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The American Riviera by train June 3, 2008

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 12:40 pm
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There’s no way I’m reading now that the train has reached the ocean.

I look out from the Pacific Surfliner at Pacific surf riders: longboarders and shortboarders, paddle surfers and surf kayakers. There are dolphins too, glowing in sunlit waves.

I imagined that the train would race by unnoticed, but the surfers turn toward the tracks. One straddling his board raises his arms, both hands splayed in an enthusiastic shaka salute.

His message, of course: Hang loose.

Which is exactly what my wife and I are doing on a train rolling through our own Southern California backyard.

I hope to rediscover familiar destinations by traveling by train. To relive the carefree days, I tell myself, like when I was a college student in England. My only plan is to stay in a trio of classic destinations (San Diego, San Clemente, and Santa Barbara), but with no pressure to hit big attractions; the small stuff would count. We’d welcome randomness. We’d embrace wrong turns. We’d free ourselves in a sense by restricting ourselves: no set itinerary, no maps and no cab fares more than $5. Those are the rules. And with gas prices hovering near $4 per gallon, we might even save some cash.

STOP 1: San Diego

There’s something liberating about being out of the car, free to discover the people and places in that big world between point A and point B. We get quick affirmation of that notion as we disembark at San Diego’s 1915 Santa Fe Depot: We come face to face with revenge of the nerds on a metropolitan scale. We have stumbled through the looking glass and into Comic-Con, the annual gathering of pop-culture tribes: comics freaks, sci-fi buffs and anime obsessives among them. While people-watching is one of the best parts of seeing a city on foot, we had hardly expected this quality of street theater. Savor San Diego’s Little Italy

Nor had we expected to get diverted even before reaching our hotel. But it turns out the train station’s old baggage room is a gallery space of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Burdened with our luggage, we must take turns seeing the exhibits before heading to our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter — less than five minutes by cab and one of downtown’s best-preserved areas, with all of its Victorian and Queen Anne buildings.

After checking in, we walk along Fifth Avenue, swimming upstream against Comic-Con goers emerging from the convention center, before bailing for lunch at Bondi, an Australian-themed restaurant.

As the day ebbs, we walk in and out of stores, the character of the streets changing as we stroll. We eventually wander into Little Italy, once home to tuna fishermen and now an enclave that combines markets and restaurants with modern lofts. We come upon Anthology, a music venue that sets the vibe of a 1940s supper club in a multilevel contemporary space with audio fetishist-quality acoustics.

For years, I’ve had a knack for missing jazz legend Mose Allison, but in a nice bit of luck, he’s playing here tonight. Allison races through his classics, a human in shuffle mode, his voice still hipster cool.

We consider cabbing back to the hotel but decide to walk, extending our improvised day. I can’t say San Diego is quite a 24/7 city à la New York, but past midnight, the Gaslamp is still hopping, so we’re giving it a go.

STOP 2: San Clemente

We may be free of schedules, but Amtrak isn’t, and with only a couple of afternoon trains to San Clemente in Orange County, we have a late lunch before moving on.

South of San Clemente, the train eases into a long, stationless platform at the city’s pier — close enough to the ocean to taste the spray. Seeing San Clemente

I flash back to my senior year in England. I lived near a village of 200 outside Canterbury, in a roadhouse inn that sat across from a platform as unadorned as this one. It was that year of crashing at pensiones and hostels that most inspired us to take this rail trip. I even considered dusting off my old backpack for the journey but instead opted for a rolling bag: more forgiving for a chronic overpacker, if lacking a bit in vagabonding panache.

We roll our luggage to our inn that overlooks the platform and head to the water. I can’t prove it scientifically, but at San Clemente, the Southern California coast takes on a more tropical light, the air sweetened in summer by humid flows out of Mexico.

It’s intoxicating. Once we start walking, we just keep going, past palapas and palm trees, the air a sultry bath and our bare feet chilled in a cold plunge of foaming waves galloping ashore.

