. You need only pay for gas and parking. Most of the towns’ lots and spots are metered or require a flat fee upfront, but (without giving away the *secret* locations locals use) there are several areas on the edge of town that are free and within walking distance. Be sure to arrive at least a half hour early to ensure you’re parked and street-side (or better yet, on the bridge); the crowd is usually as thick as a swarm the gnats surrounding the street lights. For more information, visit the event’s website.
Just a few minutes drive from Munich's BMW Welt, I knew this restaurant was an authentic gem when I meandered in and was greeted by a large table of smiling Germans. Dressed in Lederhosens and Dirndls, they were toasting with German beers and Rieslings as they began their celebratory feast. If you think German food is only wienerschnitzel and sauerkraut, think again. Our 4 course meal at Landersdorfer & Innerhofer was prepared with the freshest of ingredients and is modern cuisine with a German twist, with dishes of garden-fresh vegetables, tender salmon and delicate chocolate cake with raspberries. The energy is more tame than Munich's Hofbrauhaus—you get the feeling that you’re sitting down for dinner in your German grandmother's dining room, with plenty of glass-clinking and warm conversation. You’ll leave Landersdorfer & Innerhofer with a full belly and a happy heart.
I have to admit I was a little worried about making a stop at a ceramics studio. I've made these stops before, where you're supposed to see the traditional processes and all that, but it's really a slick showroom for a factory and they spend the whole time pressuring you to buy stuff. Not here. This was legit. Just a few young guys making pottery on wheels they spin with foot pedals, baking the clay in a homemade oven out back under the papaya tree. And no pressure to buy at all. But buy we did. The pieces were unlike any we'd seen anywhere else, with geometric designs etched on polychromatic glazes. Plus, they let our son try out the potting wheel. We visited this place as part of a half-day excursion with Tierra Tours that also went to the Masaya volcano and Masaya market.
Along a country road and surrounded by Tuscany’s luscious rolling hills and vineyards lies Il Palagiaccio, an unassuming marketplace that is pure magic. I park my MINI Roadster and wander into the store that is filled with all of Italy’s finest: it's a wonderland of prosciutto's, aged Parmesan wheels, sausages strung from the ceiling and peppery, aromatic olive oils. It is a blast to all of the senses at once, a Tuscan Willy Wonka Factory. Step up to the counter and meet Gervasio, a fifty-something Italian with an apron, an Italian top hat of sorts and a warm smile. Communicate through mimework if you don't speak Italian, and let Gervasio build a masterpiece of cheeses, breads and meats custom-made just for you. Take your tray out to the stone-tiled picnic area, shaded by a large tree and a vine-wrapped wooden terrace, and let the love-affair begin. Whatever you do, save some room for the homemade gelato: with flavors like Fior de Ricotta, Amarena and beloved Stracciatella, Gervasio will dish up your selection of choice and put you in unadulterated culinary bliss.
After many hot days in Nicaragua, it was a relief to get up into the cloud forest on the Mombacho volcano. We did a short hike that took us past lots of cool plants and fumeroles where you could feel the steam coming out of the mountain. We even timed it right to see some wildflowers blooming, and had views for miles. There's a coffee plantation halfway up the mountain, so you can stop and get a little jolt of caffeine to get you rolling on your hike.
Nicaragua is proud of its volcanoes. We visited this one on a half-day trip from Granada. It's not every day you can look down into a steaming volcanic crater. And you don't even have to hike. You just drive right up to the edge. If you go at night, you can sometimes see glowing lava, but we went during the day and it was still cool. Plus they give you orange hardhats to wear, which my son thought was the best part. On the way up to the crater we stopped to see plumeria blossoms (the national flower) and spotted a motmot (the national bird). We did our trip with Tierra Tours, and our guide's name was Carlos. Carlos gets a big thumbs-up.
