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SAVANNAH: Insiders’ Guide

February 3, 2017 at 12:55 am


Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, GA

Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, GA

No one told me about the moving buildings.

The first time I visited Savannah, I was at a downtown park where George Washington had made a post-Revolutionary War speech. Suddenly I noticed what appeared to be a colorful building moving behind the brickwork and wrought iron of Factor’s Walk. I followed the unusual site until I came to on opening between the brown and red buildings. That’s when I realize the “moving building” was actually shipping containers stacked several stories high and being ferried down the Savannah River. While freight ships pulling their towering cargo into the Port of Savannah (busiest on the East Coast) are a frequent sight, the illusion of moving yellow and orange buildings continues to surprise me when I see it.

That’s the special thing about Savannah: I’ve been there many times over the last 25 years, and there’s always something there to surprise me.

Leopold's ice cream_sLast time, it was Leopold’s Ice Cream, which started business in 1919. Unless you have a local showing you around (as I did), the casual visitor is unlikely to come across this unique destination. Leopold’s claims to have created Tutti Fruitti ice cream. If that sounds too sweet, check out a Guinness float made from – yes, Guinness ice cream. Leopold’s looks like a traditional small-town ice cream shop, but with a twist. One of the three family members who owns Leopold’s is also a movie producer for such films as “Mission Impossible 3,” so film lovers will love the cinema posters.


Another great destination for both atmosphere and food is The Pirate’s House Restaurant. Originally opened in 1753 as an inn for sailors, it quickly became a meeting place for pirates and scalawags who made port in Savannah. The inn was even mentioned in the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, “Treasure Island.” Today it’s a large rambling restaurant with 15 dining rooms, a gift shop, and its own resident ghost.

Another “haunted” destination is the Olde Pink House Restaurant and Tavern is located in the only 18th Century mansion remaining in the city. It is located in a Georgian mansion built in 1771 of pink stucco that gives the restaurant its name. The Old Pink House is located next to the antique-filled Planters’ Inn B&B on Reynold’s Square.

Family Bike Ride Historic District - visit Savannah_s

Photo by visitsavannah.com

Savannah is famous for its network of some two dozen public squares in the historic district. Each has its own claim to fame, but perhaps the most unique is Rousakis Plaza. Stand on the “X” in the center, speak, and experience an unusual “echo chamber” effect that can only be heard that those within the square.


The city is also dotted with boutique shops along River Street, Factor’s Walk and Broughton (where you can browse with drink in hand). City Market offers bistros, galleries, and live music in the evenings. Paris Market offers curios of all types. For antiques, the Noble Hardee Mansion offers hard-to-find treasures. Locals favor the Downtown Design District, with such shops as French Knot, Custard Boutique, and One Fish Two Fish.


If you want to see the famous “Bird Girl” statue from the cover of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” she no longer resides at Bonaventure Cemetery. In 2014, the statue was added to the Telfair Museums collection to protect her from possible vandalism.


There’s so much more to do in Savannah it’s almost impossible to list it all. Take afternoon tea at The Tea Room. Taste the honey at Savannah Bee Company. Buy student artwork at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), one of the top creative schools in North America. Visit Jen’s & Friends for a Moon Pie Martini. Stroll down Jones Street, voted among the most beautiful streets by “Southern Living” magazine. Take a pedicab ride on the cobblestones of River Street. Segway through a historic cemetery. Or drive beneath the spreading canopy of Spanish moss that drapes the live oaks approaching the Wormsloe Historic Site. Take a haunted tour in an old hearse, or go scuba diving with whales off Sapelo Island.

The more you see, the more you’ll want to see. Savannah is beautiful, charming, friendly – and never boring.


Bobby L. Hickman is an Atlanta-based freelance travel and business journalist. His work has appeared in such publications as Southern Living, Georgia Trend, and TravelMuse.com. Learn more at www.blhickman.com



Twelve Hacks for keeping skin and body heathy on the road

January 20, 2017 at 12:23 am


Summer beach set on swimming pool water background

Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel writer who has endured  freezing temperatures  near the Arctic  as well as the scorching sands of Fiji.

