A Little Moa about Kauai.

You didn’t really think I would say aloha to Kauai without squawking about their chickens, did you?

Chickens have thrived on the island ever since they were brought as “canoe fowl” by Polynesian voyagers as early as 1000 A.D. We first noticed them in the summer of 2007, our first return trip after Hurricane Iniki swamped the island in 1992. Residents released much of Kauai’s chicken population as Iniki bore down on the island, which gave rise to the prolific feral population of chickens that thrives there today.

Taylor watches a Kauai chicken cross the road back in 2007.

Taylor watches a Kauai chicken cross the road back in 2007.

Known as “moa” (or alternately, mua, per some sources) the red jungle fowl are as ubiquitous as the mynas, sparrows and zebra doves that populate the island. They are shy of humans and run surprisingly fast, so it’s not easy to snap photos of them, but on any given day we probably saw a few dozen of them as we walked or drove.

Back in 2007 the chickens of Kauai were a novelty to us, but now, as full-fledged chicken nerds, we view them as extended family to our own little flock. I’m not sure who has it better, our girls who enjoy room service in their coop, or the Kauaian chickens who free-range across the predator-free island (if you don’t count humans or cars) and feast upon all manner of exotic plants and bugs.

We saw this hen and her half-grown pullets near the Marriott property at Poipu Beach.

We saw this hen and her half-grown pullets near the Marriott property at Poipu Beach.

Not everyone is as delighted with the chickens as we are. Locals and visitors alike are known to deplore the rooster wake-up calls that disturb pre-dawn sleep. Some people don’t think it’s cute when chickens wander through the shops of Old Koloa Town, where one tongue-in-cheek store proprietor has actually painted a brightly-colored line of chicken tracks across the floor. Others fret, unnecessarily, about Avian influenza. For the record, Avian flu is exponentially more likely to occur in conditions where thousands of birds are crowded in battery farm conditions, not in small, open-air wild or domestic flocks.

There were no chickens on the property where we stayed. Technically, the wild jungle fowl are protected, but trapping and “removal” is routinely permitted. I, for one, celebrate the spirit of the free-ranging fowl, especially since learning that many of them were (and apparently continue to be) kept on the island to be used in a widespread underground cockfighting tradition that was originally promoted by Filipino immigrants during the island’s early plantation days. As everywhere else in the United States, cockfighting is illegal in Hawaii, but the state ranks 47th out of 50 for the efficacy of laws pertaining to the practice. For instance, it is legal in Hawaii to possess cocks for fighting (illegal in 37 states) and legal to be a spectator at a cockfight (illegal in 42 states). While cockfighting is a felony in 40 states, it is only a misdemeanor in Hawaii. And only if you get caught in the act. Come on, Hawaii, you’re better than that!

This wild rooster is safer in the wild in Hawaii.

This wild rooster is safer in the wild in Hawaii.

Everywhere we went, all around the island, it was a chick-chick here and a chick-chick there. We saw them foraging alongside cattle egrets and mynas and tending their various-aged flocks throughout parks and condominium developments. They even seem to co-exist peacefully with the substantial feral cat population. The cats, like anyone else considering an on-the-hoof chicken dinner, must have heard the longstanding island lore which states that if you boil a lava rock and an island chicken together, the lava rock will become tender sooner (as in never) than the chicken.

This feral cat kept his distance from a nearby flock of chickens guarded by a wary rooster.

This feral cat kept his distance from a nearby flock of chickens guarded by a wary rooster.

She's a pretty hen but a no-go for coq-au-vin.

She’s a pretty hen but a no-go for coq-au-vin.

This chick appeared to be just a few days old.

This chick appeared to be just a few days old.

I hope the Hawaiians continue to hang loose regarding their hens, which in some circles are referred to as the “state bird”. A number of enterprising locals have feathered their nests by selling poultry-related merchandise:

I couldn't persuade the CE to buy this hat. Maybe on a return trip...

