Introducing SoloGirlTravel.com!

6 Jan

travel_logo_color_small

I’m thrilled to ann0unce the launch of my new travel website, sologirltravel.com! It’s been a labor of love, and after months of preparation, writing, researching, and obsessing, I’m so excited to put it out there and watch my new baby grow.  I encourage any and all comments, feedback, advice, etc.  And while the site is dedicated to women traveling alone, I hope that all types of travelers can get some inspiration from it.  Enjoy…and happy travels!

About Solo Girl Travel:

Solo Girl Travel is a source of information and inspiration for wanderlustful women. We believe that globetrotting gals with a thirst for the best of world travel need not be hindered by the lack of a travel companion. Whether you are single and fabulous, have a significant other who can’t join you, or simply prefer to be alone at times, you want to see the world in style, and we want to help you. We realize what’s most important when traveling alone as a female: safety, security, and comfort in and with your surroundings. At SGT, we don’t let anything get in the way of the perfect trip, and we aim to ensure that you won’t either. Our articles, tips, tricks, and helpful hints will bring you everything you need to know to plan your solo sojourn. Remember, traveling alone doesn’t have to be lonely—in fact, it can be that much better!

Gifts for the Globetrotter

17 Dec

Add these fab finds to your wish-list, or give them to your favorite traveler (and perhaps she’ll take you along on her next journey!).

Natural Fiber Huts Ornaments

Crate & Barrel teamed up with women in Kenyan villages to create these handmade replicas of traditional African huts.  Not only do they make the Xmas tree gorgeously global, but the partnership helps empower the women and earns them economic independence.

$29.95/set of 3, www.crateandbarrel.com

 Crate & Barrel Natural Fiber Huts

Mini Scratch Map

I’m in love with this clever, vintagey world map from Restoration Hardware.  When you scratch off the golden finish, it reveals colors underneath, allowing you to show where you’ve been, where you’re going, or where you’re dreaming of—which is pretty much everywhere!

$24.00, www.restorationhardware.com

Restoration Hardware Mini Scratch Map

Royce Leather Ladies Cosmetic Travel Case

Keeping your toiletries and makeup organized and all in one place can be a challenge when traveling.  Keeping it sophisticated can be even harder.  This genuine leather, waterproof-lined bag has loads of space, multiple compartments, zippered pockets, and style galore.

Around $68.00, www.amazon.com/Royce-Leather-Ladies-Cosmetic-Travel/dp/B0037DD4Q4

Royce Leather Cosmetic Case 

Emergency Travel Kit

This is just about the handiest, cleverest thing I’ve found—in fact, I wish I had thought of it.  This Minimergency® Kit has 16 necessary girly goodies: hairspray, clear nail polish, nail polish remover, emery board, lip balm, earring backs, clear elastics, sewing kit, double-sided tape, stain remover, deodorant towelette, pain reliever, tampon, breath freshener, dental floss, and adhesive bandages.

$13.00, www.everythingbutwater.com/accessories/browse/products/ms–mrs/travel-kits/48585+mini-for-her+2001.html

 Minimergency Kit for Her

Mini World Time Alarm Clock

Are you city-hopping for the holidays? Traveling so much you forget where you are, what time it is, and whether your friends back home are asleep or awake? Fear not, this sleek clock, as compact as a kitchen timer, changes time automatically with the twist of your wrist.  It provides time for 24 international cities, and takes some of the worry out of worldwide wandering.

$55.00, www.restorationhardware.com

Restoration Hardware World Time Clock

Anne Taintor Luggage Tags

What’s not to love about Anne Taintor and her snarky Taintorettes?  Carry her modern-vintage witticisms with you wherever you go by attaching these great tags to all of your travel bags.  These make a great stocking stuffer or secret Santa gift…or the perfect present for yourself.