In England they call the waves’ caps “white horses,” which is the name that head chef and owner Mark Norris gave his restaurant across from the beach. I’d like to claim this spot as one of those back alley discoveries you live for as a traveler. But really, it’s steps off the lobby of our inn, with tables on a tiny patio and a Mediterranean-inspired menu.

With only a climb back up the stairs to our room ahead of us, we linger and chat with Norris after dinner, as the night’s first fog drifts through the pier’s lights. The train, Norris says, reminds him of his mother’s house in Devon, which sits by the tracks. Now that is serendipitous  to have found perhaps the only other person in town who would be reminded of England on a warm San Clemente night.

STOP 3: Santa Barbara

In Santa Barbara, the train edges a neighborhood between the idealized Mediterranean world of downtown and its dreamy California beach line. It’s called the Funk Zone, and as often as we’ve come into Santa Barbara for museums and shopping, typically on our way to the Santa Ynez Valley wine country about 30 minutes beyond, we’ve missed this latter-day Cannery Row.

We shortcut through the zone on the way to our hotel off State Street. A truck delivers hay bales to an animal-supply business near the intersection of Anacapa and Yanonali Streets (Santa Barbara has the most lyrical street names in the country). There are glimpses of the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains rising over town — the idea of its grapes taunting me — as we walk the back streets. Head to Santa Barbara’s waterfront

We stop in at Metropulos Fine Foods Merchant, which carries everything from Santa Barbara County olive oils to jams made by Trappist nuns in Italy. Then we discover an urban wine country: no vineyards, of course, but tasting rooms and production facilities. We work our way through several, from the Santa Barbara Winery, which pioneered winemaking here way back in 1962, to the newly opened Kalyra Winery — where winemaker Mike Brown has operations in the Santa Ynez Valley and in Australia’s Barossa Valley, and the tasting room is all tikis and Aboriginal-inspired art and surfboards.

A train whistle blows, announcing another Surfliner’s arrival. We walk past board shapers taking a break from their sanding to snag a little California sun. Hang loose, I think, remembering the surfers I saw on the way in. You wouldn’t think surfing and train travel have much to do with each other. But if surfing is all about surrendering control and working with what comes along, well, that’s an approach to train travel too. I can’t say we caught the perfect wave. But it’s been a good ride.

Train tips

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner ($42 one-way from San Diego, with stops in San Clemente and Santa Barbara; 800/872-7245) stops at many major Southern California cities.

Pony up for business class: It’s the only way to guarantee a seat (not assigned). Business class is often $11 extra.

Pack light: You’ll mostly be hauling your own bags, and overhead space is tight.

Where to stay

The Keating Hotel: Don’t be tricked by its Victorian exterior. This San Diego hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter has a fire red lobby and an urban attitude. From $339; 877/753-2846.

Casa Tropicana Boutique Inn: Across from the train platform in San Clemente, the inn has rooms with tropical- and sea-themed decor. From $285; 800/492-1245.

Inn of the Spanish Garden: The Santa Barbara inn blends a Spanish courtyard setting with contemporary touches. From $269; 866/564-4700.