On her travels, she  has suffered mosquito bites lasting for weeks, sunburns that have seared off the top layer of her skin,  stinging bladder infections, and cruise ship diarrhea, to name a few.

She shares twelve practical tips on how to keep skin and body healthy after learning the hard way.


1. Drink water, like ALL the time.   I know that you are  sick of hearing this, that  you are not 10 years old, and that I am not your mommy.

Why am I lecturing you? First off, dehydration causes weird headaches, and you will wonder why you are feeling dizzy and cranky. Second, your pee will turn bright yellow as an indicator, and the next thing you know, you have a urine infection. Eww! That burning sensation is NOT, I repeat, NOT fun.

Therefore, guzzle more H2o than usual.  The heaters in airplanes and hotel rooms suck the moisture out of your body like a vacuum cleaner gone amuck.

Always keep fresh bottle with you, and ask if it is safe to drink the tap water every place you trod. Do your homework! Buy bottled water in legit stores, too.  I have been told some tricksters will sell local water and slap a fake label on the bottle. Be wary.


Mosquito repellent. Woman spraying insect repellents on skin outdoor in nature using spray bottle in forest.

2. Moisturize, especially at night.

Take advantage of that hotel lotion to slather your bod and cheeks. Ask housekeeping for boatloads of those infinitesimal bottles without abandon. Bring lip balm to rub on both lips and cuticles. That stuff really works! Traveling a lot does age you as you find yourself running on different time zones and on different schedules while eating exotic foods.


3. Bring healthy snacks, organic teas, and powdered drinks your tummy  is familiar with rather than chancing it in the wild.

Nuts and dried fruit are good energizers, but do not over consume. On the airplane, your pocketbook will not have to get gouged when you whip out your favorite teabag and ask for hot water. I like to bring water enhancers to flavor my bottles when plain water gets boring.


4. If you have allergies, make sure to inquire about the ingredients in foods before consuming.

If going to a foreign country, have an index card  written out in that language so wait staff will understand your condition.  You always bring your meds and over-the-counter meds with you, right? If prone to illness, ask your doctor for an antibiotic prior to your departure. Believe me, having your stuff on hand is better than wasting half a day looking for a pharmacy.  And that foreign pharmacy’s products may or may not work on you!


Young woman applying Suntan Lotion at the beach.

5. Sunscreen yourself several times daily especially in tropical and sunbelt regions such as Hawaii or the Caribbean.

Use SPF 30 or higher.  I learned this on the beaches of Fiji when I forgot my precious tube of SPF, and I thought I was invincible since I never get sunburned in California.  Oh, the folly of that thinking! Lying on my bed to recover  from a toasted  back for the next three days did not make for a romantic  honeymoon.  Oh the pain I could have saved myself if I were not so proud.


6. Protect your scalp and your eyes with a hat and sunglasses.

In Fiji,  the sun is so bright tourists  feel  their pupils are being tasered if they fail to wear protection. Also , skin cancer is a reality, and you must do all you can to guard against it. I try to keep brimmed hats and sunglasses on travel packing list every time I hit the road.


7. Track your weight. Succumb  to  the evil machine – the bathroom scale.

You can weigh yourself before you depart and determine  to maintain that weight or tell yourself you will not go over a certain poundage. Only you can be the judge of how you manage your food intake. Hey, I am not the Diet Police, but note that most  hotels have a gym, and you can find a scale somewhere.


8. Maintain  a food diary.

Apps such as Lose It! will enable you to record your calories, foods, exercise regimen, and weight if you desire. Buffets are deadly, I know. Choose wisely, Young Grasshopper!


9. Integrate movement as much as possible.

On active vacations where you hike and ski,  but do not overdo the eating and drinking just because you think you earned it. When you embark on  an  inactive vacation, force yourself to walk faster, or incorporate exercises in the privacy of your hotel room. The free Move app offers exercise routines to get that blood flowing.


