Travel: Does your family know where you are?

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Audrey Hepburn with her Yorkshire Terrier “Mr. Famous.”

I’m almost 30 years old and yet, every time I travel I still give my family a full itinerary and a list of “in case of” phone numbers. Is that childish? I actually think it’s one of the smartest things I do.

First of all, it forces me to make such a list–which means collecting flight numbers, lodging addresses and phone numbers–and putting it down on paper. Second, I’ve had nearly everything go wrong while traveling–missed flights, canceled flights, dead phone, GPS failure–and it has saved me. When confronted with a taxi driver who couldn’t speak French in Morocco, I ended up pointing to the address I had written down.

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Marilyn Monroe in what must be the most glamorous airplane exit.

Although I’m traveling more frequently than I ever have, I still don’t fly as much my sister–who flies once or twice a week for work. Confronted with the idea of writing out a travel itinerary twice a week, she signed us all up for TripIt. This nifty website and phone app syncs all her flight information and alerts her to any changes–including suggestions for alternate plans.

As family members, we simply get a weekly email with an itinerary of where she is flying and when–not all the extra information. It’s really nice always knowing when and where she’s flying.

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Grace Kelly arriving in California–looking at the state flag.

Just so you know, TripIt did not pay me to write those nice things.  A few of my favorite links for travel planning:

It's The Beatles!

It’s The Beatles!

Six hours in Annecy, France

IMG_2105 Nearly every time I asked Geneva locals or longtime expats where I should take a day trip, they replied “Annecy.” But six months after moving here, I had still failed to take the 45-minute bus trip to this medieval Alpine village. It’s terrible for me to write, but it was hard to convince myself to visit yet another ancient cathedral, chateau and cobblestoned place. Every other day trip we take seems to offer the same and it’s no secret that I crave the exoticIMG_2106 …but Annecy was a breath of fresh air on what was shaping up to be a gloomy, rainy Saturday. Much better spent than doing laundry and watching Netflix. The rather large Vielle Ville (Old Town) is interconnected by a series of bridges, secret tunnels, steps and passageways. I can imagine Annecy is especially fun to explore as a child-dreaming of knights, drawbridges and sword fights. It was also fun as an adult, because each corner you turn offers an idyllic cafe. IMG_2159 IMG_2163 After a chilly walk around Annecy’s gorgeous lake (complete with snow-capped mountains in the background), we popped into a Breton-style creperie for lunch and some local beer. The beer was delicious, but I was quickly envious of everyone around me who’d had the sense to order hard cider–the correct way to eat savory crepes, “galette.” You know you are in a true Breton restaurant when hard cider is poured into small bowls, like these. IMG_2112 Then we hiked up to visit the Basilique de la Visitation, a Catholic church that Pope John Paul II had visited in the 1980s. I spied a few nuns in their habits, which is always a thrill for this Protestant. IMG_2121 The hike is worth the view of Annecy alone… IMG_2136 On our way down, we stopped at the local castle–Chateau d’Annecy–as one does in nearly every French and Swiss village. Inside was a surprisingly modern art gallery and some medieval relics. I was particularly taken with a landscape painting by Jean-Honoré  Fragonard that had been recovered from the Nazis after World War II.IMG_2126 IMG_2145 IMG_2154 Annecy is well worth the short trip from Geneva because it is so well-preserved. You will feel transported back a few centuries. IMG_2158

This week I am…

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My Saturday: Wandering through Annecy’s Old Town.

…scrolling through photos from a day trip to Annecy, France. Fantastic travel article on Annecy.

…in Prague! We impulsively booked a trip after finding inexpensive flights on this site.

…using these tips for making my perfume last all day while I’m traveling (never rub it in!)

…seriously considering ordering these personalized gifts for my pet-obsessed friends.

…still reeling from the Alpine airplane tragedy (an excellent article on what we can take away).

…looking for simple gold earrings so I’ll look a little polished while hiking the Alps this summer.

…mesmerized by this animated cooking site. Computer people, do you know how to do that?

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Post on adorable (albeit hilly) Annecy coming this week.

