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Taste the World

The Try the World box from Japan. Good thing I have an English book to translate what the products are.

The Try the World box from Japan. Good thing I have an English book to translate what the products are.

I love the box subscription trend, and have found one that combines two of my favorite things – food and travel. Try the World delivers a box of gourmet foods sourced from around the world, focusing on a different country each time.

These boxes contain 6-7 products, delivered every two months. Because Try the World works with small producers, each box may be slightly different. With a subscription you get free shipping, free returns and you can cancel any time.

My beautiful close-to-Tiffany-colored box from Japan arrived the other day. I dug through the red crinkled paper to pull out items like an okonomiyaki kit, which I can use to make an omelet-like pancake with savory toppings. I also got ginger paste, blueberry matcha tea, gummy candies, traditional Japanese caramels, soba noodles and a seaweed snack.

The products were accompanied by a beautiful Culture Guide of Japan with instructions and recipes for hosting a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and make-your-own okonomiyaki dinner date that even included a Spotify playlist of Japanese songs.

Individual products, such as Palmiers butter cookies from Morocco, chestnut cream in a tube from France and black truffles and mushrooms from Italy are also available.

While most of us can’t always be traveling the world, with these boxes we have the a chance to enjoy flavors from across the globe. Or try a few that remind us of visits to our favorite countries.

25hours bikini berlin hotel



The lobby of 25hours berlin bikini hotel, the hippest placed I'd ever stayed

The lobby of 25hours berlin bikini hotel, the hippest placed I’d ever stayed

25hours bikini berlin hotel wins the prize for the most oddly named hotel I’ve ever stayed it, but I loved it. When I first checked in, I was immediately entranced by the lobby, with its colorful Scandinavian-style décor and hammocks overlooking the zoo.

There is no trace of old Berlin here. Guests stay on either the zoo or city side, where I was in a loft-like room with urban touches like a mattress on the floor, a bicycle mounted on the wall and a black-tiled bathroom. It’s exactly the kind of place I’d want to live in if I was a young bohemian moving to a large city for the first time — none of which applies to me. But isn’t that part of the fun of travel? We can try on different personas and in this case, I was an unencumbered artsy type.

Lines stretch out into the street to ride the elevator up to the Monkey Bar, with killer views of the Berlin Zoo

Lines to stretch out into the street to ride the elevator up to the Monkey Bar, with killer views of the Berlin Zoo

A stuffed monkey provided to keep me company patiently awaited my return each day, and a handcrafted piece of jewelry was laid on the floor, available for me to wear during my stay. It was a bit of an adjustment to put on make-up in the low lighting of an all-black bathroom, so I just swiped it on and hoped for the best. And yes, that mattress placed directly on the floor, while easy to collapse into, was a bit more challenging to spring out of in the morning. But the bohemian lifestyle requires a few small sacrifices, right?

I had my first Hugo, the signature drink of Berlin, at the hotel’s uber hip Monkey Bar, located on the top floor of the hotel with views of the monkey cage at the tree-filled zoo. This refreshing combination of  Prosecco, mint, lime and elderflower syrup cocktail was the perfect prelude to our dinner at Neni Berlin, just across from the bar, where we shared everything from falafel to tuna sashimi to grilled lamb shank and hangar steak.

Adjacent to the hotel is the Bikini Berlin, which bills itself as a “concept mall,” a combination of boutiques, flagship stores and Bikini Berlin Boxes, small wooden modular structures housing short-term tenants. I strolled through and took the stairs to check out the new green rooftop terrace. Now about that name: the hotel and mall were built in the Bikinihaus, a name Berliners gave it when it was built in the 1950s. It had one upper and one lower area, which reminded them of the exotic new swimwear, the bikini.

If you’re looking for an historic property go elsewhere. But if you want new, hip and fun in a great location, try the 25hours bikini berlin. And don’t forget the Hugo.

Highlights of Hamburg

A canal in Hamburg, called the Venice of the North because of its many canals. Photo by Roberto Kai Hegeler

A canal in Hamburg, called the Venice of the North because of its many canals. Photo by Roberto Kai Hegeler

Considered by many Germans to be the most beautiful city in Germany, Hamburg is also called the “Venice of the North” for its many waterways. It has over 2,300 bridges, more than any other city in the world.