10. Nourish and cleanse  your face and skin by maintaining your schedule.

Bring samples of the face products you use at home to keep your skin fresh and pristine. Do not cut your skin routine short on the road.


young beautiful woman sleeping in bed with eye mask

11. Sleep well.

Get quality sleep so you are not prone to illness. Once I stayed up in my cabin until 2 a.m. on a cruise ship, and I got so worn out I got a fever and chills the next day. It ruined my only sightseeing day in Italy.


12. Destress and relax! Determine that nothing will destroy your good mood.

Your mental state has much to do with your health and quality of life. When you are anxious, angry, worried, or fearful, your body will tebel.  Want fewer wrinkles? Smile more! So what if that waiter in Monaco was a jerk? Prepare yourself mentally with a positive state of mind and refuse to let mishaps or rude waiters upset you. Get over it, forgive quickly, and move on. Life and vacations are way too short to hold a grudge!


Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others. 

Must-See Sonoma County Itinerary

May 13, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Sonoma County is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards, and more than 450 wineries. The food-centric region boasts hundreds of restaurants, from historic roadhouses, to contemporary locavore pubs, to many Michelin-starred destinations. Like any great region, there are numerous natural landmarks here, as well, including historic state parks, and beautiful ranches dating back to the 1800s.

Adding to the pleasure, each geographical area within Sonoma County’s million-plus acres offers its own distinctive treasures, as diverse as coastal ocean cliffs to inland mountain ranges. Indeed, you could easily spend two or three days in each area, and only scratch the surface.

With so many wonderful choices, a first-time visit might seem overwhelming. But take a dip with our highlights guide, and discover a taste of the most celebrated experiences. Follow along as we explore the “must-sees” of Sonoma Valley, the town of Sonoma, and the Carneros area just south of it all.

Day 1

The birthplace of the California’s commercial wine industry in the 1850s, Sonoma Valley now covers more than 14,000 acres of vineyards, dotted with more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms. Rich with bucolic farms and some 13,000 acres of open parkland, Sonoma Valley also boasts some of the County’s best outdoor recreational activities.

So prime yourself for a busy day with a hearty breakfast at El Molino Central. It doesn’t look like much from the outside of its small white stucco frame, but inside, there are organic heirloom corn kernels being painstakingly hand-ground on a stone wheel for tortillas and tamales. Dig into the mouthwatering chilaquiles topped in soft-scrambled Field of Greens eggs, roasted tomato and Alma’s salsa verde, and be sure to add a side of refried Rancho Gordo heritage beans.

El Molino Central

El Molino Central

Other options:

  • Community Café, a Mad Men-like retro diner with modern dishes like Truffled Eggs & Toast, a sumptuous soufflé of thick-sliced toasted English muffin stuffed with egg yolks, draped in fontina cheese, broiled, then smothered in sautéed wild mushrooms, asparagus and a drizzle of truffle oil.
  • Sunflower Caffe Espresso & Wine Bar, where the specialty is sweet or spicy chai latte “dirty” style, with a shot of espresso added (great with the Peruvian spiced chicken omelet with cilantro lime cream, sweet-spicy aji chile crema and black bean chili).

A visit to Buena Vista Winery is next, to see the oldest commercial winery in California.  Founded in 1857, it’s complete with caves that are now historical landmarks. The buildings and cave have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious, with a new attraction: an interactive museum of ancient winemaking tools.

Buena Vista Winery

Buena Vista Winery

Now head to the 400-acre Bartholomew Memorial Park just over the hillside, which is also home to Bartholomew Park Winery. The on-site museum shares the long history of Sonoma winemaking, including a display of primitive agricultural tools used since the park’s original villa was built in 1861.