I couldn’t persuade the CE to buy this hat. Maybe on a return trip…

One of a collection of chicken-themed cards I found at the Lihue airport features a rooster with surfboard in tow boarding a flight to Kauai.

One of a collection of chicken-themed cards I found at the Lihue airport features a rooster with surfboard in tow boarding a flight to Kauai.

A few tourists grumble that the chickens detract from a perfect vacation, but, overall, most seem charmed by Kauai’s signature flocks. I, for one, can’t wait to return to the Garden Island, where, as birds go, I say moa is better!

I brought a little "moa" home from Kauai to hang near our coop.

I brought a little “moa” home from Kauai to hang near our coop.

September 20, 2014 at 8:21 am 4 comments

Who Moved My Aloha?

We’ve been back on the mainland for about twelve hours and I am in severe Aloha withdrawal.

Where is my daily Hawaiian sunrise? No, I’m not talking about a tropical drink. I mean the actual sunrise, which we observed each morning on the Grand Hyatt Kauai Seaview Terrace, Starbucks latte in hand.

beautiful Poipu sunrise

beautiful Poipu sunrise

A view of Seaview Terrace at the Grand Hyatt Kauai from Shipwrecks beach.

A view of Seaview Terrace at the Grand Hyatt Kauai from Shipwrecks beach.

Where are my boys? It was so incredibly wonderful that they could both carve out time to join us for part of our trip.

I really, really miss these guys!

I really, really miss these guys!

And where, oh where, is that breakfast buffet that we all so enjoyed? The poolside lunch? Dinner at the spectacular Tidepools restaurant, where you dine koi-side?

Daniel records his first breakfast buffet for posterity.

Daniel records his first breakfast buffet for posterity.

Our rooms overlooked the hotel pool.

Our rooms overlooked the hotel pool.

Another view of the pool at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

Another view of the pool at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

Lunch by the pool.

Lunch by the pool.

Tidepools "Hawaiian Catch": monchong and a shrimp cake over a bed of molokai sweet potato, topped with kona lobster tail.

Tidepools “Hawaiian Catch”: monchong and a shrimp cake over a bed of molokai sweet potato, topped with kona lobster tail.

Baby Kula Greens Salad at Tidepools restaurant, Grand Hyatt Kauai.

Baby Kula Greens Salad at Tidepools restaurant, Grand Hyatt Kauai.

Our table was surrounded on three sides by a moat filled with beautiful koi.

Our table was surrounded on three sides by a moat filled with beautiful koi.

Koi at Tidepools restaurant.

Koi at Tidepools restaurant.

Where are the nightly games of hearts, which, in our family, should actually be called Hearts of Darkness, for all the times Daniel tosses that Queen of Spades on an unlucky opponent.

Uh oh. Looks like a "hold 'em" hand.

Uh oh. Looks like a “hold ‘em” hand.

"Let's see. Who shall I drop the queen on this time?"

“Let’s see. Who shall I drop the queen on this time?”

Every trip to Hawaii is the best trip ever, and this truly was The Best Trip Ever. Aloha, Kauai, I miss you!

The most beautiful island is whichever one I'm on at the time, but Kauai, "The Garden Island", is considered by many to be the loveliest of all.

The most beautiful island is whichever one I’m on at the time, but Kauai, “The Garden Island”, is considered by many to be the loveliest of all.

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

Shipwrecks Beach

Shipwrecks Beach

The tiki torches signal sunset at The Grand Hyatt

The tiki torches signal sunset at The Grand Hyatt

The one thing I don't miss about Hawaii is that orange pineapple shirt!

The one thing I don’t miss about Hawaii is that orange pineapple shirt!

September 13, 2014 at 10:59 am 6 comments

A Weekend in Sonoma: Eat, Drink and Be Married!