Just a 1.5-hour train ride from Berlin, it’s worth a visit to see this charming city that has rebuilt itself beautifully after suffering mass destruction in WWII.

Here are just a few highlights.

• Take a free guided bicycle tour with HafenCity Hamburg GmbH. Europe’s largest inner-city development, HafenCity is located on the Elbe River and is being transformed into a live, work, play community. Check out the progress on the long-delayed $1 billion concert hall for the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, now scheduled to open in 2017.

• Sail or cruise on Alster Lake. This scenic lake is right in downtown Hamburg, with beautiful views of the city from the water.

• Take a Beatles tour. Hamburg is where the Beatles honed their musical skills by playing in clubs here from 1960 to 1962. See where they first appeared as The Beatles as you stroll around the Reeperbahn, a center of Hamburg’s infamous red light district where I was shocked to see elderly women shackin’ their stuff from 2nd-story windows.

• Stroll down its streets and through its shopping arcades. Named a 2011 European Green Capital, Hamburg has more than 100 parks, beautiful tree-lined streets and plans to link 27 square miles of green space around the city. Don’t miss the Alsterarkaden, arched shopping arcades built in the 1840s along the Alsterfleet canal.

For more information, visit

This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of Travelgirl magazine.

10 Hotels Outside the Box


Whether they are five-star hotels or no-tell motels, most of the 4.8 million guest rooms in the United States have something in common – they all have four walls. Your basic box.

Here are several properties where you can stay that take you far outside that box, including covered wagons, lighthouses, teepees and even a giant beagle. So when you’re ready to think outside the box when it comes to accommodations, check these places out.

Wagon Camping at The Rock Ranch

Conestoga wagons at The Rock Ranch

Slumber like the pioneers when you stay in a covered wagon at The Rock Ranch. This 1500-acre cattle ranch, about 1 ½ hours south of Atlanta, has eight Conestoga wagons, the kind the 18th- and 19th-century pioneers used to cross the U.S.

Each wagon has four sets of bunk beds and comes with lanterns, firewood, picnic tables, port-a-potties and drinking water. Wagons are $225 and you can add on hot dog dinners at the campfire, a story teller or even an astronomer for an additional fee.

Teepee Camping at North Georgia Canopy Tours

A teepee at North Georgia Canopy Tours

A teepee at North Georgia Canopy Tours

For a glimpse at how the Cherokee Indians lived, stay in a teepee in Lula, Georgia, about an hour north of Atlanta.

North Georgia Canopy Tours has seven teepees named after the seven clans of the Cherokees. These teepees have features those Native-Americans never saw, including HVAC, lighting and electrical outlets.

Rates for a couples’ teepee start at $90; $119 for a family. Linens are provided, and you can order breakfast for an additional fee.

Treehouse in Atlanta

A three-room treehouse in Atlanta

A three-room treehouse in Atlanta

If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom, you’ve walked through the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse. Well, this is even better because you can actually stay here.

This three-room antiques-filled treehouse is right near Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead, but nestled in the woods so you’ll feel like you’ve really gotten away. You can walk to several restaurants and the Food Truck Park. Listed on for $350 a night.

Banning Mills Treehouses in Whitesburg, Georgia

Treehouses at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, Georgia

Treehouses at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, Georgia

Go ride the world’s longest zipline at Historic Banning Mills, then stay up in the air when you settle in for the night in one of these cozy treehouses. Each treehouse has a king bed, fireplace, bathroom and deck overlooking the Gorge. Rooms are accessed by a Sky Bridge, so if you’re scared of heights you may want to cross these off your list.

Rates start at $209, which includes a country breakfast in the morning.

Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida

Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida

Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida

Yes, you can be like the Little Mermaid and actually stay under the sea at Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo Undersea Park in Key Largo, Florida. It’s the world’s only underwater hotel. You can get SCUBA diving training here, which you need to visit because you have to dive down 21” just to enter the lodge.

The package for two is $400 and includes pizza delivery dinner, breakfast, snacks and dive gear.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel in Chattanooga

A room in a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo

A room in a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo

Relive the glory days of travel by train when you stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel  in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can stay in one of 48 Victorian train car hotel rooms in Terminal Station, which was saved from the wrecking ball by local businessmen who turned it into the popular hotel. It’s may be a bit touristy, but it’s so great they saved a beautiful train station. Rates start at about $180.

