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Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s

   
Locals get a head start on cocktail hour every Friday with lunch at Galatoire's  Photo by Louis Sahuc

Locals get a head start on cocktail hour every Friday with lunch at Galatoire’s
Photo by Louis Sahuc

“No one in here has ever worked a day in their lives,” our newfound friend told us about the locals enjoying their weekly party that is Friday lunch at Galatoire’s in New Orleans.

I had no idea if that is the case, but it was clear that no one was working now or would be the rest of the day, as we indulged as well in a 4 ½ hour lunch unlike any I’d ever experienced.

As a “second line” parade was forming from a table of decked-out-in-gold-and-black ladies in the front, one of the staff grabbed me and threw me into the parade. We danced our way around the restaurant to the cheers of everyone there, as the tuxedo-clad waiters patiently wound their way through the merriment. It’s just that kind of place. Once you’re in, you feel like you’re part of the best party in town.

You have to earn your seat by waiting in line, or as some people do, hire someone to hold your place for you. Gentlemen have to wear coats, and don’t even think about it if you’re looking for quiet and relaxing. But if you want a wild way to kick off your weekend, spend your Friday afternoon at Galatoire’s. As our scurrying waiter remarked, “This isn’t a restaurant; it’s an insane asylum!”

A River Runs Through It: Nantahala Outdoor Center

   
A woman is rescued by NOC staff

A woman is rescued by NOC staff

It wasn’t your typical class. The group of 11 men and women wore helmets, life jackets and rain gear and stood ankle deep in the swirling river current as the instructor led a swift water rescue class at Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, North Carolina.

“They will be practicing self rescue today,” our friend and tour guide for the day Pat Gleeson told us. “They first need to learn how to rescue themselves, then others in rapid currents.”

happyrafters

Happy rafters on the Nantahala River. Around 1,100 rafters enjoy the waters every weekend.

It wasn’t long before their first ad hoc demonstration came floating down the river. A woman was being swept down the river, hands crossed over her chest, a panicked look on her face. “Help me,” she cried faintly, holding her head just out of the water.

The instructors and other NOC staff sprang into action, quickly paddling rafts in her direction while another threw a long yellow rope her way and calmly instructed her to grab it. In shock, she didn’t move and a staff member had to grab her and lift her into the boat. They paddled the badly shaken woman safely to shore.

The ropes course at Nantahala Outdoor Center

The ropes course at Nantahala Outdoor Center

The swift water class is just one at NOC, where the SOLO Wilderness Medicine center has courses and certifications for EMTs, Wilderness First Responders and Wilderness First Aid. Pat told us that NOC would be hosting firefighters from New York City and were seeking a permit to sink a car to train them in underwater rescue.

That was just one of the many fascinating things I learned about the NOC during a recent visit there. The NOC has 1,000 employees working on seven rivers. The Nantahala location alone has lodging for 211 people, including five rustic cabins, and hosts several summer camps for children in conjunction with the North Carolina Camp Association. An Amputee Adventure Camp is offered for wounded warriors.

The Nantahala Center is located on the Appalachian Trail, about a two-week hike from its beginning

The Nantahala Center is located on the Appalachian Trail, about a two-week hike from its beginning in Georgia

Located right on the Appalachian Trail, a two-week hike from its start, hikers can pay $19.38 for a bunk with mattress, shower and towel at the hostel-style base camp.

“We have an excellent outfitter store, with experts to help hikers find the right equipment, approved by our Master Guides. Often, they toss out the gear they bought at Walmart and provide them with what they really need for camping,” Pat told us.

Day visitors can enjoy five zip line adventures, mountain biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing tours, guided hikes, paintball, a ropes course and train excursions on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Around 1,100 rafters float on the class 1 and class 2 rapids each weekend. A call center is staffed with 30 people to handle up to 4,000 calls a week for information on activities.

River's End Restaurant, where we enjoyed delicious fish tacos, a cold beer and a view of the boaters in the Canoe Cup Challenge

River’s End Restaurant, where we enjoyed delicious fish tacos, a cold beer and a view of the boaters in the Canoe Cup Challenge

We had started our day with a delicious meal of fish tacos at River’s End Restaurant, one of three on the property. Seated just a few feet from the river, turned a dark green from the steady rainfall of the drizzly day, we had an excellent view and sat enthralled as raingear-clad participants launched their boats of various types one by one into the current for the Canoe Cup Challenge taking place that day.

While most people visit the center to engage in one of the many activities, others come just to eat and enjoy the activity. “It’s kind of like Woodstock,” Pat told us. “You can drink a beer and just hang out all day.”

A trio of kayakers practice their rollovers in a water feature. The NOC has the largest paddling school in the country.

