Archive | Slideshowable

Our Day of Decadence in SFO

Move over wine, there is a new industry in the Northern California: one that is creamier, cheaper, and won’t get your fired if you keep it in your desk drawer and partake all day.

Chocolate.

Sure, San Francisco is known for Ghirardelli; A chocolate so popular there is an entire city square named after it. But if you think Ghirardelli is the only chocolate maker in town, you will be missing out on the city’s emerging industry. Just Google artisan chocolate in San Francisco and you’ll get more than 200,000 hits!

The Bay area is quickly becoming the United States gourmet chocolate heart. Fueled by technology moguls who have given up buying vineyards and making wine with their millions (that’s so 1993), many of these dotcom wonders are turning to creating the next best thing: chocolate.

Chocolate San Francisco1000 Fights got an up close and personal tour of the city’s best chocolate stores and chocolatiers. As part of Gourmet Walks Chocolate Tour we got the 411 on the city’s best chocolate while learning about how chocolate is made and why you should eat it (not a problem for us). As part of an intimate tour, the group only had seven people. Now the Fighting Couple are very particular about tours. We don’t like big tours and we expect someone who knows their stuff. We got just the right kind of experience with the Gourmet Chocolate Tour. It was a small tour and Beth knew a lot about chocolate, but more about San Francisco. That’s the benefit of a tour, you get the chance to interact with locals, asking your questions and get a different perspective.

Our tour guide Beth began with some chocolate education by showing us what chocolate comes from: the cacao bean. We got to touch, smell and worship the bean. Beth explained the entire chocolate miracle: from the bean to production. We even got to taste the cacao nibs, which are cacao beans that have been roasted. It’s the rawest form of edible chocolate. We also learned why 1000 Fights loves white chocolate. It’s the fat of the bean. Yes, white chocolate is the cacao butter and unfortunately, doesn’t have the same health benefits as milk and dark chocolate. However, it won’t stop us from eating it.

How to eat ChocolateOur walking tour started at Justin Herman’s Plaza and moved into the bustling Ferry Building Market Place. We started at the self-proclaimed chocolate mecca, Scharffen Berger, where we got a first of many tastes as part of the Gourmet Walks. Just like fine wine, we were told to enjoy the chocolate experience. Instead of popping and chomping on the chocolate immediately, look at it, feel it, smell it and enjoy it. Let the taste sink into your palate and close your eyes. Absorb the chocolate and decipher the flavor. Does it taste of fruit, woods, milk or cream? Remember, wine and chocolate are some of the world’s finest substances, savor them.

The tour continued to Recchiuti’s, local chocolatier where we enjoyed spring Jasmine Tea Chocolate: Jasmine blossoms and green team infusion blended with pure dark chocolate and Burnt Caramel Chocolate: smoky burnt caramel infused in fresh cream with 70 percent dark chocolate paired with spring water. Recchiuti’s is gourmet chocolate on steroids. Just walking into the shop, makes you feel swanky. Even the walls are covered with its descriptions of chocolate heaven-including Lavender Vanilla Chocolates and my personal favorite, Lemon Verbena with organic local lemon verbena steeped into whole cream and blended into decadent chocolate ganache.

Next we continued through the Ferry Building to LaCocina, a local company which specializing in giving local food entrepreneurs a leg up. We had the opportunity to eat the up and coming NeoCocoa truffles including Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Truffle with Hawaiian black lava sea salt and the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Truffle. If you go to San Francisco, check out the Ferry Building Marketplace. There aren’t just chocolates there. While we were on the tour, we found  ourselves wishing we had more time to come back and take it in a bit more.

ChocolateAs Beth led us out of the Ferry Building, we started towards Fog City News. In true San Francisco style, we saw a protest. Free Tibet! Locals will say if you don’t see a protest or someone scantily clad or less, you haven’t seen the true San Francisco. As we snaked along the city, we stopped in on Fog City News. The news stand and chocolate shop carries any magazine from any country you want and the chocolate to go with it. The staff personally tries every chocolate offered and I interrogated them, “What does this taste like, do you recommend it, what else would you buy?” The staff knew the answers! You can get chocolate from the world at Fog City News as well as local Northern California favorites. I bought Maison Bouche’s Fleur de Pecher (that’s a peach blossom chocolate for those of you in Lake Woebegone) and Ginger Elizabeth’s Vanilla Been Toffee Almond Desert Bar.

LeonidasAt every stop on the tour, we tasted the incredible offerings, including hot chocolate (at Leonidas) and the opportunity to buy chocolate. The tour even offered a discount card. It made a dent into the $80 worth of chocolate I bought along the way. Beth told us to pace ourselves with the chocolate. I did well until the sixth stop and by then I couldn’t fit anymore chocolate in my stomach. Luckily, we could take it in our “to go bag,” that included Swiss Chocolate maker Teuscher’s famous champagne truffles, obsessed by celebrities including Oprah.  One of the biggest takeaways from the tour is that unlike wine, fine chocolate won’t run you hundreds of dollars. The most expensive chocolate in the world is a fraction of the price of the world’s most expensive wine. For a couple of dollars, you can get a piece of chocolate flown in from the capitals of Europe or better yet, Northern California!