City info

San Diego 619/236-1212

San Clemente 949/492-1131

Santa Barbara 805/966-9222


Secret Hotels of the Greek Isles May 14, 2008

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 2:53 pm
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If you’re seeking peace, quiet, and a killer tan, look no further than the islands of Páros and Antiparos.
Hotel Petres
Cléa Chatzinikolakis knows the island’s secrets–and she can share them in five languages: Greek, English, French, Italian, and Arabic. Over a welcome drink, Cléa pulls out a map and tells guests where to swim if they want a little privacy (“Park here and follow the rope through the trees”) and which taverna serves the best grilled fish (Mitsis, in Little Venice, one of three bays in the town of Naoussa). The only problem with following her advice is that it means leaving the haven she and her husband, Sotiris, have created–a place where it’s very tempting to spend the day just lounging around the pool or playing tennis on the artificial-grass court. A former ad executive (Cléa) and production manager (Sotiris) at McCann Erickson in Athens, the Chatzinikolakises bought the property about a mile and a half outside Naoussa with the intention of building a summer home. But they decided they wanted to spend more time on Páros, so they opened Petres in 1994. All 16 rooms and the one suite have views of the sea. The couple’s flair and attention to detail are visible everywhere, from the threshing boards they’ve turned into coffee tables; to the shells, icons, and evil-eye talismans in unexpected corners; to the fact that the Jacuzzi in the fitness center has a view of the sea and the steam room looks out to the mountains. Each morning, a buffet breakfast with homemade savory pies and strong coffee is served poolside. 011-30/22840-52467,, from $98, includes breakfast, open mid-April to mid-October.

Maryo Village
A half-mile outside Naoussa, the 12-room Maryo Village is named for the owner’s grandmother–but that’s the only grandmotherly thing about it. First opened in 1986, the hotel was renovated in 2002 and is decorated in a Poseidon-meets-Philippe Starck vibe. The combination of Greek and chic is evident on the large terrace, where an infinity pool overlooks the countryside and sea. Next to the pool is an outdoor bar area with rattan sofas and white canvas cushions, colorful glass lanterns, and chess and backgammon boards. The hotel feels like a private club, not least because its entrance is at the end of a winding road, unmarked, and hard to find. “We had a sign, but it blew away so many times that after the last big winds, we felt bad for it,” says manager Mania Simitzi, explaining why the sign was never put back up again. “Besides, most of our guests are repeat visitors, so they know where to go.” Rooms at Maryo Village have televisions, mosquito-net canopies over the built-in beds, a wash of bright blue or red on the walls, and balconies. Katerina, a double, and Maryo, a minisuite (the chaise makes it suitable for three) have the best views of both the sea and the courtyard. 011-30/22840-51972,, from $104, includes breakfast, open April to mid-October.

Heaven Naoussa

Lennart Pihl, a hotelier and antiques collector, opened Heaven Naoussa five years ago near the heart of Naoussa. “It’s more of a bed-and-breakfast, really,” says Pihl, explaining that guests tend not to stay put during the day. Instead, they hop on one of the small fishing boats that make frequent runs from the harbor to nearby swimming spots, including Kolymbithres, a series of shallow bays created by volcanic-rock deposits, and Monastiri, a popular beach at the foot of a cliff that’s topped with a monastery. Heaven’s four rooms, five suites, and two maisonettes (two-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes and a shared plunge pool) have private balconies and are filled with antiques. Martina Blair, the manager, offers advice on where to eat and what to see and do. She also makes arrangements for the daily in-room breakfast (usually set up on the balcony) of yogurt, fruit, honey, muesli, coffee, and juice. 011-30/22840-51549,, from $98, includes breakfast, open June to October.

Lefkes Village
Lefkes was the original capital of Páros, chosen because its inland, hilltop location stymied pirates. It’s one of the most beautiful towns in Greece, with views of the sea, the church of Agia Triada at the very peak, and windmills that dot the countryside. Lefkes Village resort, within walking distance of town, was built in 1995. The reception area and restaurant were modeled on Lefkes’s neoclassical kafenia (coffee shops); instead of old men sipping ouzo, its pergola shelters guests as they lounge around the pool. In the evening, the restaurant serves local specialties (such as paximadokoulouro, cheese-and-tomato salad on rusk, a kind of biscuit), while George Pittas, who co-owns the hotel with a cousin, plays DJ. Lefkes Village also features a dovecote where grapes are stomped during the late-summer wine-making season and a folk museum with a collection of old photos, urns, and tools. All of the 20 rooms (14 doubles and triples, and six duplex family rooms) have either a balcony or terrace. 011-30/22840-41827,, from $117, includes breakfast, open April to early October.

