Porvoo Finland: An Inviting Old Town

The distance from Helsinki to Old Porvoo is approximately 30 miles east, or 40 minutes back in time by bus. Helsinki is the capital of Finland and a delight in itself, but Porvoo, (pronounced pour voh with rolled r), is famed for its “Old Town” (Gamla Stan in Swedish).onion bulbFounded in 1386, it’s medieval streets are filled with mostly picturesque wooden houses. I recently had the opportunity to visit Old Porvoo on a bus tour with a group of friends and would highly recommend it as a scenic day trip from Helsinki whether by bus, or in summer by boat from the Helsinki market square. It’s charming little boutiques, antiikki shops, street market, and cafes will entertain for hours.Porvoo shop

Cafe Helmi








Start at the bottom of Valikatu Street with an unlimited chocolate tasting at Brunberg’s Chocolate Factory, which is right where our guide dropped us off with maps of the old town.

BrunbergsBrunberg’s has a wide selection of truffles, toffees, and pistachio bark (which my husband loves).

After sampling a little of everything, pick up a little truffle selection for someone back home or chocolate medicated relief for those occasional stressful travel moments.




As you continue up Valikatu towards the cobbled market square, be sure to stop in Riimikko Toy Shop to check out the innovative and endearing toys for boys and girls, and for those of us who never grow old.

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When you reach the market square, check out the stalls of typical Finnish souvenirs of furs, leather, trinkets, and winter hats. From here, you can walk back down Jokikatu, which is a parallel street to Valikatu.  Jokikatu will take you back to the starting point near Brunberg’s and the public restrooms. There are of course many side streets of shops and photo opportunities, but these two main streets are jam-packed with cute shops for a first visit to the old city.

 Hanna Maria man











After some dedicated retail-therapy, lunch reservations beckoned our group up the hill to the very top of town at Wanha Laamanni restaurant where our group took over two floors. Wanha Laamanni is located in a charming 18th century log building next to a medieval cathedral, and has an inviting outdoor patio as well.  We rejuvenated over a relaxing meal of wine, artisan bread (notable for the indulgence), prawn skagen for starters, and a tender lamb artfully presented for mains.  As with every meal on this Scandinavian adventure, an enticing dessert was offered as well.

I suggest packing forgiving waistbands, comfortable shoes for cobblestones, and definitely your camera, as the storefronts in Old Porvoo are extremely photogenic.

Inverness & The Clan Gathering 2014

Day two of our UK summer adventure started off with a jolt. We woke late with the Parliament due to begin in 10 minutes downtown at the Town Hall.  John raced out the door, but no good can become of a day without coffee, so I set off to explore Inverness a little more slowly along the way. Downtown Inverness seems to have changed drastically over the 7 years since our last visit, with much more expansive shopping, dining, and many coffee houses. I picked up a couple semi-skim lattes before joining the clan. I was immediately impressed to find most people wearing their tartans, whether it was a full out kilt, vest and jacket, or tartan dress, skirt or scarves for the women.

Clan MacLennan Leadership

Clan MacLennan Leadership

Our clan chief is Ruairidh MacLennan, Scotland’s youngest. Over the next hour or so, Ruairidh worked his way through the parliament agenda discussing the MacLennan museum, future gatherings, and made well-deserved leadership appointments for Canada and Australia. There was a presentation from the clan genealogist regarding the new clan database and DNA testing. The parliament last met in 2009 but it was decided the next gathering will be in four years in 2018 to coincide again with the Commonwealth Games which attracts a lot of people to Scotland for Homecoming.

Alex Graham, the Provost of Inverness (Mayor) then welcomed and addressed the clan first in Gaelic, and then in English. He most generously offered an expansive buffet lunch his staff had prepared and set out in the council board room for us.17 townhouse

The Town Hall Inverness is a gorgeous 16 Town househistorical building with many plaques, paintings, flags and memorabilia that interest history and genealogy buffs such as us.

In 2007, we had been walking past the Town and came upon a children’s performance when we went inside to look at the WWI and WWII plaques. We enjoyed their dancing, piping and singing and their families welcomed us to their coffee and cookies social hour afterwards. The Town Hall always reminds me of the friendly folk of Inverness.

After lunch there were to be the mini Highland games in the Northern Meeting park. As it was starting to rain lightly, we decided to explore downtown and shop for John’s sporran, which was needed to complete his formal attire for the formal clan dinner.

