Sunday, December 29, 2013

Travel Mistletoe for Any Season: Five spots to steal a kiss

This piece appeared in the December, 2013 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

Whether you are a legendary lothario or unlucky in love, stealing a kiss at the right moment can go a long way towards wooing your sweetheart. But the right moment has just as much to do with location as it does with romance. Sometimes snagging a quick snog starts by picking the right spot.  

During holiday season, tradition has thrown the bumbling lover a helpful assist in the form of mistletoe, those little sprigs of foliage tacked to doorjambs that demand passers-by stop for a smooch. Perhaps there aren’t too many single people finding their soulmate by getting ambushed by lip-locks anymore. Mistletoe for most may be relegated to polite, slightly embarrassing pecks on the cheek from acquaintances at holiday parties.

But that does not mean spontaneous romance is dead. On the contrary, it exists in abundance in special locations around the globe; not in a weed nailed to a doorjamb, but at fairytale castles, in aromatic gardens and atop stunning vantage points.

These are travel’s own version of mistletoe – those unexpectedly romantic spots that set the mood with inherent romanticism. And the best part is, they work all year round. Watching a sunset from a car riding on the highway is a traffic nuisance. But step onto a secluded beach, hand in hand with your significant other, and that sunset becomes the universe’s most powerful aphrodisiac.

The tradition of mistletoe began in Europe, with several origin stories bouncing around history and mythology. Fitting, then, are the countless spots around Europe that carry on this tradition of romance twelve months a year. 

It is no secret that Europe is home to some of the most romantic cities in the world. They pay homage to love in one way or another, from ruined temples dedicated to the god of love to padlocks adorning bridges in a symbol of devotion. Romance is equated with a gondola ride along a Venice canal, or a moonlight stroll along the banks of the Seine.

The clichés of love abound in Europe. But the best spots are the unexpected ones. Your significant other should be just as surprised by the place’s romantic atmosphere as he or she is with your ability to harness it.

Whether you’re looking to pop the question, spice up your honeymoon or just surprise your sweetheart, finding the perfect place is easy to do in Europe, if you know where to look. These five European destinations are a good start.


Verona, Italy is home to the most famous tale of star-crossed lovers ever written: Romeo and Juliet. The city has embraced the love by promoting several tourist locations with connections to the tale. The most well known is Juliet’s famed balcony from which she listened to Romeo sing her praises.

To get to Juliet’s balcony you squeeze through a crowded tunnel covered with love notes, mostly to the eponymous maiden. What looks like graffiti at first glance, begins to set the mood at closer look.

In the far corner of the connecting courtyard, a statue of Juliet stares demurely at the passers by, many of them copping a feel of her breast (they say it is supposed to be good luck). The petite statue stands underneath the famous balcony.

But it’s not until you enter the home and ascend the stairs toward the balcony that the scene becomes more surreal. Standing out on the balcony affords you the opportunity to recite a few poorly remembered lines from William Shakespeare’s play and spend a special, yet fleeting, moment with your special someone. But the moment is torn away after a quick snapshot and the next couple replaces you.

The real romantic spot is back before you arrived at the actual balcony. As you make your way through the house, find the windows that look down upon the courtyard and the balcony. Perhaps a touch voyeuristic, the real whimsy of this place opens up from this vantage point. Couple after couple will appear on the balcony, smiling arm in arm. From here, you can’t help but feel the love.


The village of Fussen, Germany is home to one of the world’s most famous castles, but you may not know it. Walt Disney modeled his Cinderella Castle after the masterpiece that is Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig’s summer residence is perched high up on a rocky outcrop overlooking the stunning Bavarian countryside.

Everyone dreams of a castle like this when they are young. We all wonder what it would be like to be the valiant prince or beautiful princess, living in extravagance with the royals.

But as charming as the castle itself is, with spires and towers just begging for a damsel in distress, it is not the most romantic spot in the area. As you climb up the path to the castle, keep on going right by it and trek farther to Mary’s Bridge. This skinny walkway traverses the massive gorge cutting behind the castle. From high above Neuschwanstein, the entire castle soaks up the panorama. From here, the fairytale becomes as real as it ever could, evoking your own personal “happily ever after.”