$8.99, http://annetaintor.com/products/Travel/Luggage+Tags

Anne Taintor Luggage Tag 

An Elephant Never Forgets…or Gives Up

8 Oct

Whenever and wherever I travel, I am always affected by the people I meet along the way.  Most recently, I was moved to tears, and inspired, by an elephant.

I’ve come to realize now, having recently visited two more areas of Southern Africa (Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Mozambique), that I am in love with both the people of this continent, and the animals.  From a very photogenic lion and a playful hyena cub, to the spectacular people of a tiny village in coastal Mozambique (who will be the subject of another post), I was enamored at every turn.  My trip last year to Zimbabwe led me to quite a bit of introspection, thanks to some of the sweetest and most grateful children I’ve ever encountered (see previous post: http://wanderwrite.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/multiple-lessons-learned-in-zimbabwe/).  And this time, inspiration and humility came in the form of a three and a half year old elephant named Paseka.

I’ll try to make a long story short.  The game rangers at Abu Camp (www.abucamp.com), a luxury safari lodge where guests interact with the elephants they’ve rescued and/or raised, were out on a morning game drive, when they witnessed (and caught on tape) an orphaned baby elephant being attacked by hyenas.  Covered in injuries, the baby ran alongside their vehicle, hoping to find protection.  As both lovers of elephants and advocates of letting nature do what it must, they were torn.  They wanted to help but were hesitant to intervene, and eventually made the difficult decision to leave the scene, and hope that the young elephant would survive.  The elephant disagreed with their decision.

The next morning, Easter Sunday, they went to their generator room, only to find her, scared and shaken but alive, hiding and waiting to be found.  Apparently she had followed the truck back to camp and sought shelter inside the small room, fighting her fate and seemingly aware that Abu Camp offered a safe haven for elephants just like her.  They named her Paseka, meaning Easter, and the elephant herders, and the elephants themselves, adopted her.  There were some struggles along the way, but today she is happy, healthy, and quite loving–if a bit precocious.

I learned A LOT about elephants during my five days at Abu Camp.  I learned about everything from their gestation period (22 months, in case you were curious) to their extraordinary memories, to the fact that female elephants who have never had babies can nurse other mothers’ babies when they are born into the herd (amazing, right?). I also learned a lot from elephants, particularly Paseka.  Her will to survive, her unrelenting courage, her strength, when all alone in the world and literally being hunted by enemies who outnumbered her.  I mean, if that isn’t an inspiring–and universal–story, what is?

*There is an award-winning, and tear jerking, documentary on Paseka.  You can view the trailer here: http://www.nhuafrica.com/license-acquisition/one-off-specials/paseka/

Pamela admires Paseka

Top 10 Reasons Why Fire Island is Heaven on Earth

18 Jul

I’ve been away from my writing for a while now, and I feel a bit guilty about it.  I guess I’ve been having too much fun.  I’ve been on vacation for about a month and a half–okay, not every single day of those 45-ish days–but almost every weekend.  I’ve been in my happy place.  One of the few places where, for me, a passport isn’t the key to a total escape.  Fire Island is this happy place (and not just mine), and it’s a small (31 miles long, to be precise) piece of paradise just off of Long Island, NY, with approximately 292 year-round residents and 25-30 towns/villages/communities with names like Kismet, Loneleyville, Fair Harbor, and Cherry Grove.  The town in which my friends and I find perpetual pleasure and beachside bliss is Ocean Beach, home to bayside bars and restaurants, a small village oozing with charm, and our hard-to-find, harder-to-leave share house, with a wraparound deck that is a seashell’s throw away from the ocean.

The view from my deck

These are some of the many reasons I love it:

10. Deer as friendly as puppies.  Okay, so you can’t pet them like puppies (ticks and all), but you’ll never get as close to deer anywhere as you will here, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sightings of the babies, in all their spotted, furry adorable-ness.

9. The ferry.  You can only reach most of Fire Island by ferry, and a 30 minute ride takes you to Ocean Beach, where you really will feel a million miles away.

