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Sunrise and Sunset at Cuckold’s Lighthouse

   
You can see the sun rise and set with the 360-degree views from a suite at Cuckold's Lighthouse.

You can see the sun rise and set with the 360-degree views from a suite at Cuckold’s Lighthouse.

What happens to old lighthouses that have outlived their usefulness as beacons to sea travelers? Well, in the case of The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, named for islands off the coast of Maine, it has been turned into a small inn, scheduled to open in June.

Accessible only by boat, guests at Cuckold’s Lighthouse are taken to the small private island by Navy whaleboat where they are greeted by resident innkeepers Barbara and Dan  Aube, who will lead a tour of the historic lighthouse, which was saved by locals after the Coast Guard no longer needed it.

Looks like the charming 1892 lighthouse is manned again, although no longer by the light keepers that kept the flame burning until the mid-1970s when they were replaced by an automated light.

With just two suites, the inn will be a quiet getaway where guests can enjoy a lobster bake or catered gourmet dinner. I would enjoy just relaxing and taking in the ocean views.

If you venture off the island, check out the 250-acre Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, visit the Railway Village & Antique Auto Museum or check out the local shops and art galleries in the Boothbay Region.

The Cuckold’s Lighthouse is about a three-hour drive from Boston or 90 minutes from Portland. 855.212.5252.

Travel Tips: Saving Money on Accommodations

   

I’ve toured fancy hotel rooms where the nightly rate costs more than my first car. Even if I was a gazillionaire, I’d feel like I had to stay up all night to get my money’s worth! Of course all the high-class toiletries would find their way into my suitcase as well.

We've rented this home through VRBO for a family beach vacation.

We’ve rented this home through VRBO for a family beach vacation.

I enjoy staying in lovely accommodations, and my days of roughing it in budget motels is over. But I like to save some money on accommodations so there is plenty left over to go out to nice restaurants, indulge in a fun activity, and yes, maybe do a little shopping.

Here are a few ways to save on accommodations when you travel, which is the number one expense on vacation – 47 percent of the money we spend typically goes here.

Savings on Hotels

Call the hotel directly for the best rate.

• After you book a hotel, check back a few days before you travel. The rates may have dropped and you can cancel and rebook for a lower rate.

• Stay at a hotel that offers free meals or has kitchen facilities. We recently stayed at a Residence Inn in Washington D.C. It had a good complimentary breakfast, serves a complimentary dinner a few nights a week and has a kitchen where you could eat on your own if desired.

My balcony at Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in Chicago

My balcony at Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in Chicago

• Join loyalty programs at hotels. If you join the loyalty program at a Starwood Hotel you can get airline miles with Delta. The loyalty programs at Fairmont and Omni Hotels offer free wifi, as does Kimpton Hotels. You’ll also get a $10 credit for the minibar at Kimpton. Granted, that may get you a candy bar or a bag of nuts, but what fun to raid the minibar guilt-free. (We won’t mention the calories.) IHG, Intercontinental Hotels Group, has 4,600 properties and you earn points for stays and they never expire.

• Join AAA. They have great rates on dozens of hotels in every city. This is often the first place I look when booking a hotel.

Other Accommodations

• Rent an apartment, condo or home directly from the owner through VRBO or HomeAway. You can often save a lot off the price of a hotel and some owners are willing to negotiate prices. If they won’t come down on the price, they may throw in an extra day for free. I’ve booked several properties through VRBO and have always had a good experience.

I haven’t used it but a lot of friends swear by Airbnb, where homeowners will rent out their own homes while they are out of town, or may just rent a room in their home while they are there. There are listings in more than 190 countries, and I loved that they could be sorted by neighborhood. For example, when I searched Washington D.C., I saw descriptions for the neighborhoods. “Logan Circle: Night owls are sure to have a hoot.” “Dupont Circle: Champagne at brunch and gin at dinner.” Say no more!