How were we so lucky to score a coveted invitation to Easton and Ming’s wedding? We aren’t swimmers. We most certainly aren’t Princeton alums. And even if you add the bride and groom’s ages together, there’s still a generation gap between us. I guess it must be our connections, one of them being to a beloved grinning sock monster named Pierre, and the other…well, more about that later.

Those in the know know that Pierre loves weddings.

Those in the know know that Pierre loves weddings.

However undeserving of the invitation we may be, we RSVP’d with an enthusiastic YES, and on a beautiful late summer morning, we set out for Sonoma, where Ming and Easton were to be married.

It was a seven-hour drive through parched central California. Pray for rain this winter!

It was a seven-hour drive through parched central California. Pray for rain this winter!

We stayed at the cozy Inn at Sonoma. Just a few blocks from the town square AND they keep a perpetually-filled jar of cookies in the lobby!

Our cheerful little room at the Inn at Sonoma.

Our cheerful little room at the Inn at Sonoma.

We find Sonoma to be friendlier and more accessible than neighboring Napa, and it was especially so the week after a 6.0 earthquake that caused some damage in Napa but left Sonoma undisturbed and undeterred. After settling into our lodgings, we walked into town for the evening.

Sonoma has a lovely, leafy town square. (image from virtualtourist.com)

Sonoma has a lovely, leafy town square. (image from virtualtourist.com)

After a glass of wine on the terrace at Centre du Vin we ambled over to the highly recommended LaSalette for dinner. The cuisine is Portuguese, the outdoor terrace is impossibly charming and their dessert “flights” are completely irresistible.

The CE ordered scallops at LaSalette.

The CE ordered scallops at LaSalette.

And the caramel dessert "flight". Divine!

And the caramel dessert “flight”. Divine!

If you visit Sonoma, you will want to eat here.

If you visit Sonoma, you will want to eat here.

The next day we toured Jack London State Historic Park and stopped afterwards in London’s cherished hamlet of Glen Ellen. The terrace of the Glen Ellen Inn was a perfect place to enjoy lunch and their cioppino was superb.

It looks unremarkable from the outside, but the Glen Ellen Inn restaurant has a beautiful "secret garden".

It looks unremarkable from the outside, but the Glen Ellen Inn restaurant has a beautiful “secret garden”.

The cioppino is definitely worth the stop!

The cioppino is definitely worth the stop!

After lunch, we visited the nearby Benziger Family Winery and took their tram tour through the vineyard. A fun stop!

Benziger Family Winery. So pretty!

Benziger Family Winery. So pretty!

We tasted their cabernet grapes from the vine.

We tasted their cabernet grapes from the vine.

For dinner that evening, we visited an old favorite on the Sonoma town square, the girl & the fig, where we happily continued our streak of eating every meal al fresco.

Appropriately, an appetizer "fig flight" is served at The Girl & the Fig.

Appropriately, an appetizer “fig flight” is served at The Girl & the Fig.

I also enjoyed their flight of Rose wines. L to R, from Mathis, Imagry and Cochon vineyards.

I also enjoyed their flight of Rose wines. L to R, from Mathis, Imagry and Cochon vineyards.

The patio at the girl & the fig is lively and festive.

The patio at the girl & the fig is lively and festive.

The next day dawned just as beautiful as the two before and that afternoon we made our way to Cline Vineyards, the breathtakingly beautiful setting Ming and Easton chose for their wedding. As the programs were handed out, the guests learned that the couple had a surprise in store for them: they had chosen their dear friend and our dear son, Taylor, as the “officiant” for the ceremony! That, of course, is how we squeaked onto the guest list, and it was such a privilege to be there for the occasion!

The handsome "officiant" before the ceremony

The handsome “officiant” before the ceremony

The beautiful couple and Taylor after the ceremony.

The beautiful couple and Taylor after the ceremony.

This was the backdrop for the ceremony - exquisite!

This was the backdrop for the ceremony – exquisite!