The Shady Dell Trailers in Arizona

A 1949 Airstream at The Shady Dell in Arizona

A 1949 Airstream at The Shady Dell in Arizona

Airstream trailers are back in vogue. Now you can stay in a vintage Airstream or one of nine other travel trailers from the 1940s and 1950s at The Shady Dell in Bisbee, Arizona.

The Shady Dell opened in 1927 as a stop on Highway 80, which runs from Savannah, Georgia to San Diego, California.

Rates start at around $90. Trailers comes equipped with small fridge, linens, towels, dishes and a percolator with coffee.

Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island

The Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island

The Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island

Guests can actually operate the lighthouse when they stay at the Rose Island Lighthouse on an 18-acre island near Newport, Rhode Island. The lighthouse, built in 1869, is still a working lighthouse.

Overnights guests have two options. You can stay in the bedrooms of the 1912 lighthouse museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, after it closes for the evening. You just have to remake your bed by 10 AM when it opens the next day.

Or you can stay as a keeper for a week or a night, but you’ll be put to work with chores and record keeping starting at 7:30 AM. Rates start at $175 for a bedroom

Winvian Helicopter in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

Interior of the Winvian Helicopter in Connecticut

Interior of the Winvian Helicopter in Connecticut

This 1968 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter at Winvian Farm used to carry members of the Coast Guard and now hosts guests in its cockpit where you can watch a movie, hang out by the wood-burning stove or seat yourself in the pilot and co-pilots seats to live out your own high-flying fantasy.

The 890-square-foot helicopter is housed inside a cottage as is the king-sized bed for when you retire for the evening. Rates start at $459.

Dog Park Bark Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho

The Dog Bark Park Inn, a bed and breakfast in Idaho

The Dog Bark Park Inn, a bed and breakfast in Idaho

If you’re goin’ to the dogs in Cottonwood, Idaho, you’d be staying inside the world’s largest beagle. Chainsaw artists Frances Conklin and Dennis Sullivan starting carving wooden dogs years ago, with the beagle being the first breed as they considered it the most politically correct. You never ready anything bad about the beagle hurting anyone.

With the money they earned, they carved Sweet Willy, a 30-foot dog that is also the bed and breakfast that sleeps four at The Dog Park Bark Inn. Guests enter this unusual accommodation from a second-story private deck. Rates start at $92 and include breakfast.

Kokopelli’s Cave in Farmington, New Mexico

Kokopelli's Cave in New Mexico

Kokopelli’s Cave in New Mexico

It’s a cave 70’ below the surface, but with a gorgeous view of sunsets over La Plata River valley. Kokopelli’s Cave is 1700 square feet and includes master bedroom, living room, dining area, full kitchen, two porches, bathroom with rock walls with a waterfall shower. You won’t find a thermostat though – the cave stays between 68-73 degrees year round. Rates start at $280.

Historic Inn and Southern Soul Food: A Stopover in Richmond


If we added it up, we spent about two days in Richmond this weekend, on either side of a reunion trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. And it didn’t cost a thing. Well, sort of.

The Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond, built in 1817 and operated as an inn since the 1980s.

The Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond, built in 1817 and operated as an inn since the 1980s.

Flights from Atlanta to Charlottesville can be hundreds of dollars more than flying to Richmond, where we rent a car and make the easy 70-mile drive over. So we decided to spend the night there Thursday, then most of the day Sunday before our late evening flight. And what we spent probably equaled the amount we saved on airfare. Or at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to. No need to get out those calculators, right?

With no agenda and no goals, (a life philosophy I hope to adapt one day) we were free to wander the cobblestoned streets of this almost 400-year-old city, down by the James River and across a pedestrian bridge to the 540-acre wood-covered Belle Isle. Now a popular city park, it formerly housed a fishery, a village and a prison camp for Union soldiers during the war.

The tulips were in full bloom at Maymont Gardens, a popular park in Richmond.

The tulips were in full bloom at Maymont Gardens, a popular park in Richmond.

Another top-rated attraction is Maymont Gardens, where we spent a few hours Sunday strolling through the gardens and viewing the wildlife. With free admission, these gardens were filled with picnickers, children tumbling down grassy hills and couples lounging on blankets on a gorgeous, sunny day.