8. Wagons.  We don’t get from place to place via car in Fire Island (but I’ll get to that), so everyone transports everything via wagon.  Those adorable, classic Radio Flyers you remember from childhood, although many are not red, but painted the color of the houses they transport goods to and from.

7.  Happy Hour.  You’ll often hear Ocean Beach regulars saying “See you at Mermaids happy hour?”, and they’re referring to a restaurant/bar directly on the bay where you can sip frozen daiquiris and chocolate martinis while sitting directly on the bar and watching the sunset.  It’s perfection.

6.  The sunset.  It’s glorious.  No one knows the exact derivation of the name “Fire Island”, as it officially dates back to 1789.  I believe the name comes from the island’s spectacular sunsets, which rival any in the world, and make the sky look like it’s truly on fire.

5.  No shoes, no problem.  I never wear shoes in Fire Island.  Okay, I wear them at night to the bars, but I usually take them off.  And I’d never dream of wearing heels.  I have a very vivid memory of visiting the island when I was seven years old and seeing a woman in a business suit walk off the ferry, put down her briefcase, and immediately take her shoes off for her walk to her house.

4. Rocket fuels.  Invented at CJ’s in Ocean Beach, now served almost everywhere (on Fire Island), these are pina colada’s made with Bacardi 151 and topped with amaretto.  Delicious, deadly, and a nightly necessity.

3. The nightlife.  There are about 8 bars in Ocean Beach, and not one of them is chic.  There’s beer all over the floors, decks overflow with people and music, and you see the same people at the same bars all the time.  Which is a good thing.

2. NO CARS.  That’s right, none.  During the summer months, the only mode of transportation is a bicycle or your feet.  No traffic, no designated driving, no taxis, no worries.

1.  No chain stores of any kind.  You will never see a Starbucks, a Gap, a Subway, or a Jamba Juice.  If you want pizza (and damn good pizza), you go to Town Pizza.  If you want a sandwich, you go to Whitney’s Market.  And if you want a Grande Mocha Latte, you go somewhere else.

In my happy place

In a Charleston State of Mind

27 Apr

Charleston, South Carolina: home of historic plantations, antebellum architecture, blooming, fragrant gardens, Rhett Butler….and some of the nation’s best culinary experiences.  One of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a long time was recently served to me by Charleston’s most celebrated chef–Michelle Weaver, of the famed Charleston Grill.  The food: Nothing short of exquisite.  The location: West 52nd St., in Manhattan.

Before I go on, I will address the fact that at times I can sound like a broken record.  I obsessively gush over Orient-Express, their hotels, and their service.  No–I don’t work for them, nor do they pay me to blather on about my love for them–they’re just really, really (really!) good.  And the 21 Club, Orient-Express’s only restaurant, and NY’s truly authentic speakeasy/fine-dining establishment, is a perfect example of this.  It’s as NY as they come; in fact, if the Statue of Liberty suddenly came to life and asked for a good restaurant recommendation, I’d send her there.

21 Club

While I’ve tried and loved many of their classic menu items, I’ve also enjoyed a handful of excellent meals prepared by visiting chefs at 21 Club.  Not only have I traveled back in time with each visit to the restaurant, but I’ve traveled to Spain, South America, Italy, and now, Charleston.

Chef Weaver, a charming, lovely woman with a passion for good, pure, soul-satisfying cooking, served us a feast that was, what I imagine to be, the epitome of  Charleston, her restaurant, and the Orient-Express.  It was visually beautiful, flawlessly prepared, decadent yet not over-the-top, exemplary of its region, and avoided cliches and trends, focusing on ingredients and flavors.  These, I believe, are the qualities of a special hotel or restaurant.