White ChocolateThe three hour tour ended at the Piece de Resistance: CocoaBella Chocolates in the Westfield San Francisco Center for even more tasting and explanations of the chocolate industry. CocoaBella carries designer chocolates from around the world. If it’s not beautiful and tastes amazing, CocoaBella doesn’t carry it. I couldn’t resist buying the Vanilla Cupcake Chocolate made with sweet cream and vanilla frosting ganache mixed with tiny cake pieces from Norman Love, a chocolatier in Florida or Turin Italy’s Guido Gobino’s Peppermint Infused White Chocolate. I bought the most chocolate here, including CocoaBella’s Hazelnut Toffee with Alaea Hawaiian Salt. Luckily, I have hid it where no one in my family can find it.

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco than walking around the iconic city and tasting the mind blowing, marriage altering, moan inducing chocolate of the town. We highly recommend Gourmet Walks. We can’t wait to go back and check out their other tours. After all we, left our heart and more chocolate we’d like to taste in San Francisco.

 

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Gourmet Walks who provided this experience.  Check them out next time you are in San Francisco.

2

Finding London’s Famous Faces

Coming from a very young country, visiting London is a journey back in history.  One of the most exciting things about a trip to London is discovering the famous people who have been there before you. Dotted throughout the historic cities of Europe are these round or oval blue colored plaques.

The London blue plaques are a great way of exploring the city’s rich scientific, political, and literary heritage. They allow the lives, births, deaths and achievements of the great and influential to be mapped out across the entire cityscape.  It is a great way to spend a day, or better yet, map out the locations between stops during your exploration of London!

It’s easy to underestimate just how many famous people have graced London’s historic roads and buildings. Here is a look at some of the iconic destinations in the London city center and a guide to the famous faces who have helped make them so recognizable.

St Paul’s Cathedral

St Pauls

St Pauls (Photo credit: dicktay2000)

The iconic dome and spires of St Paul’s Cathedral are some of the most recognizable architectural delights of the entire city. With its origins dating back to 604 AD, this important Church of England cathedral has had its fair share of powerful and important people grace its halls. Stand where the powerful and influential stood!

Some of the important services that have taken place in St Paul’s include the funerals for the politician Sir Winston Churchill and the battle leaders Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. The wedding of Charles and Lady Diana Spencer also took place in St Paul’s, as did the 80th Birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

 

Lloyds of London

Lloyds of LondonFor any self-respecting insurance practitioner, a visit to London would not be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal of assurance: Lloyds.  What originally started in the humble beginnings of Lloyds coffee house, has become the leading insurance marketplace in the world.  Today you can stand in the lobby where just above you nearly $50 Billion worth of insurance will be traded.  Look for your blue plaque on Lombard street highlighting the once located coffee house.

While you may not recognize many of the names that acted as brokers or traders on the floor of Lloyd’s. You will certainly appreciate some of the names that have been insured here.  Let’s start with legs and move up.  Betty Grables, Brooke Shields, and of course Tina Turner’s legs were all insured here.    The bosoms of both Tempest Storm and Holly Madison were well endowed with coverage.  Jimmy Durante’s nose was covered for $1 million.  And to top it off, NFL star Troy Polamalu’s thick mane of hair is insured for $1 million.

 

Westminster Abbey

Westminster AbbyWestminster is on the top of every visitor’s must-see list. However, it’s easy to underestimate just how many famous people have graced its magnificent halls.

The Gothic style church has had its fair share of history, from the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066 through to the royal wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William in 2011.  Walk down the aisle with your own Prince Charming!

Finally, famous burials in the Abbey have included Isaac Newton, William Wilberforce and Charles Darwin.

If you really want to immerse yourself in the history of our capital then why not spend some time staying within the city limits? If you’re looking for affordable accommodation when visiting these iconic spots, Tower Bridge Hotel is just one of many affordable, comfortable and stylish options which are available.

Enjoy your tour of London!  Please send up you pics with your favorite blue plaque!

0

Putting the Boom! in Boomer Travel

We are excited to introduce you to the next traveling couple in our 7 Questions series.  Meet the traveling “Baby Boomers” Wayne and Pat of Unhook now.  Wayne and Pat truly but the “Boom!” in Boomer travel.  So here’s their story:  after owning a business, teaching at the university level, they rented out their home and are spending two years visiting 100 countries!  They invite you come along and see the world through their eyes!  Candidly, Luci and want to be like them when we grow up.

 

baby boomer travelHow to follow these two:

Blog:  www.UnhookNow.com
Facebook www.Facebook.com/PlanYourEscapeNow
Twitter:  @wdunlap

Lets get to the questions:

1) Over 100 countries visited? Wow! How has travel brought you together as a couple?

Wayne said: “Travel has greatly improved our lives together with a renewed outlook on life. Traveling with only a suitcase has shown us that we do not need stuff to be happy. Now we find much more important the people, friends, and new experiences in our lives. Our travel experience has changed our life. Together we love to have more adventures, romance, learning, having fun, laughing, and waking up excited about the day.”

Pat Said: “Choosing to run away with my husband and best friend has been the most rewarding lifestyle change one can make. Life without routines is inspiring and renews your playful spirit and love of life. It’s brought us closer together.”

1000Fights: You two are incredible! 

 

Riding elephant2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be? (this person can be living, historical or mythical)

Wayne Said: “Marco Polo – He was amazing traveling to an unknown world returning 24 years later. He met Kublai Khan and inspired Christopher Columbus and others. As a travel writer, I am impressed that his book about his journeys became one of the most popular books in medieval Europe and had great impact.”