A cabin at Richard Russell State Park in Georgia

A cabin at Richard Russell State Park in Georgia

State parks can be a very affordable option. In Georgia, we have 48 state parks, ranging up upscale lodges to cabins and campgrounds, or even a yurt. Cute cabins with one to three bedrooms start at just $85 a night. You can even stay in a yurt. North Carolina has 34 state parks, while Florida has more than 160.

• If you’d like to meet Jude Law on vacation, like Cameron Diaz did in the movie “The Holiday,” then try Home Exchange. The home exchange service has more than 50,000 members. You pay a small membership fee, then you can list your house and exchange it with others. Okay, you may not meet Jude Law but you’re sure to have an adventure in a real neighborhood and get free accommodations.

Helpful Apps to Save Money

DealAngel.  I love this hotel comparison site. Just put in your city and the dates you are traveling and voila! You’ll get the best deals with the name of hotel, the rate and how much I would be saving off the historical average. It also rates the hotels by what kind of deal you are getting, from Great to Overpriced. You can see a price trend that tells you whether the rate is likely to go down and what the chances of a sell-out might be. Add an alert to find out when the rates drop.

Hipmunk. I’ve used Hipmunk primarily for flights but the cute app with the adorable chipmunk also works for hotels. You can sort the results by business, kid-friendly, luxury or romantic getaway.

Hipmunk is a fantastic app for searching for flights and hotels

Hipmunk is a fantastic app for searching for flights and hotels

• Room 77. As soon as I started typing DC, it came up with neighborhoods and categories, like cheap hotels, hotels in Georgetown, hotels near White House, and it maps each one. I appreciate that because location is often of primary concern when I’m looking for a hotel.

Tingo.  Owned by TripAdvisor, Tingo has an awesome feature. If you book a room here and the price goes down, it automatically refunds you.

Social Media

• Follow hotels and resorts on social media for last-minute deals and specials.

Better Waze to Get There

   

WazeI have a thing about Clairmont Road in Atlanta. Although I was born here and have logged zillions of miles driving around the city, whenever I see the sign for Clairmont Road I know I’m fixin’ to get lost. Last night I set out from my office at Travelgirl magazine to go to my friend’s house in Druid Hills. The route involved Clairmont Road.

But this time I was armed and ready. I had the reassuring voice from the app Waze gently guiding me through pretty side streets, places I’d never seen before and was a bit unsure were leading anywhere, but I made it there quickly and didn’t hit a lick of traffic.

EN_ReportMenu-1Waze, purchased by Google last year, is a crowdsourced navigation app, so you get real-time traffic and hazard reports from other Wazers nearby. There is a social media component if you’d like to get your friends to join you, and you can also participate as a map editor if you see discrepancies along your route. You can see reports on hazards on the road, police up ahead, cars pulled over on the side of the road and where the traffic is. You can also find the cheapest gas prices along the route.

I attended a media lunch with the Waze folks this week (best goody bag ever!) and they told us that traffic reporters are now using Waze because of its accuracy. They also mentioned plans to add celebrity voices and showed us a funny demo with Kevin Hart. If you’re going to spend time in the car why not make it fun, right?

Waze is available in more than 200 countries, so wherever you’re going you don’t have to get lost. Download it for free from the iTunes Store, and never be lost again. Not even on Clairmont.

 

 

 

 

Cockpit Confidential: Your Plane Questions Answered

   

Why can’t my dog fly on a plane in the summer on some airlines? What do all those chimes during a flight mean? How much does a new airplane cost? Can leaving cell phones on really interfere with cockpit equipment?

BookWithMap1These are just a few of the questions answered in book Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, written by Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and host of www.askthepilot.com. If you’ve ever wondered about any aspect of airplane travel, from how much pilots make to what are the odds of a midair collision, then you’ll enjoy this entertaining and informative book.

If you’re a nervous flyer you’ll find comfort in learning more about the mechanics of air travel, like the fact that turbulence is normal and not considered a safety issue. “For all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down, thrown into a tailspin, or otherwise flung from the sky by even the mightiest gust or air pocket.” Now, don’t you feel better? $12 on Amazon.