I love dining al fresco and I love a beach view, so you can imagine how excited I was when Caroline's Seaside Cafe opened about a mile from our house. There's just nothing quite as beautiful as sitting on the deck of this chic little bistro and checking out the surfers, scuba divers, and sand castle builders on the beach below. Caroline's is located on the campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and named for the wife of Nico Nierenberg, whose father William A. Nierenberg served as director of SIO from 1965 to 1986. Dr. Nierenberg helped build Scripps into one of the world’s leading environmental research institutions. My favorite midday meal is the chicken Caesar salad, but I also really enjoy the poached pear and goat cheese salad, and the turkey wrap. I’ve been told that Caroline Nierenberg’s favorite is the tuna melt. Breakfast items include oatmeal, housemade buttermilk pancakes, and freshly-baked bagels. Caroline’s is open 7am to 4pm Monday – Friday and 8am to 3pm weekends, except during UCSD holidays and campus closures. See you there?
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It felt nice to walk into the Hotel Dario. The trees and fountain in the courtyard make you immediately forget the heat of the street outside. The tile work and staircase showed a craftsperson's touch. The rooms were simple, but clean and spacious. The small pool was just right for a late-afternoon cool-off. The café served a hearty breakfast of Nica classics (rice and beans, plantains, fried cheese) or pancakes. The location was ideal, right on the main pedestrian street, just a few blocks from the main square. The staff was friendly. We were glad we stayed there.
The International MINI Meeting is more than a festival: it is a gathering that celebrates a way of life. MINI’s and MINI owners exude passion and playfulness, and when a few thousand gather in Mugello, Italy or another location of choice, the result is pure fun. A winding procession of classic, vintage and modern MINI’s parade through town and to the festival’s grounds with windows down, music blaring, people waving and high-fiving each other and their MINI’s dressed in their finest. There are roadsters, hatchbacks, limos, clunkers, Mokes and racecars. Pin stripes, polka dots, bumper stickers, checkers, Mr. Bean MINI’s and British flag-painted MINI’s. It is MINI Mania. People come and camp out for days, showing off their beautifully, and sometimes creatively, restored cars. It’s even more than an insider’s club: it’s a family. Without pretension, MINI owners are all about living life and having a good time, and that culture is felt instantaneously at the International MINI Meeting. There is a swap meet on premise for everything MINI: mufflers, car doors, horns, widgets and decals: you name it, it’s here. MINI’s race around the Autodromo del Mugello—some are flying, while others are putzing along. It is the real-life Pixar movie CARS, as each of these gems comes alive with a personality all its own. You’re welcomed into the family if you’re a MINI owner or not. I can guarantee this: if you’re not yet a MINI owner, you’ll want to be after this experience!
Taking a boat out among the 365 islands near Granada was my favorite thing we did in Nicaragua. We went with Tierra Tours (we arranged it the night before, but we probably could have set it up that morning), and Carlos, our guide, was terrific. We ended up having a boat to ourselves, which was really nice. And Carlos knew his birds, which were the main attraction for me. They were all over the place—three different kinds of herons, other shorebirds, kiskadees—and Carlos could spot them and identify them. We stopped at the old fort that occupies one of the islands, and weaved among the other islands where folks, including a fair number of ex-pats, have built homes, some of which are quite opulent. We spotted a sleeping howler monkey, and then swung by Monkey island, where spider monkeys and capuchins that have picked up names such as J. Lo and Lolo came down to greet the boat. We also stopped off at La Pirata café for delicious fresh fruit smoothies. If I go back, I might try a kayak tour, which was another option. You wouldn’t cover as much ground, I assume, but you might sneak up on some good birds.
Colibri From our experience, Nicaraguan cuisine is not the most exciting in the world. It’s not bad, by any means, but once we’d had our fill of rice and beans, and gotten some fresh fish and shrimp down at the touristy restaurants along the beach in San Juan del Sur, we were ready for something different. Lanterns and Buddha statues gave Colibri’s outdoor seating area a slight new-agey vibe, but not in an unpleasant way. And the food was good. Granted, it took a while to get to us. (We probably should’ve ordered appetizers. They seemed to arrive more quickly.) But the pasta sauce was flavorful—maybe it took so long because they were making it from scratch?—and the chocolate cake was delicious. They had plenty of vegetarian options, too.