Easton and Ming are that “meant to be” couple everyone admires, and many of their friends from their college years at Princeton traveled from all over the country to attend the wedding. Everyone laughed when Taylor took a “ceremonial selfie” and everyone cried when he spoke touchingly (I know he will groan at that adjective) of that “paradoxical creature known as #mingston”.

The bride was escorted by her parents.

The bride was escorted by her parents.

The flowers were SO beautiful!

The flowers were SO beautiful!

This is known as capturing the moment!

This is known as capturing the moment!

We were so proud of Taylor, who has a new gig as “officiant” to fall back on in case the day job doesn’t work out, and we are so thrilled for Ming and Easton! What a special, blessed day. How lucky we were to be a part of it.

The CE and the "officiant" after the ceremony.

The CE and the “officiant” after the ceremony.

Taylor, me and Easton

Taylor, me and Easton

Emily, Dr. Philson and our beloved Dana.

Emily, Dr. Philson and our beloved Dana.

The dinner  reception was held in the candlelit Cline Cellars barrel room. Such a special evening!

The dinner reception was held in the candlelit Cline Cellars barrel room. Such a special evening!

Congratulations, Ming and Easton!

Congratulations, Ming and Easton!

September 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm 8 comments

Jack London: a Visit to the Valley of the Moon.

Jack London may be the greatest author I’ve never read. Well, almost never – I did read Call of the Wild and yes, it is terrific. But I steadfastly refuse to pick up another of London’s books because he fills those books with the most noble of dogs and then terrible cruelty befalls those dogs. I just can’t go there.

Jack London at age nine with his dog, Rollo (wikipedia image)

Jack London at age nine with his dog, Rollo (wikipedia image)

For instance, in the Wikipedia synopsis of White Fang, we learn that early on, a pair of men and their team of dogs are devoured by a pack of starving wolves. Please. It’s not as if I ever sleep at night anyway, but I don’t need those kind of nightmares. The pair of men, maybe, but please, not the dogs!

Anyone for sleepless nights? (wikipedia image)

Anyone for sleepless nights? (wikipedia image)

The CE, however, is made of tougher stuff than me. He loves dogs, too, but he reveres Jack London and has read a whopping twenty-five of London’s books. I know this because yesterday morning, finding ourselves in Sonoma, CA at an hour far too early to drink wine, we discovered that we were just a fifteen-minute drive away from Jack London State Historic Park., site of London’s beloved “Beauty Ranch” where he built his doomed dream home, Wolf House, here in the “Valley of the Moon”.

The ruins of London's 15,000 square foot Wolf House, which burned to the ground just as construction was finished in 1913.(image from parks.sonoma.net)

The ruins of London’s 15,000 square foot Wolf House, which burned to the ground just as construction was finished in 1913.(image from parks.sonoma.net)

As we entered the park we were cheerily greeted at the kiosk by a staffer who asked if we were London fans. When she heard that the CE was a big fan, cars queued up behind us while the two of them conversed about their favorites. For the CE, The Sea-Wolf is at the top of his list. The Park staffer prefers The People of the Abyss, London’s account of the travails of London’s working-class poor.

Jack London is my husband’s favorite socialist. This is noteworthy because my husband’s politics lean well to the right, and yet he adores Jack London. When I asked him about this seeming anomaly, he pointed out that the conditions London deplored were indeed, absolutely deplorable and that London’s response was appropriate. He also mentioned that London was a notoriously hard worker during his brief life, citing the brutal conditions under which London labored in his early life as described in his autobiographical work, Martin Eden. According to the CE, London sought fairness and opportunity and was contemptuous of anyone who sought to coast on a free ride. London frequently quarreled with other socialists and has actually been described variously as a meritocracist and an individualist, which puts him squarely in the company of the CE.

Jack London, along with Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow, formed Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in New York in 1905.

Jack London, along with Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow, formed Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in New York in 1905.