 

Booze, Boys, Chocolate and Other Sacrifices for Lent

   

This year, I am following tradition and for Lent am giving up, well, absolutely nothing. But in honor of all of you who are more self-sacrificing people than I am, I am running a column I wrote a few year ago about what others give up for Lent. Enjoy!  

Recently, a strange occurrence took place in our home. I cooked a meal on a Friday night. The last time this happened was approximately, well, never, but my husband and I had just returned from a two-week trip the night before and my kids wanted a “real dinner.”

My daughter blessed our chicken dinner, but added this before the amen: “even though we aren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.”

Two thoughts occurred to me: One, I hadn’t even realized it was Lent and two, my daughter had not said a word earlier in the day when she asked me what we were having for dinner, waiting until the meal was safely on the table.

We’d been in the remote areas of Hawaii—away from TV and newspapers and the concepts of self-denial and sacrifice had pretty much been erased from our vocabulary. I’d be hard pressed to make a case that turning down a third piece of banana bread or another round of umbrella-festooned tropical drinks constituted any kind of sacrifice.

Of course I had prayed during the trip, especially as our helicopter went zooming over the huge cliffs of Kauai then soaring past the majestic Napoli Coast. These were in addition to the usual don’t-let-a-smelly/loud/obnoxious-person-sit-next-to-me-on-the-airplane prayer.

Then I wondered what other folks were sacrificing for Lent. My brother-in-law Jack gave up desserts. Oh, he didn’t give up sweets. He just eats them between meals or for breakfast because then it isn’t dessert.

Loralynne gives up sweets and Cokes, so she refers to Lent as her God-Driven Diet, with a guaranteed weight loss of a couple of pounds once a year.

Susan gave up candy, but it may not result in any weight loss. One night she ate half a box of Raisin Bran, because it’s sugar coated.

Lindsey gave up chocolate. But she didn’t give up chocolate liqueurs and is pleasantly passing the weeks of Lent by drinking chocolate martinis.

Although she is single and 28, Lyndsay gave up “booze and boys,” which she regretted the next day. “This year, in a quest to truly have 40 days of self-denial and reflection, I decided to forgo my social life and watch, slowly, as my chances of finding Mr. Right plummet to zero,” she said.

She was managing okay, with a momentary setback when she found out that this year Lent is 46 days. Then her father called. “He asked if I was ‘still on Lent.’ After assuring him that I was, he dropped this beauty, ‘Lyndz, your biological clock is ticking at quite a rate, and you just can’t afford to lose 40 days of dating to Lent.’”

Jennifer gave up chocolate also and found that Starbursts, peanut butter and shortbread are totally unacceptable substitutes. After looking up the technical definition of chocolate—a combination of cocoa bean, butter fat and vanilla—she was able to add such things as chocolate milk powder back into her diet.

Elizabeth gave up chocolate, so can only stare wistfully at the huge heart-shaped box of chocolates her boyfriend sent her for Valentine’s Day, a large portion of which I imagine will be snarfed down by dawn on Easter morning,

Other folks take a more creative approach to the concept of sacrifice.

When she was in college, Kim gave up riding elevators, even though her dorm was on the seventh floor. Maire, who lives in New York, gave up riding escalators. “It may sound pretty funny, but when you live in New York, escalators are a large part of your existence, especially if you get off of the 7 train at Grand Central.”

If you’re making sacrifices for Lent, good luck to you. I suppose this year I’m more like the Irishman in this joke.

An Irishman walks into a bar in Dublin, orders three pints of Guinness and drinks all three. The bartender said, “You know, a pint goes flat after I draw it. It would taste better if ya just bought one at a time lad.”

The Irishman replies, “Well, ya see, I have two brothers. One is in America, the other in Australia, and I’m here in Dublin. When we all left home, we promised each other that we’d drink this way to remember the days when we drank together. So I drink one for each o’ me brothers and one for me self.”

The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar, and always drinks the same way. One day, he comes in and orders two pints. All the other regulars fall silent. When he goes for the second round, the bartender says, “I don’t want to intrude on yar grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on yar great loss.” The Irishman looks confused for a moment and then laughs.