A trio of kayakers practice their rollovers in a water feature. The NOC has the largest paddling school in the country.

After lunch we walked over the bridge spanning the river for a closer view as boaters navigated the red and green gates in the class 2 rapids. With no let-up in the rain, our paddleboard adventure was cancelled but we had a great day as Pat drove us around the huge 500-acre property.

On our return to the main part of the campus, we watched as three kayakers took turns practicing their rollovers in one of the water features created for training. The NOC has the largest paddling school in the country and 22 members of the Olympic Kayak Team have trained there.

Participants navigate the gates during the Canoe Cup Challenge

Participants navigate the gates during the Canoe Cup Challenge

After a look in the well-stocked Outfitters Store, acclaimed as one of the best in the world, we visited the convenience store, where Pat treated us to another of the NOC’s gems — a Nye’s Cream Sandwich, available in flavors like blueberry pie, peach and strawberry shortcake.

On our return trip, we plan to stay in one of those cabins, get that paddleboarding session in and maybe even a raft trip. And of course, we’ll enjoy a meal at River’s End, followed by one of those delicious ice cream sandwiches.

 

Best Summer Shoes: A Pair of Pons

   

When it was finally warm enough last spring to ditch my boots, I started wearing a pair of Pons Avarcas. I violated a cardinal rule by taking them on a long trip without really wearing them to ensure their comfort. Next to having clean underwear, a comfortable pair of shoes is key to my enjoyment of any trip. I wore these for hours, walked for miles, and had no problems.

Just a few of the more than 80 versions of Pons Avarcas for women

Just a few of the more than 80 versions of Pons Avarcas for women

I have the beige in the classic style, which also comes in 19 other colors. I just counted up more than 80 versions of the women’s shoe, with metallic, glitter, and animal prints, in various styles including wedge and Mediterranean with an ankle strap.

Originally worn by workers in Menorca, a small Spanish island in the Mediterranean, these soft leather sandals are still made there and are now available in the United States, thanks to Noelia and Jose Pahissa. When they moved from Barcelona to California 10 years ago, Noelia brought along a few pairs of Avarcas sandals from her native country. After receiving many compliments, she and her husband decided Americans would enjoy Avarcas and founded Pons Avarcas to sell the authentic versions. The sandals are available for men, women and children. Prices for women’s start at $77.

A Dog-Sized Hole in My Heart

   
One of the last photos taken of our dog Riley, shortly before he died July 21.

One of the last photos taken of our dog Riley, shortly before he died July 21.

“My friend believes that when we die, our dogs come running up to us to welcome us to heaven. And they can talk,” a friend told me the day my beloved dog Riley died.

I chuckled at the prospect and remembered what Will Rogers said. “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

Then I thought about what Riley would say to me and told my friend, “I might be in trouble.” I was specifically thinking of a remark my son had made years ago, when Riley was young.

“Dogs don’t get very good medical care,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “We take him to the vet and get him all the shots he needs to have.”

“Well, when I’m sick you let my lie on the couch and bring me soup and crackers. When Riley is sick you just throw him in the backyard.”

Fair point, I thought. But we did give him good medical care — for a dog that is. And I believe I deserve extra credit for that time right before Christmas when he chewed on the Christmas tree and half of his face swelled up like he’d been on the losing side of a lengthy boxing match. I called the vet’s office and told them of Riley’s Rocky-like appearance.

“Sounds like an allergic reaction. Just stay home and listen to his breathing,” I was advised. So I cancelled all 87 errands for that day and did just that. But after he was diagnosed with an aggressive, fast-growing cancer in May at the age of 12, we were advised that there was nothing we could do for him. Now it was just a matter of waiting for that last breath.

Medically, that is. But we could lavish attention on him, take him for walks, and cook him whatever he would eat in those remaining weeks as his appetite diminished and his digestive system began shutting down. For weeks I made him four scrambled eggs sprinkled with bacon bits every morning.

And we began our daily Poop Patrol, which is just about as much fun as it sounds. The vet had said when he quit pooping he was near the end. We practically cheered each effort and result, harkening back to potty training days many years ago.

Riley frolicking in one of our rare snows in Atlanta

Riley frolicking in one of our rare snows in Atlanta

Another time we were gone for the weekend and my friend next door texted me a photo of his latest production, knowing how much it meant to us.

Riley had been our companion for 12 years. We called him our Society Dog because he came from the Atlanta Humane Society. I had gone with my kids to pick out an adult dog. I had no desire for a puppy. With two young kids and a job, my hands were full enough.

I steered them right past the puppy room where I knew we’d be in severe danger of falling for one of the adorable squiggly little guys. They don’t call them puppy eyes for nothing. “Adult Dog Room only,” I said firmly.