Other options:

You’re ready to catch your breath for a few minutes, so dig your toes into the grass beneath the shade trees in the eight-acre Sonoma Plaza (the largest such plaza in California). When you’re ready to get up, lunch is just steps away, at the famous The Girl & the Fig. The French-country restaurant has built its reputation on stellar, seasonal plates like duck egg ravioli with spring mushrooms, onion crema, green garlic, spring peas and baby carrots sprinkled in smoked paprika.

The Girl and the Fig

The Girl and the Fig

Other options:

The Plaza is great for shopping in the many boutiques, art galleries and gourmet food stores lining its sidewalks. You’ll also want to tour the National Historic Landmark adobe buildings right along the walkway, designed in 1834 by the Mexican Governor Mariano Vallejo. Stop, too, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, designated as the largest visual arts organization in the San Francisco North Bay region.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

That evening, stay at El Dorado, a 27-room luxury boutique hotel dating to the 1840s but completely modernized and charming with four poster beds and French doors leading to private balconies overlooking the Plaza and gardens.

El Dorado Hotel

El Dorado Hotel

Other options:

For dinner, the AAA Four Diamond Award Santé  restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a worthy, and most memorable indulgence in upscale California cuisine. Treat yourself to the 7-course chef’s tasting menu including amuse and cheese plate — sweet butter poached lobster is an entree signature. Sip, too, since the wine list features more than 500 Sonoma and Napa wines.

Day 2

Carneros spans 8,000 vineyard acres with more than 20 wineries, tucked atop San Pablos Bay just south of the town of Sonoma. There’s lots to see, so fuel yourself with a big breakfast at The Fremont Diner, where chef-owner Chad Harris fills our bellies with Sunset magazine award-winning comfort food like fried chicken and waffles, fried fruit pie, chicory coffee, fluffy biscuits and creamy gravy.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery is another nearby treasure, internationally renowned for its Pinot Noirs. The place is classic, set on a hillside of vineyards bordered by rose bushes, a German chalet-style winery, and stone caves lined with wine barrels.

Zip over to another icon, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, to toast your adventures with the signature sparkling wine at just around the Hwy. 121 bend. Established nearly 30 years ago, this winery was the first sparkling wine house in the Carneros area, though you’ll learn on your entertaining, educational tour through the caves and vista terrace that the Ferrer family has been making sparkling wines for more than 150 years.

Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer

Other options:

In December of 2013, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa was named the No. 1 restaurant in all of America, courtesy of Open Table. So what better place for a star-studded lunch, featuring a six-course tasting menu prepared by executive chef David Bush paired with wines from St. Francis’ artisan collection? You might have bouillabaisse of fresh fish and shellfish, fingerling potatoes, fennel fronds and grilled crostini topped in rouille with a glass Cabernet Franc, for example, plus grilled bavette of beef with Bloomsdale spinach in sesame-miso vinaigrette, baby turnips, garlic chips and truffled ponzu alongside a glass of Merlot.

Other options:

  • Madrone Vineyards Estate, originally built in 1887, but recently remodeled with a new small bites pairing
  • Hamel Family Wines with breathtaking glass and wood architecture; try the Reserve Experience with a cheese-charcuterie board and small bites

Soak up even more beauty at Jack London Historic State Park just minutes away, which the renowned 19th Century author himself called “Beauty Ranch.” You can easily spend at least three hours here, strolling around the House of Happy Walls museum, London’s famous writing cottage, the Wolf House ruins, the delightful and innovative Pig Palace, barns, the lake and bathhouse. Hikers and horseback riders share the 26-mile trails, too, marked by a 2,000 year-old redwood tree.

Other options:

All this exercise means you can reward yourself with an extra fine dinner, and there is little finer than Glen Ellen Star, where former French Laundry talent Ari Weiswasser draws crowds nightly for his award-winning California-Mediterranean cuisine. The menu changes frequently with the seasons, but always celebrates a fire-fed wood oven for favorites like wood roasted heirloom baby carrots smoothed in Oaxacan mole and topped in sesame seed brittle; and wood oven roasted lamb meatballs atop couscous, red charmoula and preserved lemon. Save room for a sweet finish of homemade salted peanut butter ice cream.