She started with a platter for the table of the season’s freshest vegetables: radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, lightly dressed, to enhance rather than mask their loveliness.  She then served a deviled egg–the best I’d ever had–followed by white bean soup with country ham and mustard greens.  It was satisfying in every way, and I decided I could eat this every day of my life.  She then served her famous (for good reason!) Charleston Grill crab cake, topped with creek shrimp and a light lime tomato dill vinaigrette.  Loaded with crab, surprisingly light, and simply perfect, this, too, was the best I’d ever had.  Sides of phenomenal beer braised collard greens and sinfully good baked pimento cheese grits were shared by the table, and the dishes were practically licked clean.  Finally, we devoured strawberry shortcake with chantilly cream, orange ginger syrup, and fresh mint.  Chef Weaver brought the strawberries, lovingly cradled in her arms on the plane ride, from Charleston to NY, and they were topped with a biscuit that I could write a love letter to.   Obviously, I went a little crazy over this meal.

If you’re about to run to 21 Club to experience this meal, unfortunately, Chef Weaver has returned to Charleston–her loyal following of southern foodies couldn’t let her leave them for too long.  However, if knowing that Charleston is acknowledged by travelers as one of the world’s best cities isn’t enough reason to get down there–Michelle Weaver, the Charleston Grill, and its home, Charleston Place, are.

Charleston Place, an Orient-Express hotel, oozes Southern charm and hospitality, coupled with modern luxury and award-winning service.  Here you’ll find an Italian marble lobby with a grand Georgian staircase leading to lush rooms and suites.  You can swim in their horizon-edge pool, indulge in their spa, or maybe just sip a mint julep and feel like a southern belle (or beau).  Explore historic Charleston which is steps away from Charleston Place’s front door, and then dine at Charleston Grill, where you can not only enjoy the meal that I was luckily enough to experience, but Chef Weaver’s other dishes, which range from traditional southern through contemporary, internationally-inspired, and modern.  If you see Oprah, Richard Gere, Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman, or Prince Charles there, don’t be surprised–they, too, have fallen for Charleston Place’s charms.

For more information on Charleston Place, visit www.charlestonplace.com

Charleston Place Entrance, photo by Joe Vaughn

Charleston Place Lobby, photo by Joe Vaughn

Charleston Grill, photo by Joe Vaughn

Travel News: Eco-Friendly–and Wallet-Friendly–Luxury

21 Mar

For over 20 years, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious properties, has been a resort most others look to for inspiration.  The waterfront stunner, located on the volcanic shores of Pinney’s Beach, was named  “Top Family-Friendly Hotel in the Caribbean” and “Best Service in the Caribbean” by Travel + Leisure.

A favorite feature of travelers is their commitment to the local environment: Pinney’s Beach is a nesting habitat for three endangered species of sea turtles, including the critically endangered hawksbill.  Four Season Resort Nevis  partners with Nevis Turtle Group and the Sea Turtle Conservancy to promote education and preservation of the sea turtles.  Resort guests can sponsor turtle adoptions and can join forces with the Nevis Turtle Group to help protect and mark turtle nests during the night-time turtle vigils.   Encouraging education and child-friendly conservation, the resort’s complimentary Kids for All Seasons program offer a weekly Sea Turtle Camp day for kids.

Adults remain happy as well, as Four Seasons Resort Nevis’ Executive Chef, Andreas Donnerbauer, sources the majority of his ingredients from local fishermen and sustainable farms.  Environmentally-conscious foodies enjoy his “Farm to Fork” menu, including Cades Bay tomato and avocado salad, Carib beer-battered flying fish, and ground provisions roti (root veggies).

WHY BOOK NOW? Why not?! In addition to saving the environment, now you can save money on your stay: Now through September 4th,  Four Seasons Resort Nevis is offering a third night free when booking two consecutive paid nights, valid on all room types and villas for resort stays between April 15th and September 9th, subject to availability.  Rates per night start at $445.  For reservations or more information, call (869) 469-6238 or visit www.fourseasons.com/nevis.