Here are few more suggestions if you visit the historic town of Richmond. Read the full post »

The Masters Pimento Cheese Recipe


My dad has had Masters tickets for decades and loved making the trek to Augusta National every year. When my mom was still alive, he would sometimes take her although her interest was mainly in how pretty the azaleas were.

I finally had my own Masters experience a few years back and while I’m not a big golf fan, loved attending this iconic event. I stood about six feet from the (pre-sleazy) Tiger Woods and enjoyed hiking the impossibly green, perfectly manicured course from hole to hole, checking out the vast variety of clothing, which for men ranged from khaki shorts and polo shirts to … khaki pants and polo shirts.

One of the best reasons to go to the Masters Golf Tournament. Pimento cheese sandwiches.

One of the best reasons to go to the Masters Golf Tournament. Pimento cheese sandwiches.

One of the best parts of attending, of course, is enjoying the dirt cheap food and beer. I don’t think the menu has ever changed much and includes barbecue and egg salad, ham and turkey sandwiches. Prices range from $1.50 to $3.00. Beer ranges from $4 for domestic to $5 for imported. That’s right — you can get a sandwich and beer for less than $6.

But my favorite is the pimento cheese sandwich, available for $1.50. While some people consider golf to be a high-brow sport, pimento cheese is definitely not. Let’s start with the bread. No fancy-pants multi-grain, artisan loafs here. It’s white. (I’m resisting the urge to make a comment about the attendees at the tournament.)

As for the recipe, well, there seems to be some mystery around it and no one has the real, true, official Masters recipe. Apparently it has been the source of controversy, leading to Pimento Gate in 2013.

So a man in Aiken, SC made the sandwiches for years. Then the golf club switched vendors, and peeved about losing the business, Mr. Cheese Man wasn’t about to share the recipe. The new vendor tried to recreate it, but had trouble finding the exact right cheese.

They finally found the correct cheese by going to the man’s suppliers for mayo, pimentos and cheese. But there was still a secret ingredient missing. The recipe they have today is as close as they can come.

It’s like the recipe for Coke, reportedly locked in a vault. And Google turned up more several varieties, all claiming to be close to the real thing.

I even saw some versions with blue cheese, which I can’t believe is in there. That’s too fancy and too expensive to be sold for $1.50 alongside egg salad. So I’m going with this version adapted from Because these folks put a lot of time and thought into it. And because it has processed American cheese in it. That just seems right.

The Masters Pimento Cheese Recipe

  • 6 ounces processed shredded yellow american cheese. If you can only get sliced, just chop it up
  • s6 ounces shredded swiss cheese
  • 2 ounces pimentos chopped up and some of the pimento liquid
  • 2 generous tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • dash of hot sauce to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) of heavy cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper (optional)
  • white bread
  1. Put shredded cheeses and chopped pimentos (with juices) in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise and cream. Mix with a spoon or spatula. If it’s not easy to spread, add a bit more calories. I mean mayonnaise and/or cream.
  2. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Spread on two pieces of very white bread.

Serving size: 2-3 sandwiches

Calorie Count: You do not want to know. Just look at the ingredients. Forget about that and just enjoy.

The Wonder List: Venice

These tourists came prepared with their matching boots to handle the rising waters in Venice.

These tourists came prepared with their matching boots to handle the rising waters in Venice.

A few years ago, I was thrilled to introduce my husband to the magical mystery tour that is the city of Venice. I wanted him to see it before it we needed rain boots and possibly a kayak to navigate through St. Mark’s Square.

Venice is one of my favorite cities. Which doesn’t make me unique. The city welcomes more than 20 million visitors a year and tourists outnumber the locals 600 to 1.

Is the City of Water in danger of being trampled by these millions of tourists and destroyed by rising tides? Bill Weir, host of a new show on CNN called The Wonder List with Bill Weir, takes a look at the future of Venice in an episode this Sunday at 10 PM.

Other episodes of the new show will include travels to the Galapagos Islands, Ikaria, India, the Swiss Alps, the Dead Sea and the Everglades.

As reluctant as I am to add yet another show to our growing listed of DVRed titles, this one rates the space. For a preview of the episode, click here.



Handbags that Give You a Charge


We’ve all had that moment, right? You’re in the middle of that clever tweet, funny text message exchange or capturing a photo of something amazing. And, …. your battery dies. Here’s a trio of cute bags that charge your phone, ensuring you won’t be left, well, in the clutch.


