Saturday, March 31, 2012

I wish I was flying now!

This plane flying into the sunset over my house made me itch to go somewhere. Where next??

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Girls' Weekend - Amelia Island Ritz Carlton

 When plans fell through for a trip to Miami Beach, I remained determined to sit my derierre on a beach SOMEWHERE, and not just any somewhere, a NICE somewhere.  I flipped through my "1000 Places to go Before you Die" travel bible and landed on the Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island.  I rounded up a couple girlfriends and off we went for a girls' spa weekend.

Although Amelia Island has a relaxing vibe now, it wasn't always so.  Its history is full of stories of slave trading, pirates, and land battles; 8 different countries have claimed it throughout its history. Now, the island is a gracious host to newlyweds, serious golfers, families and luxury hounds (that would be me).  Fernandina Beach is Amelia Island's go-to town for history buffs.  It boasts both the oldest saloon in Florida (Palace Saloon) and the oldest hotel in Florida (Florida House Inn).  Restored Victorian houses turned Bed and Breakfasts, quaint shops, and Fort Cinch round out just a few reasons for reserving at least half a day to explore beyond your comfy beach chair (although it was tempting to never leave the beautiful Ritz grounds).

The Palace Saloon claims to be the oldest saloon in Florida, where pirates tipped one back between their marauding adventures.

The grounds of the Ritz Carlton are gorgeous.  Take a video tour and imagine yourself there!

The grounds were beautifully manicured and featured several pools, including an indoor pool and a kiddie pool with little waterfalls for tykes to cavort under.  During the day, the large outdoor pool area featured live reggae music.

Kiddie pool video

The indoor and outdoor pools

Beef Tartar appetizer at Salt restaurant (Look at that perfectly poached egg!)

Salt is the fine dining restaurant at the Ritz.  The lowest priced entree was $35, so I opted for an appetizer and a side.  I had the beef tartar and a side of spinach.  Our waitress was very friendly and didn't blink an eye when my dining companions did the same.  My bill was $25, without wine or dessert.  If I would have added those, dinner for one with an entree could easily have gone over $80.  But you get what you pay for.  After a traumatic let down at Husk in Charleston, it was wonderful to experience food that, while not flamboyantly creative, was REALLY well done.  Just be prepared to pay.

Lots of fun for you shell lovers out there!

As for any self respecting girls' weekend, the crowning glory of the trip was our day at the spa.  I almost melted into the massage table during the heavenly hot rock treatment, which after the automatically added gratuity, was about $170.  The signature treatment, developed by a on site masseuse, is the "Heaven in a Hammock" massage.  It sounded wonderful but I didn't try it.  The other two ladies in my group got a massage with Propolis, a substance created by bees they claim to be good for your immune system.   The ladies were sighing with delight when they got through.  If you choose not to have a treatment, the facility is still a wonderful way to spend the day for $25.

The spa facilities just kept going and going, with two relaxation rooms, an indoor wet lounge featuring a jacuzzi with a waterfall, an outdoor co-ed private pool and yet another jacuzzi with a waterfall (see picture above), a sauna, steam room and well appointed treatment rooms.  Ammenities included cucumber iced face towels, tea, flavored water, nut mix, apples, and pretzels free for the taking.  The pool area has access to the outdoor restaurant.   

The beach was clean, wide, full of great shells, and quiet.

Amelia Island is a perfect getaway for families, couples, golfers, history hounds, girlfriend getaways and honeymooners.  They were setting up for a wedding the day I left and I saw a couple brides flitting about.  There's also golf nearby, so there's something for everybody!  One thing I would have done if I had more time is to take advantage of the hotel's rental bikes.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Best of my travel to Zurich Switzerland and Rome Italy

I am also a painter, and one day, when I was looking for pictures to paint, I made a discovery that would have a huge impact on my life.

 I found Karin's cats.  Karin lives in Switzerland, and she posts beautiful pictures of her cats on Webshots.  I was so excited when she gave me permission to paint her Siamese.

This is my painting of Karin's Kennedy - he's a HUGE character

We began to correspond, and after a year of knowing her, we decided to take a trip to Costa Rica (to be posted later).  I've always wanted to travel to Switzerland to see the Alps, so a couple summers later I invited myself to meet her, the cats, and her amazing country.  We threw in a visit to Italy for good measure, and here are the fruits of our travel labors...
There's Karin doing ONE of the things she does best, taking pictures!

Europeans sure know how to do yumminess.

We took the train from Zurich to Rome through mountains.  The alps were so mysterious, wrapped in mist.

Pinch me, I'm in Rome??!!

Nuns by the Forum in Rome

The smallest country in the world - the Vatican - they even had their own little post office

We went to Florence next, but I'll save that for another post.

Husk restaurant in Charleston, SC

My husband had to go to Charleston on business and so we made a short weekend of it. I've been wanting to try the much acclaimed Husk restaurant, which Bon App├ętit magazine voted as America's best new restaurant in 2011.
I had the, ahem, "NC Confit Duck leg with creamy farro, spinach and charred leeks, brown butter crumbles, and peanut jus"  I'm sad to say that it wasn't the best meal I've had in a while.  But we went for lunch, and this dish was only $13, and it was definitely worth that.  Our waiter explained that the farro is an heirloom grain, and  it was chewy and nutty; quite enjoyable.  My husband had the BBQ sandwich and his wasn't spectacular either.  Maybe the whole point for this place isn't about being spectacular; it's more about using well researched, locally sourced ingredients.  And this they do well.  You can go on their website and read about all the local farms they buy from.  So would I eat there again?  Probably for lunch; I do enjoy tasting foods that are no longer used in our mainstream culture.  
One of my favorite things about husk were the tools they used to serve the food.  This little French press by Frieling was adorable, and I loved the mini glass cream jar.  Also, the drinking glasses (made from lopped off wine bottles) are made by a local of my Columbia, SC hometown.  He also makes glass slides for playing guitar.

We stayed neared the Ashley River and I got out to take a little photo tour...

This old house was in spectacular disrepair.  I enjoy looking at the run down houses more than the refurbished ones; they give you a sense of the true history of the place.

More proof I can say "Been there, done that"