Live. Love. Local.

When we travel internationally, we mostly stay away from the obvious tourist attractions. Sure, when we went to Paris we visited the Eiffel Tower. We spent some time at Notre Dame Cathedral because my husband is a sketch artist and he was drawing it. We didn’t make our way to Champs-Élysées, we didn’t visit the Louvre. We might have, but it just didn’t work out. It wasn’t a priority.

What we did do was walk the streets of the neighborhood where our quaint boutique hotel was located (Latin Quarter). We sat in cafés, ate croissants and sipped lattes. We visited the little ‘ready food’ kiosks for meals.  You can tell you’re staying local when the people you are talking to generally don’t speak English. And as rough as my French is, there is nothing better than trying to converse with a happy local gracing us with a big smile.

On our recent trip to Porto, Portugal, we stayed in an apartment in a quiet neighborhood far from the city center. There was a huge park across the street, a small café a few doors down, and a small market a couple blocks away. These places are where you experience local life.  Watching the old men and children feed the peacocks in the park, eating at the café and asking, “What do you have?” because there is no menu.

The owner beams as he describes his carefully prepared national dishes – maybe five choices. The woman working at the market trying to describe to us which type of meat was sliced and packaged because, well, we didn’t know enough Portuguese to figure it out. Is this a jar of mayonnaise? Try asking that question with a language barrier. Lots of laughing is involved.

Of course, Praça da Ribeira is amazing, the Duoro River is beautiful, Praça da Liberdade is worth the time spent. But going to a big busy public area doesn’t give you a genuine feel of the people. We love the people.

To me there are three ‘steps’ to discovering a new city, a new culture. First, we love to do a tour bus and get the macro perspective.  Learn the lay of the land. Figure out what we really want to see. Second, we will make it a point to visit one or two landmarks (Paris, Eiffel Tower… Porto, Dom Luis I Bridge) but after that we are all about local food, picking up a bit of the language, learning about the history and culture. These are the memories that last. These are the memories that make me smile.

Branson, Missouri

We took a little road trip to Branson, Missouri, “Live Music Capital of the World,” earlier this week.  Most of our friends found it surprising that we had never been before because it’s a short five hour drive away and most of them had been multiple times. Our time had finally come. My husband traded some of his artwork for a stay in a resort in Branson, so off we went.

On our first evening out we enjoyed dinner overlooking the Branson Landing Fountain at the edge of Lake Taneycomo. The Branson Landing is  a lovely outdoor mall with many shops and restaurants. We chose to have dinner at Cantina Laredo, a chain restaurant we hadn’t ever been to before, and we enjoyed it. It was a lovely evening to sit outside and we had a front row view of the fountain show which is set to music and accompanied by lights and fire. Very nicely done.

The second night we attended the Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Show which is quite possibly the biggest thing going on in Branson today and very well done. It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious and more than any human can eat. They serve a cup of creamy soup, bread, a whole roasted game hen, plus a thick slice of pork loin, half a roasted potato, half a corn on the cob, and dessert. Thankfully, they bring around to-go bags after the show so you don’t have to feel guilty for leaving so much behind!

On the third day we visited the Talking Rocks Cavern about thirty minutes outside of town. The cavern was relatively small as caverns go, but I very much enjoyed the adventure. I grew up in west Texas near the well known Carlsbad Caverns, so it’s pretty hard to impress me with caverns. But this was steep steps and tight corners and narrow walkways and wet paths. This ‘not so perfect’ tour created a sense of thrill and accomplishment for having completed it. Between fear and health issues, some people back out. In fact, when you buy your tickets they let you know if you can’t handle it you can turn around and they will give you your money back.

Well, this old lady Conquered the Cavern! No money back for me!

There’s a ton more to do in Branson. We really barely scratched the surface. We enjoyed a meal at Branson’s Center Stage Grill which was very good, we had ice cream and pie at Cakes ‘n Cream Diner which had a fun atmosphere. We stayed in a condo with a full kitchen and we were able to buy groceries at Rhodes Family Price Chopper which was a very nice store with a great selection and fair prices. Also, I missed this, but Hurts Donut is supposed to be very cool and the donut photos are very intriguing! I’m super sorry I missed it! And of course, we ate one meal at a fast food – Chick-fil-A. The busiest place in town.

Flying in is a bit of an issue because the Springfield-Branson Airport is almost an hour away. Shuttles and other forms of available transportation will run you about $100 each way, which is not cheap. If you decide to fly to Branson, plan ahead to rent a car. You might as well, you’ll spend the same amount for a shuttle and have no wheels. But if you live within about six or seven hours from there, take a road trip. I imagine the drive in is beautiful from all directions, and it will only cost you a couple tanks of gas.

Asbury Park Boardwalk

The beach. Fresh ocean breezes, the sound of the waves tumbling to shore, toes dug deep into the cool sand. Nothing compares. I was raised in the southwest, so any time I had the pleasure of visiting the beach, it was a treat. As a child, the saltier, stickier and more sunburned I was, the better.

As an adult, the sticky, gritty, beach is a bit less appealing. Sipping a cold beverage in the shade whilst sitting in a comfortable chair- much more appealing. Imagine my delight to discover the concept of a boardwalk.  I mean, California has its piers and Florida has, well, mostly sand. It wasn’t until I first came to the greater New Jersey/New York area that I discovered the sublime addition of a boardwalk to the beach.

In my perfect world, all beaches are Asbury Park.

With its long, smooth, wooden walkway, its variety of eateries and shops, and its lovely beach, Asbury Park is the best of all worlds.  Stroll along with your family, grab a Korean Fusion Taco or a Coney Waffle cone. Linger with your lover and enjoy a martini at Stella Marina in the cool breeze. Stay into the evening at The Anchor’s Bend. Dig your toes into the sand, enjoy the fresh air, sip a beverage – you might even get to experience some terrific live music.

the anchors bend
Enjoying an Evening at The Anchor’s Bend

I can regale you with tales of relaxation and tranquility, describe to you the riches to be found in the various shops, tempt you with lunch, dinner and treats, but don’t take my word for it. Check out the awesome and informative Asbury Park Boardwalk website.

There’s plenty more to know than what I can tell you!