3 the old high church



4 old high church





We stopped in the churchyard of the Old High Church to peruse the headstones, before making our way down through the raindrops to Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop and Cafe. 4 LeakeysWe follow Leakey’s on Facebook and are treated to the day’s soup and sandwich menu from 3,600 miles away. I had been craving a bowl of their hearty soup with “a chunk of crusty bread or oatcakes” for over a month, but was no longer hungry after the Provost’s luncheon. Leakey’s occupies a former church and is warmed by a wood burning stove next to the cash register station. The second floor cafe and print selection are accessed by a metal circular staircase.5 Leakeys 15 Leakeys6 Leakeys latteWe enjoyed looking down on the stacks and stacks of books while enjoying perfected steamed lattes and sharing a piece of pecan shortbread tart. It was unusual to see all those books in one place as we usually read on our iPads. Even when we go to the library to enjoy the reading room, we have not seen the massive amount of books that Leakey’s has on their shelves. It was very cosy and I can imagine spending another rainy afternoon by the warmth of the wood stove skimming through the stacks. We did find two prints verified over 100 years old, with sketches of the MacLennan and Munro crests, so we scooped them up as souvenirs of Inverness.Munro printMaclennan print

7 the butcher








We continued to explore in the rain and found a wonderful old indoor Victorian Market. Huge black and white historic photos are displayed over many of the shop’s arched doorways. There were some expected touristy shops including one that sold Yankee Candles, a dentist, spice shop, hair salon, and an inviting coffee shop.14 Market

9 Victorian Markey








10 Vic Market

11 Vict Market










Marks & Spencers was close by, so we stocked up on wine and bottled water (travel essentials) and shopped around. It’s always fun to see what is on grocery stores shelves in other countries. My grand-cat Max might enjoy the cat milk?

11 Marks & Spencer cat milk 10 Marks & Spencer






The high street around the corner from Marks & Spencer and Eastgate Centre Mall is closed to cars for pedestrians to enjoy. Where we would have teenagers with guitars busking for change, we found delightful bagpipers in full Highland dress – across from McDonald’s…at least it sounds Scottish.

16 bagpipers

16 chisholms

Why can’t’ we have a purple tartan?

The search continued for the elusive sporran as it had to be authentic and created in Inverness. We shopped at Highland House of Fraser and Ben Wyvis, but the windows at Chisholm’s Highland Dress had caught our eye, so we ended our search there.

1 chisholms


Upstairs we found the perfect combination of old world craftsmanship, attention to detail, and with the help of a very knowledgeable and sweet saleslady, we found the perfect pewter silver thistle sporran made in Scotland. What about me you ask?  I did find a brooch for my MacLennan sash with purple amethyst-like stones as a remembrance of Inverness. Lovely.

2 chisholms

fine leather working


The perfect authentic sporran

Chisholm brooch

Made in East Kilbride






Later in the day, a shuttle delivered everyone to the Dores Inn  for pre-dinner drinks and socializing down by the shores of Loch Ness. Clansmen gathered with children, families, and new friends for photos, to raise a glass, and to gaze at the amazing scenery.

Loch Ness 2 Loch Loch 4

After an hour or so, Chief Ruairidh picked up his pipes and called us all to the street to march behind him and his colours to the Dores Parish Hall, where we were to have the traditional ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee).

Chief Loch Ness


John kicking up his man-skirt at the ceilidh

At the hall great room, we quickly found ourselves at the last vacant table and were seated with a fantastic couple, Jane and Dave from the area, and 3 wonderful new friends from Ontario, Marilyn, Leslie, and Kristin.

The catered dinner started with prawns and Scottish salmon appetizer and was delicious as all Scottish salmon usually is. When it came time for the main course, they had run out of food for our table so there was a fair amount of joking and teasing while we waited for the hotel to prepare and deliver the missing meals of stovies (Scottish meat stew) and cranachan, which is literally a huge container of whipped cream, honey, whiskey and fresh raspberries.

Creaky Dores provided music for dancing and our new friend Jane got my husband up on the dance floor to learn a reel. He had been hiding his prowess on the dance floor all these years, so there is definitely dancing in his cards soon! There were raffles for prizes and a very cool bottle of Scottish whiskey with a Clan MacLennan label and games with pitching coins.  A great evening was had by all. Soon it was midnight and time to drive back down the country roads in the moonlight to the Beaufort.