Cure for the Winter Blues

29 Feb

As winters go, this one has been pretty darn wonderful.  And compared to last year, it’s like spring every day.  But, let’s face it, it’s not spring yet, and the beach-loving, toes-in-sand-craving wanderer in me is ready for some sun.  And not beautiful-winter’s-day sun, but must-wear-sunblock sun.  As February becomes March and my booted feet cry for some air, I’m ready for a vacation.  The one problem is deciding where to go.  These are my top choices for warmth, palm trees, and some R&R:

La Samanna, French St. Martin

This beachfront Orient-Express gem is a little piece of French paradise on one of the Caribbean’s most gastro-fabulous islands.  La Samanna is the perfect place to enjoy St. Martin’s most beautiful beach, wander through scented gardens, and enjoy a wine cellar rivaling those in France.  By day, you can experience mind-blowing spa treatments, and by night you’ll dine al fresco on a candlelit, ocean-side terrace, enjoying giant Caribbean lobster and haute French cuisine.

What’s extra special: This gorgeous resort is getting even better.  Now in the midst of an $8 million renovation, 50 of the property’s 83 rooms, suites, and cottages have been fully renovated and updated, and now include original local artwork.

http://www.lasamanna.com

Maroma Resort and Spa, Mexico


Ahh, Maroma…simply one of my most favorite places on earth.  Another Orient-Express property (okay, I’m just a little obsessed), this 25-acre stunner, located on a coconut plantation on the Riviera Maya, pretty much has it all.  White-sand, blue-water beach: check.  To-die-for rooms and cottages with luxurious Mayan decor: check.  An outdoor spa with gardens, fountains, and outstanding services: check.  Phenomenal food, including a tequila and ceviche bar, a tapas restaurant, traditional Mexican cuisine, and more: check.  Uber romance factor: check.  And if you’re really looking for something mind-blowing, go for the traditional, centuries-old Temazcal, after which you’ll emerge nothing short of transformed and utterly renewed.

What’s extra special: Every Wednesday night, “La Noche del Pescador” or “The Fisher’s Night,” takes place, when Executive Chef Juan Pablo serves fresh seafood straight from the grill.  Torches and live performances enhance the experience, and 50% of the proceeds go to “Amigos del Sian Ka’an,” a local organization dedicated to wildlife protection and sustainability in the Yucatan region.

http://www.maromahotel.com

Ka’ana Resort and Spa, Belize

As one of the world’s few remaining unspoiled areas, Belize is the hidden gem of Central America that is as easy to reach as it is far from it all.  Its most luxurious, coveted resort is the boutique property, Ka’ana, owned by two charming Irish brothers who’ve created a heavenly oasis.  In fact, the name means “heavenly place” in Mayan, and this 15-room, two-villa eco-resort is nothing short of extraordinary.   In a lush valley between the Maya Mountains of the Cayo District, the property embodies the spirit of the Mayan natives, utilizing all locally sourced materials, serving food grown in their organic garden (all gourmet and spectacular, of course!), and embracing the aesthetics of the rich native culture.  Belize’s natural wonders blend seamlessly with the Hannan brothers’ knack for luxury, as guests are equally encouraged to explore the surroundings and enjoy special touches, such as Western Belize’s largest wine cellar.

What’s extra special: Only here can you experience an overnight stay in an ancient Mayan ruin, complete with the creature comforts of Ka’ana.  If the Mayans were right and it’s all going to end, I’d like to experience this before it’s too late!

http://www.kaanabelize.com

Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

The blue of Jamaica Inn’s elegant walls matches the blue of the sea that the resort overlooks, and the 700-foot, “champagne-colored” beach is perhaps the best in Jamaica.  As you lounge there all day, sipping complimentary Planter’s Punch, you’ll understand why this small, classic, oh-so-special resort has been a favorite since 1950.  All of the 47 suites overlook the beach, and private balconies or verandahs welcome the breeze in to the impeccable rooms.  This is where the Caribbean of the past–simple, stunning, and spectacular–meets the needs of today’s demanding traveler.