Politics were, blessedly, the furthest thing from our minds as we stepped out of the car and surveyed the sheer beauty of the retreat where London developed his progressive theories about farming and animal husbandry, many of which are detailed in his book The Little Lady of the Big House. As his literary star soared, London added parcels to the ranch. He died there three years after “Wolf House” burned. He was just forty years old.

During his tragically too-short life, armed with only an eighth-grade education, he had ridden trains as a hobo, pirated oysters, shoveled coal, labored in a laundry, worked on a sealing ship on the Pacific and at an Oakland cannery. Along the way, he wrote some of the most admired books in the canon of American literature.

Jack London's gravesite at Jack London State Historic Park (image from jacklondonpark.com)

Jack London’s gravesite at Jack London State Historic Park (image from jacklondonpark.com)

Jack London's Press Democrat death announcement .

Jack London’s Press Democrat death announcement .

The highlight of our visit to the Park was the tour of “The House of Happy Walls” museum. London’s widow, Charmian, built the house after London’s death and filled it with artifacts from hers and London’s world travels. It was her intention that the home would become a shrine to London’s genius: “…I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to let the world forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California with the biggest writing of all his writing and imagination and wisdom…just don’t let all who listen and read and run, forget Jack London’s biggest dream.” ~Charmian London, 1916

The "House of Happy Walls" museum (image from jacklondonpark.com)

The “House of Happy Walls” museum (image from jacklondonpark.com)

London and Charmian on their ketch "The Snark"

London and Charmian on their ketch “The Snark”

The museum is filled with London's books and mementos from his travels.

The museum is filled with London’s books and mementos from his travels.

The Park is comprised of 1,400 transcendently beautiful acres and boasts twenty-six miles of hiking trails. It was a highlight of our visit and is a marvelous and fitting testament to the author who considered it “a quiet place in the counry to write and loaf in and get out of Nature that something which we all need, only the most of us don’t know it.

The CE under the redwoods at Jack London State Historic Park

The CE under the redwoods at Jack London State Historic Park

A copy of Jack London's "credo" hangs in the "House of Happy Walls" museum.

A copy of Jack London’s “credo” hangs in the “House of Happy Walls” museum.

August 30, 2014 at 10:00 am 3 comments

Summer in the City: August in NYC

Two perfect summer weeks in NYC. Glorious weather made for some of our favorite walks ever in Central Park and on the High Line. Saw our family and friends, had some great meals, and, as always, can’t wait to return. Love, love, love New York!

Started things off with a night at the Cabaret. There are not enough superlatives for Alan Cumming in his role as the Emcee. I didn’t love Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, although the CE thought her divine. Linda Emond, who we previously saw paired with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of a Salesman, was revelatory and Danny Burstein as Herr Shultz was her perfect match. Least impressive was the so-called table service for those of us who spent a fortune on cabaret table tickets. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I felt some sympathy for Shia Labeouf’s outburst a few weeks earlier. Daniel finally had to belly up to the bar for us at intermission and discovered that drinks were $30! Only in New York, right?

Cabaret and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill compete for our favorite current Broadway offerings.

Cabaret and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill compete for our favorite current Broadway offerings.

So fun to have Daniel and Mary join us for Cabaret!

So fun to have Daniel and Mary join us for Cabaret!

On a mellower note, the CE and I went to the kitschy-beautiful Beacon Theater to see Sarah McLachlan one night. She is a generous performer and has absolutely rabid fans!

Sarah McLachlan at the Beacon Theatre

Sarah McLachlan at the Beacon Theatre

It's worth going to a concert at the Beacon Theatre just to enjoy the faux-classical interior.

It’s worth going to a concert at the Beacon Theatre just to enjoy the faux-classical interior.

We were so lucky to be able to take the whole family to a Yankees game on a perfect summer evening.

Happiest place in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium

Happiest place in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium

These guys.

These guys.

James and Grandpa enjoy the game.

James and Grandpa enjoy the game.