“Oh, no. Everyone’s fine, me brothers are fine, ” he explains, “It’s just that I gave up drinking for Lent, but my brothers didn’t.”

Stylin’ with Belle de Jour Salon

   

During my first trip to New Mexico years ago I was thrilled my many things in The Land of Enchantment — the majestic scenery, the bold flavors of the food, its mystical quality. But one thing really stuck out in my mind. My hair looked awesome in Santa Fe.

The low humidity in New Mexico kept my generally naturally frizzy hair in line. But I live in Atlanta, the land of high humidity broken by occasional spells of slightly less humidity. So keeping my hair in line is a challenge.

Andrea Goldklang, owner of Belle de Jour Salon. She is also the color director and master stylist.

Andrea Goldklang, owner of Belle de Jour Salon. She is also the color director and master stylist.

Thanks to a wonderful session with Andrea Goldklang, owner, color director and master stylist at Belle de Jour Salon, I feel armed and ready to handle my hair challenges, no matter where my travels take me — including the beach and yes, even the rainforest.

I had been invited to check out Belle de Jour recently, and as the rest of the city was busy wiping the grocery store shelves clean of every bread and dairy product in preparation for Snowpocalypse #2, I made my way to the Roswell Road salon in Mount Paran Walk Plaza to have my highlights done. (During the massive snowstorm of 2011 I stayed home the first several days, venturing out later in the week only to make a hair appointment. A girl’s gotta have her priorities.)

Open since 2011, Belle de Jour has on open, clean and well-lit atmosphere where I immediately felt comfortable. Although I knew little about Andrea, I immediately felt comfortable with her, too.

Soon we were chatting like old friends, as she looked closely at my hair and discussed what would work best for me. When I read more about her later and learned she originally planned to study design and art in college, it made sense. The best stylists have an artist’s eye.

Andrea apprenticed with Louis Licari in NewYork and also at Van Michael Salon after a move down south. Although many stylists are encouraged to, and prefer to specialize in either hair color or styling, Andrea chose to do both.

What really struck me about Andrea, other than her obvious skill and easy-going manner, was her passion for hair. “I am just so happy doing hair,” she said more than once during our session. She truly loves what she does and when people have that type of passion it comes through in their work.

Belle de Jour Salon on Roswell Road near Mount Paran

Belle de Jour Salon on Roswell Road near Mount Paran

As we talked about our families and our lives, she mentioned at one point that her son had AML leukemia when he was younger. While he is doing fine now, that experience led to the generous charity work the salon does, particularly with Cure Childhood Cancer.

After Andrea highlighted and cut my hair, she brought out a tool I’d never seen before called the Instyler IQ, with a brush and a rotating barrel. “Oh, I think this will work beautifully on your hair,” she said excitedly. I watched as she pulled the heated tool through my hair by small sections, turning it into the highly polished, sleek hair with gentle waves I always aspire to.

Of course, I ordered one of the professional Instyler IQs, which the salon sells at their cost, and left thrilled with my color and my cut. And I was happy to have found a stylist with so much passion and talent for her work.

Bring on that humidity, Atlanta. Now I’ve got the tools to handle it.

Belle de Jour Salon is at 5290 Roswell Road, Atlanta 30342; 404.250.9100

The Tale of Peter Colada

   
Peter Colada and I checked out the pools at the gorgeous Occidental Grand Xcaret

Peter Colada and I checked out the pools at the gorgeous Occidental Grand Xcaret

The mood for my trip to Occidental Grand Xcarat was set immediately upon check-in at the Royal Club, a resort within a resort at this Mediterranean-style all-inclusive resort about 45 minutes from Cancun in Mexico. I was presented with a huge pineapple with facial features formed with fruit, umbrellas adorning its head and filled with a delicious island punch.

I named my new friend Peter Colada and knew instantly we would enjoy our time at the resort together.

Only the promise of a visit to the bar got Peter off the slide.

Only the promise of a visit to the bar got Peter off the slide.