Tomorrow we travel to Eilean Donan Castle.








MacLennan Scotland Homecoming 2014

Old Man of Storr

Hiking Old Man of Storr – August 2007

The first time that my husband and I traveled to Scotland was in August 2007 to experience Fringe Fest In Edinburgh.  We stayed downtown Edinburgh on the weekends, and Inverness and Isle of Skye on the weekdays. Being a huge Outlander fan, we cycled Culloden and Clava Cairns.  We cruised Loch Ness, visited Eilean Donan Castle, hiked the Old Man of Storr on Skye, and of course tasted some mighty fine whisky. We had a marvelous time exploring for a couple weeks, but did not have specific ancestral information to do a deep dive into my husband’s Scottish roots.

Uruquart castle

We have been members of Chicago Scots for many years. We volunteer at the Highland Games, attend the Robbie Burns dinners and the picnics at the Scottish Home, but until retiring, have not had time for the ancestral research that was necessary to plan a personal journey home to the UK. When we heard that Clan MacLennan was planning a 2014 Clan Gathering to promote our clan and to bring the global family together to celebrate customs and traditions, we decided to participate and make the UK our primary vacation destination in July 2014.

Clan MacLennan offered a jam packed 4 day program of activities which we eagerly signed up for and started counting down the days until we began our the first leg of our vacation in Inverness. Ancestral research flipped into high gear, and day by day planning of our vacation kept us busy finding interesting things to explore in each city we planned to visit over the course of our journey.  We had 17 days including travel time to fit in Inverness, Bristol, Bournemouth and London as our 4 major stops where we would stay multiple days, and walk or drive out from our hotels to explore.

UK Trip 2014

Planned UK Route

3 main courseDue to our aggressive frequent flier mile strategy and some fortuitous planning, our adventure started with a relaxing flight across the pond on United Global First class. We had a delicious meal and a few glasses of wine before stretching out on our lie flat beds with duvet coverlets for a few hours sleep before changing planes in Frankfurt for Edinburgh. (Thank you husband for all your required travel that helps us accumulate miles)

The drive from Edinburgh Airport to the Beaufort Hotel in Inverness took approximately 5 hours.  (New personal planning rule: multiply Mapquest and GPS time estimates by 1.75 in UK.)  The Beaufort was the chosen headquarters for the Clan gathering and we were happy to book a room right in the center of the action. We were given a well furnished, quiet room with double bed and nicely equipped bathroom with strong shower and a towel warmer…a welcome European treat.

Having not eaten during the drive up, we were eager for our dinner reservations at River House restaurant in downtown Inverness. Currently rated #2 of 184 restaurants on Tripadvisor, it is a very charming small restaurant in an old storefront right on the River Ness. 9 River House exteriorThe interior is adorned with floor to ceiling velvet curtains on the windows and front doorway, and the dinner specials are listed on a blackboard. It is a very cozy atmosphere. River House serves locally sourced, seasonal and sustainable meals so I chose a scrumptious grilled filet of sea bass with pancetta risotto, and my husband Prime Scottish sirloin steak Au Poivre with french fries. They had him at frites! A little warm rustic bread, a bottle of French white, and a crème brulee to share…life is good!

River House








By the time we walked back to the Beaufort, the clan meet and greet was over, but we were happy to go to bed early to try to adjust our bodies to the UK time zone.

Stay tuned for more photos and The Clan Gathering.

Summer Weekend Getaway in St. Louis, Missouri

My fun-loving better half and I decided to drive from Chicago to St Louis, Missouri over the Memorial Day weekend to catch up with dear friends that live farther south. St. Louis is the halfway meet up point for us both and we looked forward to a couple days of tourist activities and relaxation.

Being dedicated Marriott Rewards members, we had reservations at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel, just blocks from the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium. We found at check-in that The Grand is a wedding ceremony and reception destination with 18 weddings planned for Memorial Day weekend, but not to worry. Many formally dressed people mingled in the lobby among hundreds of gifts bags and flowers arrangements, but the weddings in no way affected the service of the staff or the elevator response time at this 23 floor facility. This is a gorgeous property architecturally, with an elegant curved marble staircase down to the Capri restaurant where we enjoyed complimentary continental buffet breakfasts. There is an in-house Starbucks, a gift shop, and the chic Grand bar. There are two Renaissances in St. Louis, so make sure you reserve the one downtown at 800 Washington Avenue for a luxury experience. arch blue After dropping our luggage, we soon met up with our friends to head over to the Gateway Arch. Planning ahead, we had purchased timed entry tickets online the previous day for $10 each, allowing us to skip the line and show up at the time of our trip to the top. The experience is very well run and involves slowly walking through dioramas detailing the construction completed in 1965. Two trams run to the top viewing room every 5 minutes, where at 630 feet, on a clear day you can look out over 30 miles.  arch view The structure was built as a monument to Thomas Jefferson and all the pioneers for who St. Louis was the Gateway to the West, as Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory in the Louisiana Purchase and made Westward Expansion possible.