We finally got together with our almost-neighbors Michael and Shane for dinner one night in the West Village. Had lunch with friends Lori and Lauren before they headed to the West Coast to wrangle chickens for us. And we felt like real New Yorkers/hipsters when we took the subway over to Brooklyn to join Teri and Billy for dinner at Reynard at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg.

The CE does a little two-step with Daniel, Michael, Shane and me at Melibea in the West Village.

The CE does a little two-step with Daniel, Michael, Shane and me at Melibea in the West Village.

Lauren and Lori

Lauren and Lori

How cute are these two? Billy and Teri at Reynard in Williamsburg

How cute are these two? Billy and Teri at Reynard in Williamsburg

Can’t go to NYC without discussing food. Four memorable dining moments:

These roasted carrots at The Modern Bar Room might be the most heavenly vegetables I've ever tasted.

These roasted carrots at The Modern Bar Room might be the most heavenly vegetables I’ve ever tasted.

Oh to be young and thin! Daniel polished off this warm brownie with almond brittle ice cream at The Standard Grill.

Oh to be young and thin! Daniel polished off this warm brownie with almond brittle ice cream at The Standard Grill.

Billy and Teri shared this roast chicken at Reynard.  It is presented in all its golden-brown-ness and then carved. Yum.

Billy and Teri shared this roast chicken at Reynard. It is presented in all its golden-brown-ness and then carved. Yum.

We always have a great meal at Hell's Kitchen on Ninth Avenue. Here is the CE with their Ancho Crusted Tuna Tostadas.

We always have a great meal at Hell’s Kitchen on Ninth Avenue. Here is the CE with their Ancho Crusted Tuna Tostadas.

One magical evening we walked through the Park to have dinner at the Central Park Boathouse. Yes, it is clogged with tourists. But if you 1) have a reservation and 2) get there right at 5:30 pm when they open and stand in the front of the line, you can get a pond-side table, dine with the koi and the snapping turtles, watch the punters and the gondolier and be bathed in the last rays of the setting sun. You don’t have to be a tourist to enjoy that!

Summer night dinner at the Central Park Boathouse

Summer night dinner at the Central Park Boathouse

Loved the sunchoke salad at the Central Park Boathouse.

Loved the sunchoke salad at the Central Park Boathouse.

And loved the sunset, too.

And loved the sunset, too.

Green space is surprisingly abundant in NYC and part of what makes it the greatest city in the world. The Park, the High Line and the Met rooftop were our pastoral destinations this trip. And Lincoln Center, with its beautiful plaza and free outdoor summer concerts, is another great place to spend an evening.

The little boat pond in Central Park

The little boat pond in Central Park

We took a late-night walk on the High Line. Great time to be there.

We took a late-night walk on the High Line. Great time to be there.

Saw the Dan Graham roof garden at The Met.

Saw the Dan Graham roof garden at The Met.

The Met rooftop has some of the best views in the city.

The Met rooftop has some of the best views in the city.

You can cool off by the fountain at Lincoln Center on a warm summer night.

You can cool off by the fountain at Lincoln Center on a warm summer night.

Best of all, of course, is that we get to be with our family when we are in NYC. We are so blessed.

James and Thomas always come over to swim in our building's pool.

James and Thomas always come over to swim in our building’s pool.

The CE and Taylor got together for dinner one night.

The CE and Taylor got together for dinner one night.

We got to celebrate Thomas' and Bobby's birthdays in the Park.

We got to celebrate Thomas’ and Bobby’s birthdays in the Park.

August 23, 2014 at 10:32 am 4 comments

Florida Road Trip Finale: The Breakers, Palm Beach

Cheese and wine, maybe, but do hotels get better with age? Not usually, so was I out of my mind to persuade the CE to make one last stop on our Florida road trip and visit the Breakers with me?