What’s extra special: Jamaica Inn’s tastefully decorated rooms, all with enchanting views and classic decor, have no televisions, radios, or clocks.  There’s nothing to get in the way of your total enjoyment of the glorious surroundings, and about an hour into your stay there, I promise, you won’t miss them.  In fact, you might be tempted to throw your iPhone directly into that turquoise water.

http://www.jamaicainn.com

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts

On one of the Caribbean’s most exclusive islands, Hotel Christopher is all about barefoot elegance, unpretentious luxury, and easygoing joie de vivre.  The modern, minimalist decor blends seamlessly with the drop-dead-gorgeous scenery, and recently renovated rooms and suites are all airy, light, and large.  The free-form freshwater infinity pool overlooking the crystal clear ocean is the perfect spot to relax while enjoying an incredibly delicious pina colada, and the casual, water-front restaurant, Mango, is where guests dine on delicious grilled seafood while running their toes through the sand.   Now the boutique luxury resort is officially complete, as they are soon opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art spa that will offer a full range of treatments in the paradise that is Hotel Christopher.

What’s extra special: French gastronomy meets the Caribbean’s proximity (and beauty and serenity and…), as guests here are treated to classic French foods and pastries that are simply divine.  Homemade breads, dark chocolate creme brulee, and ridiculously good macarons might make you hesitant to put on that teeny bikini, but boy are they worth it.

http://www.hotelchristopher.com

Dear Santa

22 Dec

 

I truly feel that the trips I have taken in the past few years were some of the best gifts I could have ever received.  I mean, champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower, an elephant-back safari in Zimbabwe, a lunch cruise on Europe’s most pristine lake, cappuccino with a Sicilian prince (at his palazzo), swimming with sharks and stingrays in Bora Bora….there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be bought at a store that I would choose over these travel experiences.

So, in the spirit of holiday giving and receiving, if I could have one thing for Christmas (well, Hanukkah, but for the sake of this post, we’ll go with Christmas), it would be what this guy got…..

 

(And if you’d like to make a donation this holiday season, consider the amazing children of Rose of Charity orphanage in Zimbabwe, roseofcharityorg@gmail.com)

 

Around the World Imbibing

18 Nov

It’s been about a month since my last international trip, and I am starting to feel antsy.  My suitcase, sitting lonely and empty under my bed, is calling out to be filled, and my passport just seems to be screaming “Use me! Stamp me! Love me!”  I’m going through withdrawals.

If I didn’t live in New York City, I’d really be in trouble, but luckily, I do, so I can handle this.  After all, if I can’t get on a plane and go somewhere, I can at least get into a taxi and wind up someplace pretty special.

One of my favorite things to do is to go to one of the city’s classic, iconic hotels, and pretend that I am an international traveler, visiting New York and experiencing it as I would if I were in Paris, London, or another equally spectacular city.

The other night, while the itch to get away was particularly strong, I decided to go to The Pierre, one of the city’s best hotels, that old NY gem located on Fifth Avenue just across from Central Park.  I had heard they just introduced “Live @ Two E” , a no-cover jazz music series every Tuesday evening between 6:30 and 9:30pm.   The classy, swanky jazz night takes places in the equally classy, swanky Two E lounge at the hotel, and the moment I walked in, I knew it was just what the doctor ordered.

The setting: warm woods, low lights, cozy banquettes, classic elegance.
The crowd: glamorous, sexy, stylish, sophisticated.
The music: cool, classy, and oh-so-jazzy, with a jazz guitar, a bass, and a couple of talented musicians.

This was enough to make my Tuesday evening something special, but I was even more pleasantly surprised (as was the wanderlustful side of me!) when I discovered their new drink menu, entitled “A Taste Around the World.”  Are you kidding me?  Vacation in a glass.