Glen Ellen Star

Glen Ellen Star

Other options:

Need more information, please visit sonomacounty.com.

If you need help in planning your getaway, check out our Napa and Sonoma Valley vacation package.

Carey Sweet is a food, wine and travel journalist based in Sonoma County. You can read her work in the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Time Inc. publications, airline travel magazines, Gannett newspapers and numerous travel magazines and websites. Follow her on careysweet.com.

Montreal & Quebec City: Romance at its Best

May 5, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Before visiting Montreal for the first time, my enthusiastic friends gave me a list of things to do while trotting about in the Canadian city.  The common thread among them was to consume a Montreal smoked meat sandwich.  When my foodie friend Jane insisted, I stared at her blankly and asked,  “Why?” 

“Montreal has the best smoked meats anywhere. So juicy and tender. You have to try it, and you have to go to Schwartz’s!”  she stressed. 

“Yes, you HAVE to go to Schwartz’s,” added Susan, another cohort who was sitting with us during on of our semi-regular lunches.  “Don’t come back until you do.”

I noted it on my three-day itinerary.  My husband Frank and I had managed to squeeze in some vacation time since the kids were in college, and we decided to visit to Montreal, Quebec in the winter.  Okay, not the best season as it was facing one of its worst blizzards in years, but once we set about exploring, we realized this city was irresistibly romantic.  As snowflakes piled in pyramids on the rooftops of Victorian houses and bronze monuments, we squealed at the delightful, serendipitous scenes. On top of that, we found much to conquer in spite of the weather. And if we came in the summer, I know that we would have a different experience given that Montreal’s surname is the “city of festivals.” In fact, next time I intend to arch my neck at the exploding smiley faces in the night sky during the fireworks festival, an international extravaganza that takes place in June and July.

Montreal, dating back to 1642 as a French colony, is diced into distinct neighborhoods, each wonderful for walking, or in my case, trudging through the snow.  Probably the most frequented is Old Montreal, previously the town epicenter with iconic churches, colonial mansions, and government institutions.

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Meandering past Victorian street lamps on narrow cobbled pathways, we would duck in and out of minute clothing stores, toy boutiques, and cafes.  On warmer days, I’m told, couples can take a horse-drawn carriage ride and go in style through the streets. 

Given that it was 20 degrees below zero, we were thrilled to find out about the Underground City otherwise known as RE′SO (short for the French word reseau meaning network).  Go anywhere downtown, and you will spy a sign and a set of escalators taking you below to a hidden world where everyday life resumes. No one thinks it is weird to go to the post office or do banking underground in Montreal.  After we entered and removed our caps, mittens, and scarves, we understood why this was built. It’s just too cold in the winter, and Montreal’s citizens need a break from the frosty chill. The wind can certainly feel like it cuts through your body! 

Busy Montreal Street

Busy Montreal Street

The world’s largest underground network, RE´SO is an engineering feat of 20 miles of tunnels linking apartments, shopping malls, hotels, banks, universities and museums. Some parts take you above ground for fresh air and then back down again.

Another indoor attraction is the Biosphere, a hands-on science center fun for kids and jaw dropping for adults. The dome features four ecosystems and is operated by the Montreal Nature Museum. For those who cannot get enough of nature and education, you can go to the Montreal Insectarium, botanical garden, and planetarium.

Anyone who has visited Montreal will tell you it has an incredible dining scene, and restaurants from every country can be found throughout the city. You can eat for a few dollars or drop several hundred. It is not hard to find a candlelit restaurant with mouth watering entrees, excellent service, and warm atmosphere. Be sure to taste ice wine, the region’s specialty. 

For more amour, if you can stand it, head to the Port of Montreal, based on the St. Lawrence River. This major port is where over 2,000 ships pass annually.  Watch the cruise ships come in to dock or take a sunset boat ride. 