Once down to earth again in the visitor center, we stopped in the Museum of Westward Expansion, which is free to the public.  museumThe museum has many interesting exhibits and helpful docents. We could have spent more time here but they were closing at 6pm as it was the last day of winter schedule, so we moved outside to take a few more photos.








In the mood for seafood, we meandered over to Broadway Oyster Bar at 736 S. Broadway, about a mile from the Arch. Outdoor seating had an hour wait, but we were quickly shown to a table inside the eclectically decorated and air conditioned bar. After sharing a delicious dinner of oysters, crab legs, wine, and tasty bites of my husband’s sampler platter of spicy Gumbo Ya Ya, Jambalaya, red beans & rice & crawfish Étouffée, we slowly walked back towards Busch Stadium. Stopping at the Budweiser Brew House for drinks, we took selfies and checked out the on stage entertainment, multiple bars, and huge television screens. The Brew House just opened in March 2014, spans 3 levels, 26,000 square feet, has an outdoor beer garden and a rooftop deck with views of Busch Stadium.  It is definitely a party atmosphere with bachelor and bachelorette limos dropping and picking up partiers everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, St. Louis is a wedding destination.

After calling it a night, we returned to our respective hotels for some R&R and planned to meet up in the morning after breakfast.

We woke Saturday to a bright and beautiful day and Starbucks skim lattes just an elevator ride away. Caffeine heaven so close!

The first stop after picking up our friends, was the Soulard Farmers Market located at 730 Carroll Street, where we scored an on street parking spot right across from the main door. The market is open Wednesday thru Saturday, year round and features locally grown and shipped in food, and the usual farmers market goods like organic soap, plants, and flowers. This market has been in existence since 1779 and is definitely worth a visit. I regret we did not bring a cooler and ice, as there was plenty of fresh produce, farm raised meat, and award winning artisanal goat cheese from Baetje Farms. We bought fruit, took many photos, and enjoyed the market sights and smells, as well as the sounds of down home entertainment.   Soulard Entertainment






From Soulard Market, it was just a short 20 minute drive to Grant’s Farm, home of the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales and a beautiful family entertainment park.

Clydesdale wagonBeing a gorgeous summer day, many families and couples had the same plans. There was a bit of a line getting in to the parking lot, but the entire park, tram ride through the exotic wildlife park, and entertainment are free after paying $12 for parking.

parrotsInteresting to note, once you enjoy the narrated tram ride through the park, see all of the exotic animals and grounds, adults can enjoy two free draft beers of their choice in the Bauernhof Hospitality area. A greater percentage of visitors were enjoying the beer and food than petting the goats.


Ever the frugal travelers, we also indulged in grilled brats, grilled chicken sandwiches, fries, and free beer, and made it a lunch.

BaernhofOn the way back to the car, we walked to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site – White Haven Farm just across the parking lot. There is an intriguing exhibit entitled An Intricate Tapestry: The Lives of Ulysses and Julia Grant, that details their public and private lives within the context of their time and how they shaped and were shaped by events of the nineteenth century. There were many personal letters on display that gave insight to their loving relationship. Sigh… ever the romantic, I am inspired next to read Julia Dent Grant’s personal memoirs.

Later that afternoon we met up at Robust at 635 Washington, just blocks from our hotels, to watch the Chicago Blackhawks play the LA Kings in the third game of the semi-finals. The hostess was not happy to provide a television for a Chicago game, but after convincing her the bartender had promised…we were seated in a back corner table with two TVs at our disposal, which was quite excellent. Kris, our server, was extremely attentive. The wine and appetizers were to die for. We enjoyed a selection of small plates, particularly the Figgy Piggy Apple Flatbread with bacon, Granny Smith apples, fig jam, Gorgonzola and Mozzarella cheese – piggy being the operative word. Unfortunately the Blackhawks lost in game 3 to the Kings, but we had a fantastic time catching up with our dearest friends.