Cocktail choices include: The Canadian Maple (Mount Gay Rum, Real Maple Syrup, & Lime Juice), Rising Sun of Japan (Ultimat Vodka, Lychee Liqueur, Wasabi, Lemon Juice & Simple Syrup), Great Wall of China (Illegal Mezcal Joven, “Chinese Five Spice” Agave Nectar, Cointreau, Fresh Orange Juice & Fresh Lime Juice), African Safari (Hennessy VS, Fresh Tangerine Juice, Tamarind Paste, Citrus Syrup & Tio Pepe), Taj of India (Ultimat Vodka, Cilantro Leaves, Mint Leaves, “Chaat Masala”, Fresh Lime Juice, Simple Syrup & Pineapple Juice), the Persian (Juniper Berries soaked Belvedere Vodka, “Barberry Puree”, Agave Nectar, & Saffron Infused Sweet Vermouth), and my personal favorite, the Warsaw Mermaid of Poland (Zubrowka Vodka, “Longonberry” Preserves, Apple Juice, Lemon Juice & Simple Syrup).

After a few internationally-inspired cocktails, a few internationally-inspired appetizers (and a nice bonus: complimentary olives, parmesan cheese, and delicious potato chips), and a couple of hours of beautiful jazz, I felt relieved, relaxed, and refreshed–I had taken a mini trip around the world and a trip back in time.  You’ll know where to find me next Tuesday…

http://www.tajhotels.com/Luxury/Grand-Palaces-And-Iconic-Hotels/The-Pierre-New-York/Overview.html

 

Madrid for a Day

3 Nov

Following my recent food frenzy in Sicily, and the longing I began to feel for another brush with deliciousness, particularly a foreign one, I got to thinking–one of the things I love best about traveling is eating. When I’m home, my meals are often simply sustenance; I eat a very boring salad at my desk for lunch, an incredibly dull frozen meal for dinner, and once or twice a week order in from one of several equally unexciting takeout places, when I just can’t stand the thought of another Lean Cuisine.

When traveling, tasting the food is like tasting the heart and soul of the destination. A crepe in Paris is not just a crepe; a waffle in Brussels is no ordinary waffle. The foods of a city are as much a part of that city as are its museums, its churches, its people.

That being said, last week, I was able to take a direct flight to Madrid, by way of West 52nd St. I went for lunch at the ’21’ Club, one of my favorite NY restaurants and one I love to go to to escape from it all, and was treated to an absolutely magnificent culinary experience. Instead of dining on ’21’s’ usual menu, I enjoyed three courses, with wine pairings, of inventive, contemporary Spanish cuisine prepared by the renowned chef Jorge González of the extraordinary Hotel Ritz in Madrid (another Orient-Express property. Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with them). Everything, from the red shrimp carpaccio with roe oil, to the sensational hake loin in a bread crust with green pepper nectar and Iberian ham vinaigrette, to the saffron scented chocolate duet, was simply outstanding, but even more enjoyable, for me, was how much of a taste of Madrid it gave me. I felt I was there, dining at the iconic, historic, remarkable Hotel Ritz, and it’s no wonder–they brought their kitchen staff over to prepare food for diners at ’21’ for almost a week. It wasn’t quite as good as being there at the hotel (I MUST get there), but it was darn close. They even sent me home with a homemade Spanish tortilla, helping to extend my culinary journey into dinnertime.

It was so much fun to pretend, for one afternoon, that I had left NYC and gone straight to Madrid’s best hotel, to experience the food that helps makes this property as special as it is. After all, Madrid is truly one of my favorite food cities, and Hotel Ritz Madrid is one of the reasons for that (the hotel actually transformed the city upon its opening in 1910, and has welcomed every type of celebrity, aristocrat, dignitary, and type of royalty since then). But since I couldn’t find time to go to Madrid last Tuesday, Madrid came to me, and for a moment I was right back there in that beautiful, colorful, absolutely delicious city.

Now if only the Ritz Madrid could bring the rest of their hotel right here to me.

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