Albatross Bungalows
“We want everyone to leave with the best impressions, not just of the hotel, but of Páros,” says Stella Logaridou, owner of Albatross Bungalows, which her family opened in 1992 on the east side of the island, in the town of Logaras. To that end, she’ll arrange sailing, fishing, sea kayaking, and more. Logaridou cheerfully oversees all the minutiae involved in running the property: making sure the TV room is stocked with children’s DVDs, sourcing the yogurt served at breakfast from a small farm in northern Greece, and making note of guest preferences. “For the past six years, the Dimitriades family has wanted Room 317,” she says, showing off the view from the balcony to the mountaintop monastery of Agios Antonios. All but 10 of the 36 rooms have sea views, but Logaridou notes, pointing at the village of Marpissa seen from Room 205, “The sea views aren’t necessarily the best.” Each room has a terrace and deftly combines old-world charm–evident in details such as the curtains embroidered by Logaridou’s godmother–with modern conveniences like A/C and a television. 011-30/22840-41157,, from $75, open May to October.

Kastro Apartments
If Páros is the perfect honeymoon destination, Antiparos (with only a thousand full-time residents) is the ideal spot to bring the kids years later. “It’s a family island,” says Magda Maounis, who runs Kastro Apartments with her husband, Markos. To say the Maounises are accommodating would be an understatement. They’ll take the ferry across to Páros to pick up guests who are in danger of missing the last boat (they can cajole the captains into waiting). They insist on meeting visitors at the harbor, so they won’t get lost on the two-minute drive to the hotel. They’ll organize cooking classes and sunset cruises and even plan weddings. The eight studios and six larger apartments are sparely furnished, but all have sea views. The hotel is steps from two sandy beaches, and it’s a short walk down a cobblestoned street from charming Antiparos town. 011-30/22840-61011,, from $52, open April to mid-October.

Oliaros Studios
Oliaros is the ancient Greek name for Antiparos, so it’s appropriate that the eight rooms at Oliaros Studios are very traditional, with terraces, whitewashed walls, embroidered curtains, blue doors and shutters, and folk art on the walls, as well as kitchenettes, satellite TV, and air-conditioning. There are three doubles and five duplexes with two beds downstairs and a master bedroom on a mezzanine (or vice versa). The owner, Vassilis Germanopoulos, runs the family hotel on property his grandfather bought right above Agios Giorgos beach at the southern tip of the island. Germanopoulos’s youthful energy is evident in the popular sea-kayaking excursions he organizes from Oliaros out to the sea caves of Antiparos and the uninhabited satellite island of Despotiko, with its many archaeological excavations. 011-30/22840-25305,, from $75, open May to October.

Lilly’s Island
“Here, people really to come to relax,” says Lilly Arber, describing both the Jimmy Buffett–esque vibe of Antiparos and the feel of her hotel. A Swiss interior designer who met her Greek husband, Derek, on her first night of a vacation in Greece, Lilly believes she was fated to build a home on Antiparos. “It was kismet,” she says. “Even coming over on the ferry, I loved the feeling of escaping to this small island.” The hotel’s four doubles, five studios (one room with three beds), and three 2-bedroom apartments have verandas; several have two, “to catch both the morning and evening sun,” explains Lilly. Views vary: Room 15 has a marvelous sea view, while Room 8 lacks one. There are also two freestanding houses within the complex: Romantic House, a snug double; and Sweet House, which sleeps as many as four in its bedroom and sitting room. In the morning, guests gather around the pool for a breakfast of homemade marmalades and cakes. Afterward, they walk five minutes to the beach or hitch a ride with Lilly and Derek to swimming spots farther away. At 9:30 p.m., after the pool bar closes, guests wander down the path leading to town, in search of the restaurants Lilly has recommended: Sifneiko for sunset drinks and “the best pizza anywhere,” and Tsipouradiko for Greek mezes (small plates) enjoyed while looking over the harbor. 011-30/22840-61411,, from $65, open May to October.