Pat Said: “Besides my husband, hum… I guess it would be my long time friend, Diane, who is a great artist and sees the beauty everywhere we go. She is so much fun and we laugh.”

 

3) What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings? Why?

Wayne said: “We do a lot of research before we take off so we have been pretty lucky in having most places have something special. With so many wonderful places in the world with such diversity of customs, food, history, beliefs, and architecture, it is difficult to pick just one favorite. So here are some favorites – Italy with its amazing culture, beautiful cities, history, cuisine, and diverse scenery; the Greek Islands for the people, astounding beauty of the ocean and white architecture, winding stone streets of the old towns, trellis-covered tavernas, and food; New Zealand with the amazing beauty and laid-back people; and Thailand for its warm people of Buddhist faith, amazing food, and architecture.”

Pat said: “I also loved China’s canal city of Suzhou and the very modern city of Shanghai in China blow us away. Uruguay is wonderful for its natural beauty.”

 

Hiking glacier4) If you had to eat one last meal, what/where would you eat?

Wayne said: “With the large diversity of great food around the world, best is hard to pick. Here are favorites that come to mind: food and cheese in France, free-range beef in Buenos Aires, fish head curry and chili crab in Singapore, sukiyaki and okonomiyaki in Japan, and the authentic version of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper in an English pub.”

Pat said: “I would add lobster from U.S.’s New England and lobster pizza in Bequia in the Caribbean Grenadines, real pasta in Italy, Greek food in the Greek Islands, and padang curry in Thailand. This has made me hungry.”

1000Fights:  Ok…we are hungry!

 

5) Looks like you have taken a number of cruises. What appeals to you both about cruises? Is there a line that you prefer?

Pat said: “As soon as I step on a cruise ship I get a sense of immediately being on vacation and leaving worries and routines at home. The experience is a playground for adults and a fantasy. Cruises can take you to many interesting places, you can do as little or as much as you like, and there is no need to move luggage around, wait in airports, or worry about finding accommodations and transportation. We like Holland American Line for its value-price cruises, good destination itineraries, and great service and food.”

Wayne said: “What surprises many people is that cruising can be an economical way to travel. Especially during less popular weeks, many cruises can be a bargain when you consider they are all inclusive including lodging, transportation, great food (and more food), entertainment, shows, movies, lectures, shopping, activities, dancing, swimming, work out and other recreational facilities, and a relaxing enjoyable travel experience.

We include cruises on our travel adventures for many reasons. First, we like to have some downtime to relax and plan our future travel. Also, we will take a cruise that goes to a unique area we are not sure we would be interested in spending a lot of time exploring. On one of our trips through Asia, we included a cruise out of Singapore to see some of Indonesia and Malaysia. Sometimes a cruise to a unique area will entice us to go back. Our passion for the Greek Islands was sparked by a cruise (on our honeymoon).”

 

Thailand girls6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

Wayne said: “We try not to live with regret or dislike. When it comes to world travel, we wish our government and news media would make less use of fear of the world when attempting to control people and sell media. You do need to use common sense and always be aware of your security but we learned that the world and the people you meet can be wonderful, generous, and lovely.”

Pat said: “I keep thinking about world peace. Everywhere we go people are kind, generous, and have the same problems we have. If people travel more, they will see that people around the world have more similarities than differences and hatred and war is not necessary.”

 

7) You knew it was coming… What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

Pat said: “My intuitive sense of danger comes up once in a while that at first annoyed Wayne. We have never had any safety issues after traveling 100 countries together and he now appreciates the early warning system.”

 1000Fights:  Pat, you can travel with us anytime!  We need your talent!

Wayne said: “Spending all your time together for weeks can at times be overwhelming. I used to get disturbed when we would go to another shopping opportunity. So, we now occasionally split up and go your separate ways for a few hours or a whole day. This is great advice for couples. One might want to be active and explore while the other needs a rest and wants to read a book. One partner may want to go shopping while the other explores another museum or has a drink with friends. You can meet up later at lunch or dinner and will find your conversations lively as you share your adventures with each other.”

1000Fights:  Wayne, you and Mike are cut from the same cloth.

 

Wayne and Pat Dunlap are travel TV hosts (Plan Your Escape™) on the CW network and travel columnist for the Huffington Post. They have been fortunate to live their dreams and are members of the exclusive Travelers’ Century Club. In total, they have visited 100 countries and island groups on 6 continents as well as 44 U.S. states.

Thanks again to Wayne and Pat for sharing.  Please check out their blog at www.unhooknow.com.

0

The Traveling Innkeepers

They welcome the world’s travelers and then travel the world themselves: Meet the Traveling Innkeepers: Dan and Becky.

Dan and Becky are the proud owners of Prince Edward Island’s cozy Kindred Spirit Inn. 1000Fights has already previewed the Inn’s amazing culinary breakfast, now we’d like to introduce you to the owners of this comfortable and Anne-like property. With a name like Kindred Spirits, you imagine just how friendly the Inn really is! The Fighting Couple instantly felt a kindred spirit with Dan and Becky. They are the younger, more successful and attractive version of Mike and Luci!

Cordoba  Spain

Dan and Becky visiting Cordoba, Spain

Dan and Becky are true Islanders who both grew up on Prince Edward Island.  Dan’s grew up at Kindred Spirits after his parents ditched their desk jobs and bought the property and remodeled it.  Cavendish, PEI, the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous novel Anne of Green Gables, is visited by thousands of people a year.