St. Louis remains on our to do list of drivable weekend destinations, with many attractions we have yet to enjoy:  Forest Park world’s fair site, botanical gardens, a brewery tour, a Blackhawks and Blues game, or a Cubs and Cardinals game. Washington Avenue west of Broadway abounds with many interesting coffee shops, restaurants and wine bars waiting to be explored:  Three Sixty, Copla Restaurant & Wine Garden, Blondie’s Coffee and Wine Bar…to name just a few.

Just 4-1/2 hours from Chicago, St. Louis offers an enjoyable getaway and a another taste of The Good Life…

Duran Eurobrunch in River West Chicago

We had the opportunity this weekend to meet up with a number of travel, food and wine enthusiasts at Duran European Sandwiches Cafe located in the River West area of Chicago at 539 N. Milwaukee Avenue.  Duran is a family owned chain of cafes and has several shops in Vienna, Budapest and Istanbul, but the River West location is the only licensed outlet in the United States.  They feature wonderfully different small open faced sandwiches called tartines (around 35 on the current menu), omelets, bagels, pastries made in house, soups, and mini quiches.


Our Litereati Meetup hostess worked with Duran staff to create a Eurobrunch with specialty omelets, tartine samplers, and mini quiches, along with coffee and tea.  Litereati provided champagne for the mimosas and a geography trivia contest with travel swag prizes, both of which ensured the enthusiastic participation of the group.  Duran provided a delicious tasting menu including the fresh ingredients, european meats and cheeses that you might expect to find while relaxing at a European cafe.


Chèvre, mushroom, chive & artichoke quiche

All of the brunch items were served with a side salad, and Duran roasted potatoes which were crispy and delicious.

Tartine Sampler

Tartine sampler served warm – Roast beef, ham and veggie sandwiches

Man does not live by food alone although Le Bon Vie Travels does seem to always partake in a memorable meal,  a glass of wine…and probably a fine dessert as well.  I would be extremely remiss if I did not mention the purpose of the meet up was to get together with like minded people interested in travel to share conversation, adventures, advice, and plans for the future.   We had inspiring conversation, shared some of our upcoming plans, and met quite a few interesting travelers and people in the industry – a great little arm-chair travel get-together to keep the wanderlust at bay until our next weekend away with friends.

People travel for different reasons…to experience new cultures, meet new people, explore history, art, architecture, ancestry, adventure,  food and wine…and sometimes just for the elusive sunshine!  Being able to share it all with other enthusiasts increases the gratification and like the vacation photo album, lets you relive it all again.  Wishing you memorable travels….and Le Bon Vie.


A Day in Chicago: Vivian Maier’s Photography and Eataly

Spring has arrived in Chicago. Not with Facebook posts of daffodils blooming in Missouri or vegetable seedlings sprouting in Texas, but with the bracing midwestern air that greets you at the front door as you scurry out for the Sunday paper. Breathe deep, arms spread wide and face to the sun, sighing deep relief…so good to be alive!

With the end of winter hibernation in sight, we decided to venture downtown to play tourists for a day. After a leisurely breakfast and a decadent stop for a stress relieving massage, we headed  to the Chicago History Museum to take in a new photography exhibit entitled Vivian Maier’s Chicago.  We both love black and white photography, history and Chicago, so this was sure to be a great outing.

We fortified ourselves with skim lattes and a crispy delicious cranberry oatmeal cookie in the museum cafe and then perused the thoughtfully selected offerings in the gift shop. Coffee, cookie and shopping.  Begin with the inevitable necessities and everyone will travel a little happier.

The original boxcar styling music of the Sanctified Grumblers drew us up to the second floor where we soon found the Vivian Maier exhibit:

Vivian Ms. Maier was born in 1926 in New York City and spent her early childhood in France.  Much of her life was spent traveling with her camera to Canada, South America, Europe, Middle East, Asian and and the Caribbean.  She spent decades of her free time capturing street shots of real people, immigrants, children, the wealthy, and noteworthy events of the time such as parades, tornadoes, and riots.  Vivian had an amazing eye to capture and document extraordinary images with her focus seeming to be concentrated on people in struggle.