Yet there he was. Somehow, at the tender age of four months, he had talked his way into the Adult Dog Room, perhaps using some canine version of a fake ID. We took him for a test drive, where they let you walk around outside with one of the dogs up for adoption to see if it’s a good match.

After taking a few other dogs outside, we picked the small black lab mix named Max, who frolicked with joy on the grass as my kids giggled and romped with him.

We came back inside and I knelt down to look at him as he walked inside. He ambled adorably right over to me, looked at me with his big dark eyes, and rested his sweet doggy head on my knee. It was Game Over. “He knows who the decision maker is,” I said.

We changed his name to Riley and he instantly became an integral member of our family, riding in the car with us each morning as I took the kids to school. They are both out of college now, living and working in distant cities. During each phone call, they would each ask, “How’s Riley?” Often they’d ask me to text a photo of him after we hung up.

We knew he would only live a matter of weeks, not months, as the tumor became more and more visible. But both kids were coming in mid-July. “Hang on just a little while longer,” I’d plead with him as his movements became slower and he ate less.

And he did. Although his back legs were betraying him and he struggled to stand up and walk, he greeted them from his favorite place in the world, our front porch. The day my daughter left, this past Monday, was his last.

We gave his favorite squeaky toys and leftover treats to Ruby, the dog next door, whom he had married in a backyard ceremony a few years ago. “The widow gets everything,” my husband said sadly. He took Riley’s death really hard, and wrote about the Life of Riley in a weekly enewsletter he produces, The Atlanta 100.

Yesterday I was in my office working when I heard a tremendous crash downstairs that made my heart leap. It can’t be somebody in the house, I thought — Riley would be barking. Then I remembered. Never again. My friend and protector was gone.

I read this week that grief has its own schedule and that’s true. It hits you in unexpected ways. The day after he died I drove in my driveway and heard the familiar sound of one of his squeaky toys, usually an indication that he was playing in the backyard. But it was Ruby next door and I felt that familiar ache in my heart.

It seems I have a dog-sized hole there now.

 

Fragrance on the Go

   

BlackOnyxIt’s a beautiful black onyx bead bracelet with pretty crystal spacers. But wait, there’s more! The filigree charm holds fragrance beads so your fragrance goes where you go, simply by slipping on this lovely bracelet.

Select your signature scent from six Lisa Hoffman fragrances by using the iScentify fragrance finder on the website. Adjust sliders to indicate your preferences. Do you love citrus, woody or soft floral scents? Or maybe you’re more into green and powdery.

With no worries about getting perfumes through security or having it spill in your suitcase, this fragrance jewelry collection from Lisa Hoffman Beauty is perfect for travel. The fragrance jewelry is also available in necklaces, pendants, cuffs and even earrings. Prices start at $65.

Why I Still Use Guidebooks – and Reader Giveaway!

   
The photos in DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are gorgeous, but what may set them apart are the illustrations inside

The photos in DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are gorgeous, but what may set them apart are the illustrations inside

While my primary research tool for travel has switched from Post-it note marked pages in guidebooks to notes from TripAdvisor and colorful boards on Pinterest, my book cases are  lined with dog-eared guidebooks from recent travels. Here are a few  reasons I like guidebooks.

I’m not always connected to the Internet

While I do travel internationally a fair amount, it never seemed worth the cost to add one of those expensive data plans to my iPhone. Rather than be stuck mapless and clueless on where to get my next great meal (both anxiety-inducing conditions for me), I often carry ripped-out pages from guidebooks, or better yet, take photos with my iPhone. During my recent trip to Berlin, I found the new Fodor’s Berlin indispensable for its maps and restaurants suggestions while I was out exploring. And its small size made it easy to tuck into my bag.

• I love to look at beautiful photos and conduct research at my leisure

Yes, there are plenty of gorgeous photos on the Internet. But there is something about paging through a book while sitting on my front porch or best of all, during the flight to my destination. I had not been familiar with DK Eyewitness Travel Guides until I got one for Italy. It has more than 1500 photos, 48 maps, 322 illustrations and plenty of information. The color-coded  sections and extensive index are especially helpful, the latter an area I’ve found deficit in other guidebooks.

An illustration can depict some things a photo can't - for example, an inside look at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

An illustration can depict some things a photo can’t – for example, an inside look at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

• It’s more efficient for finding information

While that may sound counterintuitive — Google is my BFF — the problem with searching on the Internet is that I get so distracted. It can take me hours to book a single hotel stay because I get caught up in all the TripAdvisor reviews, which then reference restaurants that I have to view the menu of, and shops that I may want to visit. Which may remind me of something I need to buy to take on my trip. Next thing you know I’m bidding on a trench coat on eBay and don’t have a hotel room!