Dan’s family lived in the Inn, but when tourist season hit from May to October, he moved out and his room became someone else’s! “I grew up with people from all over the world. I was constantly exposed to new people and new ideas.”

Growing up in PEI is a kid’s dream. It’s as idyllic as Anne describes it. “My range was only limited by geography. I could go to the beach myself and bike as far as I wanted; I just had to be back for supper — that was the rule,” Dan reminisces.

Becky and Dan married and bought the property from Dan’s folks. Becky has a knack for organization and started working at Kindred Spirits when she was in high school. Running the Inn, is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job.  And when something needs to be done, Dan and Becky fill in for every role of their 20 employees from security to house keeper, to cook to maintenance man.

But when the tourists leave, Dan and Becky do too. They take the winter and spring to tour the world.

No matter where they have traveled and they have traveled all over: New Zealand, Argentina, Thailand, Costa Rica, just to name a few, people make the difference. From the time a stranger helped them through the chaos of 100 people yelling and screaming in the Panama Airport or to the hotel clerk who helped Dan find his wallet that he left in a cab in Krabi, Thailand, the kindness of others when Dan and Becky travel, make them committed to ensuring that those who stay at Kindred Spirits have an impeccable experience.

Elephant in Thailand

The Traveling Innkeepers in Chaing Mail, Thailand

“Service is never inauthentic,” says Dan. “Everyone who comes to visit PEI is on their vacation and 99 percent of them are having the best days of the year. That’s what makes our jobs great. If you are a lawyer or an accountant, you are dealing with people on their worst days of the year.”

“The tourists are the best part of the job. We meet our guests as they come through the door,” Becky added. “Our job isn’t to be right; our job is to make guests feel comfortable.”

They are so committed to making things as gracious as can be at Kindred Spirits, that Becky keeps a travel notebook when they travel to record the “Wow” moments to help replicate them at Prince Edward Island. Like the time, they were in Argentina and they stayed at a place that invited them to sit and have coffee. “The act of sitting and sharing coffee was very meaningful. They walked us to our room. It was different from being checked in behind a cold, sterile, desk,” Becky explained.

We personally experienced this with the Inn’s cookies and tea service in the evening. In fact, when we arrived there was an entire list of social activities that guests could do to mingle with other guests and the staff.

Being in the travel business has also made Dan and Becky more critical of what they see on the road. “We are ruined,” Becky says about going to other hotels to stay. “We can’t walk into a property without seeing what’s wrong and what’s right. It’s certainly allowed us to relate.”

Better yet, the two are also fighters!  One of their highlights: they didn’t realize they needed a Visa to get to Vietnam. “And that was the time we almost went to Vietnam,” Becky laughs. They didn’t have their Visa so when they got to the airport and the ticket agent asked to see it; they had to change their plans immediately! It’s a 1000 Fight Nightmare! The story did end well, they ended up going to Malaysia instead!

Want to learn more about Kindred Spirits?  Check our recent post!

 

5

On the Road Less Traveled

We took turn after turn on dusty lonely dirt trails, passing thick plantations of tall lush trees and seemingly deserted shanty towns.  The setting sun was casting a red hue on the trees that matched the color of the road.  We finally reached our appointed destination, a small bed and breakfast located on a small rise overlooking forest and meadow.

flat African tree

Beautiful Swaziland

Our travel weariness must have been written on our faces.  The welcoming attendant at the front desk dispatched two young women to mind our luggage and settle us comfortably in our assigned abode.  The service offered by this small establishment rivaled any 5 star hotel.  The proprietors were a lovely Dutch couple and was completely staffed by young women.  Our short stay at this little outpost of hospitality has forever changed Luci and I.  Our hearts were struck by the hospitality, generosity and sheer beauty of the place.  The paradise we have described is Swaziland.

“You are going where??!!”  is usually the typically response we get when we tell friends and family about our next adventure destination.  “Why would you want to go to (insert remote location)?”  The answer is in the paragraph above.  Now the rest of the story from the portrait above.  Swaziland suffers from a number of challenges, poverty, hunger, disease epidemics and numerous social ills.  They don’t tend to put those on the glossy tourist websites. As a traveler, you can choose to let this scare you off, or you can dig deeper and find a treasure as we did in Swaziland.

In addition to Swaziland, we want to introduce you to some off the beaten travel destinations that might change your life.  Strap on your walking shoes, its time for adventure!

Bosnia

We are often asked which has been our favorite location out of the travels, Luci will always say Turkey (stay tuned!).  Mine would be Bosnia.  Bosnia is frankly one of the most beautiful, intriguing, and difficult places we have been.  Our trip, which wasn’t an extended one by any stretch, gave me a taste for a land filled with lush forests, dramatic waterfalls, towering mosques, and war hardened residents.  Bosnia offer travelers historical insights, out of door adventures including hiking, rafting and camping.

Greek coloumnsTurkey

As a kid, I always dreamt of being teleported back in time.  I wanted to live history.  I wanted to see, taste, smell, and interact with the scenes of great literature.  Turkey has made this boyhood dream a living reality.   The characters of the bible walked the same streets as I did.  We drank from the same springs.  I ate wonderful olives, savory meats from a roadside kabab, and partook of the most amazing Baklava!  Turkey brings history to life.