Páros and Antiparos: Getting There and Around
Olympic Airlines flies several times a day from Athens to Páros (, from $75 each way, 45 minutes). Lots of ferry companies make the run between the Athenian port of Piraeus and Páros harbor at least twice a day. Hellenic Seaways’ three-hour superfast ferry is the quickest (, $57; book online, then pick tickets up in person at Piraeus).

Both local and worldwide car rental outfits are well represented on Páros. But if you require an automatic transmission, rent a Smart car, which you can drive as either an automatic or a manual shift (, from $35 per day).

A seven-minute ferry ride brings passengers from the town of Pounta on the southern coast of Páros to Antiparos harbor, with departures roughly every half hour (no reservations are necessary, passengers 75¢, cars $8). The main drag in Antiparos town is home to several places where you can rent cars, mopeds, and bikes.

Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.


California Hotel Packages, From $152 May 12, 2008

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 12:29 pm
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It wouldn’t be summer without a little fun in the sun. These hotel packages factor in time for biking, volunteering, and chilling out at the beach.


Mammoth Mountain Resort, from $152 per room per night
With the Stay & Bike package, you’ll be treated to accommodations and an All-Day Bike Park Pass. The bike pass gives each person access to 90 miles of trails around the resort, which is located in central California, on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and near Yosemite National Park. In winter, ski bunnies abound on the slopes, but the summer months are perfect for biking; you can get up the hill by bike, or opt for the gondola, the shuttle, or the ski lift. There’s also a full service repair shop, and Kona bike rentals are available. Rates start at $152 per room per night. When June 20-Sept. 22, 2008. Details Based on double occupancy; single bookings start at $120 per room per night. Does not include taxes of 13 percent. Bike rentals start at $40 per day. Contact 800/626-6684,
Loews Coronado Bay Resort (Courtesy Loews Coronado Bay Resort)


Loews Coronado Bay Resort, from $259 per room per night

The Volunteer Vacation package at the 440-room resort on the San Diego Bay lets you kick back at the beach—and do your part to keep the area clean for others. You’ll take a tour of Silver Strand State Beach (with direct access from the hotel) to learn about the wildlife, led by a state park educator, and participate in a beach cleanup or planting project. Accommodations in a deluxe room and two boxed lunches are also included. During your stay, you can take advantage of the resort’s spa, swimming pools, tennis courts, and herb garden. Rates start at $259 per room per night. When Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 28, 2008. Details Double and single bookings available. Does not include hotel taxes of 9 percent. Contact 619/424-4000,

Embassy Suites Mandalay Hotel & Resort, from $275 per room per night

When you book the family-friendly Summer Getaway package, you’ll get three nights’ accommodations in a two-room, two-bath suite at this southern California resort with 248 suites and beach access. You’ll start each day with a full complimentary breakfast and get one in-room movie or hour of Nintendo play, two bike rentals, a $50 credit at Capistrano’s Restaurant at the resort, parking, and drinks at the resort’s nightly happy hour. Oxnard is about 60 miles northeast of L.A. and hosts a Salsa Festival in July. Rates start at $275 per room per night, or $825 for the required three-night stay. When June 1-Sept. 7, 2008. Details Single and double bookings available. Children under 18 stay for free. Does not include hotel taxes of 10.1 percent. Contact 805/984-2500,


Top 20 Travel Deals For the Week of May 5, 2008 May 8, 2008

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 11:41 am

$37 & up — Fares Slashed from 200+ Cities; Ends Friday
Source: United Airlines

$399 — Puerto Rico 4-Star Getaway incl. Air

$99 — Orlando: Disney Resort w/Upgrade & Breakfast
Source: Royal Plaza

$999 — Mediterranean 12-Night Summer Cruise, Save $500
Source: American Express Travel

$99 — St. Lucia: Brand-New Luxurious Resort
Source: The Landings St. Lucia

$339 & up — Fly to London This Summer; Stay 2 Nights FREE
Source: British Airways

$199 — NYC 4-Diamond Westin in Times Square
Source: The Westin New York at Times Square