They make great presents

Guidebooks are always appreciated. Even people who don’t like to carry them on trips love to use them for research prior to their trip.

Reader Giveaway!

One lucky reader will win a four-pack of books on NYC, London, Ireland and Paris, valued at $100. Just comment below on which one is your dream destination and you are automatically entered the four-pack of guidebooks. Double your chances by also commenting at @GirlontheGo and include @dk_travel. (Sorry, limited to residents of US and Canada only.)

Photographs and text reproduced by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House from Italy. ©2014 by DK. All rights reserved.

The Boca Bath

   
The setting for the Ritual Bath. a prelude to treatments at the spa at Boca Raton Resort & Club

The setting for the Ritual Bath. a prelude to treatments at the spa at Boca Raton Resort & Club

As we enjoyed lunch by the lushly landscaped outdoor pool at the Mediterranean-style Spa Palazzo, at Boca Raton Resort & Club I pondered how the interior of the spa could be as beautiful. The exterior is stunning, designed to resemble Alhambra Palace in Morocco. But inside? The 50,000-square-foot interior is just as beautiful and I was definitely in for the royal treatment with the Spa Palazzo Ritual Bath.

This signature 50-minute treatment, available as a prelude to any service, is designed to “provide an overall feeling of decadence and well-being.” The Ritual Bath is a five-step process, beginning with either a short visit to the steam room or the sauna. Read the full post »

Best Travel Bag

   
My new favorite travel bag — the Tablet Messenger Bag from jill-e Designs

My new favorite travel bag — the Tablet Messenger Bag from Jill-e Designs

You would think that as a travel writer, I’d have the whole packing thing down — able to do it in my sleep, right? Well, you’d be wrong. Each time seems to be a struggle and it always starts with which handbag to take.

The requirements of my travel handbag are many:

• must be large enough to hold my iPad, wallet, headphones, tissues, lipsticks etc. for the plane ride

• must close at the top with a zipper so I don’t lose anything in the security line or during the flight Read the full post »

Silver and Sand

   

DunejewelrySandbead  BraceletWhether your favorite beach is in California, the Caribbean, or even the Cook Islands, you can now carry a few grains of it in a beautiful piece of silver jewelry from Dune Jewelry.

Just select your favorite beach from the company’s extensive Sandbank and then select a necklace, earrings, ring or bracelet and the sand will be added to the design. A few weeks later you’ll be enjoying your own wearable memory.

Read the full post »

Vegas: Where Dolphins Paint

   
In "the studio" with Lightning as we create our masterpiece

In “the studio” with Lightning as we create our masterpiece

Given my monumental lack of artistic talent, it’s a good thing Lightning had the brush placement and design under control when we created our painting I’m calling “Sunlit Water Lilies,” an homage to Monet though the eyes of a dolphin. Either that or “Bellagio Fountains Through the Eyes of the Inebriated.”

I was at the Mirage in Las Vegas, at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a quiet respite tucked away in the back of the huge resort, far from the cacophony and crowds of the casino.

After a brief training period during which I was told to hang tight to the canvas and was able to select the background and colors for my masterpiece, I was led to the water where I was joined by a trainer and introduced to Lightning. At 36, he has lived far beyond the life span of dolphins housed in a member facility of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. He seemed happy to see me and eager to begin our painting session.

I could select colors for our painting, which would be loaded onto the buoy paintbrush.

I kneeled down beside him, and following the trainer’s instructions, held the canvas firmly as the trainer loaded up the buoy-turned-paintbrush and set it inside Lightning’s mouth. After a few strokes, the trainer gave us both the signal to stop. I would take a moment to look at the painting and determine whether to switch colors or to continue. After I deemed our painting complete, I was given some fish to feed Lightning for his efforts.

We engaged in some post-creation bonding, with the trainer showing me hand motions to signal Lightning to swim, jump out of the water, dance and wave his tail. After a double handshake and a kiss, we said good-bye.

Several dolphins participate in the painting activity, which started in late 2012. They were first trained to hold the buoys that are attached to paintbrushes to prevent swallowing. They were then taught to target the canvas, and move their heads in response to signals from a trainer. But from there, they each developed their own artistic style. Trainers also work with them to create paintings, which can be purchased in the gift shop.

Lightning and I pose with our finished painting

Lightning and I pose with our finished painting

The only thing my painting is missing is Lightning’s signature at the bottom. But I suppose I can add that myself.

Painting with the Dolphins is $199, which includes admission to the Secret Garden, the painting, a certificate and a photo of the experience. Click here to see a video of the experience.