Read about our Open Love Letter to Istanbul.

Turkey was a surprise to both Luci and I.  We were discussing where we might want to go in Eastern Europe.  Turkey came up and we both said, yea….Turkey.  We started our in-depth research about the country, began our quest to learn everything we could about the history, culture and language.  Turkey offers great shopping in the Grand Bazaar, delicious cuisine, ultra friendly natives, and a window into history that has no rival.

Maldives

“Where exactly are the Maldives?” Ask most people, and they might have a challenge pointing the country out on a map.  The collection of roughly 1000 islands is located due south of India and west of the African Continent.  The island country is bathed in the Indian ocean. The temperature ranges from 75 to 90 degrees year round, making it a wonderful year round destination.  It offer travelers seclusion that rivaled by few places.

beach

Lovely Maldives

The most difficult choice is which island and resort to pick!  There are so many options for holidays to Maldives.   Lodging offerings range from Spartan shacks on the beach to five-star full service resorts.  The warm clear waters offer great snorkeling and diving.  Rent a boat and go island hopping.

A few words of warning about traveling off the beaten path.  First, be prepared.  Do your homework. Then be completely flexible.  Things including hotels, roads, and people that were to be there for you might not exist.  This is truly the beauty of traveling where few do.   One of our tricks to traveling well is humility and openness.  You must be willing to try new food, smell new smells?, and be completely removed from your comfort zone.  In return the dividends of off the beaten path travel will greatly enrich your life.

Tell us, where have you traveled off the beaten path?  What lessons have you learned?  Where would you like to go?

7

Leave the Kids at Home

It is OK to leave the kids at home, and travel as a couple.  Forget the guilt trip and take a real one!

In the mad dash that is life, today’s couples need to leave the kids at home and take a weekend getaway .   Couples need time to build their relationship, reconnect and make plans and priorities.  Some couples just need the quiet time to recharge.  Marriage is difficult.   Families are under a lot of pressures from outside and in.  When it comes down to it, you must ask, “Is it important that the adults in the family have a strong and committed relationship?”  We are convinced that it is.  It’s not selfish.  Strong relationships take time and effort to keep healthy.  We promise that what follows is not a “preachy sermon” just a few of the many benefits of finding time to travel as a couple.

I can’t leave my kids!

crying boyI am sure you are wondering, do you guys love your kids?  Don’t you want them to get out and see the world too?  Of course.  PBS Kids is great, but we want our kids to get out and see the world.  We love to take our kids on vacation.  Each year we plan an annual family vacation, sometimes near,  sometimes far.  We always involve the kids in the planning and try our best to include some education points of interest along the way.  Our kids are required to compose a power point presentation on their assigned topics, and must present to family prior to the trip.  Yeah… we are those kind of parents.

For some parents, leaving the kids with grandparents or friends is very difficult.  With very young children, a weekend away might be all that you are able to muster.  Some parents find it difficult to be away from kids for a week at a time.  Then when the kiddos leave the nest, they find that you have lost their relationship with their spouse.  Taking time away is good for both the adults and the children.  Trust us, a week with grandma is going to be a blast!  We were a little shocked, when we started leaving for a week each year to travel, our kids wouldn’t even call us, they were having too much fun.  Kids need a vacation from their parents sometimes as well!

couple travelAdult things

Adults need to do adult things.  On our recent trip to Turkey, we had a chance to have an extended stay in Selcuk, Turkey home of the famed biblical city of Ephesus.   The entire area is dripping in history.  We had a chance to visit one of the more interesting landmarks, the Celsius Library.  Whilst there, waiting for the crowds to wander off, we witness a harried couple with three kids.  We could tell that the mom was trying to read the guide book and figure out what they were looking at and why.  Frustrating her concentration was a 5-6 year old tugging on her sleeve.  The father was negotiating who knows what, with a teenager.   In the end, the mother was pulled away down the path toward the food stands.  Luci and I smiled at each other.  We missed our kids, but we were grateful to have a few moments to contemplate what we were seeing.  We would never trade our adult holidays to Turkey.  You need that time together.

Let’s be honest, many adult outdoor activities are just no fun for kids.  Hiking over temples in Cambodia in the heat of the day is a major bummer for teenagers.  Wandering around a cemetery in upstate New York can be pretty pointless to a 4 year old.  Yet both of these adult activities have been highlights of our couples trips.    You also need time to do other adult things (ah hum)…but we wont go into detail on that, we will leave it up to you.

Talk

One of our favorite pastimes on vacation besides fighting of course is talking.  Like many of you, both Luci and I have demanding jobs.  There is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on us in our careers.  Both of our occupations are the 24/7 and 365.  We rarely get the chance to just sit down and talk.  Our conversations are usually the sort :  who is going to take the kids where on what day.  In the harried everyday life, we just don’t get many opportunities to discuss what’s going on in our lives.  Traveling is the perfect time to have those important conversations.

The Sound of Silence

One of the more underrated gifts of couple travel is a little peace and quiet.  Kids can be loud.  (Again, we are not kid haters, just being honest here.)  Kid’s activities are usually high energy, active, and exhausting.  We have done the Disney’s.  Parents should be awarded a medal for spending a week in the parks!   I can’t tell you what it has meant to us to sit on a make shift bench aside the Amazon river and watch the sunset over the jungle together.  Or what it was like enjoying a makeshift dinner at our hut on the savanna in South Africa, while listening to the elephants in the distance.  You need quiet time together.

