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Navigating Your Travel Treasure Hunt

The very first stamp, on my very first passport, was earned in 1994 as I passed through Customs in London’s Heathrow Airport. I had ventured beyond the U.S. alone, on a three week long business trip and felt compelled to find a small, yet meaningful memento to take home. Although I do confess to owning a Milton Glaser I LOVE NY t-shirt, I prefer to find something more lasting. Today, regardless of their monetary value, my travel treasures are among my favorite things.  What do I look for? And where do I search for cool stuff?

International thrift stores contain unusual things. I discovered a fabulous vintage vase at a charity shop in England, wrapped it in layers of clothing, and prayed it would make the trip home. It did. But I learned a valuable lesson about my travel treasure-hunt habits. Today, bubble pack is on my Top Ten Must-Pack List.

Locally produced goods are among my favorite finds. I’ve picked up small blown glass items in factories in Bermuda and in Mexico. These objets d’art transport me to the place and time where glassblowers created their work as we watched on.

A trip to the grocery store is a must. From unusual flavors of Tang, to salsas, sauces, herbs and oils, take the opportunity to come home and allow your vacation to linger in your home until you’ve shared your treats with others. Among my

all-time favorites were several pounds of Costa Rican coffee, and the treasured bottle of Garzón Olive Oil reminiscent of my trip to the Garzón winery/orchard.

 

 

 

 

 

Local wines and spirits are yours to discover. The local Costa Ricans introduced Li and I  to Guaro. They laughed. We later learned why. Guaro is, in fact, GRAIN alcohol! For fun, I still brought home a couple of small bottles. The local Ron Barceló rum and Mamajuana I carried home from the Dominican Republic are still favorites for sipping my way into daydreams of coconut-filled wagons, a quiet beach, and the fresh whole fish we ate at sunset, toes embedded in the silky sand.

Never understimate the value of FREE.  Wine corks are integrated into my décor. The Bouza cork in my plant pot is from a memorable dinner with my extended Uruguayan family.

Shells, coral, and sea glass pieces washed ashore have found their way into a display cabinet. Each glass container, filled with shells, and labeled by location, generates lasting tranquility in my home. I can almost HEAR the crashing waves!

Individual Ziplock bags contain a menagerie of tickets, receipts, menus, business cards and phone numbers from each trip. As I blog, it’s easy to track down names and dates, and match photos to exact places and times. These invaluable “pinch me” keepsakes serve as reminders to be grateful for my amazing travel experiences.

Bring home art! I find interesting work in small, local galleries, or at street fairs. I take the time to meet the artist and share my appreciation for their work.  I selected Carol Joy Shannon’s hand-painted guitar during a visit to Myrtle Beach, SC.  The golden-haired child hanging next to it is a find from Key West, FL. And the ballerina was acquired from a  gallery in Costa Rica. While all are paintings, I’ve chosen work of other mediums, like the pastel nude, the encaustic wax bottles of colour, and the watercolor/pen and ink drawing of New York City.  I have a backlog of framing to do – to showcase artwork collected in Uruguay and Argentina. And, each piece carries meaning, a story, and a flood of memories.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Cooperstown, NY
Union Square, New York, NY
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Hiking, Wine, and More in Shenandoah

In August of 2014, Mum and I met for a week in the appalachian region of Virginia. Neither of us had been to the area or new what to expect and both of us left wanting to return and explore more of the area.

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed in the small town of Basye near Bryce ski resort. Being there in the off-season turned out to be a good idea, not only because it was significantly cheaper. The ski resort, like many others across the country, offered activities to make the best use of the green hills like golfing, mountain biking, and tubing. Mum jumped at the chance to go zip lining and fly down the mountain through the tree tops. The whole idea frightens the ba-jezes out of me, so I sat on the condo balcony and knitted, watching her slide in at the end.

Shenandoah County offers a number of state parks with excellent hiking trails. Hondo and I hiked in a few of the local offerings and enjoyed the great views. Of course, Shenandoah National Park is also a prime local destination. The winding Skyline Drive offers amazing views of the valley and connects different peaks, waterfall, and amenities. There are a great deal of hiking trails, but not all are dog friendly, so be sure to follow signs and check your map. Thankfully the trail to the highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain was, and we enjoyed a long look over the patch-work countryside.