Yes, and I did promise Jane and Susan I would partake in a Montreal smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli, Canada’s oldest delicatessen, opened in 1928. We found the original, humble small deli counter with non-descript tables and chairs in an unassuming block of town. The original smoked meat sandwich is actually beef brisket piled high (about six inches) between two slices of white bread.  In fact there is so much meat that the top slice of bread tends to teeter. It was moist and flavorful as Jane has reported, and I could barely fit it into my mouth.     

But no one told me that Montreal would have so much to offer in terms of lodging. In Montreal, nesting havens for the romantic are plentiful. Victorian bed and breakfast inns will charm your earmuffs off.  One historic stone bank has been turned into a hotel.  You can also stay in a modern high rise hotel with views of the St. Lawrence River. 

And speaking of views, you can visit the Montreal Olympic Stadium and zip up to the tower observatory for a city panorama.  If I can give a thumbs up to this city during one of the worst blizzards of the decade, I know that you will thrill to Montreal even more in the spring, summer, and fall. 

Quebec City: Seven Most Romantic Spots

If you are in Quebec as a couple, you have come to the perfect place to commemorate lasting love.

Lovely Quebec

Lovely Quebec

More French than most Canadian cities, there is plenty of French ambiance, architecture, and French language lingering in the atmosphere to make you feel as though you are in Europe.   I’ve selected seven romantic spots where you can propose, renew your vows, kiss, or hold hands.    

1) The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac: In my opinion, this is Quebec’s most famous and most beautiful landmark, and it is so large it dominates the city with its castle spires. Early construction began in 1899, and after several additions and renovations, it has maintained its Old World feel and European elegance. With 611 guestrooms and suites, this is THE hotel to book for an unforgettable visit within the walls of Old Quebec. 

2) St. Lawrence River: This epic waterway includes several great lakes and touches a variety of Canadian cities.  Here in Quebec, the river is popular for a day cruise or an overnight ride lasting several days.    

3) The Hotel de Glace Ice Hotel: Stay the night or take a daytime tour in the winter. This is the only ice hotel in North America, and if you want bragging rights, be sure to reserve one of its  44 hotel rooms literally made and carved from ice months in advance. Also on the property is an actual ice cathedral – a cool place to get hitched or have a recommitment ceremony.  I came here once and spent the evening although I couldn’t sleep. More than five years later, my friends still remember my stories!

4) Old Quebec: Come to the fortified, historic part of town to buy a special souvenir to commemorate your stay. A print from one of the local galleries or a piece of handmade jewelry will mean a lot in years to come.  Aside from shopping, quaint outdoor dining can be found along the Rue du Petit Champlain: breakfast croissant, anyone?

Old Quebec City

Old Quebec City

5) Choco-Musee (Chocolate Museum) and Creative Chocolate Shop: Located downtown, you will find that even though it is small, it is the most frequented and aromatic museum in town. You can learn to make chocolate candy or enjoy watching the process. It is a free destination which also features a chocolate retail store. Remember, chocolate is the food of love!

6) Promenade Samuel-De-Champlain:  Picnic, stroll, or bike together following the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  This is a 2.5 KM promenade, and you can take as much or as little time as you want taking in natural views. 

7) Montmorency Falls Park: The sight of this major waterfall will take your breath away.  The falls are 275 feet high and 150 feet wide, and along with the thunderous gushing, this spectacle proves to be the Number One drama in town.  You can board an aerial tram or cross a suspension bridge for a close-up view. In the summer, the annual fireworks show utilizes the falls as its backdrop And in the winter, sections of the waters freeze, creating interesting icicles and formations. 

Want romance? Get to Quebec!

Quebec Evening

Quebec Evening

If you are interested in visiting Montreal and Quebec, check out  our Montreal & Quebec Vacation package and start planning your next vacation!

Kathy Chin Leong is a world traveler and also editor of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, a website for families who love adventure.