Vivian settled in Chicago in 1956, supporting her secret photography passion by working as a nanny.  She remained here until her death in 2009 whereupon her photos were discovered.  The massive collection includes more than just the Chicago neighborhoods and faces of the 1960s and 70s which are displayed at the Chicago History Museum.  There are currently Vivian Maier exhibits in France, Belgium and Sweden as well as a documentary: Finding Vivian Maier.

Click here for more information and inspiring photographs.

After satisfying our thirst for Vivian’s Chicago, we checked out a few more interesting Chicago history exhibits before eagerly departing for a late lunch at Eataly.  This is a one-stop European market spread out over two floors at 43 E Ohio Street. Although not the creators of Eataly, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich are involved in the hospitality areas of the business, which I could have guessed after perusing the Lidia cookbooks, cookware, and foods.  Bastianich brands and Grano Padano cheeses were much in evidence, which reinforced my enthusiasm  for this market. I do love to watch Lidia’s Italy on public television and she occasionally inspires me to cook with more passion.

life is short

We bypassed all of the tempting treats on the first floor: Nutella and gelato counters, sweets, Panini, Lavazzo bar, BAFFO Ristorante Enoteco, and chocolate, and headed up the escalator for a little vino and sustenance.  There are nine restaurants as well as counters for cheese, fresh pasta, butcher, baker, salumi, wine department and a separate birreria.  So difficult to choose, but we found a marble standing table at La Piazza and enjoyed a couple glasses of Guado Al Tasso Vermentino 2011. Fresh and fruity with a little mineral and quite tasty, so we bought a bottle for home. The service was attentive with various wait staff plying us with warm bread and olive oil for dipping while we decided on appetizers. We were soon enjoying a half dozen oysters and a prosciutto sampler plate. oysters It was difficult to not indulge in the fresh mozzarella, but sampling the incredible cheese selections is a great reason to return.  Besides all of the great shopping, eating and drinking, Eataly offers cooking classes and hosts private events.  We will be back playing tourist soon while enjoying Le Bon Vie!

Cheese Eataly

Valentine’s Day: Top 10 Gift Ideas for Travelers

Attention husbands and significant others: It’s almost Valentine’s Day and expectations are running high. Time is running out to decide what to gift the love of your life. I personally treasure new experiences more than material things…unless of course it’s a little something something in a robin’s egg blue box. You know the kind. However, if your special someone is an avid traveler there are a number of tangible gifts other than jewelry that will guarantee your journey woman’s heart flutters wildly at the thought of you and your devotion.

  1. Airline tickets to a romantic destination.  Wonderful experiences can be had with the swipe of a credit card. Think Paris, Florence, Hawaii, or any some beachy destination she’s been longing for.  Chicago or Austin can be just as intoxicating when you experience a new city together. Slip an airline ticket inside the cover of a rosy red Papyrus card and she will be forever yours.  For years to come, you will be the catch when she brings you up in conversation.  Her friends will see you in a new positive light. Other men?  Hmph. They will probably give you sh*t for raising the bar, but who cares as long as she’s appreciative.
  2.  You’re not sure she’s craving a Paris getaway? You’re not sure you and your credit card can get on board soon?  A promise of a getaway is the next best thing.  Wrap up a book about an interesting travel destination, inscribe it with a voucher for the future, and tie it up with a bow.  We like anticipating our future together and will be happy that you are thinking about spending it with us. Many cold winter nights can be spent warm and cuddling in front of the fire with a glass of wine while planning the vacation. If you already bought the significant jewelry, this could be called honeymoon planning.  Buy the travel book and get extra Love points.
  3. Like books, city walking maps or country maps are great for dreaming and organizing.  If we pick up a car in Milano, will a week be long enough to enjoy Tuscany before dropping the car off in Roma? Perhaps we should rent a Ferrari?Wine and maps
  4. Traditionally we celebrate over a special dinner. If you both have Tuscany on your mind, make reservations at a candlelit Italian restaurant and fill her in on your plan to whisk her away over a fine Brunello di Montalcino.  Ti amo!
  5. Nothing says je t’aime like a selection of romantic love songs you’ve selected just for her. Choose music related to your theme destination.  Surprise her with a download on an iPod that she can listen to on the plane.
  6. If you are traditional and she likes candy and sweets, make your gift an exotic treat related to the travel theme.  For a Paris getaway, purchase a box of colorful French macaroons or perfectly crisp, buttery Provencal almond cookies. French patisseries are popping up everywhere.  If Napa Valley is where you are headed, then order up a decadent box of artisanal chocolate from Napa.  Slip a couples massage into the box. You will be glad you did. Be creative. Do a little research online of what is available to ship from your dream destination.
  7. A lightweight rolling carry-on is a gift that keeps on giving and let’s her know there are a lot of journeys planned in the future for the two of you.
  8. Fill her new bag with travel size toiletries or her favorite perfume.  Pop in a luxurious leather travel diary to journal the special moments spent touring together.
  9. Maybe you already have a fantastic trip planned.  Now is the time to enhance the journey.  Research an experience to enjoy together while you are away: a photography safari, a culinary class, or a wine tour.  Choose something that appeals to both of you. She just might surprise your thoughtfulness with a day spent doing something you love like visiting a car museum or touring significant historical sites.
  10. Subscription to my travel blog.  Priceless!  Free actually.  Subscribe on the right menu and come along while I entertain you with travel ideas. Travel is the gift that delivers memories for a lifetime. Share it with someone you love. Merci et bon voyage Valentine!