To put Paris, a city synonymous with romance, on a list of unexpectedly romantic spots would seem trite. But don’t underestimate the City of Light. Paris can still turn a few tricks, and not just at Moulin Rouge.
The Rodin Museum, dedicated to the works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin, is home to some of the most stunning and famous pieces of artwork in history. Rodin’s Gates of Hell and The Thinker rest outside in an exquisite garden. At first glance, the writhing figures on pieces like the Gates of Hell do not elicit a romantic feeling. But let the garden draw you in, with bursts of color from flowers and roses offsetting the dulled bronze worked by Rodin’s hands.

It might be the flowers, it might be the thoughtfulness of The Thinker, or it might be the entangled (mostly naked) bodies in the other sculptures, but the garden here certainly has the potential for temptation, and the opportunity for you to create your own romantic masterpiece.


Classical music pours from every window in Salzburg, Austria, giving everyone in the city a giddy step. Utilizing that bit of extra energy is necessary to explore this mountain town, its rows of churches, courtyards and gardens, and the looming ridge that runs like a backbone behind the old town.

Up along the ridge, the Hohensalzburg Fortress sits every bit the patriarch, hulking over the cliffside. The fortress is a symbol of strength, fortitude and stability; virtues any lover would want to embody. Not to mention, the view from up there is extraordinary. The only problem is, you can’t see the fortress itself.

A short walk along the ridge brings you to the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art, which sits just as high. The museum has a wide patio right along the cliff affording views of the river, the shining spires and, of course, the fortress off in the distance. At dusk, the sun glints off the river and ridge, imbuing the rooftops, the green turrets and the steely spires with deep amber orange. It’s enough to make you burst into you favorite Sound of Music song. A better option, though, is to steal a kiss and enjoy the breathtaking vista.

Cliffs of Moher

Danger gets the juices flowing. One step towards the edge of Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher on the western side of the country, will get your blood pumping with excitement. The thumps continue from the exquisite natural beauty before you. Emerald green grass runs to the very edge and spills over into oblivion, nothing but air between it and the sea spray crashing against the cliffs below.

Your stomach lurches as you peer over the edge; reminiscent of a similar feeling of falling – into love, perhaps? Wind gusts sling across the top of the cliffs like arrows from Cupid’s bow. The scene naturally drives people towards each other.

There is something powerful about the Cliffs of Moher, something almost mythological. Throw in the unavoidable fact that as visitors to the Emerald Isle, there’s a good chance you’ve been imbibing in a few pints of Guinness, and inhibitions may be thrown in the wind. It all adds up to a perfect and unexpected opportunity to pull your lover back from the edge and hold on tight.

The truth is, travel mistletoe can be anywhere in any season, if you take advantage of the opportunity. Many of us travel to get closer to other people around the world. Nobody ever said the person you get closest to, can’t be the one you brought with you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Provincetown year-round

The malasadas are reason enough to drive out to Provincetown. But these warm hunks of sugary, fried dough at the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery disappear when the store shuts down for the off-season.

Fortunately, there are many reasons to visit this seaside destination that don’t rely on the summer season, making a road trip to the tip of Cape Cod a sweet proposition any time of year. 

Like many beach towns, Provincetown’s vibrant, eclectic and active summer atmosphere cools off with the weather. The town stays busy enough, but is noticeably calmer and with fewer crowds than during peak season. This translates into little waiting at the best restaurants, vacancy at inns and hotels, and a meditative peace permeating the beach dunes. Even the drive out along Cape Cod, which many people dread during summer months due to traffic, becomes a leisurely ride through classic seaside towns.

In the midst of holiday season stress and New England winter woes, it is easy to see why Provincetown is a relaxing haven.

Even before you reach Provincetown proper, several nearby treasures set the stage for leisure and romance.

Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod, about ten minutes away from Provincetown, is one such place. Truro offers wine tastings and tours at its vineyard location but will close for the winter on Monday, December 16. Until then, the vineyard makes for a nice stop en route to, or away from your weekend getaway. This local, family-owned and operated company produces quality wines, such as the crisp and refreshing Diamond White. Reminiscent of summer, a few glasses can warm even the chilliest of winter evenings.

After the winery closes for the season, Truro’s wines can be found in stores throughout the region and also ordered online ( Adding a little whimsy and local flare to their stock, Truro features several vintages in a lighthouse-shaped bottle, in both clear and blue-colored glass.

One of the top reasons to visit Provincetown in any season is its classic New England beachfront.