Set Goals and Priorities

The final and perhaps most important part of traveling as a couple is setting goals and discussing priorities.  We talk a lot about our kids when traveling.  We talk about what they need from us, what they need help with and how we best can meet their individual needs.  We talk about what our individual goals are.  Both of us have a set of lifetime goals.  We bring those out on our couple trips and mark our progress.  By setting goals and priorities together will actually make you better parents, better lovers, better friends if you only leave the kids with grandma.

We highly encourage couples to make time to travel together.  Leave the kids home with grandparents of friends.  Your kids will love it.   Do you need to spend loads of money on a couple vaykay?  No.  A perfectly timed weekender can work magic on you marriage.

We know that this might be controversial   We want to hear your point of view.  Do you travel alone?  Never leave home without the kids?  What works for you?  Leave us a comment below and give us your take.

6

Fontainebleau: France’s Finest

France is known for its high style and cultural avant-garde….one of the most overlooked masterpieces in Paris is hands down Napoleon Bonaparte’s Fontainebleau.   It seems like Fontainebleau must always live in the shadow of its big sister the Palais de Versailles.   Located just an hour south of old Paris is one of the most captivating royal residences in all of Europe.

The official site of Fountianebleau.

Like its former occupant Napoleon, who was always one for over the top self-promotion and flash: as you arrive at the property you are welcomed by a broad courtyard with a dramatic stairway leading to the entrance.  Once inside you can stroll around the palace in awe at the nearly 1500 rooms!

FountainebleuA Quick History Lesson

Fontainebleau has been appropriately called, “the Home of Kings.”  It has played host for more than 700 years to the French monarchy and later to the French Emperor.  The area first welcomed the eye of Louis VII in 1137 and continued welcoming blue bloods and potentates till the end of the second empire in 1870.  Walking the halls of Fontainebleau you can’t help but feel that you are in the midst of history.

The mansion has always had a close connection with religion.  In 1169 the Archbishop of Canterbury, in exile in France at the time dedicated the chapel of the castle.  In 1812 Napoleon held Pope Pius VII prisoner in the cozy confines of the castle’s apartments for nearly two years.

Fontainebleau’s development has been classified into two distinct eras:  the first (from the 1530’s) and second school (From the 1590’s) of Fontainebleau.  These eras not only decorated and designed the palace, they are decorated the halls of the French elite.   The first was created by Francis I partnering with famed architect Gilles le Breton.  Italians Sebastiano Serlio and Leonardo da Vinci also were involved in the design and layout of the villa, gardens and water features.  Leonardo also has another interesting connection with the palace.  One of his lost master pieces (Leda and the Swan) was las seen in the palace in 1625.  It has since been lost.

The second school of Fontainebleau was lead by Flemish artist Ambroise Dubois, Toussaint Dubreiul and Martin Freminet.  At the turn of the 17th century, the word of interior design, originated from the heart of Fontainebleau.

Key rooms to visit

Library

The highlight for the entire tour was for us the Library and map room.  Unfortunately you are prevented from ascending the four stairs to the elevated library.  You can only lean over the red velvet ropes and look into one of the most interesting rooms in the world.

Library  and globe

Napoleons study

Napoleon, besides being a detailed oriented military general, was a city planner, inventor, cartographer, lawyer.  He worked 24/7 on his many various endeavors.  To assist in his workaholic nature, he attached his own personal bedroom to his office.

Cathedral

Our next favorite room if you can call it that is the cathedral inside the mansion.  It actually has two areas, the viewing balcony which the master of the home would view, as well as the nave proper.   The art, woodwork and the sculptures within the cathedral are stunning.

Fountianbleau

Gardens and Lake

The gardens and forests of Fontainebleau rival Versailles.  We actually prefer the wonderful “backyard” of the palace.  A small lake with a wonderful gazebo type structure an island is an idyllic setting.

beautiful lake house

Getting there

The short journey from Paris to Fontainebleau is defiantly part of the adventure.  The train takes you through the south gate of Paris, past the sleepy town of Saint Genevieve de Bois and gives you some fleeting moments to capture some views of the wandering Seine River.  Sounds wonderful huh?  Just wait!

wood carved doorYou will need to purchase the billet Ile-de-France ticket as this is well outside the metro range of Paris.

Take the Transilien (http://www.transilien.com/web/site) Train from Gare de Lyon Station in Paris.

Board one of the many trains that make a stop at the Fontainebleau-Avon stop, these can include: Laroche-Migennes, Montargis, Montereau, and Sens. You can confirm that you are on the right train, by checking the monitors along the train’s boarding lane.  It should list Fontainebleau-Avon.  (The journey from Paris to your stop should take 35 mins.)

Once you disembark at the station, descend at the rear of the station, walk a short ways to the well marked bus stop.  There are three different bus routes for the area.  You will want to take Bus 12 A.

Cant get enough of Fontainebleau?  Check out our post: Fountainebleau:  The Better Versailles

Paris and its surrounds is truly one of the Fighting Couple’s very favorite destinations.  Paris proper offers a lifetime of exploration and learning.   Fontainebleau is one of those perfect day trips from Paris.  Have you been to Fontainebleau?  We want to hear from you!