In a few years, there will probably be a guidebook to the various beaches along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua near San Juan del Sur. They each have different characteristics—some big, some small, some better for surfing, etc. We didn’t have time to do a comprehensive survey. But we can give a thumbs-up to taking a sailboat trip out from San Juan’s harbor and going north to Playa Costa Blanca. The boat belonged to our hotel, the Pelican Eyes, but you don’t have to be a guest there to join a trip. The ride along the coast was smooth and steady, and gave us a view of the coastline and some of the other beaches. When we got to Costa Blanca, we anchored offshore, then jumped in and swam to the beach. The water was cold, but the swim was short. Then the seven of us on the boat had the beach to ourselves. We walked in the soft sand and found crabs in the tidepools, and when we were ready, swam back to the boat, where fresh ceviche and drinks were waiting. We watched the sun set as we sailed back to San Juan. And the captain let my 6-year-old son steer the boat. I’m not even really a boat guy, but I can’t imagine a more relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
I arrived to Italy’s Lake Garda in my MINI Roadster convertible, met by rays of sun shining through the cypress-lined walkway and birds frolicking in song- and how could they not be, in a place as beautiful as this. Costa d'Oro is an a water-front Italian villa, so enjoy your meal lakeside or in the familial dining rooms inside, overlooking the emerald green water. The food at Costa d'Oro is exquisite: milky mounds of mozzarella, eggplant parmigiana, garden-picked basil and vegetables and bread hand-made that morning on site. Boats roll up lazily, and passengers enjoy a glass of Chianti and the sound of the water lapping up to the Italian shore. My only warning about Costa d'Oro on Lake Garda: it will be impossible to leave.
When it’s hot in San Juan del Sur—which, from our experience, was always—the place we wanted to be was the pool at the Pelican Eyes resort. The hotel is set up on the hill overlooking the town, so you swim with a commanding view of the bay and the Pacific. And the pool is steps away from the bar and restaurant, if you need shade or internal liquid refreshment. You stay in freestanding villas or casitas that stretch up the hillside. We stayed in the Jasmin casita, which was great for us. It was just steps away from the pool and not too far up the hill. (The walk to reach the higher rooms could be tough for some, especially in the heat.) The room was clean and spacious, the air conditioning worked, and in the evenings, we could sit our on our porch and look out at the town below. I recommend the huevos rancheros for breakfast. Eaten by the pool, of course.
BMW Welt in Munich is everything you would expect, but nothing you’ve ever experienced. It is German precision and attention to detail at its finest. Completed in 2007 at the cost of US $200 Million, this World of BMW hosts BMW, MINI Cooper and Rolls Royce in feat of architectural genius. Next to the Munich Olympiapark and across the street from one of BMW’s production plants, BMW Welt was designed to reflect everything that defines their brand and is innovative, streamlined, technologically advanced, sharp and modern. Check out the showrooms of futuristic-looking BMW models that are coming into production, with electric cars that go from 0-60 in less than 4 seconds and get over 100 miles per gallon. Browse the MINI play land that inspires enthusiasm, featuring their new Roadster, their John Cooper sports series and the more spacious Paceman. Have a gloved-driver open the door for you to slide into a Rolls Royce, and experience what it feels like to own a Phantom of your own. After gaining inspiration from current innovation, head to the BMW Museum just across the street, and see the progression and development of the models throughout the years. It’s no wonder why BMW Welt receives more visits per year than Germany’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle: it truly is a world all its own.
The next time you visit Europe, don’t opt for the train. Instead, cruise Germany’s Autobahn at speeds up to 100 mph (or the speed of your choice!), with the top down in a MINI Roadster. Driving through the curvy, emerald green fields and mountainous valleys with the music blaring and wind in your face gives you the ultimate sense of adventure. Then, drive down to Italy and have your own Italian Job experience: whip in and out of the narrow, cobblestone streets and bring exploration to an entirely new level. You can have your own custom MINI built, awaiting your pick up at BMW Welt (World), BMW and MINI’s headquarters in Munich, Germany. Design your own style icon on wheels with custom paint and interior, and drive it from Germany to Italy or the European destination of your choice, feeling only air and freedom.