Race Point Beach is part of the larger Cape Cod National Seashore, which is run by the National Park Service. Accessible right off of Route 6, Race Point Road is the scenic two-mile drive through a beach forest, complete with windswept oak and beech trees, dunes and foliage. It connects to other scenic roads or ends at a parking lot from which you can walk to the sand.

On crisp days there is a unique beauty in the dunes and widespread flats of Race Point Beach. Located opposite downtown on the other side of the peninsula, this classic, sprawling Cape Cod beach transforms into a barren, naked lunarscape when the summer sun tanners have gone. Only waves, seabirds or a frosty ocean breeze break the silence here. An occasional strolling couple will stop to sit on an oversized piece of driftwood, perhaps waiting for the early sunset or weighty winter moon to bathe the tableau in ethereal lights and colors.

Closer to downtown, where the curvature of the Cape Cod tip curls in towards Provincetown Harbor, is the Breakwater Walk or Provincetown Causeway. The straight shot of massive stones that make up the breakwater traverses the harbor, connecting the corner of town to an outermost spit of scimitar-shaped land. Summer visitors scramble along the boulders, inches from the harbor, getting sprayed by seawater until they reach the other side where two lighthouses stand sentinel.

Off-season, the hordes have disappeared, the walk becomes a bit more daring and the seawater sprays just a bit icier. But the view of the Provincetown skyline – mainly marina buildings, small shops and the towering Pilgrim Monument – is unrivaled. So is the serenity and surrealism that comes from standing on a boulder surrounded by the ocean.  Even on ill-weather days, peering out at the stone causeway affords glimpses of the lighthouse through the fog: a confident symbol of the gritty dependability at the foundation of New England culture.

Culture is alive and well in the year-round restaurants and other establishments.

One of the town’s top spots, Mews Restaurants and Café, is open 363 days a year. Besides its exquisite setting, the award-winning Mews serves up delectable dishes, many which put a local twist on foreign-inspired dishes. Or sip a cocktail and fine-dine at The Pointe Restaurant with views of the Pilgrim Monument, which resembles the medieval Tuscan towers in Italy. Find a more casual and classic Cape Cod seafood meal, as well as spectacular oceanfront panoramas at Fanizzi’s by the Sea.

The benefit of a compact, walkable downtown, especially during winter, is the easy accessibility to the diverse array of open restaurants, shops and art galleries. The Provincetown Chamber of Commerce website ( makes it easy to determine year-round establishments – and there are many – by labeling them with a blue snowflake.

In a town that claims the title of Birthplace of Modern American Drama, entertainment is never in short supply, especially over the holidays.

“Oliver!,” the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, is running at the Provincetown Theater in December. And while there remain many of the artists and art galleries that contribute to this town’s effervescent vibe, wintertime creativity is at its best out on the streets.

Locals gather annually to build a Christmas tree made out of lobster pots; lit, decorated and topped with fishing accoutrement. The result is strikingly beautiful and like the town itself, is an artful blend of imagination and iconic New England. The same goes for the lights strung from the ground to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, effectively creating a towering Christmas tree.

Whatever reason spurs your visit, Provincetown is an attractive getaway option this winter. An off-season stay gives you the best of Cape Cod without the normal fusses.

And if you stay long enough, you can catch the first batch of malasadas when the Portuguese Bakery reopens come springtime.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Holiday charm in seaside St. Michaels

St. Michaels, Maryland is just about halfway between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Key West, Florida, in every possible way.

This waterfront vacation town situated on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay mingles the Florida Keys’ laid back vibe with the Cape’s sailboats and seersucker shorts. Art galleries, wine shops and boutique restaurants lounge beside souvenir stores and old-time ice cream parlors. Tiki bar bartenders sling fruity rum cocktails to partying tourists, while at the same time a couple exchanges vows in a quaint, waterfront wedding ceremony at the upscale resort across the harbor. 

Located about an hour and a half drive from either Baltimore or Washington, D.C., St. Michaels is a go-to destination for regional vacationers. The look and feel resembles a tropical version of a New England coastal town, seamlessly melding together aspects of both locales into a mid-Atlantic waterfront respite.

For Cape and Keys frequenters, the similarities begin before you even arrive. Weekend traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge would make anyone who has ever crossed onto Cape Cod – or any other beach destination – shudder. The sheer size of the bridge makes it as much a modern engineering marvel as the Seven Mile Bridge the traverses the Florida Keys.