The Clutchette

The Clutchette

The Clutchette

I wish my lifestyle allowed me to only carry this darling little clutch. It has room for essentials, but I always seem to need more, with glasses, a big wallet, yada, yada, yada. But it’s perfect to throw in my larger bag, and when I’m dining in a hotel, I can carry this with me to the restaurant to hold my hotel key and phone.

It’s made of soft vegan leather, has a detachable strap and polka dot interior. It’s compatible with most USB devices and can charge your smartphone once. $49.99 at


The Mighty Purse

The Mighty Purse

The Mighty Purse

A friend told me about the Mighty Purse awhile ago, but it was out of stock for some time. Now available, this cute faux leather clutch comes in a variety of colors. It works with any device that uses a micro USB and can recharge your smartphone up to 2 times. The interior includes a coin compartment, hidden cable compartment and credit card pocket.$99.99 on Amazon.


The Everpurse

The Everpurse


The most expensive option, Everpurse is also the largest and has no cords to bother with. It works by simply placing your phone on a charging mat ($59) overnight.

In the morning you just slip your phone in an interior pocket and it can charge your phone up to two times. Use it as clutch, wristlet or crossbody. It comes in black, sapphire and nude. $249.



Airplane Gadget I Will Not Buy

The B-Tourist, currently in the design phase.

The B-Tourist, currently in the design phase.

It’s possible I missed out on some amazing conversation/opportunity/life-changing event by not chatting it up with people around me on airplanes. But I figure my odds of that happening are about .05%, while my odds of some chatterbox boring the eyes out of my skull stand at 99.95%. So I maintain an avoid-talk-at-all-costs policy when I’m flying. The only exception is within five minutes of landing because there is a definite end to the conversation.

Generally, just reading my iPad is enough to ward off any attempts to engage me. When I really need to avoid conversation, like with scuzzy people with outstretched hands on the subways, I employ the “I don’t speak English” excuse.

I can’t think of any scenario where I would carry on this item, the B-Tourist. Made of a stretchy fabric that you loop around the seat back in front of you and your headrest, it allows you to create a bizarre cocoon-like environment. A selling point is the side pocket where you can store your phone, earbuds or snacks.

But let’s discuss a few logistical considerations. How do your seat mates get past this thing – by doing the limbo? How do flight attendants serve a drink to the guy with the window seat? And what about the poor fella sitting in front of you? His head is gonna spring right back into his lap if he tries to lean back on the headrest.

It’s not yet available for purchase but has been designed by Gal Bulka and Idan Noyberg. Until then, you could create a reasonable facsimile with a plus-sized tube top from Wal-Mart. Or not.

Findable, Foldable Luggage: Lipault Suitcase


Foldable luggage. Just like adding wheels to suitcases, I’m wondering — what took so long? Why did we spend years walking lopsided while lugging those heavy-even-when-empty Samsonite monsters?

When we were looking at a new home to move into, there was one big consideration when considering space. Where would all the suitcases and travel-related paraphernalia go?

UnknownWe found ample room in the 4th floor furnace area, which the HVAC guy was audibly displeased about and grunted his way around to check the unit. So it’s not ideal. And if you live in a smaller space or don’t want to devote a major percentage of your storage space to housing suitcases, you’ll want to check out the line of foldable luggage from Lipault, one of France’s leading luggage brands.

The collection has a variety of pieces, including satchels, duffles and business bags. I have the 22” wheeled carry-on, which holds just as much as my regular suitcase. But when it’s not in use, it folds down to just 4” wide so I can easily slide it under my bed or along the side of a closet.

The other benefit is the bright color. While I love my black Tumi suitcase, I have to resort to attaching various eye-catching accessories to it so I know it’s mine when it’s winding its way slowly along the baggage carousel. I have accidentally grabbed other people’s bags before I saw the yellow polka-dotted ribbon that identifies mine.

With the bright teal-colored Lipault suitcase, there’s no danger of that. I’ll be able to spot it from across the terminal. And I imagine that would also deter possible luggage thieves, as it’s so easily spottable.

So the French seem to bake better bread, raise children better, not get fat better and now they’ve done luggage better? I’m not ready to concede on all points, but this suitcase? Well, it’s a keeper.

On sale now for $129.99 in teal, purple, navy, tangerine and espresso.