Things started off great. We strolled around the huge grounds bordering the Caribbean, checking out each of the five pools. Peter insisted on visiting the kids’ area, where he took multiple trips down the slide. We were delighted when we spotted a bar with swings for seats, and he hopped right up on the swing and ordered his own Pina Colada.

His antics on the rocks at the Mayan ruins cost him an eye but we replaced it later

His antics on the rocks at the Mayan ruins cost him an eye but we replaced it later

We toured the Mayan ruins that are right on site at the resort. Although I admonished him to be careful running all over the large rocks, did he listen? He did not, and lost one of his eyes for a while, although we were able to recover it later.

Had I known what would happen next, I would have steered Peter far away from the bars

Had I known what would happen next, I would have steered Peter far away from the bars

After we got back to the room, he took a rest in the hammock on one of the balconies. I retired to my room as well — and it was then that the trouble started.

It seems while I dozed off Peter discovered the bottle of tequila. He then took it upon himself to start the party without me, carefully rubbing the lime around the rim then salting it.

Peter certainly didn't mind drinking alone!

Peter certainly didn’t mind drinking alone!

Pathetic pile of passed-out pineapple

Pathetic pile of passed-out pineapple

Seems Peter didn’t quite know his limits, and by the time I found him he was a passed-out pathetic pile of pineapple.

When he finally came to, he confessed that despite the rapport we had established and the fun we had around the resort, he missed having a fruit friend.

He had learned the hard way, as so many of us before him, that you can’t drink your troubles away. Even with an excellent bottle of tequila.

Luckily for Peter, at lunch that day I was presented with another friend, this time formed from a coconut.

Because of her obvious fashion flair  I named her Coco Chanel. I  couldn’t wait to introduce her to Peter.

Peter Colada and Coco Chanel find happiness. And I got my tequila back. Happy endings all around!

Peter Colada and Coco Chanel find happiness. And I got my tequila back. Happy endings all around!

They bonded immediately. As I left for the evening, I took one last peek at them, snuggled on a chair on the balcony, all smiles.

Orlando: It’s Electric!

   

The latest attraction in Orlando won’t have you riding out twisters, zapping alien monsters or plunging 12 stories down a water slide. But you will be thrilled by the money you will save and the good you are doing for the environment when you rent an electric car on your next trip to the most-visited city in the United States.

600More than 56 million visitors go to Orlando every year, making it the world’s largest rental car market. So Visit Orlando, along with major hotels, theme parks and other partners, joined forces to launch Drive Electric Orlando this fall. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has a fleet of Nissan Leaf vehicles, which drives just like a regular car. While Enterprise and Hertz offer electric car rentals in other locations, this is the first citywide initiative to promote the use of electric cars.

While the cost to rent the car for a week is the same, the average fuel cost for a mid-size car is around $50 compared with $15 or less to rent the plug-in electric car. An even bigger money saver is that many hotels are offering free parking, self or valet, for savings from $5 a day to more than $20.

The Nissan Leaf has a range of around 100 miles and there are more than 300 charging stations in the metro area at the major attractions as well as at hotels. No worries if you need to charge it on your own — it’s as easy as plugging in your cell phone. Many places offer free charging but if there is a fee, it’s around $3.00 — less than one gallon of gas!

Oh, and the car comes with a free GPS so you’ll easily find your way between all the many attractions, and maybe even find the nearest spa. You have to do something with all that money you save, right?

This article appears in the Winter 2013/2013 issue of Travelgirl magazine.

 

Culinary Carolina: Dining in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill

   
The dining room at Carolina Crossroads in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The dining room at Carolina Crossroads in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

When I think of “Carolina in My Mind” these days, I think of the creamy shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, handcrafted chocolates from Escazu Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh, and Spanish deviled eggs from Mateo Bar de Tapas in Durham. The culinary scene in the area known as Research Triangle in North Carolina has exploded and I recently set out to taste as much as I could in a three-day visit. Here are my picks:

For authentic French pastries cooked in a European oven, make a visit to La Farm Bakery in nearby Cary. Try a dish by Executive Chef Scott Crawford, who has been gathering well-deserved accolades serving new American cuisine at Heron’s at The Umstead Hotel near Raleigh. People line up for the casual fare at Poole’s Downtown Diner in Raleigh where James Beard award winner Ashley Christensen draws crowds with French-inspired Southern food, including the decadent bubbly mac and cheese. And speaking of cheese — I was on the pimiento cheese trail, finding my favorite at Carolina Crossroads in The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, where Chef James Clark made big changes when he took over the kitchen last year.