In culinary terms, Maryland is known for crabs in the same way that New England is for lobster and the Florida Keys are for fresh fish. There is no better way to get a flare for the Eastern Shore than to partake in a crab feast along the water, and there is no shortage of quality establishments. For years St. Michaels Crab Claw restaurant and St. Michaels Crab and Steak House – located directly across the harbor from one another – have been serving up local seafood and the hallmark Maryland blue crabs.

For the uninitiated, a crab feast is similar to a lobster bake in that work is involved. One typically begins with a table wrapped in paper, which is promptly covered with the cooked crustaceans. Steamed and covered in mounds of Old Bay seasoning, they are simply prepared. A small mallet, paring knife and placemat instructions will get you to the best bits. The sweet, familiar shellfish flavor skews unique with the abundance of salty seasoning.

Like many typically summer destinations, St. Michaels’ crowds clear in the off-season. But tasty wood-fired pizzas at Ava’s (409 South Talbot Street), and the perfectly executed entrees at 208 Talbot (208 Talbot Street), mean food is plentiful and high quality any time of year here.

With an annual oyster festival and holiday events throughout the season, the town will impress curious visitors looking for a November or December getaway. On December 7 the town shops open late for “Midnight Madness,” drawing locals and visitors alike out into the streets to enjoy snacks, singers, prizes and of course, sales. December 13 – 15 marks the annual “Christmas in St. Michaels” festival, featuring parades, music and tours of some of this historic town's antique homes (for more info visit

Where St. Michaels hovers in between its northern and southern cousins, it ascertains one aspect of seaside living that sets it apart – the sunset.

Perching along the right Massachusetts inlet or cove will provide a spectacular view of the setting sun. In Key West there is an entire pavilion at the end of the town’s famed Duval Street dedicated to street performers celebrating the stunning sunset view each night. St. Michaels may just outdo them both.

A few minutes out of the town center, Wades Point Inn on the Bay ( guards the elbow of this L-shaped peninsula. A tree-lined gravel road opens into a sprawling green lawn stretching in almost all directions to the water’s edge. At the center stands a grand, whimsical 1819 Georgian-style manor house wrapped in multi-level porches. The main house offers three floors of quaint, bed and breakfast rooms while an adjacent building constructed in the 1990s has more family-friendly accommodations.

Waking up at Wades Point means homemade breakfast made from local ingredients, like scrapple or eggs from down the road. But day’s end is the Inn’s best selling point, and one of St. Michael’s best treasures.

The savvy visitor will have filled a hammock, staked out a lawn chair or a spot on the dock well before dusk, perhaps with a bottle of wine from the local St. Michael’s Winery (609 South Talbot Street). Wades Point staff will happily provide wine glasses and a corkscrew.

Any spot affords a breathtaking panorama of the bay. The sun sets straight on, sinking down behind a wisp of land across the Chesapeake just large enough to mark the split between sea and sky. It washes the entire yard in surreal colors: orange, pink and purple light, reflecting off the water and the manor house’s white exterior. Serenity and scenery are one in the same.

St. Michael’s may resemble the best of the Cape and the tropics, but it certainly has a charm all its own.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

San Francisco’s Gift to the World

This piece appeared in the November, 2013 issues of Destinations Travel Magazine

Offering up bridges and baseball, bay views and bread bowls, San Francisco certainly is one generous metropolis.

The City by the Bay gave the world the majestic and powerful sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and the sensation of Alcatraz Island, emerging from the sea foam with eerie history lapping against its jagged rocks. It gave the world the carnival sounds of Pier 39, pierced by laughter and the barking from the notorious sea lions. And the city’s smells are a gift unto themselves: fresh-baked sourdough bread dancing out from Boudin’s bakery, floating past the fresh seafood to mingle with a deep, rich chocolate aroma pouring out over Ghirardelli Square. Stunning photos, memorable stories, whimsical souvenirs and decadent chocolate – all swirled together for the taking.

San Francisco certainly has a lot to give.

But amidst a dazzling array of world-famous attractions, San Francisco’s greatest gift is one that nobody else has, and yet it is one that reaches around the world.