 

 

6

Which is Better the Bed or the Breakfast?

In advance of every one of our adventures, we do a ton of homework on where and what to eat. The Fighting Couple likes food, A LOT.  We peruse all the typical sites: Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Yelp etc. We like food so much we’ll walk for hours in a foreign city just to find the restaurant we read about on the internet. True story: once we wandered aimlessly around Amsterdam for two hours because Mike wanted to eat at a certain restaurant, but that’s another fight.

Finding the perfect undiscovered café is always a chore.  Finding a great breakfast is even more difficult.  Sure, you’ve probably been victim to the free hotel breakfasts of Wonder bread and Smuckers Jam. But what if you could stay at a charming place and wake up to a gourmet breakfast that would blow your food budget if you ate it separately?  You can!

Prince Edward IslandWe introduce you to Kindred Spirits located in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.   1000 Fights toured Prince Edward Island this summer to worship at the altar of Anne of Green Gables, oh and to golf.  There’s a lot to like about PEI and really in our experience zero to dislike.

But what we liked most was the food and particularly the food at our bed and breakfast. Kindred Spirits is the kind of place you stay and like so much you come back to stay again and again. And for the Anne followers, who couldn’t like a place named, Kindred Spirits?

When we read the room included breakfast, we imagined the typical fare you get at any standard hotel. Imagine our surprise when for breakfast we walked and found the homemade meal that would make your grandmother envy!  French toast made from French bread with an apple and caramel sauce to slather over it.  Or try the homemade blueberry scones with the lemon blueberry preserves or raspberry champagne jam.  Don’t forget the breakfast casserole that includes cheese, potatoes, and sausage. And that’s just the main entrees. There is also fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal, plus fresh juices. Are you hungry yet?

Breakfast Prince Edward Island is truly a culinary mecca.

Bed and breakfasts have long been the choice of traveling couples who want something that feels like home, but a room they don’t have to clean up.  But a new movement is brewing where the breakfast is becoming just as important as the bed. A quick internet search and you’ll find many of the the B&B’s proudly advertising what guests will eat, not just where they will sleep. There’s also a site dedicated just to recipes at premiere B&Bs.

Thanks to Kindred Spirits, 1000 Fights is pleased to publish the Inn’s signature breakfast dish: Blueberry Cake. I took one bite of this and then another and another and another. It’s embarrassing when a grown woman goes for thirds, not just seconds. But it was that good! So here’s the recipe for you to enjoy! Who knows maybe it will spread like the $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe!  You are probably wondering where the Pinterest worthy picture of the cake is?  Yeah, the cake is so good…we kinda forgot about blogging for a few mins….  We hope you have the same experience!

 

Kindred Spirits Blue Berry Crumb Breakfast Cake

Ingredients for cake: 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 2.5 cup flour, 4 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 2/3 cup milk, 6 tbsp melted butter (or margarine), 2 cups blueberries (small, wild berries preferably), 4 tbsp sugar

– Grease 9 x 13 pan

– In medium bowl, beat eggs with wooden spoon.  Gradually beat in sugar until well combines

– In separate dish, sift together flour, baking powder and salt and then add to the sugar/egg mixture alternately with the milk.  Beat well after each addition

– Add the melted butter and beat thoroughly

– Gently fold in blueberries (fresh or frozen).  Batter should not be blue!

– Pour into the greased pan

– Sprinkle the top with 2 tbsp sugar

– Refrigerate Overnight

The following day, bake in a preheated oven (350 degrees) for approx. 45 minutes (until springs back when poked!)

– When finished, pour a mixture of 1/4 melted butter and 3 tbsp lemon juice and then sprinkle the following topping to cover thecake:

– Topping: 1/2 cup shortening, 8 tbsp flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 cups of brown sugar, 1/4 cup oats (optional).  Mix together with a pastry blender

YUM!

 

 

3

A Day at Bangkok’s Grand Palace

On the banks of the Chao Phraya River stands a 200 year old tribue to power and wealth of old Siam.  The Grand Palace is a must see for any visit to the Thailand capital.  First off, the Grand place is not simply one building, it is a entire village of palaces and temples.

Before you go:

Palace Thailand

Anyone planning on visiting the Grand Place must understand what The Grand Palace is and isn’t.  First off, the grand place is a holy place held in reverence.  Monks and priests live and work on the campus.  Certain areas are held with extreme revence.  People come to the Palace to worship from all over Asia.  The Palace is also a ceremonial home to the Royal Family of Thailand.  King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara are the longest current serving monarchs in the world, and according to the Forbes list the King is one of the wealthiest individuals in the world.   Thai’s revere the King and disrespect toward him or the royal family is a punishable offence.   Needless to say, visitors to the Royal Palace should be prepared the conduct themselves in a proper manner.  Here are a few of the requirements directoy from the official site of the Palace:

Proper Dress in The Grand Palace for Visitors

Visitors are requested to be dressed properly and appropriately upon entering the ground of the Bhubing Palace. Thus the following dress – code (applicable to both ladies and gentlemen) will be strictly enforced:

1. Shorts, mini-skirts, short skirts, tight fitting trousers, as well as tights can not be worn as outer garments.
2. See-through shirts and blouses, as well as culotters or quarter length trousers can not be worn.
3. Sleeveless shirts or vests can not be worn as outer garments.
4. Sandles (without ankle or heel straps) can not be worn.
5. All shirt sleeves, whether long or short, can not be rolled up.
6. Sweat shirts and sweat pants, wind-cheaters, pajamas and fisherman trousers can not be worn.