I stayed at The Breakers back in 1976 and remembered it as being almost impossibly grand. Could it live up to my memories of luncheon by the pool with waves crashing in the background (there’s a reason it’s called The Breakers!) and cocktail receptions in the magnificent main lobby inspired by the Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi in Genoa?

Happily, the answer is yes. Oh yes!

The Breakers, Palm Beach (image from thebreakers.com)

The Breakers, Palm Beach (image from thebreakers.com)

Breakers lobby detail (image from kuoni.uk.com)

Breakers lobby detail (image from kuoni.uk.com)

As with seemingly everything in Florida, The Breakers began with the vision of Henry M. Flagler, although the first two iterations of the hotel succumbed to fire in 1903 and 1925. The Breakers as we know it today debuted in 1926 and was modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome. It was most recently renovated in 2011.

Room with a view: our oceanfront balcony at The Breakers.

Room with a view: our oceanfront balcony at The Breakers.

After scouring reviews in advance of our visit, I decided to throw caution and our bank balance to the wind: if you want the full Breakers experience, you have to book an oceanfront room. Yes, the CE was palpably disturbed when, upon check-in, he was presented with our daily room rate, but as soon as we stepped into Room 5141, it all began to make sense. The sound of those thundering waves was so mesmerizing that my lovely husband almost immediately marched downstairs and extended our stay an extra day.

Morning or evening, the view is magnificent.

Morning or evening, the view is magnificent.

The HMF lounge at The Breakers (image from prevueonline.net)

The HMF lounge at The Breakers (image from prevueonline.net)

First night splurge: we shared this Baked Alaska for dessert at HMF.

First night splurge: we shared this Baked Alaska for dessert at HMF.

Morning coffee in The Circle dining room is one of my favorite memories of The Breakers. (image from moretimetotravel.com)

Morning coffee in The Circle dining room is one of my favorite memories of The Breakers. (image from moretimetotravel.com)

It was tough to tear ourselves away from the property, where breakfast is served in the palatial Circle dining room and there is the option of dinner at the decidedly not-stuffy HMF (there’s Mr. Flagler, again!) lounge or overlooking the golf course at the Flagler (of course) Steakhouse, but we did make a daily mile-or-so walk into Palm Beach proper just to gawk at the oceanfront estates and walk along the shaded avenues of Seaspray and Seabreeze where the mere millionaires live. Our walking goal was the clock tower at the beach end of Worth Avenue, that almost perfect simulacrum of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Palm Beach landmark: the clock tower on Worth Avenue.

Palm Beach landmark: the clock tower on Worth Avenue.

June is embarrassingly off-season in Palm Beach and no socialite worth her salt would be caught dead here as summer heats up, but we happily walked the empty streets and had a quiet dinner one evening in the courtyard at Cafe Via Flora.

The charming courtyard at Cafe Via Flora in Palm Beach. (tripadvisor image)

The charming courtyard at Cafe Via Flora in Palm Beach. (tripadvisor image)

Of all the wonderful memories we have of our visit, our very favorite is of the flock of Green-Cheek Amazon Parrots that live in the stand of Australian pines along The Breakers’ Pine Walk. The flock, reportedly descended from pet birds released in the 1940’s, make their presence cacophonously known in the early morning before they disperse for a day of foraging and again at sundown when the flock swoops in to nest for the night. While endangered in its native Mexico, the Palm Beach flock appears to be thriving.

We found this Green Cheek Amazon Parrot in an Australian Pine in the Breakers' employee parking lot one morning.

We found this Green Cheek Amazon Parrot in an Australian Pine in the Breakers’ employee parking lot one morning.

Another member of the flock.

Another member of the flock.

We had so many lovely stays during our Florida road trip. Each stop was memorable: Sarasota, Naples, Islamorada and Key West. But I do think we saved the best for last, and hope we can return soon to The Breakers!

Sunrise from our room at The Breakers.

Sunrise from our room at The Breakers.