Mateo Bar de Tapas in Durham

Mateo Bar de Tapas in Durham

Beer lovers will want to hoist a pint or two of Southern-style beer at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham. For classic cocktails served in a library-like setting worlds away from the nearby college bars, check out The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill. With 300 distilled spirits available, you may want to consult one of the bow-tie clad bartenders for recommendations.

If time is short, sign up for one of the year-round walking tours offered by Taste Carolina Gourmet Tours in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh for a fun way to experience between five and seven restaurants while learning about the latest on the culinary scene in each town, which are all within a short drive of each other.

For more on North Carolina, go to www.visitnc.com

This article appears in the Holiday issue of Travelgirl magazine.

Best Southern Inns

   

These are inns I mentioned during my appearance on “Belinda Skelton’s Atlanta Living” radio show on WSB 750 on January 11, 2014. If you go, tell them Jan and Belinda sent you!

Some people follow a pattern when they travel — like camping in National Parks, stepping foot in all 50 states or following a band around the country on a tour, like latter-day DeadHeads. I could be perfectly content spending years porch surfing, traveling from inn to inn in the South, perfecting my already fairly polished sittin’ and doin’ nothin’ skills.  The South has more charming inns than we have recipes for cheese straws. Here are a few of my favorites.

greyfieldinn

The Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island gets my vote for best porch.

I don’t mind cooking when I’m on vacation. There’s nothing I like better than an evening at the beach with a big old plate of shrimp and a cocktail. But then again, I love having other people cooking for me and waking up to the smell of bacon is a heavenly way to start the day. These inns provide three meals a day.

Blackberry Farm

My husband collected several years of brownie points when he whisked me away to a cottage in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in Walland, TN to celebrate a big birthday. This 4,200-acre resort has so much to do — we enjoyed kayaking, hiking, biking and a massage in the spa. Pricey, yes! But unforgettable and home to the best biscuits I’ve ever had. Rates start at $745.

* Special: Book 2 nights in February and get a 3rd free.

Greyfield Inn

They had to shove me in the boat when it was time to leave our beautiful fall weekend at this mansion on Cumberland Island in Georgia, accessible only by boat. If I had to select a porch on which to live out my days, it would be here on the 100-foot long one. I would rouse myself for the two-course breakfast, picnic lunch, happy hour and the three-course dinner. Activities include a nature tour, kayaking, hiking or hanging out on the secluded white-sand beach. Rates start at $425.

MarrakechRoom.ASIA

The Marrakech Room at ASIA in Asheville, North Carolina

Like summer camp for grown-ups but you have to dress up for dinner, High Hampton Inn is in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Cashiers, North Carolina where it has been welcoming guests since 1922. It’s great when you want your kids (and spouse!) to disconnect – there are no TVs or telephones but there is golf, tennis, a spa, and a lake for boating, fishing and swimming. Rates start at $135 per person.

The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island

One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed, Little St. Simons is the only place I’ve ever had fried catfish for breakfast. You won’t find luxurious accommodations here, but you will find a quaint lodge, unbelievably good food and activities that include swimming in the pool or at the secluded beach, nature tours and a wonderful swing to just sit and watch the tide roll in. Rates start at $450.

Near Mountain, Lakes or Beach

We may not have the Rocky Mountains or the Great Lakes but the South has plenty of smaller lakes, scenic mountains and of course, some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. Here are several places to relax and enjoy the scenic surroundings.

Asia Bed & Breakfast Spa

While I haven’t visited Asia, my friends the Murphys raved about this 5-room inn with a private spa, a 10-minute walk from Asheville, North Carolina. Rates start at $249.

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