$1069 — Alaska 10-Night Cruisetour (Regularly $2000)
Source: Cruises International

$138 — Costa Rica from Ft. Lauderdale (R/T), Last Minute
Source: American Airlines

$59 — New Orleans Hotel in French Quarter, $130 OFF
Source: Bienville House Hotel

$499 — Last Minute: Bermuda 7-Night Cruise from Northeast
Source: Fare Deals

$159 — Villa at California Winery w/Tastings & Tour
Source: South Coast Winery Resort

$1399 — Thailand 11-Night Vacation w/Hotels, Tours & Air
Source: Friendly Planet Travel

$102 & up — Fly to Denver from Across the U.S. (Roundtrip)
Source: Orbitz

$99-$149 — Cape Cod Hotel This Summer, Save $110
Source: Radisson Hotel Hyannis

$179 — Maui 1-Bedroom Villa w/FREE Car Rental
Source: Destination Resorts Hawaii

$199 — San Francisco from Boston (Roundtrip), This Weekend
Source: American Airlines

$2299 — Cruise South America: 13 Nights incl. Flights
Source: Cruises-N-More / American Express

$139 — Arizona Resort w/FREE Upgrade & $50 Credit
Source: The Buttes, A Marriott Resort

$1299 — Croatia & Slovenia 5-City Tour Package w/Air
Source: Gate 1 Travel


What to See in Florence, Italy May 6, 2008

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 4:18 pm
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It may be small, but Florence contains a quarter of the planet’s UNESCO world heritage sites, which can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. With this ratio of classics per square meter, it’s impossible to see everything in one visit — so don’t try.

Florence's Duomo

Florence’s Duomo: If you only see one sight in Florence, make it this.

A good starting point is Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo (Piazza del Duomo), which dominates the city’s skyline. Climb up the inside of Brunelleschi’s 15th-century dome and admire the views from the cupola.

If you only visit one museum, pick carefully. For sculpture, head to the Bargello (Via del Proconsolo, 4; +39 055 2388-606; For art, it has to be the Uffizi Galleries (Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6; +39 055 2388-651;

But not all of Florence’s wonders are indoors, so take advantage of the clement weather and cross the Roman Ponte Vecchio Bridge, famous for the jewelry shops that line it, to the Boboli Gardens. Take a picnic and climb up to the top of the gardens, congratulate yourself on escaping the crowds and admire the view.

If you only have time for a flying visit, check out the unbelievable ice-cream colours of Michaelangelo’s tomb in Santa Croce church (Piazza Sta Croce); when you’re done, pick up some impeccably made leather purses from Scula del Cuoio, a leather school next door (Piazza Santa Croce, 16; Tel. 055-244-534;

Take a trip back to the middle ages by listening to San Miniato’s Benedictine monks sing Gregorian chants during vespers at Florence’s oldest church, which dates back to the 11th century (Via del Monte Alle Croci, near Piazza Michelangiolo; Vespers at 16.30 summer and 17.30 winter).

If you are looking for something more offbeat, try the Museo La Specola (Via Romana, 17; +39 055 228 8251) a zoology museum where you can find eerily accurate wax models of corpses, a multitude of stuffed animals and other Victorian museum curiosities.


A Family Friendly Trip to Seattle

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 9:01 am
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Got the rain jackets? 

So what if it rains a lot in Seattle. As long as you’ve got good rain gear, you won’t care, especially when there’s so much to do and see.

Where else can you take the kids to see guys throwing raw fish, introduce them to ferries (yes, parents commute to work via ferry) take a turn on a sailboat, learn all about rock music, science fiction and the creatures who inhabit the sea in this part of the world. (The first-rate Seattle Aquarium was renovated just a year ago.)

Let’s not forget the chance to view the world from 605 feet above atop theSpace Needle or ride a monorail at Seattle Center. Did I mention the terrific food — and Washington State wines? Plenty of local restaurants are kid-friendly too. (Locals suggest Cutters Bayhouse, which offers great views, seafood and a good kids’ menu and Ivar’s Acres of Clams, a landmark since 1938, which highlights an outdoor fish bar.