Last summer, my family of four travelled to Sumba, Indonesia. My 14 year old daughter, an avid basketball player, was thrilled to find an old outdoor court where she could get in some shooting practice. Immediately, and surprisingly, we were surrounded by a large crowd, clapping, cheering, and ultimately joining in! They shyly communicated their desire for shooting "lessons" from my daughter and her 10 year old sister, who happily obliged. Given that basketball is a little known sport in Indonesia, the fellow players typically raced down the court laughing and carrying rather than dribbling the ball. We played long past dark. The next day while walking down the street, my daughters were continuously greeted in broken English, "Thanks for the basketball!' , to which they replied, "Thanks for everything!!"
My journey along the Greenway del Lago di Como started at the popular Villa Carlotta and would eventually take me past the famous Villa Balbianello. But it's the smaller pleasures that I found along the lakeside footpath that evoke my strongest desires to return to Lake Como. At times cutting up into the hillsides, the path took me past olive groves, around twisted alleyways, and through medieval harbor towns. I often found myself alone on the trail, which heightened my enjoyment of the serene vistas and my feelings of peacefulness on the bright, spring day. When I finally arrived at my destination, a ferry dock in the tiny town of Sala Comacina, all I found was a small rowboat bobbing in the water next to a dock with a locked-down ticket booth. The walk back to Lenno would not be easy on my tired fee, but it would afford me an entirely new set of views.
Awamori—liquor fermented from long-grain Thai rice, as opposed to the short-grain rice used in Japanese shochu—is the firewater of Okinawa. Salon de Awamori, a bar perched on a sleek wooden rooftop, features hundreds of bottles, including Sennen no Hibiki, a fine kusu (aged) awamori that goes down more smoothly than most. 2-4-35 Mekaru, Naha, 81/(0) 98-951-0123. Photo courtesy of Cotaro Tahara/ Flickr. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
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One of the most popular Okinawan dishes is goya champuru, a stir-fry of bitter gourd, tofu, eggs, and sliced pork (or Spam). Try it at Urizn, a local restaurant that has recently opened branches on the mainland. Its version of another traditional dish, rafute, made by stewing pork belly in soy sauce and brown sugar, melts in your mouth—and purportedly helps extend your lifespan. 388-5 Asato, Naha, 81/(0) 98-885-2178. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Amana Images RF. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
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Unlike Okinawa’s eponymous main island, Iriomote island is almost completely blanketed by jungle, rivers, and mountains. The balconies of the Nirakanai Iriomote hotel afford views of the rocky outcrops of Tsukigahama beach. From April through October, guests can take a boat up the nearby Urauchi River, then hike to two waterfalls. From $71, 81/(0) 98-085-7111. Photo courtesy of Nirakanai Iriomote. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
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My eye caught glimpse of the Pink Palace brochure during my stay in Athens and I felt a surge of enchantment. My picturesque idea of a Greek island envisaged a Spartanesque array of stucco and ivory castles peaked with royal blue pinnacles. But why couldn't they be royal pink? Although the palace did not project the same ancient, Mediterranean image, the deal offered a bus and ferry ride, an overnight stay and two meals for 65€–or as the Aussies say, “this is a mega pie.” Equipped with Dramamine, peanuts and beer, I hopped onto the (pink) tour bus with gusto. Ten hours later, while driving up a countless twist of luscious, verdurous mountains, we glimpsed our destiny-a giant, multistoried Pink Palace-and quickly realized this palace was designed for youthful travelers. The morning began with complimentary shots, free breakfast and a convincing shove towards the booze cruise (25€). In an instant, I was sailing into the Ionian Sea on a pink cruise ship with Captain George and 68 other worldly comrades crammed together thinking, “I’m on a boat…this. is. for. REAL!” The next six hours was an untamable, estival blur—shotgunning beers, au natural cliff jumping and staggering hikes to ancient monasteries. When we arrived back on land so everyone could get ready for the complimentary dinner, I unconsciously laid down for a quick snooze and woke up eight hours later—fully refreshed, ready to eat, excited to mingle—wait a minute, 2:30am? I blame my starvation on the booze cruise.