I want to go to there…

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…Northern Ireland.

dcI wrote a story this week for Thrive Wire on how the Northern Ireland tourism board is trying to attract travelers by offering Game of Thrones filming location tours.

While I was writing the story, the funniest thing happened–the tourism board totally sold me and I started searching for flights. I am a fan of the hit HBO show, but these photos are what drew me in.

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It’s easy to see why the show’s location scouts chose Northern Ireland with its rolling green hills, craggy coastline and plethora of medieval castles. It’s the area’s volatile history that has kept tourists away in decades past, but those days appear to be fading. Even Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Northern Ireland last year after a 50-year hiatus.

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With the show’s fifth season premiering on April 12, the tourism board has provided free maps and routes of the show’s filming locations—including a three-day itinerary for the ultimate Game of Thrones road trip. You can download them all here.

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Interested in a guided tour?

The Game of Thrones Tours company picks up fans from either Dublin or Belfast and takes them trekking through the show’s locations for nearly twelve hours, including a stop at one of the local pubs. Costumes and swords are available on request. Meanwhile the Game of Thrones Bicycle Tour provides cyclists with a “Stark Sack” including a tour map on a scroll, cloak and sword.

northern-ireland-beach-900x600-srgbMe, I’ll probably just stick to the regular hiking trails–using the city of Belfast as home base. This recent New York Times article details how to best spend 36 hours in the city.

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Like strolling through its Cathedral Quarter…

Ireland's Historic Pubs…and visiting the Crown Jewel Pub, founded in 1885. You can’t go to Ireland without having a cheeky pint, now can you?

As far as packing, I’m thinking of light layers that can work on the trail or at the pub, such as:

Summery shades. http://bit.ly/1D5seQf

Summery shades. http://bit.ly/1D5seQf

Year-round wardrobe staple. http://piprl.me/19pb2HA

Year-round wardrobe staple. http://piprl.me/19pb2HA

Waistcoat with plenty of pockets. http://bit.ly/1NhhDmv

Vintage waistcoat. http://bit.ly/1NhhDmv

Classic Levi's. http://piprl.me/1ICTWT6

Classic Levi’s. http://piprl.me/1ICTWT6

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Adidas’ new line of stylish, lightweight hiking shoes. http://bit.ly/1H4crPh

Perfect for picnics. http://bit.ly/1E9ZDcv

Perfect for picnics. http://bit.ly/1E9ZDcv

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend and go dté tú slán (safe journeys)!

Do you write snail mail?

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I remember going to the Post Office with my mother nearly every day as a child. She knows all the postal workers’ names, which stamps are due to debut and has usually calculated how much she owes before reaching the counter. She sends so many packages, she invested in one of these, like a pro.

It wasn’t until moving across the country to college that I realized how much she corresponds via snail mail, nor how much I love being on the receiving end. That love only deepened when I moved to Switzerland, because the correspondences help battle feelings of isolation. I’m separated from nearly everyone I hold dear by at least the Atlantic Ocean.

My Swiss refrigerator is an homage to letter-writing.

My Swiss refrigerator is an homage to letter-writing.

We obviously know about email and use it regularly, but it doesn’t have the same magic as a handwritten note. For one thing, email is instantaneous and the recipient is expected to respond in a timely manner. When you send someone a letter or package, it is like you have a secret every time you communicate. When will she receive the card? 

And when you think about it, there are few moments left like that in life.

I love the whimsical stationery from iomoi.com.

I love the whimsical stationery from iomoi.com.

I think sadly our society has gotten so lazy that the idea of sitting down, writing a handwritten note, stamping it and dropping it in the mailbox sounds like an incredible exertion of effort. In reality, the small effort put into writing a handwritten note is not equal to the big impact it makes on the recipient.

I try to buy memorable notecards and postcards whenever I come across them, so that I have a cache when I want to jot down a note to someone. Over the weekend I came across some vintage Easter postcards in French, Italian and German, so I bought a few…

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Vintage German Postcard

I love how each card subtly reflects the culture of its peoples.