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Life Act Two – It’s all about travel and reinvention

Another bone-chilling, wintry day in Chicagoland.   8 degrees F, not that it helps to count once it’s below 40.  Time to fantasize about spring, summer, fall…anything but Chicago winter which I fear will linger forever.  My husband and I reference our weather apps constantly, reading out to each other: 59 degrees in Avignon, 48 in London, in an effort to one-up each other with more desirable cities to live.  Forgive me Chicago.  The other 6 months of the year we are grateful to live near a top international vacation destination with so many museums, world class dining, and festivals at our fingertips.

I spent an entire hour choosing today’s header photo (stuck in iPhoto reliving warm summer days).  Vacation photos bring back wonderful memories of the destinations my husband and I have enjoyed over the past 10 years:  many trips to France, Italy, Scotland, Canada, California, Hawaii and Texas, with a few hockey trips mixed in to exciting destinations like Dallas, Philly, and Minneapolis.  We explored, took photos, sampled wine and food, cycled, shopped, devoured art, architecture, and all things historical…and I am ready to go again. I am truly blessed to have found a partner that loves travel as much as I do. 

Newly retired (sounds old but I swear I’m not), I am now Queen of my Home Office and ready to begin a second act.  I admit to an impressive to-do list of activities, previously put off in the name of work and responsibility:  spend time on creating, writing, and blogging, learn French, become a better photographer, exercise more, garden, and definitely travel more – whereupon the garden will probably suffer…but I will take some photos for you when it is looking lush and bountiful.

This inaugural blog post addresses To Do List Item 1: Start a blog.  With the holidays over, I have run out of excuses to delay, and have been participating in a fantastic 3-part blogging series at Chicago TribU led by  Jimmy Greenfield, manager of ChicagoNow, which is the Tribune’s blog network.

Le Bon Vie (The Good Life) will focus on engaging and inspiring you the reader through travel posts and entertaining bucket list activities. We will discuss destinations US and worldwide, activities not to miss, where to stay, what to see, where to dine, and what to pack.

Through armchair/iPad excursions, I have been following the exploits of many lucky people re-inventing their lives by expanding their horizons through travel.  As well I am hooked on House Hunters International and every half hour show makes me want to pick up and relocate to another city if just for a month, which leads me to…

To Do List Item 2: Become part of the life re-imagined community.  One of the amazing couples I follow who are re-inventing their lives. are Lynne and Tim Martin. They are my heroes and inspiration. Lynne and Tim sold their home in California wine country in order to live in rented homes across the world. Lynne blogs their story at Home Free Adventures, and also has a new book coming out in April 2014: Home Sweet Anywhere. Check them and her book out.   If you have even a drop of wanderlust in your veins, you will be inspired to dream if not to get out the map and plan.

As for my wanderlust…summer 2014 will find us exploring ancestral roots in Scotland and England, and just when I’m a little blue with the end of summer fun, we will getaway to Palm Springs.   Sowing the seeds for a much busier travel schedule in 2015, I have already begun enticing my husband with dreams of a trip to the Audi factory in Ingolstadt, Germany and the opportunity to drive on the autobahn.  Finding ourselves across the pond, perhaps we can extend the trip to include Austria, Netherlands, and maybe Norway, and Estonia.  The opportunities are endless.  Come along with me and we will see what we can see.

~The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page.

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