The point above saying “strictly” enforced is just that.  You will be turned away of not dressed appropriately.  Security is tight.  Of the many sites we have visited, this is only rivaled by the Vatican.  We are going to insert our opinion here, we are the Fighting Couple, it is our nature.  We couldn’t help but overhear complaints about the rigid guidelines as we were in line to enter by other tourists.  Frankly, this disappointed us.  Showing respect by the clothes you wear is appropriate.  The rules are clearly posted and advertised.  Prepare ahead and you will be fine.

We recommend getting there early.  The audio guide that is offered for a fee is actually very helpful in understanding all of the many structiures withing the compound.  We are going to highlight some of the key things to see within the Palace. Frankly, there is so much to see and expiriance, this is just a few things that we found interesting.

Budda

Many religious statues line the halls of the Palace.

Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

Grand palace tower

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

 

Chinese man beard

Many Chinese statues adorn the Palace grounds. These were actually used a ballast on ship trading between Siam and China.

Lotus

Many gardens small and large decorate the courtyards.

Asian rooftop

Even the rooftop eves are ornately decorated.

 

The Grand Palace   We made the mistake of only allowing a morning for our visit.  very bad idea.  There is so much to see and take in.  Allow the better part of a day to really experience the Palace grounds.  Photographers are going to find a new angle at ever turn.  Thailand truly holds so many great adventures!  There are many low cost airlines that fly into and out of Bangkok.  Book yours today and enjoy your visit!

7

Kissing Capitals: Barcelona

Best places to kiss in Barcelona

“Her lips on his could tell him better than all her stumbling words.”-Margaret Mitchell

Are you looking for a few good places to kiss?  We are here to help.  We are launching a series of the best places to kiss in the world.  We are calling it the best of the kissing capitals.  Our first nomination is Barcelona, Spain.  Barcelona with its warm ocean breezes, Eclectic art scene, and Latin vibe is well deserving.  The Entire Catalonia region of Spain is steeped in romance.  Kiss in Catalan is pronounced petó.  Peto has a number of different meanings…we will leave that between you and Wikipedia.

Lets begin our kissing tour at the top literally.

BarcelonaMontjuic

Overlooking the entire city of Barcelona is Montjuic. It is more of a hill than a true mountain, but the vistas night or day are dramatic.  Nestled on the banks of the hills are wonderful walking paths that meander through gardens.  Montjuic is a wonderful place to pack a picnic, or take an evening stroll.  Montjuic came to its prime through development during the Olympics.   Many of the Olympic events were held at venues on the Mont.  Montjuic continues to be a favorite of both locals and first timers.

Sunset is truly the best time to visit Montjuic.  There are a number of benches and stops along the trails up and down the mount that offer great places to watch the sun go down and steal a kiss or two!

 

fountianMagic Fountain

At the base of Montjuic you will discover a wonderful display of water, light, music and magic.  We give you our next stop on the kissing tour: the Magic Fountain of Barcelona.  A little history on the fountain, it was erected for the World’s Fair that the city was playing host to in 1929.  The original plans by designer Carles Buigas were initially cast off as an overly ambitious impossibility.  One year later, thousands of workers completed the fountain ahead of schedule.

Today the fountain continues to wow its crowds.

You will need to time your visit when the Fountain is in full splendor:

 

Winter: (October to April)

Fridays and Saturdays from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Music sessions: 7:00 PM 7:30 PM 8:00 PM 8:30 PM

Summer: (May to September)

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 pm to 11:30 pm
Music Sessions: 9:30 PM 10:00 PM 10:30 PM 11:00 PM

 

Gaudi parkPark Guell

Could we have a tour of Barcelona without a Gaudi location?  Impossible!  Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan master of art and architecture designed a number of unique attractions throughout Barcelona and the Catalonia region.  One of his most expansive projects was an entire housing development for Barcelona’s well healed.  Located on a hill just outside the city is his vision of subdivision living.  Fortunately for today’s visors, Gaudi’s vision was a little deeper than the pockets of prospective investors.  Today, the entire development has been transformed into a public park and greenspace.  It is a masterpiece.

You and you lover can walk on trails criss crossing the entire development.  Climb the famous “lizard” stairs, and arrive at the main terrace.  It commands excellent views of another Gaudi masterpiece the Sagrada Familia Cathedral.  The terrace is surrounded by cozy benches that are designed to a tee for couples.  These unique benches are actually in the design of a sea monster!  Park Guell is a wonderful place to kiss your sweetheart.

 

Mountain tramOn the tram to Montserrat

Clinging to the crests of cliffs outside Barcelona is the Monastery of Montserrat.  For those couples demanding a little more adventure in their smooching venues, we highly recommend the tram to Montserrat.  The highest summit of Montserrat is called Sant Jeroni (Saint Jerome) and stands at 4,055 feet above sea-level.  The tram ride up to the top is truly an experience that cannot be fully described or missed!  Visiting Montserrat can be a full or half day venture depending on your interest level.  Don’t get conned into taking a special tour bus ect.  There is train service to the tram station.  It is a very affordable side trip for any stay in Barcelona.

How did we do?  Did we miss any special places in Barcelona?  Where do you nominate that we discuss next?

3