This company has a fun selection of vintage reproductions if you’re having trouble finding unique cards. But sometimes, you need to get a note across quickly–no time to test how long international mail will take–and that is when I turn to Paperless Post. This online service offers gorgeous, virtual stationery and cards that can be personalized and emailed to anyone. When received, the card or invitation elegantly slides out of the envelope as if you were opening it yourself.

Almost as good as the real thing...

Almost as good as the real thing…

My ‘looking for sunshine’ salad

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It isn’t winter any more in Switzerland, but spring is still a little elusive. The skies are overcast and yet daffodils are poking their heads out of the snow looking for the sunshine.

I am, too.

I don’t know if you do this when on the cusp of a new season, but I find myself urging spring to arrive by dressing and cooking like it is already here. I’ve been wearing light jackets and flats, even though I should be in boots. Fondue is still on the menu everywhere here, but I just can’t make another dinner that revolves around melted cheese and potatoes (raclette, tartiflette, etc.).

This salad is the opposite of winter.

And although I’m not eating it poolside, I feel transported somewhere sunny and tropical.

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IMG_2085Sunshine Salad (enough for two)

  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 mango

Dressing:

  • The juice of 2-3 limes (enough for 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

For the salad, chop the head of cabbage and carrot into matchstick sized slices. Dice as much avocado and mango as you would like to add to the mix, leaving the skin off both. I only used half a mango, because it was large.

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If you do not have a blender (I do not), then chop the cilantro as finely as possible and simply whisk all the ingredients together. Toss the salad in as much dressing as you would like–I always have a little left over for future salads. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro and a wedge of lime.

Make this salad into dinner by adding a piece of grilled salmon, chicken or a few shrimp on top.

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Marrakech: Outside the medina

Following last week’s post on my four days spent trying to decode the medina maze in Marrakech, I’m moving outside the marketplace walls…

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In front of the koutoubia, just outside the medina.

The funniest thing I did in Marrakech–and probably on any international trip–was to get my hair cut. Is that a vain use of time? Going to the salon in Switzerland is twice as expensive as back in the States and it is no secret that Moroccans know their hair. So I thought, win-win.

I grabbed a taxi and ventured outside the medina to the Chris Salon where husband and wife team–both named Chris–treated me like a Moroccan princess (did you know the country is still ruled by a royal family?).

Their salon is in the swanky, European part of town known as the Guéliz.

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After my haircut, I found my way to the nearby Grand Café de la Poste. From the abundance of palm trees to the bow-tied waiters and checkered floors, I’ve never been closer to “Rick’s Cafe” in Casablanca. Since 1925, this cafe has been a meeting place for the well-heeled crowd. While I sipped a glass of French rosé and munched on olive crackers, I overheard a Hollywood movie deal being made between two aging, pierced, ponytailed Los Angeleno men.

In many ways, I felt closer to California than when I lived in Washington, D.C.

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Since alcohol is hard to come by inside the medina, the cafe is definitely a destination for those seeking a cocktail.

Marrakech is historically Muslim so some traditions remain, but today only half of its residents are practicing. For that reason, I also refrained from wearing shorts or short skirts. Guidebooks will tell you to feel free to wear anything as a foreigner, but I wanted to respect the local customs–especially inside the medina, where just being blonde garners you plenty of attention. Outside the medina, you will see a wider variety of fashion and people drinking openly.

10858370_10102422754337708_8135755244174397230_nThe other destination I had been dreaming of visiting was the Jardin Majorelle– fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s last gift to Marrakech.

The phrase “oasis in a desert” must have come into use around the time the garden was developed in the 1920’s by artist Jacques Majorelle. The plants range from prehistoric cacti to delicate bougainvillea. The ever-present electric blue has a cooling effect on the space.

To preserve the garden and keep it open to the public, YSL and his partner Pierre Bergé took ownership in 1980. YSL has a small gallery of art (and a boutique!) in the garden. His ashes were also scattered here in 2008.

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My other recommendation outside the medina would be to visit the ornate Saadian Tombs. On my next Moroccan adventure, I hope to venture way way outside the medina to the desert on camelback.

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