A quick walk away from the sea lions and souvenir shops is necessary for those seeking that special something. Right where Columbus Avenue makes its sweeping curve, before the famous beat poet hangout City Lights Bookstore, is a unique place where life converges in a way unaltered by preconceptions or prejudices. It is where cultures and countercultures collide head on at one San Francisco intersection.

Climb San Francisco’s Columbus Avenue and you’ve scaled North Beach, a predominantly Italian neighborhood rivaling Boston’s North End or New York’s Little Italy for number of salami-hung windows. Cafes line the streets, gelato on every corner and the sweet tang of mama’s sauce wafting from any one of the umpteen ristorantes.

At its edge, North Beach buffers the beat poet leftovers (including City Lights), Alan Ginsberg seemingly still stepping over sidewalk cracks. There’s even a museum dedicated to the art form, which looks like an old time movie theater with uplit marquee and all.

But that isn’t the only marquee at the intersection. Underneath blaring neon lights lifesize photos of barely clothed women smile lustfully at unsuspecting tourists who were told the area had good Italian food. This red light district flows seamlessly back and forth with the beat poet museum and enforce counterculture seediness without so much as batting a single, heavily mascara-covered eye.

Exploring this area strips one layer off of San Francisco after another. The general feel may come as confusing to an outsider. But when you see the traditions intermingled, the people coexisting in bustling harmony, you understand that this city is one that embraces the differences that make humanity so diverse. It is a tangible location that embodies San Francisco’s gift of understanding.

But not until you stand at this intersection and peer down Grant Street, which juts off the curve like a tiny piece of paper from an unopened fortune cookie, do you really get it.

I explored Grant Street by myself, admiring the zigzagging lanterns that decorated the main thoroughfare of San Francisco’s Chinatown. I stopped at the most curious stores, such as the market that smelled like the dry fish flakes. I guessed the briny smell came from the bins of dried shrimp and jars of dried shark fin. Nearby, a woman at the Wok Shop (you guessed it, woks only) explained in broken English which wok suited me best.

A few doors down I read a sign that said Asian Art Museum and, seeing nobody entering, decided to enter. The first floor opened onto a spiral ramp, in the middle of which gathered a group of older Chinese men, huddled around a table occupied by an even older Chinese man. The eldest was painting Chinese writing on beautiful scrolls in deep ebony ink. The crowd watched, applauded and even tried their hand a few times. I climbed the ramp and looked down on the scene. The experience was mesmerizing, watching the crackled old hands skillfully draw the brush barely over the scroll, whisping it at precisely the right moment for maximum letter beauty and showmanship.

The VitaLife Tea Shop drew me in, as well as a few others, with a sign promising a free tea tasting. But Kenny the tea master kept us all there by combining a flare for the dramatic with razor sharp comedic timing. We must’ve tried a dozen teas – green, red, black, some to give energy, some to calm the muscles, even one that smelled and tasted like soggy brocolli, guaranteed to soothe arthritis.

“Tea is not about what you want. It’s about what you need,” Kenny said, his ponytail bobbing with each nod.

Sweetener was forbidden and anyone that thought otherwise, like the British, Kenny had long ago decided was unworthy of the finest leaf.

He turned the entire affair into a one-man show, knowing full well that the dozen shelves of mammoth glass jars filled with tea were not going to sell themselves. Especially the one high up (apparently tea, like liquor, gets finer and more expensive the higher the shelf), that cost $800 per pound.

Kenny tossed out his life philosophies, which he insisted were garnered from the tealeaves. He followed that up by insisting that tea gives people a high, pointing out that the mother-daughter pair seated next to me was certainly feeling the effects.

After two hours, too much tea and a few tear-eyed laughs, I floated out of the teashop relaxed and happy.

I weaved randomly through Chinatown, falling off the beaten path and ultimately into a fortune cookie factory that allowed me to watch them bake, my spontaneity rewarded with a free cookie.

Ultimately I made it back to the top of Grant Street where it pierces Columbus Avenue. I stopped to take in the myriad cultures, from Italian to Chinese to beat poet.

I checked my backpack, which was now filled with some old books from City Lights, some Italian olive oil and a couple bags of rare tea. They were packed up next to the Ghirardelli chocolate I had already purchased, the funny souvenir I got on Alcatraz and my camera that held some stunning photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The eclectic collection of items in my bag became holiday gifts for my family and friends. The eclectic collection of sights, sounds, smells and cultures in San Francisco is a gift to everyone.