Of course, we can’t forget coffee. Your frappuccino-loving kids may be surprised to learn that Starbucks started right here in 1971 with just one coffee store. That store is still open at Pike Place Market.

This summer, if you’re thinking about spending a few days in Seattle, either before or after an Alaskan cruise, (a record 211 cruise ships will dock here or you can easily drive from Vancouver), or you’re just shopping for a different last-minute spring getaway, you and your kids are guaranteed to love Seattle.

In fact, this is one city that has as much to offer kids (and teens) as parents, whether you’re foodies, and these days a lot of kids are, baseball lovers, music aficionados, sailors, fishermen or museum goers. The Seattle Art Museum’sfree, 9-acre Olympic Sculpture Garden not only displays major artworks but also the scenery of the mountains and Puget Sound. For more interesting options, visit and To take advantage of many top Seattle attractions, buy a Seattle City Passand check out great hotel deals at

Planning on bringing your pet along on this trip? Check out family packages from pet-friendly Kimptons’ Alexis Hotel Seattle, which provides kid-sized robes (Tiger stripe perhaps?) as well as homemade s’mores and more. The Hotel Monaco not only will welcome your pooch, but also provide a goldfish for your stay, along with goldfish crackers and a goldfish toy.

Once you’re settled in, take the kids to Pike Place Market one of the oldest continuously operated farmer’s markets in the United States. Pike Place presides over a 9-acre historic district in the heart of downtown Seattle and the kids will never look at grocery shopping the same way again. Watch guys throw fish back and forth at the Pike Place Fish Market, listen to street musicians, sample cherries, peaches, apples, vegetables and hazelnuts — and meet the farmers who grew them. There are some 150 vendors selling everything from fruit to flowers at The Market, which is also a good bet for souvenirs, whether you are on the hunt for food (smoked salmon or cherry jam anyone?), vintage clothes or jewelry.

Walk down the hill climb stairs from Pike Place Market to my second-favorite site in Seattle: The Seattle Aquarium located along Seattle’s waterfront. Seattle is also home to the terrific Woodland Park Zoo. Don’t miss the new Window on Washington Waters exhibit. (Did you know sea otters eat more than a quarter of their body weight each day?) Learn all about salmon (even the kids will be impressed by how they manage to find their way home) — and listen to the call of orca whales.

It’s fun just to walk along the waterfront too — packed with ferryboats, cruise ships, tour boats and every variety of pleasure boat. Seattle Center is also a must-see for families. The 74-acre urban park — a legacy of the 1962 World’s Fair — is home to the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Children’s Museum and some of the city’s largest festivals, including the Seattle International Children’s Festival.

While you’re at Seattle Center, make sure to check out the Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. The Experience Music Project, is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen, and is dedicated to exploring creativity and innovation in American popular music, from rock ‘n’ roll, to jazz, soul, gospel, country, blues, hip-hop, punk and other genres. Science Fiction lovers won’t want to miss the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which offers a one-of-a-kind collection of artifacts and memorabilia, including works by Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, H.G. Wells, George Lucas, Gene Rodenberry, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, among others.

Take the gang to see the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (also called Ballard Locks), which raises and lowers ships (as much as 26 feet) to allow them to pass between fresh water and salt water. It’s one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

You’ve also got the chance in Seattle to teach the kids a little history — and they’ll be having too much fun to complain. Take them to Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park — a free museum that explains Seattle’s role as the starting point to the 1890s gold rush. Tour Pioneer Square, Seattle’s historic district where logs once skidded down the streets to the harbor sawmills. (Check out the Underground Tour that will give you a glimpse at what was left below street level after a fire destroyed it).


Stockholm on $250 a day May 3, 2008

Filed under: Travel & Leisure — gervmaine @ 8:19 pm
Tags: , ,

Stockholm has a reputation for being one of Europe’s most expensive cities. Hit the streets of the fashionable capital and prove otherwise.