Nearby small towns of Mt Jackson, Quicksburg, Edinburg, Woodstock, and Harrisonburg make for great side trips . We made our way around some of the antique and thrift stores, family owned restaurants, and I picked up some local alpaca yarn. We even stopped at local potato chip factory, Route 11. They have large windows to the production floor where you can watch the potatoes at every stage from washing and peeling to seasoning and bagging. Their shop offers tasting of their regular flavors as well as a few unique offerings.

The Appalachian region also happens to be Virginia’s wine region. The “Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail” connects 22 local vineyards and you could take over a week just traveling to all the different options. Our favorite nearby stop was the Cave Ridge Winery. This small, family owned winery has daily tastings and live music on weekends. They’re also dog friendly and we felt very welcome to sit and sip our bottle while Hondo lounged by the vines.

The Appalachian region of Virginia has so much to explore and we only got a taste of it. I can’t wait to go back and see what else we can discover among the hills.

 

 

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Tannat’s Tasty Transport to Artesana

Li and I tend to explore local wine, beer or spirits when we travel. And at times we don’t have to venture far. Two weeks ago, I became a tourist near my own town, with Li in tow.

On a Friday, she’d met me at work, and we promptly escaped to explore the shelves of our favorite little wine bar in Summerville, South Carolina. With no agenda, I began scouring the shelves before asking one of the knowledgeable wine experts if they happened to have a Tannat. He said, “yes!”    My heartbeat shifted into overdrive. Yes!

One look at the label and I was immediately transported to the Artesana boutique vineyard I’d visited this summer in the Canelones region of Uruguay. I could not contain my excitement of finding this small production wine in little ole Summerville. I forced the wine dude to watch my video of my awesome winery visit, but not before he poured, I swirled, and I savored.

My AFS sister Merce has a great group of girlfriends who are wine aficionados. And even in the off-season, one new friend arranged for us to visit and enjoy a private tour and wine tasting at Artesana. An owner of this hand-farmed vineyard came in just for us, and we were treated to an amazing educational and tasting experience. And I fell in love with the International award winning Artesana Tannat. Which is simply not hard to do.

Dormant winter vines converged into the sunset. Majestic eagles circled, squawking warnings at the well-heeled vineyard intruders. Owls perched along posts watched wide-eyed.

In this case, photos tell the story better than I can. And only a glass of fabulous Tannat can provide you the perfect storybook ending. I urge you to discover the full flavor of a great Tannat like Artesana.

Not familiar with the Tannat grape? Read up at http://thatusefulwinesite.com/varietals/Tannat.php

Want to learn more about Uruguay’s famed Canelones wine region? Check out https://www.vivino.com/wine-regions/canelones.

Sisters.
Artesana’s winery.

Liquid gold, in my book.
All about vines and wines.

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My Top 10 Must Pack Items

On my quest to become a perfect packer (more at PackRat Will Travel), I have learned a few tricks. Below are the top ten items I will no longer travel without…