August 16, 2014 at 10:24 am 4 comments

Florida Road Trip, Part 7: South Beach Sojourn

As we made our way north from Key West we stopped for lunch and a fond last look at Islamorada. I don’t think even Odysseus could resist the siren song of Lor-e-lei, where you can snack on conch fritters and commune with the restaurant’s mascot, “Hoppy”, the Great Egret.

Make a turn at the mermaid for lunch at Lor-e-lei!

Make a turn at the mermaid for lunch at Lor-e-lei!

Hoppy will happily feast on your French Fries if you want to share.

Hoppy will happily feast on your French Fries if you want to share.

The sky darkened a bit as we left the sunny Keys behind and made our way toward Miami. Spitting raindrops reminded us that we were well into “shoulder season”, when summer monsoons drench the Florida coast. Undeterred, we threaded our way through the Miami highway maze and checked in at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

Urban and gritty, South Beach pulses with humidity, festivity and barely-repressed debauchery. Low-buttoned shirts, stilettos and a Spanish accent are the de rigueur accessories on Collins Ave., which tells you just about how well we fit in there. Never mind – we loved it!

It didn’t hurt that we hit the upgrade jackpot and were escorted to a swanky penthouse suite where we channeled delusions of Scarface grandeur. Who cared if it rained for the two days we were there? We were in hotel heaven!

Our penthouse suite living room at the Ritz-Carlton Miami Beach.

Our penthouse suite living room at the Ritz-Carlton Miami Beach.

Sweet dreams: the bedroom in our Ritz-Carlton South Beach suite.

Sweet dreams: the bedroom in our Ritz-Carlton South Beach suite.

View of the Ritz-Carlton from the beach. For reasons we will never understand, we were given a balcony penthouse suite toward the top of the tower to the right.

View of the Ritz-Carlton from the beach. For reasons we will never understand, we were given a balcony penthouse suite toward the top of the tower to the right.

The weather was a bit blustery for lounging by the pool, but did not deter us from some long early morning walks along the Promenade through Lummus Park, where equal numbers of joggers and homeless folk share space beneath the tall palms that line the beach. Crossing over to Collins Avenue, snappily-dressed restaurant hostesses brayed at passersby to join them for breakfast. “We’ll rip you off for less”, called out one to a reluctant would-be patron.

Predictably, we did not go hungry in South Beach. The CE was on a quest for Cuban food, and, while we did not make the pilgrimage to famed Little Havana haven Versailles, we did walk over to charming Espanola Way for a convivial al fresco dinner at Havana 1957, where we feasted on Yuca Frita and Fricase de Pollo and watched the parade of passersby.

havana espanola

Havana 1957 appetizers

Havana 1957 appetizers

Mojito!

Mojito!

If you go, definitely have the Fricase de Pollo!

If you go, definitely have the Fricase de Pollo!

We went upscale on our second evening for dinner at the lovely Casa Tua courtyard restaurant. The menu is nominally northern Italian, our waiter was from Czechoslovakia and the busboy from Venezuela – all part of the sultry melting pot that is South Beach. After dinner, we sought shelter beneath storefront awnings as a welcome downpour washed away the grime on the sidewalks of Lincoln Road.

Casa Tua's fanciful courtyard.

Casa Tua’s fanciful courtyard.

Ginger martini at Casa Tua

Ginger martini at Casa Tua

Very nice, at a price!

Very nice, at a price!

Before bidding farewell to South Beach, I enjoyed a complimentary manicure and glass of champagne at the Ritz-Carlton salon (thank you, American Express!) where the Ecuadorean nail technician told me that she had come to Miami after twenty Chicago winters and had no doubt whatsoever that she had finally found “Paradise”. With the exception of January 19, 1977 it has never snowed in Miami; Paradise, indeed!

Cheers, Salud and El Ano Que Viene Estamos in Cuba!

Cheers, Salud and El Ano Que Viene Estamos in Cuba!

August 9, 2014 at 9:30 am 2 comments

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