Stockholm’s Strommen River

9:00 a.m.

I plot my day over a complimentary breakfast of homemade yogurt and knäckebröd (crispy bread) at Hotel Anno 1647 (3 Mariagränd; 46-8/442-1680), housed in a former tobacco and clothing factory in the hip island neighborhood of Södermalm. My room ($170), No. 21, is small and peaceful, with rustic pine floors, an antique crystal chandelier, and, thankfully, blackout drapes — essential in a city that gets 18 hours of sunlight a day in the summer.

10:00 a.m.

The hotel is around the corner from Götgatan, one of Stockholm’s most seductive shopping strips. Though it feels a little early to start spending, I can’t resist a jar of cloudberry honey ($6) from Iris Hantverk (37 Götgatan; 46-8/641-9190), a store that specializes in handmade items by visually impaired artisans. I crave almost everything I see in DesignTorget (31 Götgatan, 46-8/462-3520), which carries an eclectic range of accessories by Swedish designers, including hand-printed dish towels and colorful kids’ toys. But I force myself to move along.

12:00 p.m.

For lunch, I circle back to busy Slussen square — Stockholm’s answer to Grand Central. The main attraction here (besides a major subway stop) is the humble Nystekt Strömming (fried herring) wagon, encircled by picnic tables crowded with locals on their lunch breaks. I sidle up and order the signature dish ($6.25) topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. From my bench, I can see the silhouette of Gamla Stan, the old section of the city just across the bridge.

Don’t Miss

1:00 p.m.

Down along the harbor, a freckled blond girl at a candy cart snips off a sample of her salt licorice (free), a delicious flavor called Häxvrål — “scream of the witch,” she translates. After a short stroll past the steamboats and Baroque mansions of Östermalm, I arrive at the Vasamuseet (14 Galärvarvsvägen; 46-8/5195-4800), a maritime museum built around a meticulously reconstructed boat that was shipwrecked in the 17th century. I buy a ticket ($15) and explore the gigantic ship, feeling a little like an extra on the set of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

3:30 p.m.

Risking museum burnout, I head to the galleries ($12.50 admission) of the Moderna Museet (Skeppsholmen; 46-8/5195-5200), designed by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, to see its collection of 20th-century European and American art. Here, I discover the contemporary Swedish painter Karin Mamma Andersson, whose lush, layered paintings look like dreamscapes. I also find one of the city’s best photo ops — the panoramic view of the port from the glass-walled museum café.

5:00 p.m.

I forgo a pricey taxi ride across the city in favor of an infinitely more charming and scenic walk toward Gamla Stan, which is touristy but irresistible once I’m weaving through a knot of cobblestoned streets and storybook 17th-century houses. My reward is a hot chocolate ($4.70) at Kaffekoppen (18-20 Stortorget; 46-8/203-170), a candlelit cellar with tea-stained walls and low vaulted ceilings.

7:00 p.m.

While wandering the alleys of Gamla Stan, I stumble upon what may be the city’s top bargain: a classical music concert ($11) at Storkyrkan, Stockholm’s central cathedral (1 Trangsund, Gamla Stan; 46-8/723-3016). I take a seat in a wooden pew as a local pianist fills the space with the music of Chopin. Dusky evening light filters in through leaded glass windows and shimmers off the golden angels on the high brick ceiling. Divine.

9:30 p.m.

The lingering sunlight has affected my eating schedule, but I’m finally hungry again. On the patio of Babylon (4 Björns Trädgårdsgränd; 46-8/640-8083), surrounded by chattering clusters of young fashion plates and artist types, I wrap myself in one of the restaurant’s green fleece blankets and gobble down a late dinner of potatoes and röding ($25.80), a local fish. From my barstool, I watch skinny blond skateboarders dip and sail around a cement half-pipe in the adjacent park, and revel in a priceless travel high: the giddy feeling of having discovered the coolest place in town.