  1. Pitchable Ponchos
    I pack a few disposable rain ponchos for travel during rainy season, or to locations like the amazing city of London, where rain seems to be a year-round ordeal.  Visitors also underestimate the need for ponchos when vacationing in sunny Central Florida, where brief afternoon thundershowers are a daily occurrence. I typically find ponchos in the drug store for a couple of bucks each. They’re light, take up no room at all, and will prevent you from having to choose between overspending or modeling an unflattering-at-best plastic garbage bag. If your’re preparing to travel with a group, you can also order clear, disposable ponchos by the dozen for $19 at Uline.com.
    *Tip – if you hike into the Costa Rican rainforest, do not leave your rain ponchos in your rental car. http://www.meetuatgate.com/2016/04/30/thats-why-its-called-a-rain-forest/
  2. Techie Tool Kit
    A camera charger, a back-up battery, an extra SD chip, a cell phone charging cord, a Fitbit charging cord, a USB wall port and a USB car converter are my personal top tech needs. All tuck neatly in a transparent sandwich sized Ziplock. With three camera batteries and a cell phone to charge, I easily could employ three converters on an international trip. This summer, mistakenly packed only the converter I would need in Uruguay, South America. I neglected to research whether the same converter would work in Argentina. The answer was NO.
    *Tip – Save yourself some angst. Pack the complete kit, and be done with it.
  3. Pre-Packed Toiletries
    Since traveling intermittently for business in the ’80s, I have kept a grab-and-go toiletry bag packed at all times. When I return home, I refill what’s needed (like a fresh mosquito repellent bracelet) or add an item to my shopping list while it’s fresh on my mind. Among other necessities, I always have antibacterial wipes, my mini sewing kit, a magnifying mirror, a personal heating pad to fend off chills or sore muscles, and a small rubber door stop to wedge under my door for added security while in my room. My fully-packed catch-all bag resides in my small rolling carry on, providing a speedy way to skip town!
    *Tip – Hang a few safety pins from the bag’s zipper pull.
  4. Pretty Pill Box
    Ditch the bulky bottles. I photograph each bottle label with one easily identifiable pill, to ensure I have accurate documentation for two purposes; to verify my prescription while traveling, and to assist in case of a medical emergency. I take a full week in a pretty little pill sorter, with a few extras of my most important medications in case of a delay.
    *Tip – If you are prone to motion sickness, be sure to have your doctor prescribe Transderm patches for behind your ear.  Each works for three days – but the protection WILL wear off if you do not replace it by the end of day three. They fit right in the bottom of my pill case.
  5. Bubble Wrap
    I somehow gravitate towards bringing home “breakables.” So I pack a small roll of bubble wrap. I’ve carried home a vintage vase and a set of beautiful stoneware plates from England. I lugged a treasured pitcher from Paris, wrapped in a layer of bubble wrap, and padded with soft clothing. And I recently transported glass jars of goodies from South America. Yet, due to bubble wrap, I have yet to discover a broken artifact in my bags upon my return.
    *Tip – Consider shipping when you can; you’ll already have the bubble wrap!
  6. A Reusable Tote
    My favorite bags easily cover all bases, transforming between shopping bag, beach bag and “technology undercover bag” to deter thieves. I have very different preferences, depending upon mode of travel and destination. For international travel this inexpensive IKEA pocket-pouch converts into a generous sized backpack. For domestic air travel, I prefer a “personal item” that zips closed, like the duffel style bag available in our MeetUatGate online store. When driving, I prefer an open beach tote  stuffed with easy-to-reach road trip snacks.
    *Tip – The  IKEA pocket bags come in two sizes/styles and make great thank you gifts for travel hosts or new friends who you connect with during your travels. Take a few extra!
  7. Empty Ziplock Bags
    Ziplock bags ensure liquids like local sauces, liqueurs and perfumes do not leak onto your belongings. These also protect your fabrics from absorbing the scents of culinary herbs and seasonings you may want to take to or from your own home kitchen. I collect shells from each beach I visit, and the shells stay divided until I can display them. They also keep the tekkie tools listed above in one place. Quart and gallon sized ziplocks have a perpetual home in my rolling carry-on.
    *Tip – Pack a sharpie and clearly label your bubble wrapped and bagged items. I have this bag of beautiful, unlabeled stones…
  8. Wine Protectors 
    I must admit that I own both versions of these padded wine bags, and use them on nearly every trip. I carry wine, liquor or even olive oils to and fro in these great bags. My brief review: The WineSkin Wine Bag is more durable and a bit more attractive, but I like the heavy cotton absorbent padding in the Jetbag. I once carried a bottle of vino that sprung a slight leak  – and the potential mess was absorbed in my Jetbag, shielding  my clothing and new treasures from red wine..
    *Tip – The Jetbag accommodates BOTH a bottle of wine and a small bottle of sauce or olive oil (upside down and adorned in bubble wrap, of course. )
  9. Camera and Journal: With watercolor pencils and a waterbrush
    A few years ago I started creating a journal page depicting each trip.  I often have to finish them when I arrive home, but I have photos that spark vivid memories, allowing me to re-live sights, sounds and experiences. I write random things like names of kind waiters and foreign language snafus, sketch odd things like road signs and objects, and write descriptive entries about what I hear, see, and feel. The proportions of my scribbles are most times off, but my pages make me smile nonetheless. A waterbrush pen is a great tool for quick sketching on the move. The body of the pen is a water receptacle, so it stays moist without a cup of water nearby.
    *Tip – If you are unsure of your sketching skills, a small pad of tracing paper is your friend. Take rubbings of signs, portions of historic markers, foliage or textures and hand write your notes around them. Photograph or scan your “travel art” once home.
  10. Packing Cubes
    Last but not least, this year I became a packing cube convert! There are more expensive options, but the IKEA four-pack is an easy, inexpensive favorite as a start. For Li, packing cubes are about organization. For me it’s all about compression. When I traveled to South America for three weeks during their winter, I packed heavy sweaters, a sweatshirt, jeans and boots  – and could not believe how much could be rolled and stuffed into a single packing cube. The mesh allows the air to escape while you compress (sit on?) and zip the cube.
    This spring, I traveled to Cabo San Lucas with just a rolling carry-on and my clothing in just the three cubes pictured. The small cube contained five pairs of panties (hidden from view, thanks) and two swim suits, because what sane woman  could go to Mexico with only one? The mid-size cube contains a knit sundress, a pair of leggings, a casual knit dress that doubles as a beach cover-up, and a long sleeved tee. The largest cube is double-sided, with one side containing long cotton pants, a long knit skirt, two tanks,  a men’s white linen shirt, a cotton pashmina, and a strapless bra. The reverse side contained non-clothing items listed above like tech items, rain ponchos and journaling supplies. When I travel internationally, I pack clothing that I plan to leave behind. I plan for for the bubble wrapped treasures and of course, the wine bags full of goodies!
    Serial travelers may want to check out http://bestreviews.com/best-packing-cubes.
    *Tip – A clothing-packed cube doubles as a nice, firm travel pillow. Just pack it into a pillow case. I’ve even carried mine on my flight, as pillows count as neither a personal item nor a piece of luggage.

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Julie Andrews and Favorite Things

Art, architecture and wine. I cannot help but recall the songbird voice of Julie Andrews singing, “These are a few of my favorite things.” But indulging in my favorites while on a “Jolly Holiday” traveling to foreign lands is truly icing on the umbrella. And Uruguay is a new place to embrace and explore these things that invigorate me – even during the winter rainy season.

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casapuebloDriving along the coast from Montevideo to La Casa del Sol, the home and archive of famed abstract artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, was spectacular. The breathtaking view from the cliffs of Punta Ballena (pronounced bah-she-nah in Uruguayan Spanish) was nearly as spectacular as the opportunity to stand inside and in front of his original paintings, ceramics and sculptures spanning Vilaró’s 64-year career. Construction of his sculptural abode took 40 years to complete, one segment at a time. Creative energy seeps from the pores of this concrete live-in sculpture, and his life story is one of both art and compassion. You’ll want to learn more about this artist who pursued challenges spanning a wide range of artistic endeavors throughout his lifetime at http://carlospaesvilaro.com. You’re certain to appreciate his painting, sculpture, literary, screenwriting, film-making, architectural, and musical talents.

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About the vino. Over 15 years, I’ve learned tidbits about soil, sun and harvest, yet I was unprepared for the massive lands of Garzón winery, the high-tech production methods and the warm welcome we’d receive by Eduardo, the engineering manager. My new friend Mece (pronounced Meche), a member DickanDykesDreamRoof.smof a women’s wine club, arranged for our very own private VIP tour. Breathtaking architecture with a jaw-dropping 360 view from the highest point on the expansive property is as overwhelming as it is beautiful. The roof line boasts a dance platform on which Dick Van Dyke would certainly opt to kick up his heels.

Estate.smAlthough it’s not the only grape of the winery – or the country – I’ve fallen in love with Tannat. Vines originating from France were planted in this area of Uruguay, near Punta del Este, with similar growing conditions to where they thrive in Europe. Respect for the environment is evident, as inside of the winery facility you’ll find natural rock with a trickle of spring water always flowing. We stopped by the lab and met the chemist and intern as they’d finished testing the Mystery content of beakers. Countless oak, steel and concrete “barrels” hold liquid gold before it is bottled. Did you know that a movement to use larger barrels to lessen the strong “aged-in-oak” flavor is a growing trend? Or that some wines of a single grape are aged in half-American and half-French oak, and blended to create an oak finish that reflects the properties of each wood? Whether blanco or roja vino, my palate simply prefers oak. But I now pledge to pay more attention to the wood’s origin.

Deep in the bellows of Garzón winery lies a special dungeon where members of privilege can store their special collections in private cellars; where diplomats and people much more important than I may meet privately, uninterrupted, to discuss the woes of the world while sipping vino reserva ’til the cows Capibaras.smcome home. Or in this case, ’til the carpincho or capibaras (giant rats — seriously) living on the property emerge from the trees. A curved conference/tasting table nests in the center of the circular room exuding its own inner-circle presence. At the moment, the cellars each remain devoid of luxurious wine collections, awaiting the opening of this special wine retreat.

Interested in joining the soon-to-open exclusivo wine cellar? Or simply prefer to know more about one of the great wines of Uruguay? Visit http://bodegagarzon.com/en/

Allow me to declare that Mary Poppins’ spoon-full-of-sugar is no match for the medicinal quality of the fermented Tannat grape — aged in oak, thank you.